Synek Counter Top Beer Dispenser review: Bubble burst -- Synek's lofty dream of beer revolution falls flat
Get ready to fight a beer revolution. The Synek Counter Top Beer Dispenser wants to make distribution headaches a thing of the past for brewers, and help consumers drink a greater variety of beers at home. Synek's idea is to replace growlers with airtight, doggie-bag-like cartridges. Fill one up at your local bar or brewery, then take it home and plug it into the carbonated, temperature controlled dispenser, and you'll be able to enjoy your fresh brew for weeks longer than you would from a growler -- not to mention the fact that each cartridge holds twice as much beer as a growler does.
You can order the Synek Dispenser on the company's website right now for $330 (Synek is lining up distributors, and hopes to start selling the dispenser overseas soon -- for now, that price converts to roughly £220 and AU$460). For your money, you get an empty carbon dioxide canister, one Synek cap, and three cartridges so you can open the box, grab a bag, and head to your favorite bar. Just be ready to fight the good fight alongside Synek.
There were moments during my tests when I saw how great this product could be, but it's not there yet. For starters, you'll have to battle the machine to get it working correctly, and once you do, the cartridges won't actually maintain your beer's taste for very long. On top of all that, the selection of beers you can get in a cartridge is currently quite limited in some parts of the US.
So, if you don't want to be a soldier in Synek's revolution, and instead, just want to be a customer and enjoy the convenience and ease of use that title implies, then I can't recommend the Synek Counter Top Beer Dispenser right now.
The quest for beer
A few of my issues with Synek might not apply to you. For instance, I had trouble finding a place to fill my carbon dioxide tank. If you're a home brewer, you might already have a source, but keep in mind, you can't just buy a tank of CO2 -- you have to fill the empty tank Synek sends you. Here in Louisville, Kentucky, I couldn't find a place that'd fill my tank with food-grade CO2. So, I went with the company's suggestion, and filled it with industrial CO2 at a sporting goods store.
My next issue -- a much bigger one given Synek's promise of selection -- finding beer. Again, this might not be an issue for you. Take a look at the map on Synek.beer. At first glance, the number of pins impressed me, but the gray ones that fill out the map are mostly breweries that aren't participating. Enter your ZIP code, and make sure you have a few gold pins near you if you're considering purchasing Synek.
Bars need a special fill kit in order to pour beer into your Synek cartridge without it touching air along the way. Gold pins on the Synek map mark places that have one of these kits. Any bar might be willing to fill one up for you the same way they'd fill up a growler, but you only get the longer shelf life if you have it filled with a kit.
In Louisville, the only participating location is Akasha brewing -- a relatively new facility on the outskirts of downtown. I'd never been to Akasha before testing Synek, but I'm always looking for an excuse to try a new brewery, so this made for a perfect one.
As you might imagine, tasting the various Akasha beers was fun. Waiting while they figured out what the heck Synek was and how to work it? Less so. Again, this was a location with a gold pin on Synek's site. They had never filled up a cartridge before, and the bartender and manager had no clue what I was talking about when I asked. The owner did, and was keen to help me figure it out for love of experimentation.
The second-closest Synek-approved, gold-pin brewery was over 100 miles away, in Indianapolis. After making the 2-hour trek, I had a similar experience. This time, one of the two bartenders had actually heard of Synek, but getting the cartridge filled was an experiment he had only tried once before. Friends of mine across the country inquired about Synek at other gold pin bars to more blank stares.
So, if you're looking to join the fight and help recruit and teach your local bars about Synek, I'm sure Synek would appreciate your efforts. If you're a customer hoping for a seamless experience of taking some beer to go, expect to do a lot of extra leg work.
The hassle of obtaining beer and CO2 would be more forgivable if Synek performed up to its promise in terms of maintaining the freshness of your beer. It doesn't.
When I plugged in my first beer, I was doused with a spray of Akasha's IPA in my face. I thought I had installed everything correctly, but when I clicked the hose onto the beer nozzle, the tap shot beer in all directions.
After a few moments of fiddling, we were able to fix the problem, but you might want to use Synek in your garage or basement the first time around to make sure you're not dousing your nicely decorated kitchen in suds.
Once the beer poured out of the correct end of the tap, it tasted just fine. I can imagine Synek as a fun party assistant. Instead of dealing with a bunch of bottles or pumping a keg, guests just need to pull the handle to get a refill.
But Synek's supposed to earn its keep the rest of the time by keeping your beer fresh for much longer than a growler. Over the course of numerous blind taste tests with four different beers from two different breweries, Synek consistently disappointed.
My coworkers and I tried Synek against a growler of the same beer. Once, on an Amber Ale from TwoDeep Brewery in Indianapolis, Synek added a bitter aftertaste where it didn't belong -- a possible symptom of that industrial CO2 I was using, but it only happened once.
The rest of the time, Synek tasted great for the first day or two, but so did the beer from the growler. On two of the four beers, the Piper Cherrywood Smoked Porter and a Gose (a tart, salty wheat beer) both from Akasha, Synek held up for a couple of days longer than the growler.
I obtained both beers on subsequent trips to Akasha, so the owner was ready for me. With a little practice, he found Synek's cartridges easier to fill, and that alone might be why these beers held up better than the IPA he poured while he was still figuring out the system. But the Porter and Gose still lost a lot of their flavor by the end of the week -- nowhere near the 30-day promise.
The $330 Synek Counter Top Beer Dispenser is a great product in theory. I love the idea of bringing home freshly tapped beer that isn't available in bottles and enjoying it at my leisure over the course of a few weeks. I love the idea of having a countertop beer dispenser that lets me pour carbonated and temperature controlled beer for my friends.
But right now, the variety that's at the heart of the Synek promise isn't available. Finding a beer you can get properly poured into a Synek cartridge can be a challenge. Once you do manage to bring home a delicious brew, you'll need to drink it fast, because Synek won't actually maintain its flavor for much longer than a growler. Since you can buy a kegerator for $300 to $400, I don't recommend purchasing Synek. The product has a lot of promise, but that promise needs more time to mature.