back to article Ex-Microsoft craft ale buffs rattle tankard for desktop brewery

US home-brew tech outfit PicoBrew has raced past its Kickstarter fundraising target for its Pico "fully automatic craft beer brewing appliance". The device will produce five litre batches of "fresh personalized craft beer" in 5-7 days with minimum hassle, thanks to "convenient pre-packaged ingredient PicoPaks produced by …

  1. Semtex451 Silver badge
    Pint

    I'll take 12, where do I sign?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you buy one, you deserve to drink the stuff

    A "craft beer" (by which I presume they mean real ale) in 5-7 days? The basic brewing process can be done in that time, you can clear with filtration or chemicals, but what then? Drink the stuff green?

    This is a toy for people to lazy to even use an extract based kit. And a toy for people with more money than sense.

    1. Semtex451 Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: If you buy one, you deserve to drink the stuff

      Ok I'll take 6

    2. Rosie Davies

      Re: If you buy one, you deserve to drink the stuff

      Agreed.

      Mind you I just don't get it. Most of the fun with brewing is mixing up selections of malts and hops, mucking about with mashing temperatures and boil times/hop addition rates and the bazillion other alchemical variables that go into producing a decent beer. Drinking the result is just a bonus.

      Some if you take away all the fun bits then what's the point in brewing? You may as well pop down the offie and get your gratification even more instantly and with even less effort.

      Rosie

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If you buy one, you deserve to drink the stuff

        Well you can tell it's made by ex-Microsofties, then!

        1. TRT Silver badge

          It looks like you're trying to get pissed...

          Would you like some help with that?

          1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: It looks like you're trying to get pissed...

            Nah, I have plenty of experience

    3. Charles Manning

      Well it sure isn't craft beer

      It needs special ingredient mixes, which means it's going to be the beer equivalent of EasiYo yogurt.

      Since it needs special ingredients, they should be able to follow the ink jet printer business model - sell the unit for $49.99 and make the profit on the ingredients.

    4. Paul Shirley

      Re: If you buy one, you deserve to drink the stuff

      The most common definition of craft beer is: £1 more per pint

      Most 'craft' brewers aim for more, sometimes £1 per third pint. The points that just try to be great beer are desperately trying to take the name back to just mean good beer, real or keg. We live in sad times when the marketing is more important than the product.

      (A colleague with Brewdog shares and discounts can barely justify even the discounted prices!)

  3. Tom 7 Silver badge

    convenient pre-packaged ingredient PicoPaks starting at $19

    I get 60L for 1/2 that and the whole brewery was less than £500.

  4. frank ly

    If it's fully automatic ....

    .... can it be called "craft beer"? Where is the craft?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: If it's fully automatic ....

      "Craft beer" is purely a marketing term. It has no meaning.

      Real Ale, by contrast, does have a definition.

      1. LHGFLICOD

        Re: If it's fully automatic ....

        The US defines a craft brewery as one producing less than 6 million barrels a year, produces mostly beer from traditional ingredients an is not 25% or more owned by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not a small brewer.

        Making something drinkable is not on the list of requirements.

        1. SolidSquid

          Re: If it's fully automatic ....

          Considering this is intended for home brew, wouldn't even a Tennants clone made in it qualify as "craft beer" under this definition?

        2. Paul Shirley

          Re: If it's fully automatic ....

          The craft brewers association defines craft partly on how many pints it's largest member currently produces, with headspace for growth. 6mil now, it will grow to fit however large and bloated it's members get. The significant thing that actually affects quality is the insistence on source to consumer temperature control. The problem is that doesn't stop Coors, Miller or Bud delivering perfectly cooked crap everywhere, it's a minimum quality limit. A very low limit.

      2. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
        Unhappy

        "Real Ale, by contrast, does have a definition."

        So does Turbo Cider.

        As a Coeliac I miss real beer

        1. Wilco

          Re: "Real Ale, by contrast, does have a definition."

          Tough break, Gluten free beer here: http://omissionbeer.com/

          'Merican, but sounds alright if you can get some shipped over.

