Tap-A-Draft small scale beer dispensing system : A review

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Today we will take a quick peek at SturmanburgBG's Tap-A-Draft - a small scale beer dispensing system available directly from the manufacturer or through many online homebrew stores. I ordered my system three months ago from MoreBeer.com, and I have used it exclusively for bottling and dispensing beer during that time.
First Impression
I've always enjoyed draft beer and I've never had the space or money to invest in a full keg system. When the package arrived, I felt as if I were getting a second Christmas (ignoring the fact that I had just had another birthday). The order arrived at my doorstep within two days using the "saver" shipping option, which was a pleasant surprise.
The packaging my system arrived in was similar to that others have described on these forums the bottles were in plastic grocery bags, and the smaller pieces were in either Zip-loc style or heat sealed plastic bags. There were no scratches or any other type of damage to any of the components. The packaging is not flashy in any way, but is adequate. Included in the bag with the tap was a small instruction card with some tiny, yet discernible, illustrations.
The Tap

The tap itself is a bit disappointing upon initial inspection. The tap handle is constructed of rigid, lightweight plastic, and the entire housing has no metal that I can see aside from the C02 cartridge piercer.

Attaching the tap to a bottle requires about two full turns. The last quarter turn needs a bit of brute force to properly seat the base of the housing against the bottle. Thankfully, it is easy to tell if the tap is attached properly as there is a piece of plastic on both the bottle and tap that come into contact with one another to indicate proper seating.
The tap includes a screw-in receptacle for a 16 gram food-grade CO2 cartridge. Each cartridge should be able to dispense the full 6 liters of bottle-conditioned beer if used within a week or so. However, I have experienced a loss in pressure from one weekend to the next which has resulted in a slow pour. This is disappointing, though not unexpected. Others have experienced this as well and recommended that you simply drink your beer faster. I thought my household would go through the 6L in a week with no problem, but it turns out that isn't always the case. It seems like quite a waste to put another C02 cartridge in to dispense that last 1.5L of beer, but I've done it twice.
There is a roughly 6" small-diameter tube that draws the beer. It has a small piece of metal on the end that serves as a weight to keep the tube at the bottom of the bottle. The design is simple, yet functional. The tube itself seems to absorb a lot of color from the beer, and I now have a greenish-yellow translucent tube despite thoroughly rinsing it per the instructions.
There is a small red plastic locking mechanism to hold the tap handle closed when not in use. This is VERY important, as I have now left this unlocked twice and the result has been roughly 2L of beer pooled evenly into each compartment of my refrigerator door. This leads to two things: 1) crying over spilled beer, and 2) an unhappy spouse.
The Bottles
The bottles are a thin-walled amber plastic similar to that found on 16 oz PET bottles found at many local homebrew stores and on the Internet. The neck and threads are a bit thicker and feel quite sturdy. The threading accepts standard growler caps or other specialized caps that can be purchased from a variety of online stores. Each bottle holds six liters of beer (roughly 1.5 gallons) and is the perfect size to set horizontally on a refrigerator shelf.
To clean, I simply rinse the yeast and sediment using warm water as recommended by the manufacturer and sanitize prior to the next use with StarSan. I would imagine scrubbing these would scratch them, and very hot water could warp the plastic. Thus, I stick to the instructions and have had no problems in this area.
Bottle Lids
The standard Tap-A-Draft bottle lids are black plastic with a small liner, and each lid costs less than 75 cents online. They must be purchases separately from the bottles. There are also slightly more expensive molded caps with an O-ring available from SturmanBG's website for $1.90 at the time of writing, as well as a molded cap with a pressure relief valve for $3.10. I have not tested these lids, though a quick Internet search will reveal to you that most people have success with them.

Some people have complained about the standard lids, stating loss of pressurization while carbonating, and even spraying beer. Thus far, I have experienced zero flat beers and one spraying bottle. However, I was in the middle of moving the bottle to the refrigerator when beer began to spray out of the bottom of the threads. I was not being rough with the bottle, but I assume the lid had worked itself loose while carbonating or I had simply not screwed it on tightly enough. Regardless, I have no fear at this time of it happening again. I check my bottles now and then and make sure the caps are on tight before movement, but it is not an issue for me.
Carbonation can be achieved by bottle conditioning in the same manner as standard glass or plastic beer bottles, or by force-carbonating with an additional cartridge over a period of days. The 16 gram cartridges are NOT your standard C02 cartridges for paintball or BB guns, which are 12 gram cartridges and often contain some type of lubricant.
I went on a search locally for the correct cartridges and only found them at bicycle stores in "ones and twos". These added far too much cost to each batch of beer, so I ordered a couple of packages of six Leland beverage cartridges from an online store for just under $8.00 per pack. This still isn't cheap, but it is not so terrible that I hesitated to purchase them.
I have force-carbed one 6L bottle, and the rest I have used table sugar to prime. The force carb took about 4 days in the refrigerator, after which I had to swap cartridges to dispense. This works fine, though you have no control over how much carbonation you are going to achieve. The general consensus online is that the system regulates to 15 PSI, though there is no exact information on SturmanBG's website.
For bottle conditioning, I have simply used six lightly rounded teaspoons for each bottle of pale ale per the manufacturer's instructions, and four teaspoons for stouts. I added it straight to the bottle, which many brewers will yell "foul" about in terms of sanitation. However, I have had no problems so far.
The Pour
The pour itself is adequate but leaves much to be desired. Beer comes out of the spout the tap handl is pulled, which is a plus. If you don't open the tap all the way, the result is a jet of beer that creates a magnificent amount of head. If you open it all the way, the beer comes out nicely but creates almost no head. I've found that the best method is to open the tap all of the way until the last moment, and then close it a little to get the desired amount of head.

