Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Growler + Kegerator = Synek?

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Have you heard about this new in-home draught beer dispenser called Synek? It started out as a Kickstarter project last year (in fact, 2,191 backers pledged $648,535 to help bring this project to life). It’s a way of having fresh draught beer in your home without having to buy kegs or a kegerator. The guys behind this invention are currently doing a nationwide tour showing it off at select bars, restaurants and breweries, and they stopped at Madison Pour House last night. I decided to check it out.

I really had no idea what this Synek thing was until I heard about the local demonstration. So I Googled it and checked out their website and this flashy, professionally-produced video certainly was interesting to watch (though it’s pretty corny):

All I could tell is that it is a small micro fridge with a faucet and tap handle that dispenses beer, but it doesn’t say how it works. At first I thought it was some kind of beer concentrate that you add water to (which is a thing, by the way). It wasn’t until I saw it in person that I learned it dispenses beer from a 1-gallon plastic bag. The bag is filled like a Camelbak bladder: you simply hold it up to a faucet; pour beer into it until it’s full; hook it up to the Synek’s own CO2 canister and tap line; then you pour it from the tap just like any other draught beer.

That certainly sounds pretty cool. After all, that means any beer that’s available on tap anywhere you could theoretically have on tap in your home. In fact, that’s the entire selling point of Synek (which, oddly enough, is pronounced “cynic”). It’s meant to be the next evolution in growlers. You might even call it the growler enthusiast’s fantasy come true. And considering how much money they raised crowd sourcing the prototype, there’s definitely an audience for Synek. When I was at MPH I saw several people carrying their brand new Syneks out the door with a smile.
But I’m not sold on this Synek thing just yet. Call me a Synek cynic, and here’s why:
  • The price starts at $299 (there’s also a bronze version for $399) and that does not include shipping (though you can come pick it up for free at events like this). For those prices you could buy a traditional kegerator (maybe not a great one).
  • You’re limited to only a single 1-gallon bag at a time with a Synek, but you could have a sixtel or a half barrel keg with a kegerator. Each Synek does come with five 1-gallon bags, so you could have five gallons of the same beer I suppose, but wouldn’t it be easier to just have a sixtel and a kegerator? Or, if you filled all five bags with five different beers, the four waiting on standby could go flat. Obviously you could re-carbonate them with the Synek’s CO2, but how long does it take to carbonate a flat bag? That doesn’t make it party-friendly whereas a keg is already carbonated and ready to go
    • Synek is marketed as being portable. In the above video they say wherever there’s an electrical outlet you can have draught beer. Sure, but couldn’t the same be said about a mini fridge? They’re about the same size and weight, but a mini fridge is not something generally considered to be portable. Are people really going to bring their Syneks with them tailgating and camping? Why lug this thing around when you could fill a cooler with a variety of cans instead? There’s also the issue of drinking vessels – if you’re going to drink portable draught beer from a plastic cup, then the novelty would seem to be rendered moot. Personally, I’d rather suck a beer straight from the can than drink a draught beer out of a plastic cup, but that’s just me.
    • Beer for growler fills is usually more expense per ounce than beer sold in a keg (not including the deposit). And draught beer at a bar or brewery is usually double that of comparable beer sold pre-packaged in bottles and cans. The average bottle or can (in my experience) is priced between 20 and 30 cents per ounce, whereas the average pint or growler fill at a bar tends to be priced around 40 to 50 cents per ounce. You really must have disposable income to make a Synek worthwhile.
    • See my blog from last month scoffing at growlers. Much of what I said about growlers is applicable to a Synek.
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    Sweet ride!

    iphone 123But I digress. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a Synek; I’m just saying it’s not for me, at least not right now. It’s a toy that I can’t really financially justify splurging on and one that I don’t think I’d use that much anyway.

    As an AnCap, I wholeheartedly support entrepreneurs and my hat is off to Steve Young and company for taking a pretty big risk in both this economy and in this highly regulated industry. This cannot be an easy product to sell, and I’m sure some idiot politician will try to stymie or flat-out ban Syneks in some capacity eventually. I appreciate that there does seem to be a viable market for this product and I’m impressed by all the support it’s apparently received by brewers and other industry professionals. Synek could be a game changer. I guess we’ll find out.

    What’s your thoughts on Synek?
    1. Is this a product you would consider buying? If so, how would you use it?
    2. How does this compare to a traditional kegerator?
    3. How does this compare to growlers?
    4. Could this/will this have a huge impact on the beer industry in the long run?


