Hot Take: PicoBrew Pico Review

[The “Hot Take” qualifier added as I’ve only used it twice, among other things.]

I got my Kickstarter edition PicoBrew Pico device in late August, and have brewed up my 2 packs that were part of the Kickstarter rewards. Here’s my take.

Being Early Bird backer #205 I got my machine pretty quickly. A hardware kickstarter like this was bound to be delayed and the guys at PicoBrew didn’t disappoint. Overall I think they did a good job on the Kickstarter*. They conveyed enough information to keep us sated, although it was not as frequently as some people may have wanted. More importantly the delay was not too too long, but it was long enough that my folks who retired to Taiwan missed out on the first batch, as they had to leave the same week when my package arrived.

I realized part of the delay has a lot to do with getting the Pico Packs set up so they can crank them out fast. With fast brewing you can turn around a batch in a week, and it ain’t all that much beer per batch–about 1.3 gallons give or take. Recently they just emailed all backers that the Pico Pack marketplace is in business, and it was definitely not too soon for people who have already started brewing.

Aside: What is kind of tricky is that these batches of beer packs do have a shelf life, so I don’t think stocking up on them during the free shipping promo is the wisest. The order I placed a week ago has already shipped.

As for the main dealie of working and brewing the beer via Pico, well, overall I am satisfied but I think they fall short to be the Kureig of beer. As at least some were claiming that (none from the company). Regardless, there are a bunch of things they could improve, and it depends on the philosophy behind the point of the Pico device.

I feel what they have created is not so much Kureig, but just a Bread Machine. You gotta put the stuff in the thing and let it cook, and the biggest gain out of a bread machine, is that you can customize it to a degree and you can have very freshly baked bread whenever you want, provided the prep is done ahead of time. I don’t know if you know this but beer is similar to bread that freshness counts for a lot in the taste, living up to the moniker liquid bread.

Prior to the Pico I’ve only made beer via canned wort mixes, so I don’t know all the pain of making beer from scratch, but that experience was sufficiently educational that I understand the overall process. Once you remove the whole creation aspect of beer making–everything related to the ingredients–it becomes a process where you simply “brew” it up and let it ferment.

That part is pretty simple and I think the Pico did a good job. What is lacking is kind of the rest. The racking process worked pretty well, and I had no issues except the serving keg’s serving plug had an issue. Using a CO2 cartridge is definitely better than bottle/keg conditioning.

The main problem I have with Pico is cleaning. It is a major time consuming aspect of brewing beer. It should surprise nobody but I think more importantly, this is a very manual task that the system doesn’t really explain to you in detail. The flushing of PIco system can take upward of 30 minutes cumulatively, not even using the first-time flush feature. That’s just running water through all the pipes, kind of. Then after brewing, you have to clean the brewing keg, which takes at least 30 minutes as you have to dissemble the keg (mainly the o-ring-sealed keg inlet and outlet). Then there’s cleaning of the serving keg. I got one of the racking pipe dirty and I’m not sure if I can clean it properly as some beer got stuck in it and now it has discolored. The best I could do is soak the inside with H2O2 and hope for the best. Maybe get a wad of wires and try to clean it out in the future?

So another thing they need is the ability to sell spare parts. It’s going to be necessary.

Given there is no good way to streamline the cleaning, each time I brew I spend over an hour just to clean the thing, and cleaning well is imperative to a good brew. I didn’t clean well after the first batch and my second batch didn’t come out as good as I’d expect, so there’s that.

Without going into the details, I think some of the steps can be streamlined, if some equipment were designed a certain way. The initial brewing process can be time consuming as well if you take care to clean each step. But these are not as big of problem to me as that Pico doesn’t do a lot to help you clean better in terms of what you needed to do to clean.

That said, none of these are permanent problems and they can improve on it even now. Selling parts. Selling cleaning kits (like the powder thing they recommend). Do a better job showing people how to clean. Improve some of their stuff so it’s easier to clean.

In that sense that’s what Kickstarter is about. You are beta-testing their kit in a way, and when I back stuff I count on the potential of things shaking out well, not just the pledged rewards. In a V2 Pico they should be able to address all these things, as well as their current online store.

On the value prospect of Pico, I think if you live near a well-stocked liquor store with a wide selection of brews, you probably won’t be missing much. I think the PIco Packs generally will break even with the same quantity of beer / beer type as ones you get in store. That doesn’t include the $500+ you invested in the kit however, and instead you have to spend hours cleaning to get about a 12-pack of beer. Actually usually Pico packs are a little more expensive than bottled.

The real promise Pico brings is the reverse-engineered recipes of other famous or limited edition brews. Think of it as an alternative to a liquor store instead of a replacement. There are countless microbreweries in the USA alone, and you can get entries from all over the world with this system. So in that sense Pico addresses the greatest driver for drinking microbrews–if everything pans out with PicoBrew’s large-scale plans–the ability to try a new beer forever. Or, that old beer you can’t find anymore. (Or, the beer that is sold only in certain breweries and draws lines hours long, ahem.)

To bridge the gap, Pico promises a sous vide kit. I hope that comes through soon.

As for the two Kickstarter reward beer packs: Tweatie and Buffalo Sweat…the milk sugar in the latter is a nice touch but it’s the batch I messed up. The Tweatie was a nice American beer however, and I rec that one.

