Creating the taste of draft beer from the bottle sounds more like alchemy than science. Yet, that's what the Fizzics countertop beer system sets out to do without the help of kegs or gas cartridges. It's ready to use after a minute of setup out of the box, it's compatible with bottles, cans and even some growlers, and the only maintenance required is the occasional swap of its four AA batteries and a rinse of its hose. It's user friendly through and through, a success of thoughtful and attractive design.
But it's not magic. What it doesn't do is turn your bottled beer into a genuine draft variety of the brew. Now, don't get me wrong, it comes close. It actually comes much closer than I thought it would on first glance. I had to taste it to believe it, and from my first sip of anecdotal testing to my last blind taste test comparing Fizzics to an actual draft beer in a bar, it was clear Fizzics wasn't just selling a placebo wrapped in a sound show.
It's on to something real. It makes your beer foamy and creamy, and it makes sweet flavors pop more prominently. Since it costs a reasonable $170, that's enough to make it a worthwhile gift for any beer lover in your family, and a worthwhile buy if you like experimenting with your beer, or if you place particular value on smooth textures, a creamy head, or malty flavor profiles. It's best, actually, if you're a casual beer drinker and want a way to show off to guests and smoothen out the bitter edges in your beverage. Fizzics is a fun machine that I enjoyed testing, but since it falls short of genuine draft flavor, it won't please the most discerning beer drinkers, especially those that put particular value on hops and bitter flavors.
Fizzics, a crowd-funding success story, is available to purchase now exclusively at Brookstone for $170. For now, it's on the shelves at a select 30 locations, and you can purchase it from the Brookstone website. By the start of November, the plan is to roll Fizzics out to all Brookstone locations nationwide.
Fizzics Group, the beer tech startup behind Fizzics, is finalizing retail plans for international distribution in the UK and Australia. The plan is to keep pricing consistent, so that means the US price should convert to approximately £110 and AU$230 (plus tax).
I unboxed my Fizzics brewer with my expectations set to zero. For one, the concept of using sound to make your beer taste better seemed like clever marketing. At best, I thought it would essentially shake up your beer to produce a convincing head while also making your drink flat.
My other reason for low expectations -- NitroBrew . A device with similar aims of making your beer better from the comfort of your own home, the various pieces of NitroBrew look like they'd be right at home in shop class. It's tough to use, and even when the stars align and you do get it to work right, your beer ends up tasting flat and bland. It doesn't come close to producing the effect of a professional Nitro tap.
So when I tried my first Fizzics beer, I was more than a little surprised when it not only gave the beer an attractive head, but made it taste great. After one day and one beer, my outlook for the Fizzics countertop beer system was on the rise.
Even at first glance, it's better than the Nitrobrew. Fizzics looks right at home on a countertop, and particularly at home on a wet bar. I liked the look of the black body with grey accents provided by the base and the lid. It's slick and even a bit understated. The antimicrobial mat helps give it the feel of a bar tool. And the yellow logo on the mat and on the top of the handle give it just enough color to keep it from being bland.
At 3.5 pounds (1.6kg), it's lightweight, and once assembled, you can carry Fizzics wherever you need it to go. You will want to find a spot with plenty of height clearance, at least two feet. The handle sticks up from the top of the device, and the lid swings upward when it opens. One of the few annoyances I encountered when using the Fizzics was trying to work it when it was on a counter with a cabinet above it.
To use the machine, you unlatch the lid and swing it open. Place your bottle, can, or even a growler up to 64 ounces into the canister, and put the hose hanging from the lid into the opening of your beer. Make sure you don't pour your beer directly into the canister. I was glad to have read the directions, as that might have been my first instinct otherwise.
The directions also advise against using Fizzics with any other type of beverage, including hard cider. You'll use water to rinse the system, but other than that, keep it to beer. Even with water, you'll want to set a glass of it into the canister, not pour in the water.
Most of the time, that's all you'll need to do to clean Fizzics. Since you're not pouring the beer into the canister, only the hose actually comes into contact with your beer. By rinsing it with warm water each time I switched to a different beer, I never tasted any contamination. For longer term maintenance, you can easily remove the lid, the hose, and the canister, and give them each a wash. Cleaning the Fizzics, maintaining the Fizzics, and using the Fizzics are all exceptionally easy to do.
