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Hands-on with the Tap King: is this the king of beer at home?

By Leigh D. Stark | 4:56 pm 02/08/2013

Beer. At home. From a keg in your fridge. For less than a hundred bucks. Could this be the dream of every ale lover?

I have a confession to make: I’ve never liked beer. I like cider, but not beer. In fact, up until this test, I didn’t like beer.

It might seem strange that a person who didn’t like beer should be reviewing the Tap King, a beer keg with replaceable beer canisters, but I found myself liking beer the more I pulled the beer from the keg, let it sit in the glass, and then let the foamy liquid make its way through my lips.

But was this because of Tap King is a genuinely good product, or because I was changing as a person, that my tastebuds were becoming more mature?

From the experience of the past few days, I suspect it was the latter, and based on what people around the office are telling me from their experiences, and based on my own newbie “hello, yes, I’m new to this whole beer drinking” thing, I can safely say that no, the Tap King isn’t fantastic.

Let me explain.

Over the past few weeks, Lion – the owners of Tooheys, Hahn, James Boag, and James Squire – have been advertising a product that allows you to store a micro keg in your fridge and pull a beer with ease.

It’s called the “Tap King,” and was built by Australian packaging company Visy after what Lion says was “two years of extensive research and refinement,” resulting in a product that is essentially the Nespresso of beer appliances.

We’re not kidding, either.

The Tap King is a plastic micro keg tap head that uses a latch system to connect to 3.2 litre bottles of beer.

There are six varieties of beer you can buy at this point, all of them owned by Lion, with XXXX Gold, James Boag’s Premium Lager, Tooheys New, Tooheys Extra Dry, Hahn SuperDry Premium Low Carb, and James Squire Golden Ale.

We were curious if cider was coming to the Tap King system, but haven’t heard back from Lion’s people yet.

Once you’ve selected your beverage, you take the bottle, pull the lid off to reveal the connections underneath, align the arrow on the back of the bottle with the arrow on the back of the micro keg tap, push it down, and pull the latch, locking the tap on the head of the beer.

From there, it’s a pretty simple operation: lie the bottle back in your fridge, chill it for between six to nine hours, and when it’s cold enough, pull yourself a beer, holding the glass at an angle. Easy.

You’ll need a decent amount of space in your fridge, mind you, as it’s a relatively large device, but we were able to take up an entire level in the GadgetGuy fridge by placing it diagonally on the shelf.

Pulling the beer is as simple as pushing against the tap with a glass held underneath.

For the Tap King, beer is made by pulling a flat beer from the bottle and mixing it with an injection of CO2, similar to what a Sodastream does, except inside a small bottle.

Do not puncture the CO2 canister. Do not state the obvious. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

In fact, every single Tap King replacement bottle contains 3.2 litres of alcohol – essentially ten 320ml drinks – with a carbon dioxide canister, and Lion includes a tool to help you remove the lid and CO2 canister for when you want to recycle the bottles. Nifty.

The most important part of the Tap King is flavour, so is it as good as a pub tap in your home?

The answer to the question of is this as good as a pub is harder for me to answer since I’m relatively new to this whole beer drinking thing.

However, everyone in the office who could try it offered an opinion, and unanimously, the answer was no.

Two beers. The one on the left is from the bottle. The one on the right is from the Tap King. Guess which was always preferred.

Over group testing, what we found was that while the beer from the tap wasn’t bad, the lack of fizz and carbonation on your tongue was seriously noticeable.

“It lacks body,” said Peter Blasina, tasting it over a lunch, and when compared to a bottle of the same beer poured into a glass, immediately preferred the bottled brew.

Our designer Bill Chan also preferred the pre-packaged bottle, saying that the keg almost tasted flat, and barely had enough bubbles to constitute a fresh beer.

Playing with the bottles, this problem might stem from the CO2 bottle inside the tank being too small for the purpose, and not enough carbonation injected at the time the beer is pulled.

From a design point of view, the all plastic Tap King does come off as cheap, with a plastic body and flimsy feeling, and in some ways reminds us more of a marketing stunt and gimmick than an actual encapsulated brewery for your home, which is sort of what we had hoped it would be.

That said, it’s also around $32, so it doesn’t exactly come with the premium that coffee pod machines come with, making it a very different beast altogether.

The first beer you pull may have a lot of head.

Price wise, the Tap King will cost you more to run than buying cans or bottles, and will provide even less.

Comparing the same beer we were testing (James Boag’s Premium Lager), a 24 pack of 375ml bottles not only offers more beer, but costs around $45, not the $48 for two 3.2L Tap-King bottles that only offer 20 drinks.

If you can find cans, they’re generally cheaper and offer more per box, so these hardly compare.

Which would you pick?

Outside of price, the real question is over whether the quality matches the product. Most people in our office don’t believe that to be the case, but can see why it would be fun to keep a keg in your fridge.

As such, Lion’s Tap King is closer to a marketing stunt than an actual product you’ll keep using.

You might get more than the two or four time use here, but we suspect outside of a party or barbecue, you’ll go back to bottles soon enough.

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