There must be some unwritten rule somewhere that you shouldn’t turn down free beer. I know when I was in college, you never turned away a free drink (although, I suspect if you are in a sketchy place and said free drink is offered by some random person, you may be safer saying no), but that may have been because it was just cheaper that way.
By no means do I consider myself a beer expert or even connoisseur. But, I know what I like and I know what bad beer tastes like (and, although I am not a fan of the sour beers, I do recognize why some people do enjoy them and I don’t just write them off as being awful). So, when I was offered a DraughtKeg of Newcastle to evaluate and try out (because it is now widely available in the San Diego area – check BevMo and Alberstons as a start), my only concern was whether or not I’d have to buy a BeerTender in order to use it (the answer is no, but I’ll get to that in a minute). Plus, I thought it would be fun to get Travis’ input on this mini keg idea, seeing as how he’s the true beer nerd.
The Newcastle DraughtKeg follows the same concept as the Heineken mini keg (Newcastle is a subsidiary under Heineken International), both designed for use in the Krups BeerTender which will keep your keg cold for the duration of your party (or whatever reason you have a mini keg in your house). Because we often have multiple large kegs full of homebrewed beer, I couldn’t see any reason we’d want a BeerTender or when we would need a mini keg of commercial beer, even though we also have many, many, many bottles of various commercial beers in one of three (three!!) refrigerated units dedicated to holding beer. It’s for this reason that I don’t allow any beer in the “food” fridge in my kitchen. If the beer can’t fit into one of the many appliances purchased just for holding it, then we have too much beer already and don’t need more.
Anywho… the Newcastle DraughtKeg looks like a mini keg and holds approximately 10 pints of beer. Newcastle is an English brown ale, smooth and slightly malty. I actually like Newcastle and have been known to order it by the pint on a few occasions. The DraughtKeg comes fully equipped with a plastic tap and lever handle. The instructions are sparse, but you can figure out from the pictures that you take the spigot handle part and place it straight into the center port. Then you attached the lever and, by pulling the lever upwards, you are ready to dispense beer. The DraughtKeg also has an internal pressurization device (to push it out of the keg) and claims to keep the beer fresh and sparkly for up to 30 days.
For completely different reasons, we’ve had a side by side taste test of Newcastle before: can vs. bottle. Beer nerds will tell you that Newcastle often has a slightly skunked taste (not that it tastes like a skunk, just that it has off flavors) because it’s bottled in clear glass bottles, allowing the beer to be affected by light if not stored properly. This and temperature variation can change the taste of beer. So, the theory is that Newcastle in a can will not taste skunky because it hasn’t been exposed to light. And stuff (see above: not a beer nerd). If you regularly drink Newcastle from bottles, you’ll probably never notice off flavors because it just kind of becomes the way you expect Newcastle to taste. However, if you taste it next to that poured from a can, you may notice that the canned Newcastle has a cleaner, maltier flavor. So, we thought it would be interesting to do the same taste test with the addition of the DraughtKeg.
Travis put the test together, using clear plastic glasses, a serving tray, and the beer towel I got with the DraughtKeg. We had a couple of friends over (because two people can’t reasonably finish 10 pints of beer in one night) and we made informal notes and observations. In the end, the bottled Newcastle ended up being the majority favorite for “best beer” – I ended up choosing the can – but in reality, they all pretty much tasted the same. So, if you choose to purchase a mini keg, rest assured that the quality of beer is consistent and acceptable.
For various and sundry reasons, one of which being Travis was out of town for two weeks, we still had beer in the DraughtKeg three weeks later. I can definitely vouch that the beer was still well-carbonated and tasted just as it did when we first “tapped” it.
I do have some reservations and picky notes about the DraughtKeg, which may apply to all mini kegs and not the Newcastle one in particular. I’ve never had a mini keg of any kind, so I’m not familiar with them at all.
First, when I “tapped” the keg with the spigot part, beer totally shot out onto the counter and my foot. It would have been handy to know this in advance so I could have been prepared with a towel under the spout or perhaps even a glass. Second, while we didn’t have any leaking issues the first could of days, after a couple of weeks we noticed a little puddle in the beer fridge where beer had been leaking out of the spigot. There must also have been a leak where the spigot enters the keg because the inside rim was filling with beer. Perhaps due to the pressure from inside the keg? Or maybe we were supposed to disconnect the spigot for “long-term” storage. I’m not sure. It would seem like you’d want to keep the DraughtKeg “tapped” so you could easily just go in and pull yourself a pint.
I’m also not completely clear on the benefits of a mini keg, aside from easily providing a quantity of beer from one receptacle or perhaps cutting down on trash. The DraughtKeg retails for about $22 and holds 10 pints (16 oz.) A 6-pack of Newcastle (12 oz. bottles) is about $9, maybe less if you find it on sale. By my calculations, you’re paying a little bit more for the DraughtKeg. But, again, you’d only have to carry in one thing, as opposed to a couple of 6-packs. And, I guess if you were trying to serve a lot of people some Newcastle at once, it would be more convenient to just point them at the DraughtKeg instead of opening up a bunch of bottles (or cans).
If you are familiar with kegs of any sort, you know that there is somewhat of an art to pouring beer without an inordinate amount of foam on top. With tap handles, you want to pull it all the way open. With the DraughtKeg, you want to play with the amount you open the “lever” to control the velocity of the beer coming out. We found that the first pint had the most head; subsequent glasses were more manageable.
We are a bit spoiled in that we almost always have some homebrew available to us. And, most parties we go to also supply some pretty good homebrew (or bottles of tasty local microbrews). So, I’m not sure we’ll often have opportunities to buy a mini keg. But, I can see how it would be handy for a beach party (if you were allowed to drink at the beach in San Diego) or a picnic, where you didn’t want to deal with glass bottles. And, if faced with the choice of Newcastle or Heineken, I would definitely recommend you drink a Newcastle. It’s just better. I’m glad we had the opportunity to check out the Newcastle DraughtKeg, though. It’s an easy unit to put together and use and I didn’t even know what I was doing! It delivers consistent beer that doesn’t go flat and it’s easily transportable. Thanks for letting us try it!