Final Impression and Extra Thoughts
There are many extras that can be purchased for this system that I have not listed here. SturmanBG has an adapter to hook the Tap-A-Draft up to 5L mini kegs, and third party individuals have some interesting adapters on Ebay to hook the system up to a CO2 tank and regulator. If I ever get around to such a purchase, I'll add another review.
All in all, I'm quite satisfied with my purchase. I could have saved up another $50 and bought a five gallon keg and all the proper extras, but I am a small-batch brewer who normally makes two-to-three gallon batches with the occasional five gallon batch thrown in here and there. I have no space for a five gallon keg, nor a kegerator. SWMBO may allow me to get more dispensing equipment at some point, but this keeps us both happy for the current time.
If you are tired of bottling your small batches, are crunched for space, or are looking for a simple draft system to tide you over, I have no issue with recommending the Tap-A-Draft to you.

Before I started kegging I used the tap a draft system and I really like the older 2 cartridge system. They are a little cheaper if you want to force carbonate. You can go through about 5 co2 cartridges for a single batch. That said, it is an awesome way to serve beer and with the older systems you had the nitro option for stouts.
Love my tap-a-draft. Had one piece break, but the company shipped me a new piece for free, and no problem since then. It usually takes 1 to 2 co2 cartridges to completely dispense the container. I buy co2 packs of 20 on ebay for a reasonably cheap price.
I have the tap-a-draft system. I would only warn others to watch the cartridges used. My LHBS carries them, but they seem to change brands randomly. One brand fits and works perfectly, while the other is ever so slightly shorter (almost imperceptibly so) and will either not fully pierce or fully seal in the tap housing. When using these, I've found it helps to put a couple layers of electrical tape on the bottom end to push the cartridge higher.
I often use mine for taking my kegged beers to a party. I'll dispense with a tube into the bottom of the bottle (to reduce foaming) then cap and pressurize with a cartridge. It is a nicer presentation than a growler and everyone loves having a small keg of draft beer. It's also nice because if you have a large enough cooler you can just drop it in to keep the beer cool.
Great recommendations, cluckk!
I did something two days ago that I'm enjoying now, but I may regret later - I rolled up a big mesh bag with 1/2oz of whole leaf Warrior and forced it into the neck of one of my TAD bottles filled with really bland pale ale. We'll see if I can get that back back out.
On the plus side, the beer flavor changed drastically and wonderfully. I didn't realize how much citrus flavor dry-hopping with Warrior would add. Pretty much awesome.
As far as the cartridges, I've only ever purchased the Leland pakcages. I've seen cheaper on Ebay and Amazon, but I'm worried about getting a bad batch. The electrical tape idea is great and could save some money in the future if I do buy some more carts in bulk.
I have a tap-a-draft system, and I have had to abandon using it, even for force-carbing water, after a series of leaks. When replacing the CO2 cartridge after the bottle has been partly emptied, the pressure in the bottle has forced the tap open, even with the red tab lock across and the tap fully shut. This has resulted in >3 litres of beer being sprayed around the entire fridge.
It seems that there is no regulation in the tap fitting, and that if one cartridge runs low and is replaced, the pressure from the second cartridge will empty the bottle, even if the tap is properly closed and locked.
I have one old style and my friend has new style. It's a good way for me not to have to bottle beer for my buddies :)
I agree with the LuckyBeagle the older 2 cartridge system has some advantages. Nitro and much better pressure regulation because you can add 8oz cartridges as needed and you don't feel like you're wasting a big 16oz cartridge. However my old 2 cartridge system is broken, it won't hold pressure anymore. I bought the 'rebuild kit', but it didn't come with the parts I needed. Guess I'm lucky I have a full sized kegerator.
I actually just had this happen again two days ago, after my review.
I lost pressure, so I added a new cart. It was in there all night with no issue, and I hadn't touched it during the night or in the morning. Howver, when I got home form church and opened the refrigerator, there was about 1L of beer all over the fridge again. I am under the impression that it oppened on its own, as I'm meticulous about making sure the lock is in place. I'll have to look into it further.
I posted the article several months go on the use of 5 liter kegs. I purchased the adapter Kiel mentions in his article to use the tap-a-draft tap with a 5 liter keg. I was skeptical at first but found that it worked pretty well. I was hesitant to lay the 5 l keg on it's side, and did expereince a small amount of leaking right after instaling the tap. But the leaking stopped and the keg stayed pressurized on a single CO2 cartridge for a good month. It appears to be a good, less expensive way to tap a 5 liter keg and keep it pressurized. It is also very portable.
CountryGravy - that's exactly what has happened to me three times - first time I assumed it was a mistake putting the lock across, but the two subsequent times it was definitely locked.
I had to replace the old cheese that was next to the TAD, so I put the fancy beer there to impress everyone. HA!
The Quad was my favorite, while the Insanity topped the Blithering Idiot.
I love my 3 TAD systems....got word from my online supplier that TAD is no longer manufactured. Looks like I will be figuring a keg system sooner than later...