To make a batch with a Zymatic, you select a recipe in the browser. Then you measure and pour grain into a plastic tray and the hops into specially designed filter baskets. You then slide them into the machine. A small "Cornelius" keg is filled with water and attached to the machine, which circulates the water back and forth.
About 3 ½ hours later the batch is done. You add yeast to the keg, refrigerate it for a week or so and the beer is ready.
The machines are developed and assembled by a team of eight working in a funky building near
The heart of the building is a former lab area where the machines are tested, churning out batch after batch of beer. Refrigerators around the room are stuffed with kegs, and Mitchell encourages visitors to bring home samples. So far they've brewed more than 300 batches while tuning and testing the system to be sure it can produce all sorts of beers with premium results.
PicoBrew's third co-founder is former Microsoft hardware designer
Later they worked on the ultra-mobile PC efforts in the mid 2000s that presaged the rise of tablet computing. They also worked with Xbox co-founder
Before that, Mitchell managed
It remains to be seen whether he's at the leading edge of another breakout consumer phenomenon with brewing gear.
But the rise of home espresso machines suggests there is a significant market for equipment that simplifies in-home beverage production for enthusiasts.
For now, though, they're trying to reach hard-core home-brewers and pros who can use the equipment to experiment and produce small test batches.
Several breweries have been testing the system, including Fremont Brewing. It used a Zymatic to test and tweak the winter beer it's releasing in November, a dark wheat ale with smoked and caramel malt flavors and a little spice.
"We were quite honestly very skeptical at first -- it's kind of tilting at windmills to do this -- but they pulled it off," said founder
He's particularly impressed by the compact size and precision.
"We found that the beer it makes also fits all the specifications that you program in, which is a pretty hard thing to do. That's an impressive achievement," he said.
In addition to using the machine for test batches, Lincecum wants to place it in the company's beer garden/tasting room to encourage customer participation.
"Customers select or participate and select aroma variety or grains or whatever, then you put a beer together, brew it and put it on tap," he said. "It's a really neat concept. It brings the idea of brewing to a larger audience."
PicoBrew will gauge demand and help fund production by selling its initial runs of Zymatic machines on the Kickstarter project-funding site. Early machines will sell for around
Mitchell isn't saying much about future directions, but there are several options to broaden the appeal and reach of the company's products.
Especially tasty was a sous-vide tri-tip steak marinated in a mega stout, cooked in a brewing machine and shared in the PicoBrew conference room -- proving that you actually can have your beer and eat it, too.
Brier Dudley's column
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