The first beer I poured with the Fizzics freestanding draft beer system surprised me. It surprised everyone still in the office at 5:15 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. At that hour, I was not testing with any sense of methodology. We were all wrapping up for the week, I had just finished setting up and cleaning the new device, and thought one quick test before the weekend would be appropriate.
Fizzics, from the beer-focused tech startup Fizzics Group, promises to make the bottles and cans of beer you have around the house taste like they came fresh from the tap at your favorite bar. It does this, if you can believe it, through sound.
Flip up the latches on either side of the lid and open the canister. Set your open beer into the main enclosure of the device -- don't pour it in, just set it in the canister while it's still in the bottle or can. Then, run the plastic hose hanging from the lid into the opening of your beer, close the lid and secure the latches to seal in your drink.
At that point, you'll want to hold your empty glass below the tap on the front of the device, and pull the handle toward you. Fizzics will gently pour your beer into the glass, keeping the foam to a minimum. When your glass is almost full, you'll release the handle, then push it away from you. The gentle whir of the machine's engine will intensify, and a stream of foam will burst into your glass, topping off your beer with an attractive, if occasionally oversized head.
The process works by pressurizing the container for the first part of the pour and digitally controlling the rate the beer is dispensed so as to keep the carbonation within the beer. Then, when you flip the handle in the other direction, sound waves break up the carbonation, agitating the remaining beer in the bottle and pouring it into your glass as a foamy froth.
Fizzics is attractive and easy to use, much more so than a device we recently tested with similar aims -- the Nitrobrew. Nitrobrew looks a bit like laboratory equipment, and requires careful manipulation of each of its pieces just to get it to do anything. When you do get it working, it's supposed to infuse nitrogen into your beer to enhance the flavor. The pros and cons of professional nitro taps are a different discussion, but the Nitrobrew made any beer we subjected to it taste flat and dull.
So on that fateful Friday, as I grabbed a bottle of Newcastle (a widely distributed brown ale) leftover from Nitrobrew testing, I didn't have high expectations. Better beer through sound seemed more than a bit far fetched, the stuff of an infomercial with an over-enthusiastic host.
After running it through the Fizzics, it had a nice head, despite the fact that I was unpracticed on the timing and only left a few drops for the Fizzics to use as foam. Four of us tried a sip, and I watched everyone's eyes light up and a smile form on their lips when they tasted it. It was awesome. The head was foamy, and the beer was creamy and smooth with seemingly intensified taste.
I was worried the Fizzics would either not make a difference, or simply stir up the beer and end up making it taste flat. Our unbridled enthusiasm on Friday had a few mitigating factors: it was the end of a long week, so probably any beer would have tasted great; we weren't tasting it side-by-side with a normal bottle of Newcastle; and our expectations were set particularly low by the experience we had with the Nitrobrew. But after spending a weekend with it and having a few more test beers, tasted more carefully, I can confirm that Fizzics certainly makes a difference.
I'm not yet ready to say whether that difference is a consistent upgrade across all beer types. Check back for my full review later this week after I've conducted a few more taste tests. I'm planning one with a beer from the bottle, from a draft in a bar, and from Fizzics side-by-side-by-side. That'll be its final exam after we've tried a few more beer types here in the office to see how it treats different flavor profiles.
I'll say that so far, a little more than half of the people I've polled among coworkers, friends and family have preferred the Fizzics version in a side-by-side taste test with various bottled beers. I was worried about hoppy beers in particular, thinking the machine's smoothing effect would cause it to dull some of the bitterness. It did, but not drastically so, and even when tasting an IPA (a typically hoppy style of beer) Fizzics kept enough flavor while smoothing the edges to win over a few of my taste testers.
That's a good sign, if not an amazing one, for the Fizzics. It makes a difference without ruining your beer in the way the Nitrobrew does. It clearly improved the Newcastle we tried, and the American IPA from the Michigan-based Liberty Street Brewing Company was still easily enjoyable and hoppy, if not also markedly improved. Again, I plan to have many more details, along with comparisons to beer from an actual tap, with the full review later this week.
Fizzics successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGogo this past summer and if you pre-ordered it during the campaign, a company representative confirmed that as of today, your countertop beer tapping machine is in the mail en route to you.
For the rest of us, as of today, Fizzics is available to purchase exclusively at retailer Brookstone for $169. Right now, Fizzics is only rolling out to a select 30 Brookstone locations, but the plan is for it to be on shelves across the US by the beginning of November. The Fizzics Group is still working on retail deals for the UK and Australia, though the company plans on keeping pricing consistent. That means the $169 US price should convert to approximately £110 and AU$230 (plus tax).
Given that the closest comparable devices to the Fizzics are the $500 Nitrobrew and $500 and up Kegerators, the $169 price looks like a bargain. By comparison, Fizzics is also much more compact and user friendly than either. It's portable, it fits on your countertop, it's battery operated, and it doesn't require any gas canisters or unwieldy attachments. So really, Fizzics is in a league of its own.
But $169 is still a lot for a beer gadget. I'm sure it's a price that beer lovers will readily pay for a machine that can easily make your bottled stock taste better -- that's part of why it was so successful on Indiegogo. Can it follow through on the hype and stack up to the taste of an actual draft beer? Check back later this week.