When It Pours, It Reigns

Innovation by | Feb 2007 | Issue #2

Matthew Younkle picks up the pace with his TurboTap

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but innovation is the stuff of pure, unchecked desire—well, that and economics. When a young engineering whiz named Matthew Younkle grew fed up with waiting for beer, he didn’t cut the line, he hit the drawing board. The fruit of his long labors is the TurboTap—a seemingly magical, retrofittable doohickey that can dispense beer (and return sports fans to their respective seats) four times faster than a conventional tap, simply by softening the impact of gravity between tap and cup. This means less foam, less waste, much faster pints and much more opportunity for Younkle to get back to work on his “photodiodic toaster,” a device consisting of a slew of bulbs that gives users precise control of how toasted they wanted their bread. We’ll give you the lowdown on that as soon as ToastAdvocate launches.

So is the TurboTap the brainchild of a man who loves beer, or a man who loves fluid control?
Well, the funny thing is that I went to school for electrical engineering. When I tell people that, they ask, “What does that have to do with beer?” Then I remind them that I went to the University of Wisconsin.

I imagine that clears things right up.
Exactly. The University was a very social atmosphere—even the student union on campus served beer, so it was a great social outlet for a nerd. I drank well—more than my share of beer there.

And waited for it as well, apparently.
Yep. I knew there had to be a better way, so I started working on the TurboTap in 1996 for a competition held as part of the University’s Innovation Days. We weren’t permitted to bring beer into the College of Engineering, but we needed something carbonated that came in kegs, so we poured root beer. Apparently, our crude prototype was good enough because it won a $10,000 prize. Some of that money was quickly squandered, but the rest was invested into the intellectual property.

A decade later it seems to be making quite a splash—or, technically, no splash at all. Did you expect this?
It’s a little overwhelming—after 10 years, we’re an overnight success. One thing we learned by observation is that people using the TurboTap weren’t spilling as much beer. It’s such an even pour. With no overfoaming or glass-tilting, we end up saving 10 to 30 percent of beer from getting spilled. It’s become our number one selling point to concessionaires. Sell more, waste less.

Have you been met with any apprehension? Some people like their pours nice and slow, after all. I’m guessing some readers of this magazine will be outraged by such an idea.
There’s always a situation when it’s beneficial for a bar to pour beer faster. If you consider St. Patrick’s Day—all of a sudden, a small shot-and-beer place needs to accommodate a much larger demand. Plus, this is an industry that’s very slow to change. Most of the equipment out there hasn’t really changed for 50 years. So really, our biggest competition is the status quo. One big break was getting into Wrigley Field. The general manager was pretty skeptical at first, but once he saw how simple it was, he was behind it. Being an electrical engineer, I can’t help but imagine sticking a microchip in there and enhancing the technology somehow—but beer is a very analog medium. When you try to put digital constraints around an analog product, it doesn’t work all that well.

You mean like that “photodiodic toaster” you made? That sounded pretty cool.
I have a list going on eight pages of little ideas to tinker around with, and I’m always thinking about improvements. With the toaster, I had the idea all wrong—I was focusing on doneness, but a TurboToaster would have been the better invention. The idea was right under my nose!