Sizing up the Growlerwerks uKeg Pressurized Growler

I first came across Growlerwerks at the Craft Beverage Conference in 2015. They had just completed their Kickstarter campaign, and were showing prototypes of their innovatively-designed uKeg beer dispensing system. They’ve come a long way since then, and the uKeg, which is available both on the company website, and through Amazon, routinely receives four-star reviews. Growlerwerks is getting pretty creative too in suggesting ways to use the keg to dispense soft drinks and pre-mixed cocktails, and as a means of force-carbonating beverages.

I’ve tested the 2-liter (64 ounce) version for the last four months, and here are my findings.

The uKeg comes very nicely packaged. The box is well-compartmentalized, and contains, besides the keg itself, a nice tote bag for transporting the keg to and from a fill station, 12 spare CO2 cartridges, a spare pressure cap seal, Growlerwerks sticker for your beer fridge, and a comprehensive user manual with excellent detailed instructions and blow-up drawings showing all the parts assemblies. A pocket-sized manual is included as well.

The uKeg itself is a 2 or 4 liter double-walled, vacuum-insulated aluminum pressure vessel with an adjustable pressure-regulator cap. It’s available in brushed aluminum, copper finish, or anodized black. The dispensing system is a cool-looking Steampunk styled tap attached to the side of the keg. The dispenser incorporates a sight glass and a pressure gauge, making it functional as well as decorative. The keg comes with a one-year warranty. Growlerwerks also offers phone and email customer support.

My experience with the Growlerwerks uKeg has been largely positive, with only a few minor quibbles. First of all, this little fellow is going to turn some heads when you bring it to the growler filling shop, picnic, or friend’s party. The classic lines remind me of the look of the equipment in some of the very old breweries still operating in Europe. The copper-clad version is particularly handsome.

I found that Growlerwerks is also fairly conservative in their estimation of its performance. For example, officially the keg is supposed to keep beer fresh for “at least two weeks.” I have had beer in it a month with no deterioration of quality, as long as the keg was kept full. Even a partially-filled keg’s contents were fine after two weeks.

Growlerwerks says your beer will stay cold “all day.” I found that beer would be drinkably cold for 24 hours, and would be at least “cellar temperature” (typical of English cask ales) for up to 36 hours. It helps to pre-chill the keg with the cap off before filling it. (The keg is nicely sized to fit on a typical refrigerator shelf.)

The uKeg is also rated to use one CO2 cartridge per fill—kind of economically daunting if you like to fill your keg a couple of times a week. I have gotten two to three fills out of a cartridge however. I found that if I apply the minimum amount of pressure to dispense the liquid inside, and turn off the pressure between pours I can conserve the gas and make it last. (Growlerwerks says turning off the pressure doesn’t conserve gas, and I have not tested the functionality both ways.)

I found that the tap-handle lock is also a great feature, preventing accidental discharge of the contents when the keg is being moved.

Now for the quibbles, and I stress that they are trivial in consideration of the overall performance of the uKeg.

The cap, with considerable pressure inside (about 10-15 psi) will occasionally leak. It’s not a serious issue in my experience, a few drips a minute. Nonetheless it helps to be aware of the possibility, and put the keg on a tray or platter. This helps to also contain the inevitable drips that will come from the spout after a pour.

Many of the online complaints filed about the uKeg involve problems with the pressure cartridge leaking. I suppose this is understandable, because the cap is the product’s most complicated assembly. Others refer to the poor quality of assembly and finish, and leaks elsewhere in the piping.

To be fair, many of the complaints appear to be from the early days of production, and evidently Growlerwerks has sorted these problems out. My unit arrived without any of these issues. In any event, customer service seems to be quite responsive to complaints after a few growing pains typical of start-ups.

A number of my fellow brew club members have had a chance to play with the uKeg too, and are similarly impressed. A few mentioned that the Steampunk pouring assembly looks like it might be a bit fragile, and I certainly wouldn’t want the keg to fall off the counter or roll around in the footwell of the car. With proper caution however, and transporting the unit in its carry bag, that should not be an issue.

In conclusion then, I too join the ranks of customers giving the Growlerwerks uKeg four out of five stars. Despite some minor drawbacks, I’m very happy with its performance, as well as its handsome looks. I think you will like it too!

Evaluation by Robert Rivelle George
Author: the UMAMI factor: Full-spectrum fermentation for the 21st Century
Director and Division Manager, Torchlight Brewing Company
http://www.theumamifactor.com
FB: theumamifactory

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Buccoleon Strong Ale

belgian-strongpcThis is a classic Belgian dark tripel. If you have tried Brouwerij Van Steenberge’s Gulden Draak, you know what I mean. Buccoleon Strong Ale is a tribute to that world-class beer.

