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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.

And that signaled the end of PicoBrew's beer-making act.

Indeed, by the time you're adding yeast, you're done with the Zymatic entirely, and the machine doesn't add any more efficiencies to the beer-making process. Nonetheless, from cool-down to carbonation, home brewing was still a complete mystery to me, and better documentation on PicoBrew's part would have been welcome.

Confusing documentation

Picobrew's $2,000 price tag is a big gulp to swallow, especially because the system only produces 2.5 gallons of finished beer--that's just 20 pints (one gallon is lost to the brewing process itself). But the machine's high price is even more glaring once you discover the roughness of the instructional materials. The documentation is piecemeal and vague. It feels like it went straight from the developer's computer to the hands of the consumer without thorough vetting by a user experience expert.

Throughout my brewing project, I found myself consulting the spiral-bound user manual that came with the machine, a stapled recipe sheet that came with my ingredients kit, and documentation and videos on the PicoBrew website. Piecing everything together, I was able to make my beer, but still hit rough patches. Just a few examples:

There were no clear instructions on how to load a recipe into the machine. I had to poke around a bit before discovering that you select a recipe from PicoBrew's database, and then copy the recipe to your "brewhouse," which syncs the recipe with the machine.

The pale ale recipe in my online brewhouse listed which hops to use, but didn't define which specific hops went into which specific hop cages (they need to be infused in a particular order). After a few minutes, I discovered that the recipe sheet that came with my ingredients kit included the information I needed. But why not have consistent instructions in both locations?

My ingredients kit came with Irish moss (a clarifying agent that makes for a clearer, less cloudy beer), but the pale ale recipe itself made no mention of the Irish Moss. Buried deep in the spiral-bound user manual was a section that explained the moss should be placed in a hops cage. But which hops cage? That wasn't explained.

I followed PicoBrew's cool-down instructions pretty much to the letter, using the recommended ice bucket method. But after a few hours, the keg still hadn't cooled down--and actually began foaming like crazy at the top. It caused an alarming mess, but the wort eventually chilled down to the proper pitch temperature overnight. PicoBrew says it will update the user manual with more detailed cool-down information, but currently the only place to find this information is on a thread in the PicoBrew members-only forums.

 

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