Haligonian Mackenzie Grisdale knows all too well how time-consuming and messy home brewing beer can be. The centuries-old process of steeping grains in water and then fermenting with yeast is hardly rocket science, but it still requires sundry equipment: carboys, air locks, thermometers, racking canes, even something called a sparge bag. Don’t assume working with pre-made beer kits makes the brewing process foolproof, either—screw up boiling temperatures or sterilization, and you’re in for some funky (and not in a good way) suds. Still, when you get everything right the results can be extremely gratifying. “It’s all kinds of thrilling to drink beer you made yourself and that tastes awesome,” says Grisdale, pointing to her most recent effort: a stellar scratch-made batch of blackberry red ale that cost just $10. All the same, she admits, the laborious four hours she and her husband Ian spent brewing it and cleaning up means they don’t do it very often.
But what if there were a simple, easy-to-use appliance that did all of the heavy lifting for you—similar to the way a bread-making machine simply requires you to add a few key ingredients, press a button, and then walk away until the task is complete. Well, that day has arrived, thanks to two American brothers, one a PhD and former Microsoft Corp vice-president, the other a physicist. Frustrated by the limitations of traditional home brewing, they set out to make a device that simplifies the process and removes all potential for errors. After three years of development, thousands of man hours and dozens of prototypes, they came up with the PicoBrew Zymatic—the world’s first automatic, all-grain brewing machine.
The PicoBrew looks like a microwave on steroids, but you’ll have no problem fitting it on your countertop. Using it is effortless. You load in your malted barley, hops and water, select a programmed recipe that controls specific temperatures throughout the process, and then you just walk away for a few hours. PicoBrew even logs your recipes to ensure precise, repeatable beer or to allow you to fine-tune a brew to your own tastes; a database also gives you access to dozens of award-winning beer recipes. Sterilization and clean-up is also a snap.
All this doesn’t come cheap. The brewing system’s price tag is US$1,700 bought through PicoBrew.com so this machine is meant for hard-core enthusiasts. But as Kevin Tighe, president of the Canadian Amateur Brewers Association, points out, buying the very best in traditional home brewing equipment can easily get into the thousands. When you consider PicoBrew’s advantages, the sticker price seems reasonable. So if you plan to splurge on one, get ready to start brewing—some truly top-notch keggers surely await.