The PicoBrew Zymatic is an automatic beer brewing appliance that can create an endless stream of high-quality beers. Think of it as the breadmaker for brewing.

The appliance is eminently usable in the hands of beginners. But it's even better for brewing experts.

The device, which is made with an open-source controller, connects to the Internet, downloads recipes, and can tweak brewing cycles.

Users simply fill a small keg with water, attach the Zymatic's hoses to the keg post, put grains in the device's container (called a "step filter"), put hops in the designated hops cages, select a recipe, and wait.

Less than four hours later, unfermented beer, known as beer wort, will emerge. Chill the beer, add yeast, seal the keg--and fermented beer will emerge approximately five days later.

2013-10-11

An Automatic Beer Brewing Machine That Anyone Can Use, Created By Former Microsoft Execs

The PicoBrew Zymatic is like a breadmaker--just dump the ingredients in and forget about it. But who needs bread when you can make beer?

Last week, I received a tempting invitation: Take a day trip to Seattle, brew a batch of beer, and taste a handful of beer samples. I have no brewing experience, but I could have easily taken entrepreneur Bill Mitchell up on his proposal, if not for the logistical complications of making it to Seattle from San Francisco on short notice.

Mitchell, a former executive at Microsoft, is the co-creator of the PicoBrew Zymatic--an automatic beer brewing appliance that can create an endless stream of high-quality beers. Think of it as the breadmaker for brewing.

The appliance is supposed to be eminently usable in the hands of beginners. But it's even better for brewing experts. "A pro can do targeted test batches," says Mitchell, who created the PicoBrew brand with his brother and another former Microsoft executive. "A beginner can produce beer using someone else's recipes, because it takes talent to come up with great recipes. Both parties can benefit from the tool."

Instead of a visit, Mitchell and I settled on a Skype tour, where I got to see the Zymatic in action (and watch as beer hovered tantalizingly in front of my screen). The device, which is made with an open-source controller, connects to the Internet, downloads recipes, and can tweak brewing cycles. Users simply fill a small keg with water, attach the Zymatic's hoses to the keg post, put grains in the device's container (called a "step filter"), put hops in the designated hops cages, select a recipe, and wait.

Less than four hours later, unfermented beer, known as wort, will emerge. Chill the wort, add yeast, seal the keg--and ready-to-drink beer will emerge approximately five days later.

Mitchell and his brother Jim, who has a background in physics and food chemistry, are both longtime home brewers. "There was a lot of stuff we realized we could improve, which involved inventing new food processing techniques and using science to automate the drudgery portions," he explains. "We wanted to get rid of the parts of brewing that aren't fun, and amp up the parts that we find most interesting."

The frustration of brewing multiple batches of the same beer with lots of variability--gone. The annoying task of cleaning giant pots at the end of the brewing process--also gone. Instead, the Zymatic features precise temperature controls, automation, and robotics. After more than 350 batches of test beer, Mitchell claims that "nobody has been disappointed."

During our tour, Mitchell lists some of the many beers his team has created at PicoBrew's 4,000 square foot shop, lab, and office space. There's a brown ale in the spirit of Dogfish Head's brown, a milk stout, an imperial stout, and a Pliny the Elder clone, among others.

To create these clones, PicoBrew took the 23 major styles of beer, and picked one favorite in each category to be designated as a "reference beer." In blind taste tests, drinkers have at least a 50% preference for reference beers created with the Zymatic, according to Mitchell.

There is clearly a big potential market for the Zymatic. At the time of writing, they've raised $346,444 on Kickstarter so far from eager brewers, despite the $1,599 donation level to get in on the second production run, which is still available.

Mitchell expects the Zymatic to be available commercially in summer 2014 for $1,999 and up.

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5 Comments

  • Pepee Hawg Mollie

    its the microwave for homebrewing. what microwave did to cooking , this apparently is attempting to do the same to brewing.

    Ill pass

  • Pepee Hawg Mollie

    same here, some of the best bonding time i have are in a garage over a converted keg boiling the latest and drinking homebrew with friends......part of the growth in homebrewing is the learning experience and muddling through the process from recipe to keg. Many folks get lost in the shiny gizmos that only produce 75 percent eff after empting enough money that would keep you in grain for a few years. give me a kettle, a bag and a carboy and im consistently producing great beer!!!!

  • Marc Hansen

    This appears to be a less hassle system, but is less efficient. This would be good for those who are overwhelmed by the complexities of all-grain brewing (and have the money to blow), however they could just make an extract beer instead. This takes all of the fun out of all-grain brewing though. 

    My system is the most basic; a kettle, two five-gallon coolers, a wort chiller and a keg. With this most basic system, I've gotten mash efficiencies of up to 94.3%. I doubt this auto brewer could top even 70%. 

    Where's the wort chiller? Can't make a decent beer without a wort chiller. Trying to cool five gallons of liquid in a bucket of ice is ridiculous. I betcha these Pico beers are cloudy as hell. 

    I like how they say, just flush out the first few pints and then start drinking. What about aging? Beers need at least some time. Taste improves immensely after just a few weeks. They also don't mention the other things that require cleaning like the keg, hoses and pumps. I guess, that wouldn't be clever marketing to mention all that.

    All in all, I think they're trying to make this process seem quicker and easier than it actually is. Making a great beer takes time and patience. This is too wham bam thank you ma'am.

    Also, the software to handle recipes and calculate strike temps, etc. is already out there (online) and free.

  • Jeff Vondenkamp

    People need to support craft and community, rather than systematically supporting large corporations to further clutter their lives with technology and efficiency.  Taking the craft out of craft brewing isn't solving any issues..  In fact, it's making things worse by allowing consumers to produce crappy product, never fully understand the process of craft brewing, and reduce their support for actual craft brewers who make it their passion to create great beers.

    PASS on this one (absolutely).