A great entry level article for bars, restaurants and curious minds to get a better understanding. This honest explanation of the relationship between distributors, breweries, retail location and draft maintenance companies; what is provided, what is covered.
The 3 Tiered System
The three-tiered system that the government established after Prohibition was meant to keep the brewing industry from gaining a monopoly and complying to the regulations set here in the USA.
The three-tiered system separates the brewery from the distribution and the retailer. The distributor is responsible for sales, delivery and maintaining the draft beer systems. In Colorado the craft beer industry has experienced unprecedented growth within the last decade. Colorado state laws are favorable for the cultivation and growth of craft beer. In Colorado the brewery is determined to be a craft brewer if it produces under 60,000 barrels a year. If this requirement is met the craft brewery is allowed to sale and distribute and provide draft beer line cleaning of its own product within the state.
Beer line cleaning is not a mandated service in Colorado. This service is left to each independent brewery and distributor to offer and provide the service. In Colorado there are also independent draft beer maintenance companies that provide this service for distributors independent craft breweries and retailers. So who is responsible for paying for the service? Let's explore the three examples.
Responsibility of Parties Involved
When discussing line cleaning and draft system maintenance it’s important to understand the positions of each party involved. The four parties involved are breweries, distributors, draft maintenance companies and retail locations (bars, restaurants, etc).
Distributors provide a “free” beer line cleaning service through their company owned technicians or through a contract a independent draft maintenance company. Besides this line cleaning, service calls to put new kegs on tap and other minor troubleshooting services are provided. It’s always best to ask sales representatives exactly what service is provided by the Distribution company.
Breweries that provide direct service to retailers vary in the types of maintenance services they provide. Some may self service the lines, work with draft maintenance companies to provide cleaning services or not provide service at all. It’s very similar to the services Distributors provide. Once again, it’s best to ask about these services during sales negotiations.
Retail locations own all hardware within the draft beer system. The faucets, trunk line, beer couplers, jumpers and cooling systems are all under the ownership of retail locations. When a keg provided by a brewery or distributor that provides their own draft maintenance services is on tap in the retail location, they are essentially “renting” that beer line. That is to say, while their product is being served on that beer line(s) they provide basic line cleaning services. If the distributor, brewery or draft maintenance company damages the hardware on that beer line, that company is responsible for its replacement.
Draft Maintenance Companies can provide a wide array line cleaning and maintenance services directly to breweries and retail locations. These companies often work with distributors to provide basic line cleaning services for retail locations at no extra charge to the retailers themselves.
Distributor and Brewery Provided Line Cleaning
The maintenance services provided by breweries and distributors to retail locations focus on maintaining the cleanliness of the lines their beers occupy through the use of bi-weekly line cleaning and minor hardware adjustments. It should be noted that the services are limited to that. As explained in the last section, services provided by breweries and distributors do not include free parts replacement, draft system re-balancing or other advanced maintenance services.
Retailers should also remember that technicians sent by these breweries and distributors do have a schedule to keep. The reality is that a single technician often has anywhere between 8 to 12 bars, restaurants and hotels to service in a single day. After rendering the necessary services, they need to move on as soon as possible. The quality of service provided varies from technician to technician and their schedule for the day can be a factor as well. That is not to say that these draft maintenance companies and technicians cannot be trusted or do not do their jobs correctly, but it is a very real factor retailers must take into account.
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