Joseph Ryan, owner of the Fox, in Haggerston, put in the Japanese-made unit last month after buying it on eBay for £1,500.
Ryan, 31, says he bought the machine as a conversation point at his craft-beer-focused pub in Kingsland Road. “We used to have a photo booth [where the vending machine is],” he said. “That was hugely popular. The vending machine is dividing opinion; I did get an email from one bloke who hated it. But mostly people are positive. One person said: ‘This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!’ I’ve never had so much activity on Twitter.”
A spokesman for the Automatic Vending Association, the industry’s trade organisation, said this was the only pub vending machine he knew of, although a number of hotels and nightclubs had them during the 1980s and 1990s.
Legally, he added, such machines need to be in clear sight of the bar — a provision the Fox fulfils.
The Fox’s machine is made by Sanden Vendo; a similar machine (the Vendo Vue 30) can be bought from vendtrade.co.uk for around £1,400 plus VAT, although there is a cheaper model which retails at around £1,250 plus VAT. A Vendtrade salesman said there had been enquires but that the fear of underage drinking — and prosecution — had put potential purchasers off.
Ryan, who says the machine sells between 20 and 25 bottles a week, insists it is not intended to replace bar staff. Beers costs between £3 and £7 (for a bottle of Siren’s Jim Bean barrel-aged Broken Dream), in line with prices at the bar — although none of the beers in the machine are on sale at the bar. Around 50 different beers are available with a bottle-opener attached to the machine and glasses stacked on top.
Beers are dispensed using a mechanical arm, which means bottle-conditioned ales can also be sold — although, as Ryan admits, he did have some early problems with the machine.
“At first, we had the temperature too low,” he said. “It was 20C and some beers were coming out uncarbonated. We moved it to 6.60C and that seems to be spot-on.”
Although beer vending machines are almost un-known in the UK, they are hugely popular in Japan. The country reputedly has a 1-to-50 ratio of vending machines-to-humans, the highest on the planet.