Posted on | June 1, 2014
Written by | Jack Robertiello
As an international beer leader, Heineken has always looked to project quality and consistency as core values in their flagship product, especially when it comes to the lucrative draught sector. Of all the tradewinds now buffeting the giant brewers of the world, draught quality is among the most problematic for a variety of reasons but hasn’t always received the attention it deserves. That is, until now, as Heineken USA is set to start the roll-out of what potentially could be a breakthrough in quality, consistency and environmentally sound beer delivery.
Called BrewLock, the new system was designed to solve some large and small issues relating to draught beer delivery by the Heineken Global team in Amsterdam, according to Patrick Libonate, On-Premise Commercial Marketing Director for Heineken USA. “Delivering consistent, quality draught beer is a worldwide challenge, and BrewLock addresses many of these obstacles,” says Libonate. “It’s very important to us that we are able to deliver the same beer everywhere, the best possible draught beer, without changing anything about the beer we make.”
NEW ANSWER TO OLD PROBLEMS
As Libonate notes, BrewLock focuses on solving the thorny issue of delivering draught beer at the right level of carbonation. The first major difference is the keg—100% recyclable, single-use, 20-liter plastic containers, packed in easily stackable, rectangular cardboard boxes. The keg itself has two chambers—an outer PET shell that also provides protection from accidental puncture and the inner bladder which contains the beer. By pressurizing the area between the two, beer is forced through the draught lines by a customized air compressor and arrives at the tap as close to brewery quality as is currently possible, say Heineken officials.
“Inconsistency is the biggest challenge among draught beers,” says Libonate. He envisions most of Heineken USA’s brands eventually being available in this package if the roll-out goes as well as expected. (Standard kegs will continue to be available for the foreseeable future, he pointed out, and the company is also exploring larger format sizes.)
While standard keg systems use complicated, and sometimes expensive, gas and regulator systems to get beer through to the tap, the BrewLock system relies on normal atmospheric air to squeeze the inner wall of the keg and push beer through the lines. For operators, such an upgrade brings them one step closer to a foolproof draught system, as no gas actually comes into contact with the beer, which means no concerns over too strong or weak pressure or improperly mixed gas.
Heineken officials also expect that BrewLock will reduce draught system failures by half overall, and with kegs that weigh 25% less than stainless steel barrels and take up a much smaller footprint in a cooler, they anticipate savings and greater ease of handling all along the supply chain. Easier keg changing and simpler connections are promised as well.
There’s also the matter of untapped beer left in the keg, a major issue and potential source of loss that can undermine the financial incentive of draught beer for operators. BrewLock, the company insists, will almost totally eliminate the problem. On average, the current yield for operators is anywhere between 85 and 90% from a standard keg. “With BrewLock, users will get 99% or more of the beer out of the keg,” Libonate says.
GOOD THING IN A SMALL PACKAGE
For distributors and Heineken USA, the smaller draught package also potentially opens up the market of smaller operators who declined draught beer fearing they couldn’t recoup the cost of gas line installation or wouldn’t serve enough beer to justify ordering large kegs. Pizza shops, small casual dining outlets, even small outlets at busy golf and resort locations, now seem logical targets for draught expansion.
Libonate says not only will small operators who previously declined to serve draught beer find BrewLock compelling; feedback from large accounts indicated appreciation of the beer’s quality enough to consider taking it on, he said. And the resulting beer seems to be hitting the right spot; so far in test markets, Heineken reports about a 10% sales bump.
The potential for space saving also intrigued some large scale operators, he said, who are considering multiple serving areas for draught. With the battle for tap handles getting fiercer as craft beers develop their local markets, BrewLock is also seen as an aid in the tap handle fight for the Dutch brewer.
The BrewLock system—set to roll out via distributors in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida and Illinois—will be available only for Heineken and Newcastle Brown Ale, at least initially. The company is using a phased approach to introduce the technology to new states over the new few months and expects to fully expand to a national level in October. Easy to stack in a cooler, easier to handle and maneuver, the system also promises a smaller carbon footprint all along the supply chain, and perhaps will eventually resolve the long-standing distributor issue of lost kegs.