A tall, cold pint may be the ultimate thirst-quencher on a scorching summer’s day, but in truth, it’s pretty tasty whatever the weather’s doing outside.
And while our local will forever have a special place in our heart, there’s nothing like putting your feet up with a cold one in your own home. No bar queue to battle, no dodgy toilets to pinch your nose through, no unholy din masquerading as music. In short, Nirvana.
While the mania to build the perfect home bar evaporated as soon as Covid measures allowed us within sniffing distance of our favourite boozers, the legacy left behind means that many of us have, or know someone who has, the perfect private watering hole at home. It seems a shame to let all that hard work go to waste, and now there’s a new accessory to elevate it to even greater heights: the at-home beer dispenser.
What is a beer dispenser?
Allowing you to pull pints from the comfort of your own home, many of these countertop devices use CO2 cartridges to help you pour a serve so smooth it’ll leave any barkeep green with envy. Most also boast cooling systems, so you don’t have to worry about storing mini kegs in the fridge or get a builder’s quote for digging a cellar to keep it all in.
And, as we’re in the dawn of the Smart home age, some models can be controlled with your phone so there’s no need to even stand up and adjust the settings yourself.
Whether you’re having a party or getting your pals over for the big match, a home beer dispenser is the perfect party piece and far superior than cracking open a tin or a bottle.
Is it a necessity? No. Will you love it more than life itself? Undoubtedly.
Pint pulling technique
A perfectly poured pint is a thing of sublime beauty. Pub landlord Oisín Rogers, formerly of the Guinea Grill and due to open his own pub and restaurant in central London next year, is on hand with some advice gleaned from years helming the pumps.
“Firstly, of course, home draught can never possibly be as good as freshly poured well looked after pub beer, but it’s great that people are now able to get fresh draught beer at home. For excellent beer, there are many important things.
Freshness. The shorter the time from leaving the brewery to drinking, the better it will be.
Temperature. This affects how much gas stays in the liquid, colder beer holds more gas so will have smaller, finer bubbles. Check the recommended dispense temperature and try to get that right.
Glassware. A beer glass needs to be spotlessly clean and dry with no residue of cleaning detergents or water hardness on the surface. Ensuring this will make your beer look, behave and taste better.
Pouring. Hold the glass at 45 degrees and snap the tap on quickly, allowing the beer to flow along the glass to the bottom. Pour your beer in one go until you’ve filled your glass. Turning the tap on and off a lot disturbs the force! Enjoy it, I’d say it’s the best drink in the world.”
How we tested
We put two of the bestselling models to the test in the battle for the Best crown. Poured with the entire ES office as thirsty witnesses, we rated them on set-up, functions, and pulling power. This was serious work, and certainly not an excuse for an in-office piss-up.
See the results below
SALTER Professional EK4919 Beer Dispenser - Black & Stainless Steel
Specs at a glance
Measures: 43 x 27.2 x 41.4cm
Accessories and features: Removable drip tray, cooling function, variable temperature, chill kegs between: 3 to 6 degrees, adjustable CO2 gas control
Looks: Offered at a modest price range, Salter’s freestanding beer dispenser is a large black unit (about the size of a small air fryer or breadmaker) which can dispense both carbonated and non-carbonated hops; the latter with the help of a CO2 attachment. It would look at home on both a kitchen countertop or in a dedicated home bar, if you have one.
Set-up: There is a guide included but the video is far more helpful in getting this dispenser up and running. Once you’ve removed the packaging, pop the lid and fill the main compartment with water to the mark indicated on the side.
If your 5 litre party keg is pre-carbonated, there’s no need to insert the CO2 cartridges (three of which are included with the dispenser), but keep them to froth up future beer that doesn’t come with carbonation. We tried the Heineken keg from Beerwulf (£21.99) which didn’t require a cartridge. Once it’s in, hook it up to the beer feed, close the lid and plug in the machine, turning it on with the switch button on the side - and you’re ready to pump!
Function: Bearing in mind Oisín Rogers’ pint-pulling advice, we snapped the handle back and poured the beer into a glass held at an angle. The first couple of glasses were all talk and no trousers; that is, pretty much all head, which is to be expected with a brand new keg. But sadly, it didn’t get much better after that, with an 80:20 head to beer ratio for a further 10 minutes in and five glasses down.
The beer took ages to settle and when it finally reached a drinkable point, it wasn’t particularly chilled either. The perfect home-poured pint remains elusive.
Pulling power: While the pump was simple to operate and gave faint Peggy Mitchell at the Queen Vic vibes, the stream was noticeably lacklustre. There simply wasn’t enough force to replicate the feeling of pulling a pub-style pint.
Last orders: With a drip tray and pump that’s fun enough to pull, it certainly looks the part, but sadly Salter’s beer dispenser doesn’t live up to the hype. Waiting ages for foam to settle is incrementally better than watching paint dry, and completely unhelpful if you’ve got a raging thirst or you’re hoping to impress your mates.
That said, for light home use for someone who adores drinking gadgets, this is a middle-of-the-road option that won’t break the bank.
Buy now £159.00, Currys
Perfect Draft Pro machine - Budweiser starter bundle
Specs at a glance
Measures: 44.5 x 29.4 x 40.1cm
Accessories and features: Volume indicator on 6L kegs, 10-hour cooling, Smart Pour technology, app-control, built-in drip tray, magnetic medallions to customise the machine, screw-on pump handle, beer keg in variety of choice, two pint glasses
Looks: A much more imposing unit that feels solid, PerfectDraft Pro is a heavyweight contender in the home draft game.
