PicoBrew is a beer-centered startup in Seattle, founded by brothers Bill and Jim Mitchell (Bill being an ex-Microsoft executive) and Avi Geiger. It is, in short, magical.
The machine at the heart of their operation is the Zymatic — an apparatus that simplifies one of the main steps in beer making by reducing the need to monitor the cooking process of creating wort (unfermented beer). This web-connected device provides temperature data about each step of the brewing process and automatically transfers wort to and from kegs with the intention of letting you “set it and forget it.”
Their goal is to make it possible for a novice brewer to make a good batch of beer on their very first attempt and through mechanization and standardization.
Some might say that this destroys part of the “art” in beer making—something that takes years to perfect. I think that is a bit of a simplistic way to look at it. For sure, their goal is to make the results of your beer making escapades the same every time (assuming you follow your recipe), but any great artist knows how to use new tools and bend the rules. So I think it’s just one more tool to use.
But more than just a machine, PicoBrew’s whole process of providing recipe info, excellent technical support and plans for a brew shop marketplace make it a compelling concept for home brewers of all types.
The Zymatic in action is documented at that is point and so most of my interest lies in their startup business model and the potential in the marketplace.
PicoBrew’s research indicates that coffee and beer share many commonalities and this reveals there is a market opportunity for home brewing. Therefore, with this device, the company aspires to make home brewing as easy as making coffee. I don’t know if that is truly doable, but by comparison to normal beer making, the Zymatic definitely streamlines the process about as much as possible.
In a conversation with PicoBrew’s VP of Marketing Donald Brewer (!!) we discussed how the Zymatic already plays a roll for some breweries to cheaply make new, experimental batches—sort of a tool for innovation and experimentation. Even more interesting to me is the opportunity for small brewers—who do not have national or even regional distribution of their beer—to possibly be able to sell the intellectual property of their recipes so that people who want their beer, can replicate it at home.
For a model like that to be successful, the technology for brewing at home would have to be precise enough to replicate the taste closely, but that’s where the standardization they are going for comes into play. Interesting.
Still, to be completely sure of a product like this, I felt it was important to go through the whole process…so I did.
I made beer with it and it was good. And while the process at first seemed laborious to such a noob as myself, after I compared using the Zymatic to manual beer making…it seemed pretty easy. Most of what seemed tedious to me was my own double and triple checking of processes and timing. It would be way easier a second time.
I did consult the company’s Master Brewer Annie Johnson on occasion and also utilized their support email system (which was excellent), but most of that was done after I had already gone through various steps—more like double-checking my brewing decisions.
The bottom line though is I made a good beer on the first try. While I have decades of experience drinking beer, I have zero experience making beer. However, I followed the instructions, and I made beer that tasted good the very first time with no brewing experience.
The machine – which retails for $1999 – might seem expensive to some (and let’s be honest, 2K is not pocket change), but by comparison to high end esspresso machines it also seems reasonable. I’m guessing if you are a serious home brewer, the expense might make sense based on the time saved from this process.
For sure, it’s work and expense to make beer versus buying a six pack at the store. It takes time, patience and you need gear and preparation. This machine is probably not for everyone, but if you are the type who likes to cook and make things or home brew, I’m not sure there’s an easier way to make beer at home.
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