While PicoBrew’s second generation home brew appliance, the Pico, made significant leaps forward in approachability when compared to the company’s first home-brew machine in the Zymatic, it also sacrificed one really cool feature: the ability to customize your home brew.
That’s because the Pico uses a pod-system called PicoPaks that come preconfigured with the grains and hops rather than requiring the home brewer to mess with all that him or herself. It makes brewing much easier, but it also means less creativity since you are brewing a pre-configured and pre-measured brew from the PicoPak.
But at CES this week, the company announced the arrival of the FreeStyle PicoPak BrewCrafter, their new online PicoPak configuration tool that allows home brewers to drag and drop ingredients in a virtual PicoPak to create custom homebrews.
Drag and drop beer making is really cool, but unlocking custom beer brewing with the Pico required much more than simply creating a web-based configuration tool. The vast majority of the work was on the back-end manufacturing and assembly of the new custom PicoPaks, where the company has created the ability for a PicoPak to move down the assembly line and get a one-off custom mix of grains tailored by the home brewer through the BrewCrafter tool. This is a significant departure from traditional assembly line production where there’s an emphasis on high degrees of repeatability. PicoBrew CEO Bill Mitchell told me they’ve had some observers who work with automated food production visit their production plant in Seattle and have said they’ve never seen anything like it.
As a Pico owner, I’m pretty excited about FreeStyle PicoPaks. However, I am slightly worried I’ll go overboard with certain ingredients like when I would frequent those Mongolian-style BBQ restaurants where you tell the cook all the ingredients you want on your food, but soon realize three handfuls of hot peppers might not have been such a good idea. It looks like Pico will try to steer amateur brewers like me away from overloading certain flavors as the BrewCrafter will gently nudge you back towards sanity with mix-balances to “ensure creation of a delicious beer recipe.”
For the Pico user, FreeStyle PicoPaks are available now. The BrewCrafter guide holds your hand along the way by provided “know-good” baseline beer recipes for you to tweak with a personal flourish by adjusting grains and hops to change the flavor, alcohol content and more. Admittedly, creating a custom brew in a browser might not satisfy those hard-core home brew types that want to measure grains and hops the old fashioned way to achieve their beer masterwork, but it’s likely those folks probably wouldn’t have bought a Pico in the first place.
And anyway, if you do own a Pico and want greater control over your home brew, you can always buy a Zymatic.