It’s almost summer, which means it’s time to give serious thought to beer. You could buy six-packs, sure, or step up to a growler if you’re feeling fancy. Or you could take a look at Hopsy, which delivers a countertop-sized, draft beer dispenser to your home, and ships two-liter torpedoes filled with microbrews to fill it with.
A strictly local enterprise when it launched the San Francisco area three years ago, Hopsy has since expanded, with distribution centers now in Chicago and New York as well. Here’s how it works: You buy a Sub Home Tap system from Hopsy, and then order proprietary mini kegs—Hopsy calls them “torps”—to fill it with. Simple enough, both in theory and in practice.
I recently had the opportunity to try out the company’s latest hardware offering, the Sub Home Tap Compact. (At this point, it looks like the previous model has been completely phased out; if you order a Home Tap System today, it’ll be the compact version.) Hopsy itself doesn’t make the hardware; that’s left to venerable German manufacturer Krups. But Hopsy founder Sebastien Tron says that his company had some input into this latest generation’s refinements. “When they started working on the Sub Compact we already had a year and a half of data we could use. We definitely had input on the design,” says Tron. It’s about 30 percent smaller than the previous model, for one. And it now loads from the top, rather than the front, which means you can check what beer you’ve got in there by lifting the lid.
I can confirm that the Sub Home Tap does indeed fit on a counter. I would also gently suggest that this is maybe not the best bar for what constitutes “too big” from “totally fine.” The Sub is about the height of a KitchenAid standing mixer and half again as long; you also need to give it space, the instruction manual suggests, to let its various coils and mechanisms operate as intended. Aside from a silvery finish on the tap itself—and the Krups logo—the entire device is black, which makes it a good design fit if your kitchen’s aesthetic lands somewhere between extreme metal and Darth Vader.
This isn’t a huge knock, and it’s not clear what other options Hopsy had. The laws of physics require four pints of nut brown ale to occupy a certain amount of space. But you should know going in that “compact” is quite literally relative here.
On the plus side, the Sub Home Tap is exceedingly easy to set up and use. Just take it out of the box, plug it in, squeeze in a Hopsy mini keg and point its hose and spout in the right direction, and slide the tap mechanism on. And then … wait.
Starting from scratch, it took my Sub Home Tap over four hours to get to temp; you can tell it’s ready when the indicator light on the front of the device switches from red to green. If you’re keeping your mini kegs in the fridge already, you should be good to go from there. If you store them at room temperature though—which, I wouldn’t blame you; three torpedos took up half a shelf of valuable refrigerator real estate—anticipate five or more hours for a proper chill.
Tap to Refresh
The Sub works as advertised. Pull the handle, tilt the glass, and you’ve got a nice cold beer with a sufficient head. I wouldn’t say it’s magic, but as far as on-demand frosty beverages, it’s several steps up from a Keurig Kold. The device can also keep the torp inside of it carbonated for weeks on end; given that each canister holds the equivalent of four pints of beer, only teetotalers need worry about running out of fizz.
The underlying technology also means there’s minimal cleanup. Rather than rely on CO2 cartridges, beer resides in a plastic bag inside the torp. Pulling the tap introduces air into the canister, which squeezes the bag, which forces out the beer. And once you’ve exhausted a torp, you can safely toss it in the recycling bin.
All of which sounds great so far, and it is, although it’s time for the parade of caveats. The first one is availability, which we’ve already talked about. But even within the regions Hopsy is available, there are limitations on what you can order. The company has established a large roster of brewery partners, 100 in all. But it only features a dozen or so at a time at each of its distribution centers. And the microbrew offerings are regionally based; people who live near New York will see New York options, and so on. There’s not a lot of cross-pollination, at least not yet. (Nationally distributed beers, like Lagunitas, are available in all serviceable ZIP codes.)
Further expansion, Tron says, will depend less on finding breweries to work with than it will on finding the right people to ship it. “We’re shipping alcohol to the home which is a pretty complicated business,” Tron says. “It’s very important for us to have really good delivery partners.” I saw why up close; two of my torps arrived with their plastic lids broken, and one of their hoses got garbled somehow in transit. There’s no reason to expect that would happen on an average delivery; I live outside of Hopsy’s normal territories, after all. And the company says that it will replace any torps that get damaged en route, for free.
Ultimately, there are only two questions that you need to ask yourself to decide if Hopsy’s right for you. The first is deeply personal: Would you be better off with a six-pack? An individual torp costs about the same as one, or even a little more, plus you have to pay for the Sub compact itself. Hopsy also offers club memberships, which offers a curated, rotating selection of beers that you can still customize. But if you don’t like the beer after that first pull, do you power through or dispose of your unwanted torp?
Again, all of this depends on how adventurous you are, how quickly you can drink four pints, and how much you value the taste of a draft beer over a bottled or canned equivalent. Lots of variables to weigh out, all of which are between you and your liver. The other question, though, is more more binary: Do you mind a constant, quiet, but definitely discernible hum in the background of whatever room the Sub lives in? Plus a very occasional but decidedly loud brrrrrrrap thrown in for good measure? If so, I have to recommend against the Sub. Or at least, against putting the Sub in your kitchen. Especially if you work from home.
I admire what Hopsy is going for, and even what it accomplishes. I liked the beers I tried, and the novelty of having a draft pour within arm’s reach still hasn’t quite worn off. For me, it’s a little too loud, and I found myself too often drifting back to the IPAs I already know and love when the torp was filled with something unfamiliar. But it’s at least worth a closer look, especially if you’re in a macrobrew rut—or looking to splurge on a dorm room or office kitchen upgrade.