The machine that wants to redefine how beer is packaged is getting its first set of improvements. Launched on Kickstarter in 2014, the Synek countertop beer dispenser lets you bring draft beer home in a bag, then tap it yourself later. Now, the company is introducing a trio of upgrades tailored to make the device more accessible to beer drinkers, beer brewers and beer distributors.
The three updates:
Beer in a doggie bag doesn't sound super appealing, but this a vacuum sealed bag you can take to participating breweries and bars. With the snap-in-place fill kit, the bartender can pour beer from the bar's tap into the bag without exposing it to oxygen. Then, once you're in the comfort of your own home, you snap the bag into Synek's carbonated, temp-controlled dispenser and pour away.
Because the bags are vacuum sealed, your beer will supposedly keep much longer than if you just bring home an ordinary growler -- you'll have around 30 days to finish off the container, as opposed to a couple of days. And in the meantime, you can hook it into the countertop dispenser and unhook it as many times as you please. The dispenser lets you pick your temp and amount of carbonation for a customized pour, so the bag will keep within the machine since the dispenser will stay cool as long as it's plugged in.
But you can also swap in a different bag with another beer and put the first in the fridge. You don't have to drink the entire gallon of beer that the bag can hold before you move to a different beverage. The one-way valve that hooks into both the bar's tap and yours will supposedly keep any air out no matter how many times you plug it in or unplug it.
Previously, the big downside of this system was that you had to find a participating brewery or bar to make the system work. In theory, filling up a gallon-capacity Synek bag -- the company calls them cartridges -- is not much different from the bartender's perspective from filling up two standard 64-ounce growlers, except that you needed a special attachment called a fill kit.
Synek's map of willing locations is looking pretty impressive, and some even have their own fill kit. But certain regions don't allow bars to fill up unlabeled containers. Some even have restrictions against filling containers without hard sides. And I'd imagine you'd run into more than one bartender in your quest to bring home your favorite beer who would simply be unfamiliar and unwilling to play along with this new container.
Headlining the trio of updates announced today, Synek's new Growler Adapter will make the machine useful even if you can't find a bar willing to fill up cartridges. Basically, the adapter is a cap that allows the dispenser to pour from a growler, so you're no longer restricted to using the bags. If you find a bar that won't fill it, or you just don't like the thought of keeping your beer in plastic, use a growler as you normally would and you'll still get the advantage of controlling the temp and carbonation of your pour. You'll lose the staying power, though, as the growler will only last as long as one normally would.
The other upgrades won't mean as much to the ordinary beer drinker. The sling in particular is just meant for bars with vented taps. The attachment should help reduce the oxygen introduced through those taps so the beer will last longer. It's a bonus for participating establishments.
The redesigned bags will go out to everyone once they're ready, but the reinforced pressure capacity will really only help homebrewers.
Given that Synek isn't exactly cheap -- the original dispenser costs $330 and comes with three cartridges and a refillable 20-ounce carbon dioxide container -- it's likely aimed at the many beer drinkers passionate enough to brew themselves, so two of the three upgrades could prove quite useful when they're ready this spring.
If you're in the US, you can purchase the Synek now from the company's site. Again, it costs $330 with a bronze version available for $400. Those overseas will have to wait a little longer, but not much. The company recently acquired distributors in the UK and Australia and aims to start selling machines there in March. The US price for the original machine converts to approximately £230 and AU$450. The bronze version converts to around £270 and AU$550.
Upgrades aside, I'm uncertain about keeping the beer in plastic. That's the reason some people, including my colleague Megan Wollerton, are turned off by the whole premise of sous vide cooking. The Synek bags are FDA-approved and sanitary, but when I give this device a full review, I'll be watching for the introduction of any off tastes, however subtle they might be.
In the meantime, the idea of bringing beer home from a bar, and tapping it at home certainly has some appeal. The staying power of the bags, the fact that you can switch them out at will, and the pressure and temp-controlled pour all sound great. I'm looking forward -- in more ways than one -- to putting the system to the test to see if I can get over my reluctance about the plastic and to see if the system can hold up to our blind taste tests.