However, That UltraBeer Thing doesn't actually make your beer taste better.
Clearly, the company behind That UltraBeer Thing has a sense of humor. The UK-based tech company That Thing made the UltraBeer reminiscent of a sex toy in its appearance, and its use lends itself to all sorts of fun phrasing -- the only purpose of the UltraBeer is to give your beer a nice head. That humor is apparent in the much-watched promotional video for UltraBeer, in which a beer snob uses the device while boring everyone around him to sleep by droning on about the finer art of beer.
The UltraBeer uses sound to stir up the carbon dioxide in your beer. Press the button on the front, stick one end in your glass, and circle it around for a second or two and your formerly dull-looking pint will now have a frothy head. The UltraBeer fulfills that one duty admirably, but it also affects the taste of your beer -- creating a creamy mouthfeel and dampening some sharper, bitter notes.
If you want to experiment with your beer, the $20/£20 UltraBeer is an easy splurge that's fun to use. Unlike what's implied in the video, I don't recommend it for beer snobs, or even enthusiasts who want to taste the beer as the brewer intended. The novelty of the UltraBeer wears off quickly, and then you're just left with a stirred-up beer that doesn't taste quite right.
Marketed as a "pocket-size ultrasonic craft beer tool" you can buy That UltraBeer Thing from the company's website, as well as Amazon, for $20. The UltraBeer launched in the UK first, where Amazon.co.uk has it for £20. It's not currently available in Australia, but the US price converts to roughly AU$27 if you want to ship it.
I take some issue with calling the UltraBeer "pocket-size" as it's 8 inches long -- thus pretty big for a pocket as even my sizable cell phone (a Google Pixel XL) is only 6.25 inches even with a case on it. Also carrying the UltraBeer with you to a bar doesn't make a lot of sense to me. You're putting the device into your pocket, then your beer, and I don't tend to like pocket lint in my beer.
The UltraBeer makes more sense as a kitchen tool you can use to liven up bottled beer. Using it couldn't be easier. Insert a couple of AAA batteries into the screw off top, then put the smaller end into your beer and touch the power symbol on the front. The ultrasonic frequency does the rest. Your beer will be frothed within a second or two.
You can clean it with a quick rinse, or a wipe with a damp cloth. Be careful not to submerge your UltraBeer, though. It's not waterproof above the battery line -- so you can't give it a deeper clean in the dishwasher. That said, a quick wipe was always enough to convince me it was clean.
Because the UltraBeer is touch sensitive, I'd also worry that sticking it in your pocket would cause it to stay on while you're out and about, and drain the batteries quickly. Under normal use, That Thing promises that the batteries will last through 150 pints.
Perhaps as a safety measure against pocket foaming, I often noticed that the button didn't work after I'd left the UltraBeer idle for a couple of days. I was always able to fix the problem easily by following the company's advice for a reset -- removing the batteries and putting them back in -- but the UltraBeer also stopped working and forced a reset during a couple of my taste tests. For the most part, using the UltraBeer is a simple joy, but the need to keep resetting it annoyed me.
Speaking of those taste tests, in addition to anecdotal use over the course of a couple of weeks, I subjected seven coworkers to an official tasting of three beers with and without the effects of the UltraBeer. We tried a light beer ( Avery's White Rascal -- a Belgian White), a hoppy beer (Stone's Pataskala -- a red IPA) and a dark beer (Tallgrass Brewing's Buffalo Sweat -- an oatmeal cream stout).
The results for the UltraBeer weren't all bad. In fact, for the light beer, the eight of us were split right down the middle -- with four preferring the original and four preferring the beer after I'd used the UltraBeer on it. The original version of the beer won 5-3 on both of the second two beers, and on each of the three tests, I voted for the original.
Most testers, including myself, found the two versions of each beer similar, though a couple of testers strongly preferred the original each time. CNET Editor Ry Crist said the UltraBeer version tasted like someone had spit in it and swirled around the spit.
All testers consistently noted that the UltraBeer tends to mute sharper and bitter flavor profiles. I liked the effect the least on the IPA -- a beer meant to be bitter. I liked it the best on the oatmeal stout, as the creamy feel of the UltraBeer version played nicely with the primary flavors of the brew.
Still, I preferred the original Buffalo Cream Stout over the UltraBeer version as the beer uses a few bitter notes to balance its inherent sweetness. The UltraBeer rounds off those edges and the Cream Stout lost some of its balance as a result.
Believe it or not, the UltraBeer isn't the first kitchen tool we've tested that's designed to use sound to liven up your bottled beer. The $170 Fizzics does essentially the same thing as the UltraBeer, only you place your bottled beer into it and it pours it out through a tap that uses sound -- instead of immersing the sound-emitting device into your glass.
Before I first tried the Fizzics, I was skeptical that the central technology would work at all -- I thought it would most likely produce a placebo effect. As it turns out, brewing laboratories use similar tech in machines called sonicator baths to remove carbonation from beer before testing it. The science behind the Fizzics and the UltraBeer checks out -- they just use sound for a much shorter period of time than sonicator baths so only a small portion of the carbon dioxide in the bottle is used.
As with the UltraBeer, the Fizzics dampens the bitter taste of beer and brings out the creamy side. It also smoothes the texture of your drink while it works. That said, despite using the same basic technology, the Fizzics fared better in our taste tests. More of my coworkers preferred beers after the Fizzics treatment than after using the UltraBeer.
The Fizzics comes closer to replicating draft beer from a bottle by turning the pour into a two-step process -- it digitally controls the flow of your beer into your glass for a gentle aeration, then stirs up the last sip from the bottle to create the head. The Fizzics leaves the carbon dioxide of most of your glass alone.
The UltraBeer allows you to more finely customize how much head you want on your beer. You can do this with Fizzics to an extent, but it's imprecise. With the UltraBeer, though, you're interacting with the gas in the body of your beer, creating more of a stirred-up effect on the taste.
That UltraBeer Thing does not ruin your beer. The differences in taste between an untouched beer and one stirred up with the UltraBeer are small. You'd probably only notice them if you're tasting them side by side and/or you're really paying attention and know what to look for. With that in mind, if you like the idea of the UltraBeer, don't let me stop you from getting one. It's only $20, it's easy to use, and it works fine. The UltraBeer fulfills its one task admirably. I'd recommend it if you place particular value on a glass of beer with a nice head.
Even if you just want to experiment with bottled beer, the $20 UltraBeer is a much easier splurge than the $170 Fizzics or the slimmer $130 Fizzics Waytap. The Fizzics is better, but again, not by much. That said, if you're a beer lover looking to improve the taste of your bottled beer -- the UltraBeer isn't the answer.