Its USP is that, bar the actual pouring, everything can be controlled via an app - we’re talking temperature control, keg freshness and full levels, troubleshooting tips and more information about the beer. Beer Hawk sells the machine in bundles (which come with your keg of choice - there’s an array of flavours - as well as two branded beer glasses) as well as bundles of its predecessor Philips PerfectDraft. For the complete experience paired with Smart tech, a PerfectDraft Pro is the way to go.
Set-up: Once you’ve liberated the unit from its packaging, push a grey-coloured bracket over the top. This suspends the unit on rails inside the main chamber - the bottom of the keg should be clear of the bottom of the dispenser.
Then - and this bit is important, so pay attention at the back - find a slim grey pipe attached to a black rubber tube amongst the accessories, and tap this into the centre of the keg. This is what gets the beer into your glass and ultimately, your thirsty mouth. I missed this crucial element and was at a loss as to why my pint glass remained empty. A classic case of all the beer, no idea.
Function: the first glass was, admittedly a dud, but good things come to those who wait. Glass two settled better, and by glass three, we were pouring pints of Budweiser that could go toe-to-toe with any other poured from a pub draft. The pump felt much more reassuring in the hand and the beer flowed smoothly and obediently into the glass. Temperature-wise the hops were nicely chilled too, a feat not managed by Salter’s dispenser.
Pulling power: the fact that the machine can be controlled and monitored via app is a nice bonus, but it’s not necessary - especially when you consider you still have to get up to pour a pint. Luckily, it’s a fun experience we can see most drinkers getting behind and adds to the experience if you’ve got groups of people to water. Your mates will nag you to oblivion to have a go.
Last orders: the PerfectDraft Pro has restored my faith in at-home beer dispensers. Easy to set up and fun to use, it serves up pints as tasty as ones in a bona fide boozer, and nicely chilled too. It’ll steal the show at parties but it’s not just a showpiece: with notifications on beer freshness and a guarantee to remain fresh in the machine for 30 days, it’s a beer gadget you can use whenever you fancy a cold one. Bonus points for the keg return scheme too.
Buy now £349.50, Beer Hawk
Other at-home beer draft machines to buy
The Greater Good Fresh Brewing Co The Pinter - brewing machine and beer dispenser
Tech and beer collide in this machine, which not only allows you to dispense 10 pints of fresh beer, but to brew it yourself too.
The sustainable service from The Greater Good Fresh Brewing Co. involves ordering a 10-pint Eco-Crate via the Pinter app, before purifying, adding fresh press (a concentrated medley of ingredients) and brewing yeast to the mix, before leaving it to ferment and then conditioning in the fridge (you’ll likely need to clear a shelf in a normal-sized fridge). Clear step-by-step instructions with videos can be found on Pinter’s website.
When the beer is ready to drink, tap it straight from the barrel-shaped machine into your glass. If you’ve always fancied trying your hand at making small-batch beer, Pinter puts you in the driving seat.
Design-wise, there’s a departure from black (if you want it), with red, white, yellow and blue options available. Beer is available on a one off or a rolling subscription basis, so you’ll never go without, with a menu of IPA, stout, pilsner, lager, ciders and ales to pick from. Using ingredients from elsewhere will cancel the one-year warranty, so that’s something to bear in mind, but Pinter adds new options to its collection routinely which should be enough to sate any thirst.
Brewing at home means, short of suckling straight from the brewery, you’ll enjoy the freshest pints you’ll ever taste.
Buy now £79.00, Pinter
KRUPS The Sub Compact Mixed Starter Pack
At around half the weight of the PerfectDraft Pro, this plastic beer dispenser is a much lighter option, making it a decent portable choice for house parties or staycations.
As a result of its modest 452.5 x 190 x 383.3 mm dimensions, the SUB Compact takes 2L kegs, much smaller than the others on our list, so best for someone who wants to change their flavours regularly or only drinks at home occasionally.
For £149, this bundle offers superb value with four kegs from well-known brands (Amstel, Tiger, Birra Moretti and Heineken) included with the machine. You can get bundles with four kegs from the same brand if you have a favourite, or top up from Beerwulf’s huge online range.
Chilling beer to an optimum 2°C and with a removable drip tray, it performs as well as bigger machines, just on a smaller scale. Comes with a two year guarantee.
Buy now £149.00, Beerwulf
Fizzics DraftPour 650ml Beer Dispenser
This ultra-slim model does away with space-hogging kegs, claiming to give beer cans and bottles the great taste of draft beer using a head-spinning method of sound waves and fluid dynamics they’ve patented, called Micro-Foam technology. It runs via a USB port or with two AA batteries if you’re hoping to take it on the road. The absence of not only kegs, but CO2 cartridges too makes this gadget a bit of a marvel, and at 2.15kg, it’s easy to take with you on picnics and camping trips to leave your mates slack-jawed with awe.
Buy now £112.99, Robert Dyas
Beer Monster Draught Beer Tap
Garnering glowing reviews from quenched customers, Beer Monster’s Draught Beer Tap promises to bring authentic-tasting pints without setting foot out of your front door. With a compact body and small footprint, the gadget can turn any counter, table or home bar into a bona fide watering hole.
The machine holds 5L kegs, chilling the liquid to 2oC with integrated cooling technology, and keeps it fresh for 30 days, so you can enjoy a cold one all month long. Requires mains power and comes with a drip tray.
Buy now £169.00, Beer Monster
In the batte of the Best at home beer dispensers, there really is no contest: PerfectDraft Pro wins by a mile. The quality and consideration is apparent from unboxing, and bar one user error (ahem), set-up is as smooth as the beer you will end up pouring.
It is around £200 heftier in price than Salter’s contender though, so if you’re looking for nothing more than a fun gift for someone who enjoys a beer now and again, that may be the better option.