Brewed with Belgian Strong Ale yeast, it offers flavors of raisins, plums and pears, together with spicy hints of cloves, rum, and nutmeg. Starting with a Pilsner malt base; wheat malt, cara-wheat, crystal malt, biscuit/aroma malts and caramely golden syrup provide a flaky crust for this virtual fruit tart. The yeast leaves its distinctiver mark.

As it is not a Gulden Draak clone, it is a bit drier and a little more bitter. Its original gravity of 24.5 Plato (1105) still leaves a lot of residual sweetness, so it is refermented in the bottle with Champagne yeast and no added bottling sugar. Age this one at least a year.

gent_belfort-draakc

Gulden Draak is named after the golden dragon at the top of the belfry of Ghent. The story of how he got there is fascinating. Buccoleon was the dragon’s name. He lived in the swampy ground around Aleppo, one of the chief cities of the Saracens in northern Syria. He was such a tender-hearted old dragon that he was called The Weeping Dragon. He wept bucketfuls of tears when Belgian crusaders and the Saracens fell to fighting. Where his tears fell, beautiful flowers began to grow.

A crusader took their bulbs back to Belgium, where they became famous for being the most beautiful tulips of all. Hearing about their fame, Buccoleon, whose scales had turned to gold because the crusaders had left, flew to Belgium to see for himself. He decided to stay!

Rum Raisin Brown Stout

rum-raisin-brown-stoutpcThis is a beer that answers the question “What would it be like to brew up a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies?”

In the past, the term “stout” referred to a beer that was extra strong. Thus, we had Porter, and we had Stout Porter, which eventually became just Stout for short. Interestingly, what is now known as Stout is oftentimes rather low in alcoholic content while Porters tend to have an ABV of 5.5% to 6% or more. But historically, Stout was any beer that was as strong as the drinkers that were expected to consume it.

To make this brown stout, start with the ingredients for cookies: wheat malt, oats, sultana raisins. Add to this Maris Otter base malt, crystal malt, a touch of caramel rye malt, and some Cara Munich. Mash at a fairly high temperature to encourage the production of unfermentable sugars that will keep the brew more sweet and full-bodied. Magnum and Amarillo hops are assertive without being overpowering. Add golden syrup at the end of the boil to contribute more caramel flavors. Ferment with a fruity yeast such as London Ale. Soak sultanas in dark rum until they are soft, then whirl the mixture in a blender. Add some to the primary fermenter, and another batch to the secondary, along with a hint of vanilla extract.

The result is not so much a beer that tastes like oatmeal raisin cookies as it is an oatmeal raisin cookie that tastes like beer.

Cascadia Nation Black Lager

cascadia-black-lagercThe Cascade Mountain Range extends from Southern British Columbia through Western Washington and Oregon, into Northern California. Part of the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire” its highest peak is the volcano Mount Rainier. To its west are the hipster havens of Seattle and Portland, famous for some of the finest craft beer in the world. To its east lies the fertile hop growing region of the Yakima Valley in Washington. South of Portland, at the western edge of the Cascades, another stretch of fine hop farms fills the Willamette River valley.

The Cascade Range and its surrounding hop and barley farms form the mythical country of Cascadia. A generous cartographer would include the barley-growing regions of the Columbia Basin, and the Palouse, stretching east and south from Spokane, Washington. It also makes sense to declare San Francisco an honorary member among Cascadia cities, for it is the birthplace of the modern craft beer movement in the United States, thanks to the visionary efforts of Fritz Maytag and his Anchor Brewing Company.

Grain harvesting in Whitman County, Washington

Grain harvesting in Whitman County, Washington

The strains of hops developed in Cascadia, fittingly often begin with the letter “C” themselves. The “Four C’s” as they are sometimes called, are Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Columbus. More recently Citra ™ has joined the group. They are dominantly bright, piney, citrusy and resinous in taste and aroma, and form the basis of most American India Pale Ales. Recently, they have been incorporated into a style known as Cascadian Dark Ale.

As hop and barley production began to ramp up in Cascadia during the 1980s, another development took place 180 degrees away in the Ring of Fire. Japanese brewers were early to recognize the potential for product differentiation offered by creating all-malt lagers in their commercial operations. Kirin and Sapporo led the way with premium “black beer” (黒ビール), featuring roasted malts and a sweet finish.