          1. x 7

            Re: "Real Ale, by contrast, does have a definition."

            if you want gluten-free beer, this could be worth a look

            interesting range, and the prices don't look too excessive

            http://glutenfreebeers.co.uk/shop/ales.html

            1. Tim Warren

              Re: "Real Ale, by contrast, does have a definition."

              If you want gluten free, adventurous beers then you could try looking up my father's micro brewery.

              Here's a recent BBC piece on it where he crafted a beer using 50 year old yeast to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Maris Otter malt - regarded as one of the finest malts.

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YT62kueAVA

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If it's fully automatic ....

        According to one brewer I met in the USA last May, only unfiltered and yeast ridden beer is craft. He does not let his brews settle. He says that it detracts from the taste.

        This was about 30 miles from MS HQ. Don't need to say anything else.

        I think I'll have a bottle of 'Gardeners Tipple' tonight. Very nice brew.

  5. x 7

    All you need to brew beer in is a clear 25lt polyethylene jerry can. As long as you don't overtighten the bung....... keep it loose enough for CO2 to vent out

    You can brew and fine/clarify it in the same container. When complete decant it into a polypin or similar.

    Important: treat the jerry can and polypin as disposable

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Temperature control during the process is important too, more so with 'pico' batches (surface area to volume ratios scaling as they do)... you might have an area of your house that maintains a roughly constant temperature, or manage temperature by other means.

      You are right to highlight hygiene, though. Metal casks are often cleaned/sterilised with high pressure boiling water.

      1. x 7

        agreed

        I always used to put the jerry can in the airing cupboard to keep it at a warm enough temperature to start fermentation. OK as long as the Mrs doesn't mind hop-scented towels and sheets

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          I had a mate who used a thermostat-controlled 'heat mat' under his fermentation vessel, of the sort sold for keeping pet lizards comfortable in their glass vivaria (empty fish tanks).

          1. Vic

            I had a mate who used a thermostat-controlled 'heat mat' under his fermentation vessel

            Some of the guys I hang around with are cabbibalising old fridges to make temperature-controlled fermenters. It's a rather effective solution...

            Vic.

          2. Efros

            Sounds like my Dad's setup

            Except he used the immersion heater and thermostat from a 120 gallon fish tank. He had managed to purloin a massive nylon vessel from somewhere, I think it had a capacity of close to 40 gallons. This was fired up when the stock of home brew began to get below a certain point, by the time it was ready for bottling most of the stock was gone and the bottles were available for the new batch. He used the porcelain capped French pop bottles, always amusing drinking beer from a bottle marked Pshitt!. He usually had enough left to tide him over until the new bottled batch was ready to drink. Having drunk a few of his brews I'd say it was close to 6.5%, and kicked you in the arse, hard.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @ x 7

          What about gassing the missus as she goes to retrieve one of the aforementioned hop-scented towels from all that vented CO2? Was that ever a problem?

          1. x 7

            Re: @ x 7

            "What about gassing the missus"

            never thought of that.....could explain why she stopped fighting me off when we got to bed

    2. Vic

      All you need to brew beer in is a clear 25lt polyethylene jerry can.

      You're going to mash and boil in that same plastic container?

      Vic.

      1. x 7

        Vic

        Sorry, no, I oversimplified things.

        Use an old fashioned chip fat pan (cleaned of fat) to mash in. You may need to mash two or three times in small lots and then dilute in the fermenter jerry can, but it works

  6. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Pint

    Yung 'uns

    I was brewing craft beer in buckets and bottles when the Ohio 101 was state-of-the-art.

  7. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge
    Joke

    Very exciting BUT, regarding that first photo...

    I think you'll find that here on the left or here on the right is actual the "B-52 blonde."

    1. x 7

      Re: Very exciting BUT, regarding that first photo...

      "is actual the "B-52 blonde."

      not possible.........The B-52 was known as the "BUFF" for a reason you know

  8. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Have to wonder

    Will they be advertised by young women in pico-brew outfits?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Have to wonder

      Same rule-of-thumb as pubs - if a busy pub is run by a rude miserable landlord, that is a good sign that the beer is well-kept. If the bar is staffed by an exquisitely pretty barmaid, that is a sign that the beer alone might not be good enough to bring the punters in.

