There I was, citizens: I was enjoying the last gasps of Minnesota summer while brewing outside, I was drinking something from Maine Brewing Co., I was trying out some new hops and new yeast, I was smelling the roast happening at the coffee shop downwind, I was gristing some malt and heating some water and ruminating on a recent conversation with friends.
The convo (full disclosure: it was actually an email thread) was about a Kickstarter for a prospective fully-automated AG homebrew system with a four-figure price tag. Maybe you’ve seen it on social media; if you haven’t, it’s designed much along the lines of a bread machine or a full-auto espresso machine: dose out ingredients, load them up, push a button, and 2.5 gallons of hot wort comes out the other end a couple hours later. Chill with an ice bath, then ferment and serve in the same corny keg (included).
Our consensus was there’s certainly a Sharper Image-type of market out there right now, and the level of automation is very cool – but to an audience ready to spend that grade of scratch on a brew system, it’s pretty lame to remove the human from the hot side of the brewing process while not really offering anything new or even very helpful on the cold side. I fully acknowledge that my friends and I (homebrewers, Cicerones, beer folks to the nerd) aren’t the target market – you probably aren’t either, good reader. I won’t be buying one, but I hope these guys get off the ground. As one of us said: “It’s great for the ‘consumer goods’ side of home brewing, but really bad for setting people up to understand brewing as a science.”
I’d go further and say not just science, not just the art, but the whole craft – and I mean “craft” as in a skill cultivated with practice, time, and patience, not “craft” as in how many barrels you brew, with or without adjuncts. Craft doesn’t brook shortcuts. Ice baths and combo fermenting/serving vessels will not some primo Sharper Image nanobrew make. The very difficulty of and investment of time required for accomplishment at this and other things like it – smoking a brisket over oak splits, casting a fly line, throwing a spiral, tying an Albright knot, knocking somebody down with a right hook or a roundhouse – is what makes them worthy of effort and appreciation.
And as I stand in the early fall sunshine doughing in my semi-impromptu little BIAB mash, I think: come on, citizens … this isn’t that hard and that messy.
German IPA – can that even be a thing? It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not, because I’ll bet you already know what I’m talking about, good reader, and have some probably-pretty-accurate preconceived notions of what’s in this recipe and what it’ll be like when finished.
Polaris – it’s my first time using them. As you may know, it’s a newer super-high alpha variety out of Germany with a very high oil content. The aroma of the pellets is menthol, wintergreen, green apple candy with a Hallertau-like herbal sweetness. It was also unbelievably waxy and sticky – trying to crumble up my little 4 oz brick into the addition doses was like trying to break a frozen fun size Snickers. Then I couldn’t wash the oil off my hands.
And the other stuff that isn’t hops that’s going into my low-fi, decidedly unautomated kettle and mesh bag and carboy setup: I’ve used the same percentage of crystal malt on couple recent batches and am really digging it – all the flavors with none of the sweetness or higher FG of larger percentages (plenty of color, too, from this darker roast). 1217 is a new one for me as well – this is my first time out with it and am excited to see what it do.
Target OG: 1.061
- 98% German Pils
- 2% Caramel 120L
- 154F for 75′
- 170F for 10′
- Polaris (pellet, 21.6% aa) at 60′ to 48 IBU
- Polaris (pellet, 21.6% aa) at 0′, at a rate of 5 grams/gallon
- Chill to 65F, O2 and pitch with Wyeast 1217 West Coast IPA
- After attenuation is complete, dry hop with more Polaris pellets at a rate of 5 grams/gallon for an additional 7 days or so
So cool to see you enjoying a brew from Maine Beer Co. They make exceptional beer. It would actually be cool to hear/see you try a brew with some of their techniques-heavy whirlpool hops for most of the bittering, like in their Peeper or Zoe ales. I tried a Peeper clone recently and it was almost all post-boil hopped. Delicious.
Yes – a friend with a New England hookup turned me on to their stuff, and I’ve liked it all quite a bit.
How come you used an american ale yeast and not a cleaner german ale yeast to keep with the trend of a german IPA? ala 1007. Or were you doing it more to try a PC yeast?
Specifically to try out the new yeast.
So i thought i’d reply with something hilarious. I got a recipe a few weeks ago so i could brew on my birthday. 7lb golden promise and moteuka hops all throughout, They were out of S-05 and BRY-97, so i asked if they had any other clean ale yeasts, they handed me K-97 which iv’e never heard of but figured what the hell… didn’t know till last night it was a kolsch type yeast. It’s a very interesting beer! so now i have an american type pale ale with a german background.
I can’t agree with you more with regards to the brewing system on Kickstarter. Like you said there is a “craft” or a learning curve to brewing (I am still on that curve). Is it Homebrewing if I load the machine and press a button?
Long time reader first time poster. Always enjoy the blog. Thanks!
