GRAND RAPIDS — Craft beer enthusiasts are a spirited bunch who want to discover and follow breweries and brands. This has created an environment of constant sampling at the hundreds of tasting rooms and beer festivals across the country — and a big haul for brewers who are regularly on the road.
Dan DeKorne, owner of Grand Rapids-based QuikTap LLC, is producing a product that lightens the load for brewers, caterers, distributors, and even homebrewers, campers and tailgaters.
“Just fun people, in general, use the QuikTap,” DeKorne told MiBiz.
With the QuikTap, anyone can set up a mobile bar with a draft system efficiently and quickly, eliminating waste and cutting costs, DeKorne said. The flagship QuikTap system attaches to the top of a keg in seconds and runs through a small, refillable CO2 tank.
Because of the universality of the system, the company has also added five more models created to dispense nitro beers, wine or batch cocktails, as well as a “tabletop” design that pours from a 2.5-gallon keg.
“We’re always innovating,” said DeKorne, who runs the company with business partner Jimmy Chalenko. “We listen to our customers, hear what they have to say, then learn from them and adjust. We’re not the Titanic. It’s more like a jet ski — we can change on a whim and order new parts and make custom things for people.”
DeKorne acquired the QuikTap business from its inventor, Brent Daniel, owner of the Texas-based B-52 Brewing Co., in 2017. Daniel originally created the QuikTap for his own use after being frustrated and tired of lugging, setting up, cleaning, and tearing down traditional “jockey box” systems at beer festivals.
“The jockey box is very large. It’s heavy. It’s cumbersome to set up, to tear down, to clean, to keep clean, to keep sanitary,” DeKorne said. “Most brewers will say it’s a necessary evil that we have to deal with.”
In addition to the weight of jockey box systems, which look like tubing attached to a large open-top cooler, they require tools, fittings, dozens of feet of beer lines, a regulator and CO2 tank to operate properly.
“Our whole thing is about portability,” DeKorne said. “We want to be able to bring the beer or the beverage and keep it intact with a very small footprint.”
The QuikTap has all the elements of a commercial draft system, but at 6.8 pounds, it’s ready to go anywhere from a convention center to a city street to the backwoods. The system also requires just 12 inches of beer lines, cutting down on wasted liquids, according to DeKorne.
While the QuikTap developed as a prototype solution for one inventive brewer, word quickly spread around the festival circuit and other breweries started “begging” Daniel to create more, according to DeKorne.
After a few more rounds of QuikTaps, Daniel wanted to get back to focusing on his real passion — making beer, not a draft system. DeKorne, an entrepreneur who also manages two other online marketing and sales businesses, bought the rights to QuikTap and the existing business, made some modifications, ramped up production, and then moved it to his hometown of Grand Rapids.
Bringing manufacturing of the QuikTap north to “Beer City USA” made sense, he said. Now, DeKorne and Chalenko split their time between building the products, traveling to festivals and performing sales and marketing duties. The company exhibited earlier this month in Denver as part of the BrewExpo America trade show that corresponds with the annual Craft Brewers Conference.
“The big thing that we have found is that you can have a cool video or you can have a lot of web traffic, but people need to see it or touch it or feel it,” he said. “We’re trying to get this into as many hands as possible.”
As well, the company has benefited from traditional word-of-mouth marketing in markets where they’ve never demonstrated the system since word travels quickly in the brewing industry.
“If we sell one to Toledo, Ohio, and then that brewer shows up to a festival there, all of a sudden, the next couple weeks, we’ll see sales from Toledo and surrounding areas,” he said.
The potential primary customer base for QuikTap also continues to grow. Last year, 1,049 craft breweries opened nationwide, according to the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association. As well, the trade group is tracking “at least 2,500” additional breweries currently in the planning stages.
Scott Schultz, co-owner and head brewer of Grand Rapids-based Creston Brewery, originally bought a QuikTap to use at the annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Fest at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park. Now the brewery owns multiple systems and even uses them to dispense at its own taproom.
“It turned out to be a brilliantly designed tap system that is really, really easy to use,” he said. “It’s smart how they built the systems to be easy to clean, easy to break down.”
The additional systems give Schultz two extra taps at the bar, which he currently uses to dispense wine. Creston, which was approved by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission for a small distiller license this month, also plans to use the system to serve pre-batched cocktails.
“I don’t ever want to use a jockey box again. If I could just use these, it’s just so much easier,” he said. “At festivals, they always catch people’s eyes because it’s a cool-looking attachment that comes right out of the keg — almost like an art piece that you’re dispensing beer out of.”
Although the QuikTap business is mostly B2B, many “enthusiasts” are getting excited about the product as well — using it for homebrewing, boating, tailgating and camping, according to DeKorne. The company’s Instagram feed is full of exotic locations where the product has traveled.
“One of the most fun parts of the business is finding all those different places that they’re using the QuikTap,” DeKorne said. “The innovation in the community of craft beverage producers in this whole massive market means they’re all finding new ways to use it uniquely.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated from its original version.