      Good beer sells itself. If I want to look at nudey pics, I don't need to look at a beer advert (or even buy ten packets of peanuts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_D_(peanuts)#Promotional_displays )

  9. Swarthy Silver badge
    Pint

    Kuerig for home-brew?

    Doesn't that sort of ruin the point? Home brewing of craft booze is good because you can experiment, try new things and learn. This is "insert pack and brew our beer"; no changing what's in the packet, and without the convenience of just going to the shop for a case of your favorite tipple.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Kuerig for home-brew?

      Apparently you can change the recipes yourself. Much like coding, you start by trying examples of other people's code, and then experiment by changing little bits to see what happens. Otherwise you'd just have too many variables to make sense of.

      1. djack

        Re: Kuerig for home-brew?

        There are plenty of books with beer recipies in, so you can do that already.

      2. wdmot

        Re: Kuerig for home-brew?

        Yes, sounds like Kuerig to me. Which, incidentally, there are refillable cartridges for (at least the older models); so you could roast your own coffee, mill to your spec, and place in the cartridge to brew. Still would taste crap because the process is wrong IMO: it puts boiling water through the coffee (rather than ~90C) and doesn't let it steep, resulting in thin bitter coffee with sediment.

        I wonder if the PicoBrew has a comparable result with beer. I say don't knock it 'til you've tried it, but certainly don't shell out $499 before tasting what it produces. And even if it produces good beer, I fail to see how it's worth that much money.

  10. Velv Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Just another "kit" on the market with two tenuous IT links, (ex-Microsoft and Kickstarter).

    El Reg should be ashamed of this dreadful story. You can only redeem yourself by supplying beer, I'll be in the Cask And Barrel down the road from 3...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cost savings?

    $19 for a 5 litre pack, roughly $4 per litre, $2 per pint (roughly). £1.30 per pint.

    With exchange rates, this basically means that the beer it brews costs the same as buying '3 bottles for £5' from a British supermarket near you.

    It's a moot point for me - I only drink beer in pubs, and I tend to use a few pubs that sell beer from long-standing local microbreweries.

    'Craft beer' is only a marketing term. Still, I guess we should be thankful that the real ale market is healthy, even if this current crop of microbreweries seem obsessed with American-hopped IPAs. Taste is personal preference, it's just a bit boring when a good social pub only has four IPAs and a porter (because they have bought it cheap from wholesalers who have in turn bought it cheap from newly-established IPA-obsessed breweries with little reputation)

  12. Cameron Colley

    What's the point of this?

    It's hideously expensive per pint and, as pointed out above, the beer's not "craft".

    If you want something DIY then just home brew the usual way and if you're after "craft" beer buy it by the bottle as it's not going to be more expensive than this.

    What is the point of this?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: What's the point of this?

      I guess that once you've got the hang of the kits, you can source your ingredients more cheaply from other sources.

      The $500 price tag suggests that the machine is being sold above cost, so there won't be any 'printer ink cartridge / Kuerig cofffee capsule' extortion on the consumables.

      1. annodomini2
        WTF?

        Re: What's the point of this?

        "The $500 price tag suggests that the machine is being sold above cost, so there won't be any 'printer ink cartridge / Kuerig cofffee capsule' extortion on the consumables"

        Sounds like they're doing it on both.

  13. Ken 16 Silver badge
    Pint

    Beer-Bot?

    I was still waiting for the waffle-bot.

  14. DrXym Silver badge

    Doesn't look that hassle free

    From reading the manual and watching the vids it also looks like a scaled down brewery with phases for mashing grain to create wort etc. so it's still a pretty messy and intensive process and still has plenty of manual effort involved. e.g. sanitizing equipment, disposing of grains, adding yeast for secondary fermentation etc.

