The Perfect Pour: Bottoms Up or Top Down?

Are magnetic-driven reverse taps the future of beer? Depends on the venue. (A bartender holds a pint of beer on a bar)

Bottom-up draft dispensing systems promise many benefits from faster pouring and hands-free hygiene to novel marketing opportunities. Find out the ins-and-outs of these systems, and see if they’re right for your bar.  

It’s hard not to reflect on the year we’ve had. While COVID-19 guidance and restrictions vary from state to state, we’re all still reminiscing over the lively, buoyant evenings of the before times, pre-pandemic. 

As life hints of getting back to normal, we’re looking forward to busy bars and lively nights. For many busy bars, it seems impossible to pour draft drinks quickly enough. Staff are stressed trying to keep up with the growing lines, guests wait ages for a drink, and the venue misses out on revenue opportunities. It’s a total lose-lose scenario.

Enter bottom-up draft pouring, a novel draft beer pouring technology that has been designed specifically to wipe away these frustrations. Instead of turning on a tap and having beer fall into a glass, these systems involve placing a glass onto a dispensing platform where beer is quickly and automatically filled to a pre-programmed level from the bottom up.

Defying Gravity

For those that have seen these dispensers in action they look like magic – how can a solid cup be filled from the bottom?

The answer is magnets. Special cups are required that have a hole in the bottom with a metal magnetic ring used to seal their underside. When these glasses are placed on the dispenser platform, the magnets are lifted away, and a seemingly-gravity-defying drink is poured without leakage.

There is the argument of technology for technology’s sake – that these contraptions are overengineered, lack any real benefit compared to traditional taps, and are perhaps even entirely pointless. But manufacturers offer numerous counterpoints to this opinion.

It takes roughly ten seconds to pour 16 fluid ounces, one pint, the traditional way. And servers must monitor the pour to make sure the beer is dispensed properly and does not overflow.

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Here lies the key benefit of bottom-up dispensers: they’re fast. According to manufacturer Bottoms Up , a single human server with four taps can fill up to 44 pints per minute.

Indeed, it is an unrealistic figure in the same way that the quoted top speeds of cars are rarely reached. But even if just a third of these proposed efficiency improvements were to be achieved, then the resulting benefits would be monumental.

Server convenience is also transformed through multitasking. Pre-programmed pouring technologies mean the glasses will never overflow, allowing waiters and waitresses to take card payments, wipe surfaces, move empty glasses or begin pouring other drinks simultaneously.

Beyond the added convenience and efficiency, hygiene is another benefit of bottom-up draft systems.

COVID-19 has made consumers the world over more conscious about cleanliness and sanitation. While the end of the pandemic may be in sight, health and safety will undoubtedly remain a heightened consideration for businesses.

To this end, bottom-up draft systems offer the advantage of not having to use a long spout or nozzle. When the next glass of beer is dispensed using traditional pouring methods, the nozzle, along with its coating of stale beer from previous pours, is inserted into the new glass, which could be unhygienic.

Are They Worth It?

So, are these systems worthwhile economically? Let us consider the cost benefits.

Let’s say that the slower dispensing of traditional taps leads to customers in a busy bar having to wait between five and 10 minutes every time they wanted a beer. In this scenario, a customer would have to wait between 20 and 40 minutes for four beers. They may also drink slower to avoid the frustration of waiting in line, and some may give up altogether. The result? Significant opportunity cost and lost revenue.

It is easy to see where the return on investment would lie in these systems, then. But like many things in life, there are greater upfront costs that come with more technologically advanced solutions.

While a typical single-keg dispenser costs $1,500, a bottom-up dispenser will cost closer to $4,000. Further, they require specially made, magnet-driven cups, glasses and pitchers that need to be purchased in order for the system to work.

While these cups come in both disposable and reusable varieties, the magnets that power them are designed for single use and must be replaced with each pour. Repeat costs, therefore, are unavoidable with bottom-up beer dispensers (and they produce way more waste than a traditional keg dispenser). 

However, the single use element does offer the opportunity to customize magnets with branding and promotional offers which customers may take away with them as a reminder to return. Think of it as portable advertising.  

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Old fashioned word of mouth remains one of the most effective marketing methods, and promotional magnets kept on key sets or in wallets can spark conversation about your bar. How many customers will actually decide to keep their magnets is, of course, open to question.

Are these systems worth investing in? Well, Bottoms Up claims that its devices can raise revenues by 30 percent and that its customers pay off the increased investment into its systems in less than a year. “Make the change with confidence,” the firm says. “We offer a 100% satisfaction and money back guarantee on commercial equipment.”

But it seems that the speed at which or even the ability to achieve such rapid ROI depends on the business in question. Venues regularly faced with overcrowding and high demand such as stadiums, festivals and busy bars would seemingly reap the rewards of bottom-up dispensers with the promise of speed, convenience and efficiency benefits.

For quieter restaurants and bars, however, the opportunity for a quick return may not be so easily realized. For them, it might be best to keep embracing the old-fashioned tap (at least for now).

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