This is interesting. I remember the first product PicoBrew released, the Zymatic. It was big and expensive, but people did buy it. Then this year the GABF I get to see the Pico in action and I thought, “OK, that is going to change home brewing.” Not that I think it will change how most home brewers work, but that it will provide an easier in for people interested in home brewing. It is a simple and easy to use product that, while still kind of expensive, isn’t too much more expensive than a good home brewing set up.
Now, how will bigger industrial grade equipment change brewing? I don’t think it will change brewers much. However, here is a possibility. You are a bar in an area with lots of craft breweries and you want to figure out a way to get a little piece of that action without all the work. You can purchase one of these new industrial machines and cook a 5-barrel batch of beer and then sell it.
Now, if you do that, are you completely circumventing the 3-tier system? Bars are licensed differently than brewery taprooms. That is how they are allowed to sell their own beer. Occasionally, a brewery and craft bar will team up to create a one-off beer specifically for that bar. The bar will still have to buy that beer either from the brewery or through a distributor.
I guess I immediately jumped to bars buying one of these machines because I don’t see a large number of breweries buying them. I could be wrong. Maybe this will cheaper than brewery equipment for a startup brewery. It could be a cheap way to go from a 5-barrel or 10-barrel system to a 10 or 20-barrel system.
Having said that, I think we are often too quick to try to streamline and industrialize the creation of products. Part of the whole point of the slow food movement, which I think craft beer is a part of, is that your food is not an industrial product. It is best when the food is grown and cared for by real farmers and not some agribusiness that uses the same concepts of an auto factory to grow chickens.
Part of the love of craft beer stems from the idea that you can meet the brewer. You can go on a tour of the brewing facility and see the kettles and the fermenters and the oak barrels. You can watch brewers moving around the catwalks in their big rubber boots. It gives you sense that these people care about the beer they are making. You get the sense that it is more than just a thing to produce to sell.
The idea of a machine where you dump all the water, malt, hops, and yeast in one end and wait a couple of weeks for fermented beer to come out the other end with no additional care is anathema to me. At that point are you any better than the macros?