Entrepreneur Steve Youngs invention could revolutionize the craft-beer industry.
As a former stock analyst, Steve Young had been accustomed to recognizing trends, so it’s no surprise that the popularity of microbreweries caught his attention.
To determine if the trend was sustainable, Young talked to brewers around the country and heard the same thing over and over: Despite making great beer, microbreweries were finding it difficult to get their product to consumers, and most of that was due to packaging hurdles. Bottling is expensive, so small breweries can only afford to bottle one or two of their products, resulting in a limited selection. “I didn’t know much about beer, but I assembled a team of experts and tackled the problem in a way that nobody had really looked at doing before,” Young says. “That’s why we’ve been so successful and intriguing to people thus far.”
What Young and his team came up with is Synek Draft System, expected to go on sale next year. It’s essentially a countertop kegerator that gives craft-beer aficionados an easy way to enjoy their favorite local microbrews at home. What makes the Synek System possible is the clever design of the cartridge: Instead of a keg, a flexible lining holds the beer. Designed by Jeff Macler, who Young calls “one of the best flexible-packaging engineers in the world,” the cartridge is easily filled right from the tap at the brewery and contains a special valve that can be clicked on or off. When it’s clicked off, the bag stays inflated and pressurized, so at home you can switch out unfinished cartridges with a different brand and switch back again without losing freshness. As soon as you open a growler, all the pressure is released and the beer goes flat in a couple of days; conversely, the Synek System’s design keeps draft beer fresh for 30 days after opening.
Recently, the company held what turned into one of the most successful St. Louis Kickstarter campaigns ever, hauling in a whopping $648,535. The money is being used to add the finishing touches to the Synek System so it can go into mass production. Young plans to launch the first units in March 2015. With that, beer-lovers will have unprecedented access to high-quality beers right from their kitchen countertop. It’s a win for brewers, too: It’s a high-profit way to sell their products, and it encourages greater engagement with their customers.
Eventually it will be a high-distribution option for brewers as well, given the new potential to ship their beer across the country. “There are zero dollars brewers have to invest to be able to fill our bags,” Young says. “There’s no special equipment, so there is literally no reason brewers shouldn’t at least try to sell their beer with our system.” Perhaps that’s why more than 1,000 breweries have signed up to participate, including 80 percent of the 50 largest breweries in the country, such as Schlafly, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada.
The machine will come in stainless steel and bronze versions and will cost $299 and $375 respectively. The system is also available for pre-order on the company website, though some brewers are considering selling the machine as well. The consumers’ costs for refilling the cartridge—which holds 128 ounces (1 gallon, or 10.8 beers)—will be left to the individual brewers.
But all the current success and activity hasn’t stopped Young from looking to the future. “In five years the company will be dramatically different,” Young says. “We’ll be doing wine, coffee—everything.”
Artifox founder Steve Young
Photo credit: Attilio D’Agostino