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Smart Home

Whirlpool brews up a beer machine for Indiegogo backers

The appliance manufacturer wants to make it easier to brew your own beer at home.

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Whirlpool

Whirlpool's Vessi Fermenter looks like a large appliance, but it doesn't wash your dishes or your clothes -- it helps you brew beer. It's a single tank that claims it can help your homebrew taste better by reducing contamination and taking control of the temperature and the pressure during fermentation. By controlling the pressure, it can supposedly speed up the carbonation process -- that means you shouldn't have to wait as long to sample the goods.

Vessi flips the approach of the other automatic beer brewers we've seen. Instead of helping you through the labor intensive cooking stages like the PicoBrew Pico or Brewie, Vessi leaves that all to you, framing it as the fun part. Instead, the Vessi Beer Fermenter -- which was developed by appliance giant Whirlpool and launches a crowdfunding campaign today on Indiegogo -- takes over the process after you've crafted your wort.

It has an eye-popping price tag of $1,900 (no international availability for now, but that price converts to around £1,300 or AU$2,650). The high cost will limit its appeal to hobbyists, but as a full-blown and decent-looking beer-brewing appliance with Whirlpool's backing, it could find a market with passionate homebrewers looking to add some professionalism to their craft.

Brewing basics

For the unaffiliated, you brew beer by steeping water with malted barley, then boiling it with hops. The resulting mixture is called wort. Making wort takes a couple of hours of fairly active cooking. Then you mix your wort with yeast, which eats the sugars from the malt and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. Letting the yeast do its thing can take weeks and there's not a lot you can do to help you beer along during this fermentation process. However, you will want to keep your beer at a certain temp during fermentation, because extra heat will introduce off flavors.

Measuring up

Now playing: Watch this: Master brewing with the Brewie beer bot
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One of my issues with beer bots such as PicoBrew and Brewie is that by automating the first cooking stages, they end up compromising some of the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into brewing beer yourself. And you're on your own when it comes to fermentation.

So I like the Vessi Fermenter, at least in theory, because you do still have to cook the beer yourself. The fermenter's role is to help you watch over your beer during the downtime after the brew. And there's a certain degree of reassurance that comes from a crowdfunding campaign with the backing of a major manufacturer.

In that sense, Whirlpool's approach with Vessi reminds me of the experimental work GE is doing with First Build, a "microfactory" in Louisville where the manufacturing giant can design, build and sell small batches of experimental appliances in an effort to reach new niche consumer bases. The division of Whirlpool that developed Vessi is called W Labs. It's an initiative by Whirlpool to test out ideas in areas it might not otherwise have explored on a full-scale production level.

My main hesitation is that price tag. You can control the temperature of your fermenting wort much more affordably with the upcoming $350 BrewJacket Immersion Pro. And most homebrewers do well enough by finding a cool spot in their basement for their fermenting container.

Outlook

I like that you can pour your beer right from the tap at the top of the Vessi fermenter, but since you may have to make room for it in your basement or garage, I'm not sure how convenient that feature will be at a party. The system supposedly also helps with more advanced steps such as secondary fermentation and controlling your alcohol by volume. It'll need to be pretty advanced to be worth the price.

You can preorder the Vessi Fermenter via the Indiegogo campaign now, with early bird discounts available for the first batch of backers. The products are scheduled to start shipping before the Christmas holiday.

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