It was with an unusual degree of enthusiasm, bordering on excitement, that yesterday afternoon I unpacked a Tap King for trial and review.
The new draught beer at home system from Lion comes complete with the usual PR-hype promising to be revolutionary and innovative but, with the hyperbole filtered out, it still delivers on much of its promise.
Unpacking is easy, with the Tap King itself essentially a self-contained fascia into which the specially-designed 3.2L PET bottles is easily inserted and locked. The only additional installation required is the removable and retractable drip tray.
It’s much more complicated than a simple PET bottle. There have been many questions asked about whether the bottles are hackable by homebrewers for refilling. I am sure that clever types may be able to do this, with work, though whether the effort warrants the return is up for debate.
The whole package is very sleek and comes with easy-to-follow instructions, and an entertaining instructional video is available online if needed. It really shouldn’t be.
The combined unit is much smaller than expected, roughly as wide as a standing six-pack though a little longer, and it contains the equivalent of approximately eight-and-a-half 375ml stubbies worth of beer. At a RRP of between $33-$48 for a twin-pack of refills, it costs about $1.94 – $2.82 per stubby equivalent.
I have a relatively small fridge – at least there never seems to be enough room – and was fully expecting to have to visit a friend with the promise of free beer to trial it. This wasn’t needed and a small amount of rearranging saw it easily accommodated. It should fit nicely in any fridge that currently has a six-pack in it.
This latter point gets around one of the potential criticisms that I have heard of the system, being it is best suited to households that have a second (beer) fridge. It arrives on the market at a time when electricity prices are going up and green footprints are very much a matter of public consciousness, to the point of being urged to get rid of beer fridges. Assuming it’s designed to replace the existing six pack rather than augment it, it’s a clever move to lock up the space in the fridge to Lion products. In the days of the portfolio drinker its a smart approach, especially if some of Lion’s extensive brewed-under-licence portfolio is added to the line-up. This would also lend weight to one comment I had heard from a craft brewer, that – as consumers increasingly drink beer at home rather than in hotels – Lion is moving from contracting hotel taps to essentially contract home fridges. This seems a little harsh. If the consumer’s approach is to give limited fridge space to Tap King rather than a six-pack, there is no compulsion for them to do so, other than it being a compelling marketing idea. And that’s really the point of good marketing, to provide the consumer with something they actually want.
Although cautioned to let the system chill for nine hours, I couldn’t wait and was rewarded with a glass of foam. Heed the advice and let your bottle cool overnight. Of course, this requires more fridge space for replacements – and planning to make sure that you’re not making the potentially risky move of crash-chilling your next beer in the freezer.
The beer pours quite well for a home system. Some care is required to get a perfect pour – at least with the supplied James Squire Golden Ale – but it is doable with a minimum of practice. The sprung drip tray is a clever design feature that retracts when you are pouring but pops out as you finish.
As a beer writer, it is very easy to over-think Tap King. But for the consumer, it is just fun. It lends some theatre to the experience of drinking beer at home, more than just pulling at a ring-pull or turning a twist-top. It’s very cool to be able to pour yourself a beer from the tap at home in a fairly stylish and convenient way, without great expense. It may not change the flavour of the beer, but it certainly changes the experience.
The beer selection isn’t going to win praise from the entrenched craft beer drinker, but we do make up a very small part of the market. With the money that has been poured into this project – reportedly in the many tens of millions – this is distinctly targeting the mainstream beer market. The beer selection reflects this audience. But here is where personally I think the Tap King is at its best. Craft beer provides its own excitement and interest. The mainstream beer market has been flagging for much more than a generation. The big brewers have been flailing in their battles to reclaim ‘share of throat’. Judging by the level of interest that has been shown already just through Google searches for the product – and in my own sense of anticipation to try it – the Tap King has the capacity to generate some real excitement in the traditional beer market.
While beer geeks may be disappointed at the selection, it’s still a positive initiative from Lion. Beer lovers should applaud anything that creates interest and excitement in beer and has the potential to bring beer – any beer – to a wider market. Whether Tap King does this, whether it is a short-term novelty or an innovation with real legs, time will tell. But, to me, it does represent an attempt to entice drinkers back to beer, rather than merely fight for a larger share of a shrinking market. It’s certainly worthy of cheers rather than sneers for this.
There are plenty of questions about Lion’s plans for the system and I have an interview scheduled with Lion’s Marketing Director, Matt Tapper, is a few weeks. So, if there’s anything you would like to know, post your questions below. Otherwise, Tap King will be available for your own trial in 5 days. The dispenser unit will cost around $32.99.