Editors' note, June 29th, 2016: The startup behind Artbrew changed the name of the product to iGulu and launched a second crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. The piece has been updated accordingly.
Based on the specs and features, iGulu (formerly called Artbrew) could be the beer making machine I've been hoping for. Between the app and the onboard LCD controls, it looks prepared to walk the line between ease-of-use simplicity and detailed options for customization if you want them.
You'll pick from a variety of recipes or create your own. You can use your own ingredients if you have them or order packs from iGulu's website or app. At that point, you can simply add water and the ingredients and hit start, or you can further fine tune your beer if you want to customize how heavy it is, how hoppy it is, or even how alcoholic it is.
Reasons for optimism
As iGulu works, you can track the progress of your creation on the app. iGulu connects to Wi-Fi, and you'll also get a push notification if you need to take any action. It handles almost everything itself, though you'll need to add yeast to the mix after it cooks so your beer can ferment. Additionally, iGulu adds up to four different types of hops automatically, but if you want more than that, you can add them in manually during the cook, and iGulu will let you know when it's the right time to do so.
The similar Picobrew Zymatic took care of the early stages of brewing as well, but you had to cool the mixture yourself before you could add the yeast and start fermenting. iGulu takes care of that for you. And you can leave the included MiniKeg inside the iGulu during fermentation, and it'll maintain an appropriate temp during the couple of weeks it takes your beer to be ready to drink.
If you'd like, you can take the MiniKeg with your fermenting beer out of iGulu, ferment it somewhere else and use a separate MiniKeg to start a different batch. Just like with unassisted homebrewing, the initial stages of brewing with iGulu will take a few hours and fermentation will last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
The iGulu and the included MiniKeg let you brew 5L or 1.3 gallons of beer at a time. The Zymatic has roughly twice that capacity, but the iGulu supposedly fits nicely on your countertop. The Zymatic really didn't. iGulu also handily includes a cycle specifically designed to clean the inner compartments between batches.
Reasons for caution
With an expected retail price of $989, iGulu's also an easier splurge than the $2,000 Zymatic or Brewie -- a similar beer-brewing bot that also costs $2,000. But iGulu still has a lot to prove to be worth the cost. For one, its temperature controls will need to be precise, as even small variances can produce off flavors. It'll need to cycle water effectively to agitate the grain during the early stages of the brew or the beer will taste thin. And obviously, the rest of the mechanisms need to prove as effective and easy-to-use in practice as they are in theory.
If you're willing to gamble that iGulu fulfills its promises, you can contribute to its Indiegogo campaign and get it for a hefty discount. The lowest early-bird pricing is an attractive $550. iGulu is available worldwide. The $989 retail price converts to roughly £690 and AU$1,310 for our readers in the UK and Australia respectively. The Indiegogo discount converts to around £400 and AU$740.
Under the name Artbrew, the product previously ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and the Indiegogo campaign has already raised more than seven times the fundraising goal. So the product looks popular, we'll see if it can meet demand and live up to expectations. Kickstarter backers should get their units in September of this year. If you preorder on Indiegogo now, the estimated delivery date is December.
Updated January 7, 2017 with hands on pics and video from CES 2017.