Friday, February 21, 2014

Robot's Brewing Your Beer?

There's a new product coming out soon that has been touted as a revolution in brewing. Funded on Kickstarter, the PicoBrew Zymatic raised over $650,000 in one month--four times more than they asked for. Now they're taking pre-orders that will be shipped in June of this year. For a low price of $1800, you too can have a brewing robot.

This is quite an awesome little machine that they've designed. There's no question about that. Its stainless steel, its a robot, and it brews beer. What can be better than that? However, I don't really see it brewing any beer that I'll be drinking anytime soon. I don't see the point for a homebrewer. The process of homebrewing is the hobby--learning, applying new techniques, and building your own custom setup to show off. The long brew day is an integral part--enjoying it with friends while drinking your own beer is a great experience. Just having your own brewed beer without any of the effort put in is missing the point. One of the co-founders says in their Kickstarter video that "there's no art in scrubbing out a kettle, there's no art in sitting in front of a crab cooker and reading a book." I would contend that there is no art in letting software tell you how much malt and hops to throw in a bin and then hitting the go button.
(photo: PicoBrew, LLC)
The other problem for the homebrewer or even a small nano/microbrewery is the price. I could build a badass 10-gal. all-electric all-grain brewing setup for less than $1000. (But don't ask me to, once was enough and it's mine!) The PicoBrew costs 75% more and you can only brew 2.5 gallons at a time. You would have to brew 150 2.5-gal. batches to bring your cost down to that of a $9 six-pack. If your goal is to have great beer that you don't have to work for just go buy it! There are 2500 breweries in the US now, and probably somewhere close to 10,000 worldwide. Surely you can find something to wet your whistle amongst those choices.

There are some other very cool things it can do, though. The software is open source and their hardware specs are open as well. I'm sure some mad scientist brewer will find out a way to break this thing into making something we've never even heard of. It's got very precise temperature controls and infinite variability with the open software. Want to replicate the 21 step Pilsner Urquell mash without driving yourself insane? How about a 12 hour protein rest at 123 deg F just to see what happens? I can also see it as a handy tool for microbreweries (at least those with deep pockets). With all the new hop varieties coming out, it's hard to know where to start. Do 10 SMaSH batches all with different hops to see the difference. Test out whether dark Munich malt goes better than Biscuit or Crystal 30 in your new recipe. You don't waste a bunch of time or money brewing these things with a PicoBrew.

However, I really doubt the PicoBrew will be brewing any world class beers anytime soon. Brewing is like any other skilled trade. A carpenter doesn't measure every room in a house, then go cut crown moulding in a shop to fit and install it. He puts up one piece, measures, adjusts, cuts, adds the next piece and then repeats this process until every piece fits with the last and the first. At every step the product is evaluated and adjustments are made. You just can't make a great beer by reproducing a recipe every time. It takes a skilled brewmeister who is intimately familiar with his brewing system and ingredients to make a great beer. This is not to say that the PicoBrew couldn't make an above average beer--just not a great beer. And with so many great beers around, who has time for above average?

I'm excited to see what people do with this product. New technology in the brewing world is always a great thing to have. And obviously 500 people who already pre-ordered the product disagree with my assessment. What do you think? Awesome new technology or overpriced toy?


  1. If this is the robot that starts the robo-uprising then I welcome our new overlords 10010

  2. This is the Easy-Bake Oven of the beer world.