The Keurigs of Home Beer Brewing Are Here: Here's What It's Like to Use One
It's the Easy-Bake Oven for beer.
We’re living in the golden age for craft beer brewing. Not only is there a virtually endless selection of artisanal brews in most corner stores around the United States, but the American Homebrewers Association found that 1.1 million people in the U.S. are making their own beer right from their living room. But just like baking, the art of beer-making is more science than art.
As this diligent reporter learned over the course of several hours, brewing involves a confusing assortment of nozzles, growlers, big pots, along with ingredients that require hyper-precise measurements. One small mistake could cost you a whole batch. It’s no wonder then that tech companies are starting to give beer the Keurig-treatment. Indeed, the PicoBrew we tried required no measurements or complicated trips to the hardware store. All the ingredients, tools, and instructions are measured out and come packages in an (admittedly rather large) box.
The Pico will soon have a lot more competition. LG is diving headfirst into the $26 billion American craft beer market with the launch of its HomeBrew beer maker at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. Products like these have done all the measuring work for the user, all you do is prep the machinery and pop in the barley and hops pods to start brewing your pilsner, IPA, or stout.
PicoBrew has been selling beer machines since 2015 when it launched its $2,000 PicoBrew Zymatic. Two years later, the company released the PicoBrew Model C for $400 (now down to $327). During my time with the PicoBrew I learned that it’s never been easier to dip your toe in the homebrewing as a hobby despite the fact I don’t know the first thing about it.
Will It Cost Less Than Regular Brewing?
High tech home brewing is surprisingly affordable. All in all, the PicoBrew will cost you around $100 more than a standard home-brewing rig. Homebrewers on Beeradvocate widely agree that a basic starter setup should cost you somewhere in the ballpark of $200. But that’s just for the ingredients, tools, and containers; the PicoBrew also gives you access to brewing lessons, making it far, far more idiot-proof (though we’d still recommend carefully reading the instruction materials.)
The Model C’s instructional video gives you a drive-by lesson on brewing. It guides you through the sanitation process so you don’t accidentally grow unwanted beer bacteria, and familiarizes you with the steps of the brewing process.
When I popped in my Picopaks — the little pods that hold barley and hops — to brew my Pilsner, the display on the Model C walks you through the rest of the process step-by-step. I learned that “Mashing” is when you steep barley in hot water to drain the sugar out of it. It’s that sugar that will become alcohol once you begin the yeast fermentation process.
Is It Easier?
While the materials are certainly intimidating, the PicoBrew definitely streamlines the process. I’m a nervous baker who tends to mess up at least one of the measurements, resulting in an inedible cake. But the PicoBrew is like the Easy-Bake Oven for beer.
Instead of having to go through several batches of beer to get the exact brew you want, it’s already done for you. Each Picopack even lists the ingredients in it, so you can tweak the recipe if you decide to get more hands-on with your hobby in the future.
On the other hand, while it streamlines and simplifies the process, in the grand scheme of things it won’t save you that much time. Beer is still beer, and it will take 10 to 14 days for your gross barley water to ferment into a frosty delicious beverage.
While you’ll end up sending roughly $100 more than an average starter brewing setup, you pretty much guarantee that your first batch will be drinkable. That might actually give you more beer for your buck if you were to try to freestyle and run the risk of mistakes.
The PicoBrew Model C is ideal for the curious brewing novice.