    It's more like a hobbiest machine that would appeal to somebody who brews from scratch for themselves but is looking for something eliminates some of the effort. For somebody who buys a kit from Wilkinson (i.e. mix gloop with warm water and yeast) it would probably represent far more effort and expense.

    From a cost perspective, you'd also have to use this thing constantly to get value out of it. Someone might have to brew a lot of beer, possibly 1000L before the cost of the machine, picopaks, sanitzing fluids, electricity, CO2 cylinders etc. brought the cost to less than just buying beer in a supermarket. Given it only brews in 5L batches you might to have it in continuous use for years to achieve that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Doesn't look that hassle free

      CO2 cylinders etc

      CO2 in cylinders? Pray tell, what part does that play in beer (or even cider) making? Bottle conditioning, that's the way.

      The messy way, should you make the sort of error I made a few weeks back. The bang was audible in a double glazed house, even though the bottle was in an outbuilding forty feet away. That distinctive BOOOooommmppphh! tinkle tinkle sound whose cause you intuitively know without having to investigate. Lucky it was a single bottle experiment.

      1. x 7

        Re: Doesn't look that hassle free

        "That distinctive BOOOooommmppphh! tinkle tinkle sound"

        thats exactly why its better to use polypins for storing it

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Pint

          Re: Doesn't look that hassle free

          thats exactly why its better to use polypins for storing it

          Nooooooooo! You mean you store your beer in a plastic bag?

          I could forgive a rigid food grade plastic pressure barrel, but CO2 injectors, plastic baggers, instant beer making machines.....the end times are upon us.

          You deserve a Party 7 of Watneys Red Barrel.

          1. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Doesn't look that hassle free

            I'm not known for my green credentials (snort) but I have had good results bottle conditioning in polycarbonate soft drink bottles. They can take up to 100psi ISTR.

            Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reanimate.

            Better to reuse than recycle, and as turbo cider can get to 12% with a wine yeast you reduce your consumption!

            Plus the hangover can be a little like the living dead so the reanimate is covered too!

          2. Vic

            Re: Doesn't look that hassle free

            You mean you store your beer in a plastic bag?

            Key Kegs are fine.

            Vic.

          3. x 7

            Re: Doesn't look that hassle free

            "Nooooooooo! You mean you store your beer in a plastic bag?"

            Absolutely

            the beer keeps working in the polypin producing CO2 and keeping is mildly gassed. Over gassing isn't a problem as pressure is released as you draw the beer off. The benefit is no oxygen gets into the polypin, so less chance of the beer going off.

            Its naturally conditioned, its not pressurised, and it keeps fresh.

            FWIW if you buy cider direct from the farm its how it comes

      2. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: Doesn't look that hassle free

        "CO2 in cylinders? Pray tell, what part does that play in beer (or even cider) making? Bottle conditioning, that's the way."

        For pressurizing a keg and ensuring certain beers like lagers are properly carbonated.

  15. Lee Zwager

    Someone mentioned possibility of coffee pod style pricing - it's already there - $19 for a 5l beer kit is steep. Pay the extra £150 for this: http://www.brewuk.co.uk/grainfather.html and do proper batches. If you cannot be bothered to weigh your own ingredients (why bother doing this at all in that case), you can get recipe packs for £12 for 23l of beer - but buying ingredients separate is far cheaper.

    Personally, I do mini/mash/extract brewing - which strikes a good balance of time, cost and results for me. - that usually works out around £1 per litre, has very low start up costs and still allows for recipe tinkering. I've stopped drinking beer in pubs, as very few have any well looked after ale - rather some old, flat as a fart dish water.

  16. FlossyThePig

    Will it fit...

    on the shelf next to the bread maker you no longer use.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Will it fit...

      next to the bread maker you no longer use

      The bread maker in this household gets plenty of use. In fact its the second we've had, and I've worn out at least five of the mix/bake pans. One of mankind's finer achievements, a good bread making machine.

    2. Lee Zwager

      Re: Will it fit...

      Few are allowed to brew in the family home. The smell is not appreciated by all.

      This is a shed/garage/basement/utility room sort of hobby.

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Will it fit...

