Americans apparently buy as much coffee as they do beer, but while coffee-brewing names like Keurig and Nespresso fall off the tongue, I'm sure almost no-one could name an at-home beer brewer. Home brew company PicoBrew would like to change that.
The PicoBrew Pico is a $1,000 (converts to about £650 and AU$1,385) at-home brewer which uses prepackaged ingredient packs -- the $19-and-up "PicoPaks" -- to brew beer in about two hours.
PicoBrew says it has over 50 breweries on board with branded packs from companies including Dogfish Head and Rogue. PicoBrew says the "Paks" enable these businesses, which can sometimes be very localized, to get their product out to the world. It claims that almost any type of beer can be created with the machine with the exceptions being "aged" brews and fruit varieties.
The machine is a cut-down version of the company's, which enables the at-home brewer to choose their own ingredients. However that earlier device takes twice as long to brew, and introduces the potential of error for novices.
In addition to selling PicoPaks from existing breweries, the company is instituting a "BrewMarketplace" where users can create their own recipes and receive a commission from selling them as packs.
Unlike the non-recyclable packaging of the original Keurig coffee maker, the PicoPaks themselves are made of compostable materials.
PicoBrew's Pico system makes 5 liters at a time (or about 13 bottles) and includes two 5-liter kegs in the package. Anyone that has attempted home brewing will know that it can be an intensely tedious process of sanitizing components. PicoBrew says it simplifies the washing with a built-in steam cleaning process.
To brew beer in the machine you fill a keg with water, load the hop and grain modules into the machine, adjust the amount of bitterness and alcohol you want in your beer and hit "Brew."
After brewing, you add a sachet of yeast from the PicoPak, transfer it to one of the serving kegs and add carbonation. PicoBrew says that some PicoPaks cater for the for the hop-heads by adding a separate dry-hopping package. After a week the beer should be ready to tap and drink.
The company says that user customization should be possible in the future, though it won't be as flexible as the bigger Zymatic. For instance, customers won't be able to pick their own grains.
At $19 (converts to about £10 and AU$25) or more for two six-packs, it's certainly cheaper than some craft beers, but the initial cost of entry for the machine is high. However if you enjoy brewing your own beer, this is a definite step up from the plastic.
I tasted two beers beer created by the machine -- an Imperial Stout with a 9 percent alcohol by volume and an IPA with a 7 percent alcohol by volume created by the 2013 Home Brewer of the Year -- and both were a huge step up from any home brew I've ever tried. They tasted like craft beers I would pay money for. If this is the level of quality that's possible from the machine, maybe the term "home brew" won't ever be considered a dirty word.
The PicoBrew will be available in Spring 2016, but early-birds can get the Pico for $499 on the company's Kickstarter.