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PicoBrew Zymatic review: Making great craft beer in a cloud-connected appliance

Jon Phillips | June 23, 2015
It doesn't make beer on demand, but the Zymatic does remove friction from home brewing by grabbing recipes online, and automating complex steps.

Next up, it's time to "lauter" and "sparge," separating your wort from all the spent grain, and then adding water to extract even more fermentable sugars. I'll spare you the details, but know that this requires specialized equipment and legitimate know-how.

Finally, it's time for your "boil," which involves transferring your wort back to your mashing pot, and putting it above a flame. Besides sterilizing the wort, this is the brewing phase in which you introduce different types of hops at different points in the boil. Again, timing is key.

So, yeah, it's a finicky operation. It creates a bit of a mess, and requires legitimate brewing knowledge and one's full attention.

Enter the Zymatic, which automates everything I just described.

How the Zymatic simplifies home brewing

You start by connecting the Zymatic to the Internet, either via Wi-Fi or ethernet. Next you sync a recipe from PicoBrew's online library with the machine. In effect, the recipe tells the machine what temperatures it should reach during the mash and boil cycles of the specific beer you're about to make.

Next you connect the machine to a 5-gallon Cornelius keg (it's included with the $2,000 purchase). You pour 3.5 gallons of high-quality tap water into the keg, and then place your recipe's grain and hops in their respective filtering bins. There's one big bin for grain, and four separate smaller bins for hops. PicoBrew sells pre-packaged ingredient kits (I used its Pico Pale Ale kit), but you can also purchase grain and hops from a beer supply store, and weigh out the ingredients yourself.

With all the ingredients loaded, it's time to hit the start button. The Zymatic and keg essentially form a closed-circuit loop: Water from the keg is sucked into the machine, heated to a precise temperature (152 degrees Fahrenheit for my recipe), and then circulated through the grain bin for 90 minutes to extract sugars. (As best as I could tell, the lautering and sparging phases are rendered moot by PicoBrew's recirculating mashing method.)

After mashing, the wort enters its boil phase, and the circulating liquid begins cycling through the hop cages. PicoBrew describes this as a "cascading motion" that "mimics manually adding hops to a boil pot." The timing of the hops infusion is controlled by the recipe you've uploaded, and it's all very precise. According to the data recorded during my brewing session, my first hops cage began infusion precisely when the wort temperature hit 206 degrees Fahrenheit. The second cage joined the party 45 minutes later, and the wort passed through the third and fourth cages at the 50- and 55-minute marks.

After the boil, the fully brewed wort cycles back through the tubing into the keg for cool down (you can't add your fermenting yeast until the wort has cooled down to 70 degrees). My batch of wort suffered a frightening but ultimately harmless mishap during this stage (more about this soon), but the brew finally cooled down many hours later

 

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