Drinking beer at home hasn’t changed much over the years. You open the fridge, grab a beer, crack it open and go on your merry way.
But beyond the trusty bottle and can, brewers and other drinks businesses have long tried to bring the experience of enjoying a draught beer to the home too.
Growlers have been on offer at local breweries for years but, COVID aside, haven't enjoyed the success here that you'll find in America or New Zealand. Famously, Lion tried to change the game with their Tap King system designed to sit in people's fridges but, following three years of sluggish sales, they dropped the idea.
Now Melbourne-based Keg King is hoping an innovative new product will help bring the draught beer experience to everywhere from small apartments short on space to parks and beaches.
The Kegmaster Mini is a $600 to $700 benchtop draught beer system that takes up about as much benchspace as a large home coffee machine. It’s been unveiled this week at BrewCon and features a single tap, uses a standard power socket, cools beer from ambient temperatures, and is designed to hold ten litre kegs.
Keg King CEO Will Fiala (pictured at the top of the article with the unit) says they’ve built the system for beer drinkers with limited space at home, or who have an interest in learning the ins and outs of how kegs work.
“People can buy a ten-litre keg online or through a taproom," Will says, "and within a couple of minutes, slide the keg in, put the coupler on, and be pouring a draught quality beer.”
In a sense, the Kegmaster Mini features multiple products already developed by the business, including the plastic kegs they manufacture in Melbourne and a coupler that’s been developed to easily fit their latest release.
“It’s just something that people can slide on top and screw in that people will instinctively understand,” he says.
The system was designed around the ten-litre kegs because it represents just a little more beer than you get in a standard case; the machines can also be easily adjusted to fit 20-litre kegs.
“There are people who buy slabs every week,” Will says. “It’ll last in a keg just like any other keg, I don’t see an issue if people don’t go through it straight away.”
When it comes to pouring a perfectly carbonated pint, there's a few options: the Kegmaster Mini can run off 16 gram CO2 cartridges, 70 gram cartridges from Keg King, and a regular, Type 30 gas cylinder. But arguably the most exciting part is their ability to connect with something many have in their houses and apartments: SodaStream bottles.
“For home use, we’re suggesting people use either a 70 gram cartridge or a SodaStream,” Will says. “There’s a lot of people who have SodaStream at home, so people are already used to using them and getting a fresh bottle when they are out.”
As well as powering the machines with a regular power socket, the system can run off a cigarette lighter socket, which means they can be taken away from the home without any need to worry about taking up valuable fridge or esky space.
“It’s a pretty powerful compressor in there so it’s a proper refrigerator,” he says. “People do want to have cold beer when they go away, whether it’s in the caravan or camping."
And, if you don't have access to any power source – for example, at a music festival – the sun can be your friend.
“A little solar panel will do that job very nicely,” Will says. “You can put it on a little trolley with a 12-volt battery underneath you can wheel around anywhere and it'll stay cold."
The Kegmaster Mini also features flow control taps Keg King designed in-house.
“People don’t necessarily want a full pint, so it stops the beer coming out full pelt if you want to fill just a small tasting glass,” Will says.
As for the environmental impact of using plastic, Will says the kegs are fully recyclable and points out there’s a simpler way to ensure they don’t end up in landfill.
“You could potentially reuse them,” he says. “But I suggest you just tell the local homebrewers that you’ve got some spare kegs and they’ll be around in a flash to collect them.”
Will also suggests there are rather more people using draught systems at home than you might realise. Their business has been around since 2009 and, given their focus on homebrewing gear and dispensing equipment, they know their audience. Last year, they sold more than 7,000 beer fridges in Australia; while a chunk of them would have ended up in small licensed venues, it shows a lot of people already drinking like this at home – if they have the space for it.
“It’s not inconsiderable,” he says. “There’s a lot of people who want to drink draught beer at home.”
To work, it also requires breweries being willing to package their beer into ten-litre kegs, with Will saying they've had positive conversations with some already, and believes there's limited cost or risk for breweries wanting to trial it as another means of reaching consumers.
“It’s not a big investment for them, you just have to have a few of our kegs on hand," he says. "You could think of it as another kind of growler.
“We’ve left it transparent so people can see the labelling. It’s good for the brewery, but I think if people have it at home, they want to show off the brewery and beer.
“The idea is to re-empower breweries by letting them be able to sell directly to their end customers. It means they can sell directly to their end customers and don’t have to give up one cent.”
If you're reading this during BrewCon, you can stop by both 39 and 40 to see the Kegmaster Mini, which Keg King plan to have widely available soon.