Bright Idea: Robo Hops

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Wouldn’t it be great to have a home-brewing machine that made making beer about as easy as constructing an espresso? Yes, it would, said brothers Bill and Jim Mitchell and Avi Geiger, who went out and built the machine — and then built a company to make and market it.

The PicoBrew Zymatic is about the size of a big microwave oven, an aluminum box containing compartments into which the home brewer pours grain and hops. Water goes into an attached keg. Enter a recipe, start it up and the Zymatic produces two and a half gallons of unfermented beer in just under four hours. Chill, add yeast and the final product is ready in five to seven days.

That final product, PicoBrew CEO Bill Mitchell declares, is as good as anything beer enthusiasts can sip at a craft brewery. Because the $1,800 Zymatic is an “internet of things” device, a WiFi or Ethernet connection allows users to download from a library of more than 100 recipes, many developed in response to customer requests. The machine also uploads data about each batch to customers’ accounts, eliminating the need for a brewing journal. “This is a product that actually gets better with time,” Mitchell says. “The more you have expert users using it and contributing recipes to the library, the better the product is.”

Seattle-based PicoBrew launched with a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $660,000. Two angel fundraising rounds of $1.2 million each followed. In mid-December, the company completed delivery on its Kickstarter commitment of 420 units and started in on a backlog of more than 400 units. “Orders are going at a much faster rate than we anticipated,” Mitchell notes, “so production is being ramped up to 200 units a month.”

A nearby contract manufacturer handles production of the Zymatic. PicoBrew now has 20 full- and part-time employees, many of them working on accessories and line extensions, which Mitchell says will be arriving soon.