Editor's note, December 16, 2014: Updated to reflect that the Indiegogo campaign has reached its funding goal.
People have sung the praises and pleasures of drinking beer for millennia. The same certainly can't be said of the brewing process, which by its nature is slow and difficult for beginners. A new Hungary-based startup, Brewie, claims it has created the perfect gadget which removes all the mess, hassle and frustration from traditional home beer brewing.
Also called the Brewie, this countertop home brewing appliance is square, compartmentalized and modular. Better yet, Brewie's creators say the machine can whip up fermented beer in traditional 5.2 gallon (20 liter) batches all by itself.
It wouldn't be a modern crowd-funding project -- it went live today on Indiegogo -- without some kind of tech hook, and indeed, Brewie boasts its own touchscreen, a companion smartphone app, plus built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking so you can monitor and control your brewing process remotely.
Big, heavy, and boxy
At first glance you might think the Brewie is some sort of pricey gaming PC thanks to its large chassis and boxy brushed-metal surfaces. Measuring 21.2 inches tall by 12.8 inches deep and 17.7 inches wide (54 by 33 by 45 cm), this product really pushes the barrier between small and large appliances.
The Brewie's monstrous 55 pound (25 kg) weight sure sounds unwieldy too, at least compared with most products meant for kitchen countertop duty.
Designed for your brewing convenience
Aside from the two flat lids that cover the water tank and brewing chamber, on top of the Brewie you'll find two slots for adding other crucial beer-making ingredients such as hops and yeast. A 4.3-inch color LCD touchscreen placed on the Brewie's front face lets you operate the machine's basic functions and also highlights and selects specific beer recipes.
Another nifty trick the Brewie has is an RFID scanner, which sits below the screen. The purpose of the reader ties directly into the Brewie's automated beer-brewing abilities. The company behind the Brewie will sell what it calls "brewie-pads" -- essentially a coffee pod-style insert with all the ingredients for making various kinds of beer. Inside the pack is a porous pouch containing the grains and malt, sacks filled with floral hops, a satchel of yeast, plus an RFID recipe card.
With all these components loaded into the Brewie, all it takes is a tap of the RFID card on the device's sensor to pull up the correct recipe for the kit, then you're off and brewing. Brewie is designed to connect to your local water source (such as the kitchen faucet) and will measure out the exact amount of brewing liquid for you.
A few drawbacks to Brewie's system
The biggest issue I see with the Brewie, besides its size, is that some important details of this machine's beer making process remain rather murky. While the people at Brewie mainly talk up the gadget's primary brewing skills, the company doesn't get into secondary fermentation such as bottle or keg conditioning steps at all.
I admit, though, that as someone who has personally brewed up a few batches of home brew, primary fermentation -- and all the elements leading up to it -- is the most challenging stage. It's a complicated process that requires precise timing, temperature control and cleanliness.
For instance in the mashing stage crushed grains are soaked in hot water to trigger enzymes which break down starches into fermentable sugars. Next is the sparging step in which water is used to rinse the grain mash of any residual sugars.
Then comes what home brewers commonly call "the boil", where your pre-fermented sugar and water mixture (wort) is collected, heated quickly, treated with hops, then cooled just as fast lest nasty microbes muscle out the yeast. If the Brewie can tackle and automate all that, well color me impressed.
It's also important to note that other companies have found ways to mechanise home brewing, or plan to greatly simplify it. Theis not as sleek and polished looking as the Brewie claims to be, but it handles primary beer fermentation and all steps leading up to it plus chills the solution down to the right temp for pitching in your yeast.
Heck, the thing even decants everything back into a special 2.5-gallon keg for your tapping pleasure. You have to manually connect the keg and physically operate the PicoBrew machine at various points during the brewing process so it isn't a set and forget type of gadget. The PicoBrew also has a sky-high $1,799 sticker price which, though less than the eventual $2,000 retail price tag for the Brewie, will surely put off all but the most serious of home brewers.
Taking a completely different, and frankly gross-sounding tack is the home brewer dreamed up by(SDS). The company says its product will produce chilled "beer" made from infusing carbonated water with beer-flavored syrup (alcohol included) one glass at a time. While the beverages it creates may not officially qualify as real (brewed and fermented) beer, it is expected to cost a whole lot less. SDS told CNET that an at-home appliance will retail for about $70 while a mobile version will be a cheaper $20. You'll have to wait until early 2015 for the devices to hit store shelves.
Brewie hasn't yet confirmed the final retail date for its home brewing product, but it says the first production run will ship to backers of its now fully funded Indiegogo campaign in August 2015. The Brewie will cost $2,000, with an early-bird offer of $999 if you're among the first five backers. $2,299 will bag you four 5 liter fermentation kegs and a few other extras, and there are some options too. Shipping is pricey, however, at $350.
It'll ship to the UK and Australia, as well as the US, and the $2,000 price converts to around £1,280 or AU$2,360. Shipping is expected to be around £30 to the UK and around AU$400 to Australia, although that will depend on how many backers there are in those countries.
That price is rather too steep for mass adoption, but given the number of passionate home brewers out there (the Indiegogo campaign reached its goal in just 14 days), I wouldn't be surprised to see Brewie take off. If you'd like to throw your own money behind it, click here for the Indiegogo campaign.