      Bread makers are great. Mostly not as good as doing it manually, but still not at all bad. Although weighing, mixing and kneeding the dough only takes ten minutes, you've then got to be around for the next 3-5 hours, depending on what you're making. Well unless you're doing soda bread, or things like pita or naan.

      The most convenient bread is sourdough - as it takes longer to rise, so you can make the dough before bed, and cook it the next morning. If you try that with normal breads, the yeast overgrows and they go bitter.

      Soup with fresh bread is a lovely Saturday lunchtime treat. Or set the timer on the machine, and wake up to the smell of just made bread. I've got a teasmade as well, so can wake up to a cuppa.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ahh yes.

    The fond childhood memories of sneaking into the garage and nicking a swig... then instantly spitting it back into the jug.

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      The fond childhood memories of sneaking into the garage and nicking a swig... then instantly spitting it back into the jug.

      I can't be the only one who has student memories* along the lines of "if we keep fermenting this as long as possible, we get free alcohol". The result was a sinister, almost still beverage with a strong taste and good deal of sediment. The effects were generally everything we expected.

      * I can remember brewing the stuff, but as with concussion, there's a blank patch after we started drinking it.

  18. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

    Flying Lion

    Did anyone else first read that as Flying Low? Made me wonder about the quality of what comes out of the tap.

  19. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    So...

    All the fun of making your own beer without the real fun of actually making your own beer? I think I'll stick with my 5 gallon buckets and other paraphernalia thanks

  20. x 7

    Not an original idea

    This chap got there first - on an even smaller scale

    http://www.brewboard.com/index.php?showtopic=90451

  21. Ye Gads

    How is it that everyone missed the fact

    That it looks like Microsoft employees are now trying to arrange a piss up in a brewery. By making the brewery.

    This won't go well...

  22. Camilla Smythe

    Bollocks

    If the house is not trashed during the party and the guilty bodies are not lying on the floor saying 'Ooh Me Head' the next morning after a gentle kick prior to being re-animated with Full English, including carcinogens, so they can clean the place up prior to brushing their teeth and going down the Pub then it is not 'Home Brew'.

  23. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Meh

    If it's all automated...

    ...you might as well just buy the finished product either in bottles or a fresh growler from your favorite place.

  24. jake Silver badge

    Brewing beer ain't exactly rocket science.

    Water, grain, hops. Bring to boil.

    Cool a bit. Filter. Add yeast. (Perhaps add more hops.)

    Park in a bucket with an air-lock. (Maybe with more hops.)

    Once the air-lock stops bubbling, you have beer.

    Bottle as you see fit. You'll need additional sugar for fizz, if you want that.

    Major point: Cleanliness is next to deliciousness.

    My 190l (50 gallon) 3-stage setup cost me about US$500 about 20 years ago ...

    1. Vic

      Re: Brewing beer ain't exactly rocket science.

      Water, grain, hops. Bring to boil.

      Will look and taste like shit.

      Mash temperature is very important for the quality of what you produce. If you're boiling your grain, quality is not on your agenda.

      Vic.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Brewing beer ain't exactly rocket science.

        What, you expected jake to know what he's talking about?

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: Brewing beer ain't exactly rocket science.

        " If you're boiling your grain, quality is not on your agenda."

        I wasn't talking stepped temperatures for extraction, followed by lautering and a boil. I was talking basic "not rocket science" beer production. Kindly read for content. Ta.

  25. AlanK

    Not a viable proposition

    Seven days to make five litres! Í'd need at least six machines. $20 for five litres!!! İ can buy good quality ready made for less.

  26. Tim Almond

    Alternatively

    you could drive down to Waitrose/your local wine shop and in 30-40 minutes with minimum hassle have one of dozens of beers produced by some of the worlds most interesting craft breweries.

    1. x 7

      Re: Alternatively

      or you could drive down to your local cider farm and buy a 25lt container for around £35-45 depending on farm and brew.

      yum yum slurp belch snore

  27. Ken Rennoldson
    Coat

    So the new term for Brewers Droop is Microsoft....

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