  1. Full disclosure (Synek- pronouced sin-eh-k - Backer/user/owner) I picked mine up at this event. There are a few things you have wrong in this Chad. This isnt for everyone (which you have right), and this isnt a camelback either. This is for people who enjoy craft beer (i.e. people who like to have a few and not 1 million beers on a night because then youd be drinking shit beer to get hammered). This is for people who want to drink a few a night a few times a week.

    A kegerator is similar, but there are downsides. A small QK is 7x the size of one bag. Sure if you want one beer that you can drink over 3-8 months then a kegerator is what you want. I like to try different beers. Kegerators also take up a lot of space, can be noisy as well. My synek is small and quiet. Not only can I have multiple bags of DIFFERENT BEERS (you made it seem like one would get 2 or 3 bags of the same beer (borrriinngg) but I can easily switch them out with the quick connects. So really its nothing like a kegerator and has far more advantages. Oh also, im pretty sure breweries dont sell ALL of the beers they make in Keg form right (andif you want a keg which lets be honest, is a ton of one kind of beer then are you really buying true craft beer or are you getting that keg of blue moon from the beer distributors). But any beer they have on tap, you can get, with this Synek. What if you wanted bottles you ask? Well, most small breweries dont bottle all of their beers because its expensive so this solves that issue.

    Growlers are the same thing as this, able to sample many craft beers without having to buy a QC for a kegerator. Lets face it, I can finish a grower in a day or 2 (their opened shelflife) but I have kids and responsibilites. I also dont want to waste any beer should life get in the way.

    Being able to get whatever beer I want from whatever local brewery will allow me to sample a lot more beer than I have. I have a wife, 2 kids, a life and cant be going spending a couple hours a week out at Browns or Rare form. I like to drink at home, watching the game. Now I dont have to do that with whatever is in bottles at Price Chopper.

    I will say I do not see this thing camping or anything like that. It just doesnt make sense, but as a standalone way to free up fridge space and allow me to drink whatever Browns/CH Evans/Rare Form/ Shmaltz has on tap this week, I can do so, and now I dont have to just drink it all in one week. I can make that last. The bags are affordable and technically not reusable (but if I was getting the SAME beer again, id have no hesitation reusing the bag, as its only for taste its not reusable).

  2. Ooops, also, since the beer is carbonated out of the tap and the CO2 cant escape the bag, it wont go flat. The CO2 cannister in the Synek is mainly for pushing the beer out of the bag and repenishing any lost space with CO2 so that once beer comes out it doesnt lose CO2.

  3. At first, this looked like a really interesting approach to bring the huge diversity of craft beers to everyone's home. But it turns out I still need to fill the cartridge bags myself, so I need to go to local brewers or other suppliers to get the beer. So, I’m still limited to only local craft beers. Here's what I don't get: Why doesn't Synek partner with brewers to supply FILLED cartridges with craft beers from around the country and world? Does the shipping cost of filled cartridges cost so much that it drives up the cost of beer too much? There are online beer stores that ship bottles at reasonable cost – presumably shipping bags is cheaper? I don’t get it.

    1. Really? You thought the Synek would come with beer? When you buy a refrigerator does it come stocked with food? Does a kegerator come with a keg of beer?

      Of course you have to provide the beer yourself - that's the whole point of the machine! It's selling point is that any beer YOU can get you can have on tap in your home!

      Why don't breweries partner with Synek to supply you with beer? First of all, because of the massive legality involved in such a thing. Different states have different laws regarding alcohol; you can't sell your beer in a state where it's not licensed; you can't even legally ship alcohol anyway without all kinds of permits. Also, if you were limited to whatever breweries partnered with Synek it would be a very short (non-existent) list. It's really unrealistic to think breweries would collab with Synek to provide beer bags in this infancy point. If they did, the cost of them would be ridiculously expensive! Do you want to plunk down $50 on a plastic bag of beer?! Unless you live in Antarctica, just go to your local beer or liquor store and get the beer yourself.

      And why don't they ship plastic bags already full of beer? For the same reason you don't ship someone a water balloon - that's why. Bottles and cans are much more durable than a plastic bag. There's no way to make a plastic bag completely spill-proof.

      Damn, you're dumb.

    2. I just had an exchange with a rep at Synek who told me:

      "In regards to the prefilled Cartridges - this is actually what we are working towards"

      Maybe not so dumb

    3. And you believed them? Nope, still pretty dumb.

      If in a few years there's a giant catalog of beer bags by mail I'll take this back, but I don't see it happening.