Does Coopers' BrewArt go a little too far to make beer brewing easier?
Editors' note, July 10, 2017: This piece was initially published on June 30, 2016 when BrewArt first launched in Australia. Today, BrewArt comes to the US with a Kickstarter campaign. This piece has been updated accordingly.
If you've visited a home brewing store, chances are you've seen a Coopers' kit with all of the gear you need to get started. Now, with Coopers' BrewArt, you'll be able to brew automatically and serve the results on tap. BrewArt consists of two main parts: the BeerDroid that brews and ferments your beer in a temperature controlled chamber; and the BrewFlo, which dispenses your newly crafted beer from a carbonated and cooled tap.
A brewery as well as a manufacturer of homebrew equipment, Coopers is based in Australia. That's where the BrewArt first launched in July 2016. Today, the brewing system launches in the US with a Kickstarter campaign. If you're a hobbyist, get ready for a little sticker shock. The BeerDroid costs AU$800 and the BrewFlo will set you back AU$700. The expected retail prices in the US are the same -- $800 and $700 respectively. The US price converts to £620 and £540, but there's no word yet on if it'll come to the UK.
Though the price seems lofty, it actually stacks up favorably next to the competition. BrewArt isn't the first automatic beer brewer we've seen. The PicoBrew Zymatic ($2,000), the PicoBrew Pico ($1,000) and Brewie ($2,000) similarly automate the process of crafting beer.
BrewArt even gains a leg up on all of those competitors by controlling the temperature during fermentation with presets for whether you're brewing an ale or a lager (the latter needs colder temps). Both PicoBrew products and Brewie take care of the first main steps of cooking your beer for you, but you're on your own while you wait for the yeast to do its thing. And if your fermenting container gets too hot while the yeast works, you can easily introduce off flavors. However, each of those machines uses a process that closely resembles authentic brewing, and that's where BrewArt concerns me.
In theory, the BeerDroid brews 10 liters at the push of a button. It's Wi-Fi-enabled and has an iOS and Android app so you can track the progress of your brew remotely. You'll be able to watch your beer cook through the brewing window and fine tune the temperature and other small details with the LCD screen and the app.
The BeerDroid even promises to automatically detect when your beer is done fermenting, and let you know with the app. That would be extremely convenient if it works right, and the BeerDroid will even enter storage mode if you're not ready to keg right away when fermenting is done.
All of that sounds fine, but you need to use Coopers' specifically designed ingredient packs to brew with the BeerDroid. These packs, called BrewPrints, consist of "Elements, Enhancers, Hops and Yeast." BrewArt's site promises these contain only all natural ingredients, but the vacuum packed pouches in the pictures and the strange lingo used to describe the packs give me pause. On the site, "Elements" are described as malt characters and bitterness levels, which sounds like processed versions of the standard malt and hops.
When I reached out to the company, a representative clarified by email that Elements are "a range of wort blends."
"The system isn't designed for mashing or boiling," he said. "These steps are taken care of here in our brewery and form the Elements and Enhancers."
So the BeerDroid bears as much similarity to the Beer Bar from SodaStream that makes beer from concentrate as it does to PicoBrew and Brewie. To BrewArt's credit, though, SodaStream's Beer Bar just adds sparkling water to concentrate to create carbonation, whereas the BeerDroid seems to authentically ferment your beer. The same representative also promised you'll be able to tinker with recipes if you'd like. BrewPrints come in a variety of styles and you'll be able to mix and match ingredients or even "start a completely customized brew of [your] own from scratch."
I'm not sure how that would work if the BeerDroid can't mash or boil, but if you can do those first steps on your own, then put your own wort into the BeerDroid for customized fermentation, that might be enough to win me over.
Once your beer finishes fermenting, you pour it into a 5-liter BrewArt keg that snaps into the BrewFlo. Complete with a customizable handle, the chrome-finished BrewFlo will carbonate your beer for you while cooling it to your liking for the perfect pour. You can supposedly swap kegs as much as you'd like without introducing any oxygen into the kegs and BrewFlo's display will keep you posted on how much beer is left in the installed keg. When you run out, you can dispose of the keg's liner to quickly clean it for its next use.
BrewArt needs a few internal updates for its debut in the US -- thus, the Kickstarter campaign -- but the basics are all pretty much the same as when it was first announced for Australia. Coopers hopes to start shipping to US backers in September.
Both the BeerDroid and BrewFlo look the part of premium countertop appliances. If the BeerDroid comes close enough to an authentic process to turn out good beer, then BeerArt stands to be a fun system for crafting and serving your favorite beverage.