The look and feel of Fizzics charmed me, but I still wasn't expecting much. I kicked off my testing at 5:15 p.m. on a Friday. I was intrigued enough that I wanted to give it a whirl before the weekend. I found a bottle of Newcastle (a widely distributed brown ale) leftover from testing the NitroBrew. The last time I had tried this beer, the NitroBrew turned it into a flat, dull mess. My coworkers underwent the same experience, and I credit the four of them still in the office at that point with having some courage to take the leap and try this beer again.
Lo and behold, it was awesome. I watched each of my coworkers' faces light up one by one as they tried their first sip. Fizzics accented the malt characters of the Newcastle and topped it all off with a creamy head that made each sip smooth, sweet, and delightful. We were all shocked and thoroughly impressed.
To be fair, it was one beer at the end of a long day, when any beer would have likely tasted great. And again, given our expectations going in, we would have been pleasantly surprised by any beer that wasn't ruined, so the fact that Fizzics didn't ruin the beer, but actually made it better caught us completely off guard. I needed to do plenty more tests in a much more careful manner -- but at the very least, it was time to take Fizzics seriously.
Fizzics works by pressurizing the canister after you close and latch the lid. Put your bottle in the machine, place your glass under the tap, and pull the handle forward, then it'll gently pour the body of your beer, controlling the flow digitally and keeping the bottle pressurized so as to keep the bulk of the carbonation within the beer.
Once your glass is two-thirds full, you'll release the handle and wait a moment for the flow to stop. Then, you'll push the handle away from you. At that point, the whir of the machine intensifies as it uses sound to agitate the carbonation in the remaining beer in the bottle, then a burst of beer hits your glass and a sizable if not oversized head sits atop your drink.
As it turns out, the theory behind Fizzics is sound, as brewing laboratories use similar technology in machines using sonication to effect the same process. Called sonicator baths, these are typically used to remove all of the carbonation from beer before performing analytical tests, but during the first moments of the process, the beer's fizz rises dramatically.
It's likely, then, that Fizzics uses the same principle but stops the process after a moment, while the fizz is still prominent and the beer still has plenty of carbonation. In practice, I can attest to the fact that Fizzics doesn't make your beer flat. It does taste livelier and smoother, though some of the edges created by carbonation have been rubbed off, which isn't always a good thing. The pros and cons of the Fizzics became clear as I tried different styles of beer.
On the lighter end of the beer spectrum, I wanted to try a macrobrew to see if Fizzics could enrich the experience, so I put in a can of Bud Light. In a side-by-side taste test of the Fizzics version of Bud Light, and a glass of it poured straight from the can, five of six taste testers, including myself, preferred the Fizzics version. One tester had no preference.
I found the crisp head and rounded edges made the popular beer more palatable. I'm not a big Bud Light guy, and in this instance, Fizzics masking some of the bitterness was a plus. It didn't transform Bud Light into a great beer, but I thought it gave it a nudge in the right direction.
I also put in a bottle of Dogfish Head's Namaste, a white ale brewed with spices including coriander and peppercorn. Again, Fizzics produced an attractive, frothy head. I was having a bit of trouble getting the head to be properly sized, and not take up half the glass. Even when I poured too much head, the beer would settle somewhat quickly while maintaining enough head to be attractive for awhile. Still, I'd like some way to know for sure how much beer I have left in the bottle while pouring. That little add-on would put the usability of Fizzics over the top.
My nitpick aside, Fizzics is easy enough to use and the Namaste came out of the machine with a more prominent nose -- you could really smell the spices -- and a stronger accent on those same spices. Still, my taste testers were split in half, a trend that would continue. Some valued the more prominent flavors, others thought the beer lost some of its intended balance in the process.
As I moved to hoppy beers, Bell's Two Hearted Ale and Liberty Street Brewing Company IPA, the mixed results continued. By smoothing over the edges and sacrificing an (albeit small) amount of carbonation to produce the beer's head, hoppy beers tend lose a little of the bitterness that make up their character. The casual beer drinkers in my group still preferred the Fizzics version over the original. Those of us, including myself, who value the intended flavor profiles of bitter beers leaned toward the unaltered version poured from the bottle straight into a glass.
Fizzics did not make any beer I tried bad, even hoppy beers. Both IPAs were still easily palatable, I just thought they lost a little in translation.
