Synek Counter Top Beer Dispenser review: Bubble burst -- Synek's lofty dream of beer revolution falls flat

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MSRP: $329.00

The Good Once you have everything hooked up, it's easier to pour a tall, foamy glass of beer from the temp-controlled and carbonated Synek Counter Top Beer Dispenser than from a growler.

The Bad Depending on where you live, finding beers you can actually use with Synek ranges from tough to impossible. Setting up Synek is a pain, and the valves can be finicky when your beer starts running low. Synek's cartridges don't actually keep your beer fresher for significantly longer than an ordinary growler.

The Bottom Line With Synek, you're supposed to be able to bring home a greater variety of beer than you can find in bottles and you're supposed to be able to drink it at your own pace. Right now, you can't do either. The Synek Counter Top Beer Dispenser isn't ready for the mass market.

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4.5 Overall
  • Features 5
  • Design 6
  • Performance 4
  • Usability 4

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 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.

Synek's map looks great at a glance, but the gray pins don't necessarily indicate a participating location.

Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

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.

Finding a place to fill my Synek cartridge was harder than I'd like. Hopefully the upcoming addition that lets you use the dispenser with an ordinary growler will alleviate the problem.

Chris Monroe/CNET

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.

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