Throughout much of human history, making your own beer was the way to go.
Thats how the Romans and Greeks got their buzz. Even founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and George Washington had personal breweries on their estates. Though the introduction of mass-distribution has since changed all that, the practice is far from going away entirely.
In fact, homebrewing has undergone a bit of resurgence as of late. And leading the charge are enthusiasts who often tout the nearly boundless experimentation that home brewing allows for, as well as significant cost savings over commercially-sold speciality beers.
Still, the methods used tend to be quite laborious. A lot of time and effort goes into completing all the necessary steps. The techniques, involving careful roasting and mashing, are also somewhat crude, which makes it a real challenge to achieve to the kind of consistency you’d get with beer sold by commercial breweries that use a more standardized and tightly-controlled process.
We are, though, living in what’s considered the modern maker age. Rapidly advancing technologies such as 3D printing have made it possible to easily replicate nearly anything these days, whether it’s toys or meals. Surely then, the same can be done for booze, right?
Recently, a handful of personal brewing machines have cropped up claiming to do just that. In 2011, New Zealand start-up WilliamsWarn introduced what they called “The world’s first personal brewery.” By applying an engineer’s precision, brewing and fermentation can now be streamlined down to a period of just seven days, rather than weeks. And last year, UK-based Cargo launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for their own brewing appliance, the Brewbot, which further automates much of the process according to programmable recipes. Then there’s the PicoBrew Zymatic, which debuted roughly around the same time and boasts similar automation features, but in a more compact package.
Now, come December, beer lovers will have another option, this time from a team of Hungarian entrepreneurs. Like its competitors, the Brewie offers homebrewers an unprecedented level of precision. For breweries, it can be employed as a test lab of sorts to experiment with new formulations. Casual consumers who know virtually nothing about brewing beer can simply stick to the company’s selection of 20 or so recipes, and still save money over buying speciality craft beer. The company estimates that batches brewed from the device would cost as little as 50 cents per bottle.
“Our invention is good for just about anyone who’s interested in beer,” says co-founder Marcel Pal.
But where their invention stands out, he points out, is the way in which they’ve taken the convenience of automation to the next level. “We are as fully automated as you can get,” he says.
The Brewie, he adds, is also more portable. It weighs about 55 pounds and takes up up less space than the Brewbot and WillliamsWarn personal brewer, which both come in at over 190 pounds. And compared to its competitors, it’s also significantly less expensive, with preorders starting at $1,000.
To brew a batch, users start by loading each compartment with the necessary ingredients: malt, hops, and water (Yeast is added later). Those who order a kit for a particular beer recipe, such as chocolate ale, will receive the ingredients in pre-measured packets that can simply be emptied into the machine. Inside the recipe kit is an RFID card that, once inserted into the reading slot, starts the brewing process in accordance to a series of specified instructions.
Owners are also provided with a recipe creator program that can be installed onto mobile devices, like a smartphone or tablet. Tinkerers can then download the customized instructions onto the RFID card.
During the brewing process, users can track the progress of their current batch and make alterations along the way. After it’s cooled, the brew is then transferred to a separate temperature-controlled fermentation tank. At this point, the user tosses in the yeast and then sets the batch (maximum five gallons) aside for about week.
The Brewie comes with a built-in self-cleaning system so preparing for another batch only requires that the user replace the muslin bag, a cloth bag used to filter out sediments.
It isn’t quite as automatic as pressing a button on a coffee maker. But Pal explains that there’s no getting around having to manually add the yeast before putting it away. Implementing a mechanism to automate the fermentation phase inside the machine can be problematic in that users would have to wait a week so before they can make another batch. The other option is to enlarge the housing to hold two more batches, which would make the while thing excessively unwieldy.
At the Pioneers festival, where the Brewie was on exhibit, I was able to taste test a small sample batch of the chocolate ale. It had settled into about room temperature, so the flavor didn’t come through as it would had it been frostier. But I did detect the cocoa highlights and the finish was about as comparable as other craft beers I’ve had before. Overall, I’d give it a thumbs up.
Anyone who’s interested can reserve one of the first production models beginning in early December, when the company begins raising funds on Indiegogo. The company says they’ll announce a launch date in the next couple of weeks. To learn more check out its product page.