Microsoft veteran Bill Mitchell's PicoBrew is working to make home beer brewing easier. As the co-founder of PicoBrew, Mitchell helped introduce the Zymatic in 2013, a table-top brewing machine The Verge called the Nespresso of beer. PicoBrew's newest machine, the eponymous Pico, is a smaller, cheaper, and easier to use twist on the same idea — where the Zymatic was Nespresso, the Pico has been described as the Keurig of beer.
The machine uses "PicoPaks" to brew beer
The microwave-sized Pico uses "PicoPaks" to brew beer, pods developed in partnership with 50 craft breweries, each containing the right balance of hops and grain to produce specific IPAs, saisons, stouts, and other brews. As with automatic coffee machines, these packs can be slotted into the Pico — the machine wirelessly works out what kind of beer it's dealing with and allows you to adjust alcohol content and bitterness accordingly. But unlike Keurigs and their ilk, simply slotting a beer pod into the machine won't immediately produce a ready-to-drink beverage. After a two-hour brewing process, Pico owners will need to transfer the resultant mixture to a keg, add yeast, and wait for the week-long fermentation process to complete. From there, the beer needs to be carbonated and transferred to a drinking keg, free to be placed in a fridge for a rainy day or drunk whenever the mood strikes.
While the Pico heavily cuts down on the amount of apparatus homebrewers need to make their own beer, the machine isn't as neat as a table-top coffee creator. In addition to the 30-pound Pico machine itself, users need space for the fermenting keg it decants the mixture into, and the storage keg that serves as the beer's resting place on completion. It's also not going to be cheap. The machine itself is set to retail for $1,000 when it goes on sale in early 2016. Keen homebrewers can get a reduction on that price if they buy now, however. A Kickstarter for the Pico, launched this week, offers the machine for $499 for early backers, complete with one PicoPak.
The Pico will cost $1,000 when it launches in 2016, but is available for $499 now
Those PicoPaks — each of which produces 5 liters of beer and start at $19 — are likely to make or break the Pico when it does hit the market. There's precedent for similar machines annoying their customer bases by locking them in to restrictive ecosystems. Keurig almost torpedoed its own business by adopting a DRM-style ban on third-party coffee pods, forcing the company to walk back its policies, reintroduce refillable K-cups, and admit that it had misunderstood the market.
It's not yet clear whether users will be able to refill PicoPaks with their own blends, but while hops and grains are certainly more difficult to get hold of than loose coffee, Pico says it will offer a way for aspiring brewers to get their own blends made: the company says that Zymatic owners can pay to join a subscription service that lets them make and sell their own blends on its BrewMarketplace.