Moving to the darker end of the spectrum, we tried a Liberty Street Brewing Company Red Glare Amber Ale; an Old Chub Scotch Ale, from Oskar Blues Brewery; and Shake Chocolate Porter, from Boulder Beer Company.
The first two were resounding victories for the Fizzics. It made the malty characteristics central to those beers shine, and the creamy mouthfeel played beautifully in concert with the dessert-like sweetness. Old Chub in particular tasted like a scotchy, chocolate milkshake. It wasn't exactly the Old Chub that I love in it's original form, but it was awesome. Both beers got a unanimous vote of approval from the taste testers, and I had high hopes for the Shake Chocolate Porter.
Unfortunately, again, pieces of the bitterness used to balance out the chocolate in the porter went missing and I, along with half of my taste testers, preferred the original bottled version.
Adam Watson, co-founder of the highly rated Louisville, Kentucky, brewery Against the Grain, as well as the author and "beer wizard" of LouisvilleBeer.com illustrated the problem from a brewer's perspective.
"The carbonation level of a beer is one of the many, many things a good brewer can dial in to make a beer taste, smell, and feel a particular way," he said. "Some beers have light, fluffy heads. Others have dense, rocky heads. Some intentionally have very little head at all. This seems to homogenize that experience.
"Of course you should enjoy your beer in whatever way pleases you, but don't be tricked into thinking it is always better, or more draft-like, because of this."
Fizzics exceeded my expectations after a single sip, but beer wizard Watson did not think it could produce a genuine draft-like taste. That's the main claim of Fizzics, and despite the number of successes I'd already attributed to Fizzics, I also doubted that claim. I always prefer a beer from the draft over its bottled counterpart. I didn't always prefer the Fizzics version of the beer to the store bought container.
Still, Fizzics had earned the benefit of the doubt, and had dramatically surprised me in a good way once already, so I wanted to take it to a bar to see if it could surprise me one more time and stack up against the real thing.
At Haymarket Whiskey Bar in downtown Louisville, I took the Fizzics for its final exam. Matt Landan -- owner of the bar and curator of its sizable list of both draft and bottled beers -- and I tried Founders Centennial IPA and the Left Hand Good JuJu in a blind taste test. We compared, without knowing which one was which, versions of each beer from Fizzics, from the tap, and from the bottle side-by-side-by-side.
With the Centennial, on a blind taste test, Landan actually confused the Fizzics pour with the draft -- a great sign for the legitimacy of Fizzics. The appearance, though, was what fooled him, not the taste. It was Landan's first time trying a Fizzics beer, and he didn't think it could produce such a frothy head. When Landan had the beers mixed, he said the Fizzics beer tasted more like draft than the actual draft. In other words, once we told him which one was which, he realized the Fizzics beer didn't quite measure up to the draft version as far as taste.
I found the same thing to be true, and correctly guessed which was which. The story was largely the same on the Good JuJu. Regardless, I quite like the Fizzics beer system, but it needed to surprise me one more time to truly win me over, and it couldn't quite do it.
Fizzics isn't a kegerator. It isn't trying to be. Those produce authentic draft beer at home, but require hurdling a large barrier to entry in terms of cost, setup and space. Even once you're rolling with a home draft system, you'll have to commit to a keg's worth of a single beer. With Fizzics, you get imitation draft beer one bottle at a time, and you can switch from one beer to the next by simply grabbing a different bottle the next time you go to the fridge.
By using sound to agitate the carbonation, Fizzics essentially decants your beer as your pours, then tops off your drink with an attractive, creamy head. As a result, your beer looks great and tastes livelier than its bottled counterpart. It also tastes smoother and often creamier, not just in the head of the beer, but throughout the glass. I tested 10 different beers over the course of my time with Fizzics, from a variety of styles, and each time, the bottled beer and the Fizzics version of the beer tasted different. Different didn't always prove better.
Fizzics doesn't quite earn my universal recommendation, but plenty of beer drinkers will love it. If you don't feel like going out to a bar but want your beer to be bubbly, Fizzics will certainly do that for you for a reasonable price and for minimal effort on your part. It's nicely designed and easy to use. If you value sweetness over bitterness in your beer, you'll probably find Fizzics improves the quality of your beer, in addition to adding some froth. Imitation has value, but for beer drinkers that value bitterness in their beer, or for those who don't want to alter their beer in any way, you might find yourself disappointed that it's not quite the genuine article.