Hey solidarity, I just put what some could call german IPA into the fermentor. 100% german pils and 10 ounces of Sterling (I know it’s not german…german-american I guess) in 5 gallons. Though I know this isn’t going to turn out even similar, have you had the chance to try Stone’s 17th Anniversary IPA? I really dug the earthiness to the hop character that is so different from most run of the mill IPAs today while still having the volume of hop character of an IPA.
Love the Sterling. I have yet to try the Stone 17, but I agree with you about the welcome change of pace an unexpected earthy/woodsy/herbal hop character provides.
Interesting to read some of your thoughts on the Zymatic. I’ll not be buying one either. I was, however, intrigued by its attempt to exert more control over product replication and being able to feel like you are literally “dialing in” your recipes. But I certainly see your argument regarding only addressing the hot side of brewing. There are still worlds of error to be made in terms of pre/post cold side processes (sanitization, fermentation, etc.) It remains to be seen, but at the end of the day it will be likely to play its own role in the advancement of our beloved hobby.
Thanks for the comment – I agree. I do think the compactness and process control are great aspects; I guess I’m not sure that for the price, the process control would be superior to what’s already out there for RIMS, HERMS, and electronic-control stand options with proven designs, bigger brew lengths, and more open-source, non-proprietary parts.
I agree with the “hot side” thing. To me that seems to be the part of the process that is easiest to replicate. On my (BIAB) setup the mash temperatures are super stable. Where I find it hard to get consistency is fermentation temps, which this robot doesn’t even try to address.
Great post btw.
I’ll be interested in seeing a follow-up on your experience with Polaris hops, Mike. A handful of us in our club used Polaris hops last fall with mixed results. I used them in small quantity to compliment the spruce tips in a red spruce ale. Something like 20IBU at 60 min, 10 grams at 10 minutes. They worked well there. The minty/menthol/glaciereisbonbon flavor provided exactly that which I thought it would. A friend, however, tried to use 11 ounces in a five gallon all-flameout-hop 100% brett brux IPA. He didn’t fare so well. The aroma and flavor of this beer was best described as what you might imagine the alternate meaning of a certain former Pennsylvania Senator’s last name would impart. Frothy.
Given its abundance of oils and acids, I can definitely see the potential to overdo it with Polaris – the offgas smells great so far, so fingers crossed!
Any hints as to where 1217 comes from?
Afraid not … all I know is that it’s nothing I’ve used before.
I have been thinking s little to much about that kick starter product you are talking about. A conflicted version of myself decided that the whole thing was puraps turning some “non home brewers” into potential future recruits. I think you said it better than I could have ever have. This is for a different public. What ever happens after the Kick Starter fund raising will be an interesting parallel to the home brewing community. Cheers to know German hops and easy Aussie style BIAB.
Word! Although I gotta say that a gadget with a 4-figure price tag would seem to have drawbacks as a recruiting tool.
For me I can say definitely not in my budget even if i was interested:)I am convinced some “hightech”gadget freaks out there are probably waiting with impatience. I personally love the human error/factor behind every one of my manually brewed beers. I don’t think I would have been progressing in my brewing endeavors if I didn’t understand how to calculate properly my hot liquor volume, heat loss and grain absorption the way I am doing it. I think you nailed it again when you said, a bread machine doesn’t make you a baker. BIAB and Extract&mini mash are so amazing when you think about the small investment it requires.
Doing this very soon. Super simple. I’ll probably use Mosaic or Meridian hops though.
As for auto-brewer, there is a market for it I’m sure, just not me. For me the appeal to homebrewing is the process, the craft it takes to create my beer. If you take that away, then all I’ll have is the alcohol. I can go buy alcohol, I can’t buy the experience of creating my beer.
Good write up, and looking forward to some tasting notes.
Cheers, Schemy. I agree completely about the experience of creating: as more and more regional and national craft breweries expand distribution and reach an economy of scale that allows for <$10 sixers, it creates a powerful combo of quality, availability, and price point. Absent much investment in the experience or the process, that could start to sabotage incentive for the beginning or casual homebrewer to get over that first hump of the learning curve. I mean, $1500 buys a lot of Lagunitas with even less work than pushing a button.
Very glad to see someone was thinking the same things that I was after seeing that product.
We can’t take the “craft” out of “artisanal”. Most of our beer contains the blood,sweat, and tears of passion for brewing. I don’t want to take a shortcut or simplify any of what might take away from my passion.
Thanks for posting Mike.
Well put – thanks for the comment!
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I can dig that recipe MD – made a few similar batches with Magnum in bigger than usual quantities with a pinch of C-60 and really liked the result – just a hoppier BoPils kinda thing.
On the gizmo – hey if the toy brings a few people closer to homebrewing, it can’t hurt – but they ain’t homebrewing.
Cheers, Gerald – simple is good, right??
nice to see you try out the Polaris.
I used them in an IPA some months ago.
The problem that i was confronted with: get the aroma in the beer.
i did late additions and dry hopping, and this hop doesnt do as well as the other “common for ipa” varieties. And im not the only one, many other homebrewers told me the same,
cant wait for you to tell us if the hops can actually be used this way.
