As homebrewers, we ride this imaginary line of staying true to some notion of “tradition” while looking towards technology for ways to improve our brewing. Refractometers, small cooling plates, temperature controlled fermentation chambers – all being used to do what we think the pros do: achieve repeatability. The Holy Grail of homebrewing is to reproduce your favorite beer time and time again with minimal effort, right?
The folks at PicoBrew have managed to remove many of the roadblocks we encounter as brewers with their flagship unit, the Zymatic. Things like boil rate, mash temps, improper water ratios in the mash, and missed step mash temps are a thing of the past, creating what is essentially the most repeatable product you can get at the home level. Most people loved the notion, some hated it and claimed a brewing robot took the art out of brewing.
While the homebrewing world was busy debating the Zymatic’s place in our collective brew houses, the PicoBrew staff was hard at work developing a second unit, called the Pico. Warren and I were invited up to PicoBrew headquarters in Seattle to get a first-hand look at this revolutionary new system on the product’s official launch day. Set up as a Kickstarter program, the Pico was an instant hit, becoming fully funded in less than 10 hours.
The Pico is taking automated homebrewing to the next level, breaking it down for those people out there that either don’t want to learn about the intricacies of water chemistry or recipe formulation, or simply want to have a great beer on tap without brewing 20 gallons of it. The Pico works like this: you select a batch of beer from the Beer Marketplace, and it arrives pre-packaged for you with the hops, malt, and any other additives self-contained inside a small pouch system, currently made of sugar cane pulp to make it bio-degradable. Insert the pouch into the Pico unit, wait for the machine to identify which kit you are making, and hit “Go”. Your brewing water is heated using steam, so there is less power draw and more accurate heating. In just under 3 hours you have a truly repeatable batch of homebrew ready for you to pitch the included pack of White Labs PurePitch yeast into the 1.3 gallons of fresh wort you have just created.
PicoBrew’s BrewMarketplace is a sort of “Amazon.com” of beer kits, complete with recommendations, reviews, and a section to ask questions of the particular brewer who created the recipe you are drinking. In our clone-obsessed culture, this is the ideal solution for us to contact the brewer and ask recipe specific questions. And since the Pico eliminates any end-user variability, both you and the recipe formulator know that you are both drinking what is essentially the same exact beer. Current Zymatic owners will be able to join the Pico Developer Program which will give them access to upload their own recipes alongside some of their favorite craft beers. The key value for Zymatic owners to join the PDP is publishing their beer recipe as a PicoPak in the global BrewMarketplace for anyone to buy and brew. If you’re a creative homebrewer in Lodi, for example, you can come up with amazing beers, but even if you had access to the vast amounts of cash it takes to start up a small brewpub, there’s little chance people outside a small radius of you will ever enjoy your beer. The Pico changes all of that, making it possible for a Pico owner in Sydney, Australia or Sao Paolo, Brazil to brew your beer and enjoy it where they are.
The impact of this new project is two-fold: the first is fairly obvious, and that is we as homebrewers get to share an amazing recipe and feel confident the end-user will be drinking exactly what we envisioned. The second is a bit wider-reaching, and that is the numerous breweries that have signed up – both on the national level (Rogue, DogFish Head) and the regional (Lucky Envelope, Populuxe) – can expose their beers to a wider audience without the worry of signing with a giant distributor, stale beer, improper handling, etc. The program allows its participants to earn a commission on sales, so the brewers get a cut of what you buy. While the details of the program are still being worked out, it looks to be a great way for local breweries of any size to taste their beers, albeit in homebrew form.
Homebrewing is changing, and the folks at PicoBrew are leading the charge by removing those roadblocks that keep many people from the hobby: time. It takes time to learn about starch conversion – and even more time to sit and watch it happen. With the Zymatic and the Pico, time is no longer the precious commodity it once was because the brewing process is mostly hands-off. More brewers making better beer. Sounds good to us.