The Cascadia Black Lager shown here pays homage to both sides of the Ring of Fire. It is hoppy (40 IBU) like a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, slightly roasty like a dark ale, with mildly sweet maltiness like Japanese black lager. It uses the San Francisco lager yeast to keep the finish drier than a typical ale. Cold-infused specialty grains, including debittered Carafa II, Munich malt and Breiss Special Roast maximize flavor while keeping away excessive burned harshness. A nice thick head leads to a moderately full mouth feel, and its 5.7% ABV is assertive, while keeping it well within the range of sessionability for the discerning and determined tippler!

Corny Comet Cream Breakfast Ale

Corny CometCPC
A cream ale for breakfast. Not meant to replace your double espresso, but rather to stand beside it, bracing you for the day to come.

Cream ale emerged in the late 19th Century United States when ale breweries, faced with immigrant competition from Bavarian brewers bringing lager to the market, devised a light and refreshing, yet bold concoction that combined the crisp, dry flavor of a lager with the rapid fermentation characteristics of an ale. In many of these renditions, a substantial ABV approaching 5.5% was a feature.

This cream ale uses 22 IBU of Comet hops, a variety that tastes and smells remarkably like pink grapefruit. Breakfast cereal included: organic corn grits, and steel-cut oats, along with some nice caramel notes from a variety of crystal malts. Starting gravity is 15 Plato, boosted by a late addition of rice syrup solids. White Labs WLP080 Cream Ale yeast blend provides crisp yet round fermentation notes. Dry hopping with Comet offers grapefruit aroma.

This is a fruity breakfast drink; cream of corn grits with fruit and oats, delivered with the full mouthfeel of an ultimate smoothie.

Kola\Coca Soda

kc123pc
In the years after the Civil War in the United States, nostrums and remedies began to appear for sale in the cities and towns throughout the South. One of these was invented by a war veteran who had been injured in battle, and subsequently found himself addicted to morphine, which he had been using to relieve his pain. Marketed as Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, it was touted as a cure for the blues, as well as for morphine addiction. The alcoholic version of the drink was reformulated in response to temperance legislation enacted in the area, and eventually became the world’s top-selling soft drink.

Pemberton's French Wine Coca

Pemberton’s French Wine Coca

This recipe for a drink that contains both coca leaf and kola nut extracts looks particularly pale when compared to commercial cola products. That is because the coloring agent in those versions is caramel. Commercial caramel color is created by heat-treating sugars such as glucose in the presence of acids, alkalies, or salts. It’s there pretty much only for the color. Leave it out and you get a pale golden drink colored, in this case, by the kola nut, coca leaf, and raw cane ingredients. Lime juice and six essential oils complete the formula.

Kola\Coca Soda tastes amazingly like a fresh version of the familiar cola practically everyone knows. It is very aromatic, thanks to the fresh lime juice and combination of fruit and spice oils. If you add a shot or two of dark rum to this beverage you will undoubtedly find yourself soon shouting “¡Cuba Libre!”

Ebulus Cervisiam Delectamentum

EbulumCDepending on where you live, it’s not to late to get out in the woods and gather some elderberries. They make a nice wine of course, but they also make a tart and fruity beer. An elderberry braggot (beer and mead hybrid) is also a tasty possibility. The berries are the fruit of Sambucus species. In Europe, they come most commonly from the Dwarf Elder (Sambucus ebulus.) This tree was known as the Ebull in ancient times, the term taken from its Latin name. The beer made from elderberries is called Ebulum, and appears as a recipe in books from the early 1700s. The Oxford Dictionary defines ebulum as a name for elderberry wine, but London & Country Brew III (1743) says “make a white Ebulum with pale Malt and white Elder-berries.” This was possibly a barley wine.

Elderberries have a long history of medicinal use, with a reputation for successfully treating colds and flu. For this purpose they are usually made into a syrup. The raw berries are somewhat toxic, and so they are cooked. Elderflowers also have medicinal and culinary uses, notably as a background flavoring for the cordial Sambuca.
Sambucus-berries

This Ebulum has a Chocolate Surprise. In addition to the pale malt (in this case Maris Otter) in traditional recipes, this one has chocolate malt, an English blend of crystal malts, and Dingeman’s debittered black malt. It is spiced with elderflowers, grains of paradise, and cinnamon, finished with Muscovado sugar at flameout. A touch of lactose added just before bottling creates a full mouthfeel and a bit of residual sweetness that balances the berries’ tartness.

Stripping two kilos of elderberries from their elaborate stems is tedious work. Drinking the results after a year of aging is a delectable reward.