The world has discovered hard cider. With annual sales skyrocketing and a continual parade of newcomers entering the market, cider is having its moment. The sudden popularity of this age-old alcoholic beverage is a convergence of three popular food trends--interest in fermented foods, understanding of probiotic’s health benefits and DIY driven by new technology.
At an elemental level, fermentation is the process of converting sugar, yeast or other starter into acid, gas or alcohol. In the case of such probiotic-rich foods as sauerkraut, pickles and yogurt, the method is called lacto-fermentation because lactic acid results from fermentation. In the case of hard cider (as opposed to farm-fresh nonalcoholic apple cider), yeast is added to fruit juice and over time the result of fermentation is a hearty adult beverage.
Home brewers have long tinkered with DIY cider methods, but most of those processes are cumbersome and time consuming. Keeping the juice/yeast mixture at the incorrect temperature or having the wrong proportions of the ingredients can result in something that’s a cross between vinegar and spoiled OJ. Using some advanced IoT-driven technology, innovators are stepping up to empower any consumer to become a master cider maker.
Enter Alchema, a Kickstarter entrepreneur led by CEO Oscar Chang, a Taiwanese entrepreneur whose idea for the appliance crystalized through his friendship with a former micro brewing expert Tung Han-ning. Han-ning, who studied home brewing in the U.K., became the perfect counterpoint to Chang’s engineering skills. Together, they sought to help DIY cider makers overcome their fear of fermentation.
Chang says the Alchema, which resembles a fancy coffee pot weighing eight pounds and about 16-inches in height, is aimed at two target markets—pure cider lovers who will buy anything related to cider and DIY-ers who are passionate about perfecting their own recipes.
“We want to make the process is most easy for beginner,” Chang says. “It takes water, sugar, yeast and fruit and we want users to be able to anticipate a great tasting cider.”
The cider market in the U.S. is booming with 700 commercial cider makers making 3,250 different styles. New York, Michigan, California and Washington lead the nation in cider making, with the Empire State alone having 86 brewers creating 294 different varieties of cider. Like craft beer, devotees of the fruit-based alcoholic beverage want to treat their palates to the best professional and home-crafted beverages. Fueled by availability of heirloom fruits and berries, cidermakers are experimenting with flavors and unique tastes.
Alchema takes full advantage of interaction between a smartphone app and the device. A user can select a recipe from the app and follow the easy directions to create a batch of cider. A UV light sanitizes the pitcher before brewing and a scale used for precise ingredient measurements works in concert with the app for accuracy. The user can control the level of alcohol desired in the finished product and a sensor will indicate when the brew has reached its finished state.
As its name infers, the Alchema, which will retail for $499 when it hits in 2018, is a general-purpose fermentation machine which can make mead, jun, kombucha and even pickled vegetables. As Chang explains, the device’s ability to detect the proper level of fermentation is independent of the ingredients in the pitcher. The Alchema’s ability to sense exact levels of fermentation is based on proprietary technology, adds Chang.
The Alchema is not alone in the IoT-based home fermentation space. The Ferment, showcased by Panasonic at SXSW, is a high-tech device that aims to deliver anything from fermented rice to kombucha.