Oh man, I've been waiting to get my hands on one of these for a long time. Ever since I polled our newsletter subscribers a while back about what growlers everyone was using, and a small but vocal group shouted back “Growlerwerks uKeg!”
So I knew I had to review this bad boy. Thanks to GrowlerWerks for sending over the demo units.
So what is the Growlerwerks uKeg exactly?
It's a growler that can 1) Carbonate your beer and 2) Dispense your beer under pressure.
If you're a homebrewer, it's easier to think of this as a mini-keg rather than a fancy growler. A keg can carbonate your beer and dispense it. So can the uKeg. But the difference between the uKeg and a corny keg is that the uKeg looks incredible and, most importantly, the CO2 connection is built into its cap — no separate bulky CO2 tank and regulator needed.
Onto the review!
You've probably (hopefully) noticed this is a homebrewing site, so that's how I'm going to review the uKeg: as a homebrewer using it for their own batches. But keep in mind that most uKeg customers (beer drinkers, non-homebrewers) will use the uKeg to keep their growler beers from going flat. That's the big problem with growlers, and this gadget solves it.
There are two uKeg sizes: a 64-ounce (1/2 gal) model and a 128 oz (one gallon) model. Both sizes are available in either stainless or copper-plated, meaning you have a total of four options for the uKeg you choose.
As I'm writing this, I see there's now a Black Chrome option available. Badass!
Here are the 64-oz and 12-oz models side by side. 64 ounces is the size of a typical growler. Yes, the 128 is a BEAST. Nothing our homebrewers can't handle though, I'm sure.
Here are the CO2 cartridges that come with it. These are the standard, unthreaded CO2 cartridges that you can find on Amazon, in Walmart, and lots of other places. The smaller uKeg takes 8-gram CO2 cartridges. The beast takes 16-gram CO2 cartridges.
More on these later.
Next, we have the “brains” behind the whole system. You can see the CO2 cartridge fits into a plastic sleeve which you then screw onto the regulator cap. When you screw the cap on tight, it punctures the cartridge, which allows access to the CO2 inside. You then control the pressure of the CO2 by using the dial on the top of the cap.
Pretty simple, right? Simple, yet brilliant.
Next up was filling the uKeg with beer. Again, I'm reviewing this from a homebrewer's perspective, so I filled the uKeg with homebrew instead of going to a bar or brewery and having it filled with commercial beer.
This step was easy. It's just like filling a keg. I simply used my autosiphon to transfer my fermented (but uncarbed) Belgian IPA from my fermenter into the sanitized uKeg 128.
Well, it IS easy, but I always find a way to botch even the simplest of tasks. As you can see, I went just a smidge past the fill line on the uKeg, which is at the base of the neck. My bad.
No problem though. I just poured the excess into a cup. Hydrometer sample! (And little taster, of course).
The next step: carb your beer. Again, this is easy. All you do is put the cap on tight (the CO2 sleeve gets submerged in the beer) and turn the dial until the pressure gauge reaches 15 psi.
Yes, there is a pressure gauge on the uKeg. And a very fancy one, I might add. See…
After turning the dial up to 15 psi, I put the uKeg in my fridge where it carbonates in only 3 days. Hell yea! That's one of the best parts of the uKeg — a quick turnaround. But how did it work out?
Before we get to the first pour, I gotta circle back to the CO2 cartidges. You're probably wondering, “How many cartridges does this thing gobble up?” Well, it took a full 16-gram cartridge to carbonate my IPA. I tried to dispense the beer using the same cartridge, and it did push out a few ounces of beer, but after that, the cartridge was done. I removed the cap and swapped out the old catridge for a fresh one. Easy.
So just know that if you're carbonating your homebrew in the uKeg 128, you'll need to use an entire cartridge just for carbonating. Then, it takes another 16-gram cartridge to dispense the beer. Which matches up perfectly with what uKeg says on their website.
The key takeaway is that if you're only dispensing an already carbonated beverage (e.g. you filled at the local brewery) it will take roughly one CO2 cartridge with the uKeg 128. If you're dispensing and carbonating, you'll need to use an additional cartridge for the carbonation step.
I haven't tried the 64-oz uKeg, but if you click that link above, uKeg says that you can carb and dispense the uKeg-64 with a single 16-gram cartridge. Which makes sense because that uKeg is half the size. You'll just need to buy the adapter sleeve so you can use a 16-gram cartridge on the uKeg-64. Worth it in my opinion, because you won't need to use as many cartridges.
Okay, time to drink!
Here's a video of my very first pour. Again, this was recorded 3 days after putting the uKeg in the fridge.
A little foamy, but not bad!
And the pours just got better and better from there as I played with the dial. uKeg also has a useful reference chart for different beer styles.
I drank my Belgian IPA over the course of seven days to see how the carbonation would hold up. It was perfect! And there was even some juice to spare. Actually, when I went to clean the empty uKeg, there was enough gas left in the cartridge to dispense a full 128 ounces of the OxiClean + water cleaning mixture I used (I'm a homebrewer, of course I used OxiClean. I use it for everything).
So to summarize, I was able to carbonate, serve, and clean the uKeg-128 with a total of two 16-gram cartridges of CO2. The 16-gram cartridges are about $2 each, so that adds $4 to every batch you want to carb + dispense in the uKeg-128.
Overall Thoughts on the uKeg
- Very impressive looking and made with high-quality materials. Good attention to detail.
- A real conversation-starter
- Being an all-in-one system, it's much more convenient than lugging around a separate CO2 tank and regulator
- Keeps growler fills fresh and lets you dispense beer from a tap instead of the usual “lift and pour” method
- The tap drips a little after shutting the valve, making it a bit messy
- The cost of the uKeg. At the time of this post going live, the cheapest uKeg is $149 (64 oz, stainless) and the most expensive is $250 (128 oz, Black Chrome)
- The cost of Co2 cartridges
Do I recommend the uKeg? 100% YES. This thing is bad ass. I don't see myself using it for every batch of homebrew, but it's perfect for special occasions. Like if I want to bring homebrew to a party or a picnic. Or when I have guests over. I'm thinking beyond homebrew, too. You can serve all sorts of drinks out of the uKeg — cocktails (gin & tonic anyone?), wine, hard cider. The possibilities for what you can serve are endless. And you'll serve your beverage in style.
Yes, it's expensive. But you get what you pay for. If you want one but feel guilty buying it for yourself, well, that's what Christmas and birthdays are for 😉