Yes, I’m late to the party on this one. We’ll see how it goes.
I had a chance last night to stop by a Kickstarter meet up in Seattle that was supposed to include the PicoBrew Zymatic as well as some of the beer made from it, but it didn’t materialize. Wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or not (I was there to check out some board games).
As someone considering building an E-HERMS system, I definitely don’t want to feel like I’m wasting time/money/space, but I also want to feel like I’m still cultivating a craft. Definitely agree about the focus on the hot side, so maybe I can take solace in the fact that no matter what I’m still going to need to control my temperatures, sanitation, and well, wait.
Right on, Kurt. My purpose isn’t to heap scorn – automated and electric systems are cool. There’s already gear out there with a lot of functionality and customization options (especially if a person has the wherewithal to do the build him- or herself). Too bad – it would have been nice to get a field report on the beer.
I think that having a bread machine does not make you a baker.
I think I’m more curious about their claims about DMS and how it’s really not an issue, or at least for their system. It would seem it would be more of an issue because their system is closed, but if they find DMS not an issue in general I guess I’m really confused. Is this an issue similar to hot-side-aeration?
I think I’m more curious about their theory on DMS. It seems they do not considered it an issue really at all… does this mean i could brew with a lid on and save all that beer lost to evaporation? This seems to be going against everything i have read on the topic… but then again could this be another issue similar to hot-side-aeration?
My understanding of DMS is that the malt itself dictates its level as much as process; if one starts out with a malt low in SMM, it should allow more leeway in how it can be handled on the hot side. But DMS reduction is just one of several significant things that happen chemically during the boil, so it seems like a whole can of worms. Having never had the beer I can’t really say.
I brewed what I call a “Düsseldorf IPA” this spring using Polaris, Herkules and Smaragd hops paired with a Stickebier gran bill & 1007. Damn, that Polaris is overpowering stuff. I used it in fairly tame amounts compared to my typical IPA insanity, but it just took over everything. If they keep breeding hops with oil content this high we’re going to have to treat oil concentration for late hops the same way we look at AA% for bittering. For point of reference, Polaris has roughly twice the oil content of Citra, and Citra is notorious for overpowering other hops. I’d recommend using Polaris at about 1/3-1/4 the hopping rate for late or dry hops when formulating a recipe if you want it to play nice with other hops.
On the plus side, Polaris tastes like “instant IPA” to me with a big resinous punch to it. If you like face-melting IPA’s, then Polaris is a real nice addition to your toolkit.
Treating oil content as a dosage guideline, as alpha content for bittering additions, could be a really good thing: using less hops to get the same effect would be more economical from the standpoint of both dollars spent on hops and of wort/beer loss.
Thanks for the writeup, Eric!
I’m completely with you on the time and learning curve that it takes to make something really worthwhile. Automation is fine, great even, within the proper context, but it certainly removes the personal from the process. The soul is added with labor. Personally, I don’t want to drink soulless beer or eat soulless food.
Case in point – I have two hams hanging on my wall here in my kitchen. I cured them two years ago this coming January. First time doing it and so far a success. Now, it’s easy enough to go to the butcher and buy a country ham, one that he cured on-site. And I know it’ll taste great. But how much better will the ham that I applied my labor – my soul – to taste? The memories of the process, the beer that we drank doing it, the anticipation, the laughs will all add a certain piquancy that can never be reproduced by a machine.
So we’ll bust it out and carve a couple slices off in a few weeks. We’ll cook it up over a fire in a cast iron skillet that has cooked meals for many generations of my family. And we’ll drink some of the Marzen that’s lagering in the box downstairs. We’ll raise our steins in honor of the old ways, the proven ways, the ways of our grandfathers.
The convenience of modern life has robbed many of the real satisfaction of work, work that directly affects their lives in production of the things that make life possible. The older I get the more I want to have my hands and heart in the things I consume.
For the creator, the experience of the process is a part of the final product, not something separate. It’ll be interesting to see if this distinction becomes a fault line in the growing, evolving homebrew culture.
Also: jealous of your ham.
This post was so awesome it inspired me to comment.
Hadn’t heard of the Zymatic until now. Now that I have knowledge of it, I desire it about as much as I desire a bass boat or a Hummer or a McMansion. Sure, I understand why some people say they want all of those things but for me, they simply miss every enjoyable aspect of fishing, of driving and of home. When brewing in my own bodged together system, there is no way to describe to a non brewer the pure satisfaction of hitting all your targets when brewing a batch (while remembering all the times when you missed).
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Using something like Kickstarter not only degrades from the “craft” aspect of brewing, but it also degrades the therapeutic benefits gained. The sights, smells, sounds of a boiling wort…the feel of the warmth of a burner putting out mega BTUs…all very relaxing.
I equate an automated beer maker similar to hiring a lawn service to mow my 2 acre lawn. Something about a slow drive on the lawn tractor (of course with a homebrew in hand), taking my time to define the patterns in the lawn…the smell of fresh cut grass…as with brewing, it is the experience that is good for the sole.
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