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The Sub and The Torp: Heineken Innovations

An interview with the team behind the at-home draft dispenser that keeps brews colder than a refrigerator can

by Isabelle Doal
on 24 October 2013

Always ahead in the differentiation game, beer giant Heineken recently unveiled a new way to attract the ever-growing craft beer connoisseur—a home draft beer machine designed in part by celebrated industrial designer Marc Newson. As home brewing and micro breweries continue to pick up steam across the US and Europe, creating a home draft beer machine seems a clever way to bring the brand from the shop shelf to the kitchen counter. While Heineken's machine isn't the first draft appliance on the market, it is a smart attempt to distance competitors and target young adults looking to refine their at-home drinking experience—much in the same way brands like Nespresso have capitalized on the home espresso movement.


The invention consists of a compact, sleek and stylish draft beer machine dubbed The Sub, which works solely with the brand's new two-liter Torp keg and can pour beers at two degrees Celsius (refrigerators generally only cool liquid to six). The system is designed to be intuitive and simple to use, creating a process reminiscent of loading a ball into a cannon. And as one would expect, the concept is proprietary. While the idea may seem rather singular in purpose, Heineken hopes to attract a range of consumers with a large variety of different beers from Heineken's portfolio. Since the Heineken brand list counts dozens of brands all over the world, it offers both the drinker the occasion to discover various foreign beers and a way for Heineken to put its own small brands in the light.

To get a better grasp on the Sub's design process and Heineken's target market we recently spoke with designer Marc Newson; Heineken's Global Brand Design Manager, Mark van Iterson; and François-Xavier Mahot, Senior Director Global Innovation.

Marc, you have designed so many products across so many varied fields in your career, what was the challenge with this project ?

Marc Newson: There were many challenges. Working on a new typology of product which doesn't really exist is the most challenging aspect. It is not a gimmick; it is really something new. For instance, what would be the appropriate size and content for the keg when taking into account it has to be stored in your fridge? This experience brought a lot of learning not only on the design part, but also the engineering and technical part. The Sub is embedded with technical innovation which improves the conditions of the beer experience as well as the quality of the beer itself. As for the design aspect itself, it is a domestic appliance which people will live with and see all the the time, so we had an obligation to create something beautiful and compelling to use.

Mark van Iterson: We took the best care with the quality of the beer. Beer is extremely sensitive and fragile as it is a natural good. That's why the technical process took such a long time and needed such a high expertise. Of course we had the knowledge coming from the professional experience, but we are talking about 50 liters. The scale switch into two liters is not that easy. The technical challenge was to make the army of engineers work at the service of the design to make the system simple and intuitive. At the end, the beer draught from The Sub is soft and crisp—and two degrees! It makes the consumer an expert; his beer is guaranteed always to be perfect.

For what use has The Sub been designed for?

Francois Xavier: it was a challenge to make this basic everyday moment a special event and to make it even more enjoyable. With the keg's capacity for two liters—eight glasses—which will remain fresh up to 15 days, thanks to the cooler inside, it fits perfectly to grant oneself a special treat as well as to enjoy with a small group of friends or family in the comfort of the home. Thanks to the access, through the online platform, to the large choice of beers from the brands into the Heineken catalog, anyone can now offer his or her friends previously inaccessible foreign beers.

Who is the target customer?

MvI: If you consider young adults' habits of socializing in bars drinking beer, we wanted to enable people in their 30s—who start settling, maybe owing homes, starting families—to bring a bit of that fun at home. The Sub system is also meant to bring a content nature to the explorative mind set of this generation, with the possibility of traveling toward the portfolio of beers available.

Marc, how does a designer turn everyday equipment into something special?

MN: I wanted this machine to be fascinating, mysterious, tactile, compelling to touch and to use. The contrary of the usual domestic appliances. Just think if you would like to have your vacuum on display in your living room. I wanted to make it enjoyable and bring fun to it. It had to be a social currency. The shape of the object had to carry intensity and be appealing. I particularly paid attention to the materials. I like working with new materials. In this case, the machine had to attract men, be mechanical, nicely manufactured to bring the best quality to the draft experience. Even the sound it makes when turning the wheel to open the device when changing the keg has been carefully studied. The result is a submarine-like sound. In my conception, all these aspects are rooted in the beer history which I wanted to be perceptible in this object.

The Sub will be available in 2014 and will be sold with Marc Newson-designed optional extras, including a full serving case.

Final photo by Isabelle Doal, all others courtesy of Heineken

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