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