A few years ago, Albert Ciuksza and Todd Barnett wanted to enjoy cold draft beer on a weekend camping trip with friends. "We built our own jockey box (an insulated, portable draft-beer system)," says Ciuksza. Unfortunately for the campers, "It didn't work so well."
The trip did provide inspiration. Ciuksza, Barnett and two partners (who are no longer with the company) decided to create a portable draft-beer system significantly more efficient than what was currently on the market. In March 2013, they shipped their first PortaDraft.
Robert "Flash" Scozafave, who works as a tap-system manager for Frank B. Fuhrer Wholesale, helped engineer the device. "There is probably nobody on the planet who knows as much about tap systems as Flash," says Ciuksza.
The PortaDraft works with any commercial-sized keg. The CO2 propulsion system uses a 20-ounce paintball cartridge for easy refilling. There's also a super-efficient cooling system: One bag of ice will keep the beer cold for 36 hours. Setup takes five minutes, and is tool-free. "It's exceptionally easy to put together. You don't want to not be able to pour a beer because you forgot your nut wrench," says Ciuksza.
Although camping and tailgating provided the original inspiration, the guys ended up setting their sights on bigger markets. Golf courses/country clubs, hospitality/hotels, catering, event venues and bars/restaurants are the five niches they've been concentrating on primarily.
Another market is the beer-festival circuit, including a sponsorship in the upcoming Pittsburgh Beer Fest (of which Pittsburgh City Paper is a sponsor). "When you're doing beer fests, most people use jockey boxes. They're not very attractive, they use a ton of ice — which can be a challenge — and they're slow."
Common Plea Catering and Bar Marco use PortaDrafts for offsite events; they can also be found outside PNC Park before Pirates games.
Home consumer models start at $650, though Ciuksza says that he's offering a $50 discount for Pittsburgh residents. Ordering and other information is at www.portabeer.com.