You may have seen the Draftmark Tap System around; it's a small mini-keg dispenser made for beers from Anheuser-Busch InBev. This has been out for about a year, and has offered special gallon mini-kegs of Budweiser, Bass, Michelob and some of the Shock Top beers. In December, they rolled out Goose Island Honker's Ale in Chicago and other test markets. So I was contacted by their PR people who offered a chance to try out the system.Full disclosure: The Draftmark and a Goose mini were sent to me to review. Phil Vettel I'm not, here. Additionally, I pick up some weekend income by sampling out Goose Island beer. So I'm just explaining this item, not "reviewing" it.
The Draftmark is positioned against similar mini-keg dispensers made for Heineken (DraughtKeg) and MillerCoors (Home Draft). I have not tried the other units, but I did try a Newcastle DraughtKeg, which also fits into a portable cooling unit called a BeerKeeper. The Home Draft and DraughtKeg kegs can dispense beer by themselves, but the Draftmark minis need the unit to work. There are also any number of standalone 5 liter minis you can get, mainly of German beers, but there's an occasional release of Bell's Two Hearted and Oberon in minis as well.
Retailing for about $50, the Draftmark lays its keg on the side to better fit into the fridge. Rather than a separate CO2 dispenser, it uses highly carbonated kegs which look like oversized soda bottles (the instructions call the bottles "refills"). The beer itself is in a plastic "bladder" inside the bottle. A battery-powered air compressor fills the space outside the bladder to push the beer into the spigot.
The bottle of beer comes with a plastic spout that fits inside the tap. This way, it's claimed, no part of the unit comes in contact with the beer, lessening the cleaning chores. In practice, you'll end up dipping the end of the tap in your foam.
The battery for the compressor took only a few hours to charge up out of the box, enough time to chill the beer keg. Warning: not only is the plastic refill round, and likely to roll off the table and bounce around the floor, but the mini in its cardboard container can do that just as easily. I found out by accident that the bottle is pretty good at holding in beer at high pressure. I would not want to try that with an aluminum mini.
Installing the bottle in the Draftmark is pretty goof-proof, as the video of me nearly goofing it will attest. There are little guides to assure you put the bottle in properly, and the spout fits into a receptacle in the front. When I snapped it all together, I got a slight spurt of foam, so a towel on the floor beneath would be useful. Then just flip the tap handle and get beer.
The only fault I found in this dispenser was that every attempt to pour a beer got me a glass with mostly foam. It does settle out so you can fill completely. I suspect this is from the rubber hose in the spout, which may be too porous, being as it's flexible enough the be pinched shut by the tap. Or perhaps this was a trade-off: better to have too much foam than a flat beer.
The Draftmark was able to dispense its full keg without needing to recharge. It also managed to squeeze out nearly all the beer in the refill, while the aluminum minikegs always seem to have beer sloshing around after all the CO2 has been exhausted.
After use, the bottle is marked as "1" for recycling. It's possible a homebrewer who can pry the cap off the bottle might be able to fill and pressurize it with their own brew, though the plastic bladder inside may not be usable more than a few times.
The Draftmark did pour a nice draft of Honker's Ale. The gallon refills retail for around $15 each, which comes to $1.25 per 12 oz. serving. This seems proportional to most beers in the larger 5 liter minis going for $20 or more. If you're a gadget guy who likes draft beer and likes the beers available for the Draftmark, this will take up less room in your refrigerator than a 12-pack.