*I have done enough Kickstarters I think, to be somewhat of a judge of these things.

Religion & Politics

I’ve been reading the Fivethirtyeight a lot this election cycle. It’s a handy site that aggregates at least all the poll results. As we just move past the first Presidential debate it is definitely a daily stop if to just see how the numbers move every day.

So they wrote this article. And I feel it’s time to rant a bit. As divisive as Trump was during the Republican primary, a lot of Christians (Evangelicals or not) have rallied back under the party banner. This just boggles the mind though. How can one possibly continue to support the same monster they despised merely 4 months ago?

They may cite the Supreme Court thing, but I guess my take on it is different than the typical full-ticket Republican. I think it’s hubris and a continuation of the failure of the Republican party to not take the Obama nominee, who is by all means going to be way more centrist than a HRC nominee. What kind of sane person would put it off, knowing Trump is likely going to win the Republican ticket? I mean, underneath the Supreme Court debate is that dereliction of Congressional Republican’s constitutional duty to keep the Court full is karmic retribution when the likely Democrat winner takes office next year? If I was God, this seems like the perfect conclusion to an election season where the Republican party, the party which the mainstream American Christians vote for, got stuck with its best representative.

It’s party politics and perhaps the year-in, year-out, public display of dysfunction is what’s driving the Democratic party forward this year, possibly electing one of the least popular Presidential candidate ever. I guess when they go low, the Republicans go even lower. We can only elect Baby Boomers for so much longer, guys. When Millennials get into their 30s there will be a reckoning, and I feel Evangelicals are at least labeled as people who can take a stand against the continuing crumbling of the Republican Party, as that does nobody, even Democrats, any good.

And while I don’t ask this from my Christian friends, but how can anyone who actually believes in this stuff, and not your casual Easter/Christmas Churchgoer, support your Republican Congress? The GOP has huge problems, and maybe some time as a minority party is the opportunity for it to recover.

#Donglephobia or the video-audio future is yet again split

The past 17 years I felt I saw the law and business on digital consumer video go a different way than the law and busiess on digital consumer audio. By this I mean not only the hardware prosumers buy, but the way we watch media or listen to media as well. Before Spotify there has been a series of market leaders, where as when it comes to movies and TV shows in the USA, it was really a format war until we went digital pretty much wholesale.

I read this review of the iPhone 7 and I can’t help but to think of two things:

  1. Lack of a headphone jack is no big deal; and
  2. This is a great illustration where we are at when it comes to digital mobile experience for sound versus the digital mobile experience for photography/videography

Nilay is right that the mobile photography world has been so boosted by these powerful phone cameras that it has been truly revolutionary. And it wouldn’t be fair to give Apple all the credit; tons of people have been shooting with their flip phones well before 2008, but the backend of the ecosystem have matured enough (maybe) between first media-oriented sites but now social networks with good video/audio support.

The audio world, not so much. Which is well-symbolized by some high end tech dude reviewing the latest electronics lamenting about a connector older than the floppy drive. Nilay recognizes this in this review as well, but I guess he’s not taken to this conclusion.

Because, as someone who has made two major switches in his life (one to go wireless, one to go to usb-to-go to a portable DAC…so even more wired?) when it comes to listening to music/audio on his phone (and I’ve been doing this since like 2003), the headphone jack is not really all that useful on your phone. At least that’s my opinion.

Where are all the whiners that complained about the lack of a S-video port or whatever? RCA jacks? Display port over HDMI? I don’t get it.

I guess when ethernet jacks left the building so did common sense. [Read Mossberg’s rant on this, it’s utmost stupid.]

I’m not going to get into why I feel this way, besides as someone who has been using bluetooth wireless headsets for like 8+ years. Who knows where the pain point is (it’s not sound quality or batt life, far from it). And I believe most people just don’t know/care about audio enough to justify their whine. To be fair Apple is complicit in the media blowback somewhat with their nonsense audio standard and their usual play to sell more junk that doesn’t really do anything. Maybe it’s a good reminder that an iPhone is a closed ecosystem and you’re going to hit those drawbacks. But seriously, bluetooth is plenty good. It works well. It’s not the greatest, but odds are your  come-with-iPhone headsets are worse than the one you now need to shell out for to fully enjoy that Bluetooth experience.

And I feel, it really comes down to that most people just don’t care about audio that much, and those who do are stuck in their irrational ways to really offer good, rational criticism. Verge included.

Evaluating Teixeira’s Yankee Tenure versus Contract, and Luck

MLB first baseman Mark Teixeira today announced that he will retire from pro baseball at the end of the season. This is his last year on the Yankee’s contract, which will run for 8 years and $180 million dollars after all is said and done. The local state rag ran a poll and it seems most people valued the contract favorably in hindsight.

Statistically, Mark was a quality defensive player throughout the years he played. The past 4 years he was plagued by injuries, especially in 2014 and 2016. The freakish thing was he played maybe 2/3 of the games in 2015 with an OPS+ of 146, which is freakish given he was clearly on a declining state athletically speaking, as he last cracked OPS+ 140 in the 2009 world-series-winning year at 141 OPS+.

But 180M/8 years is a lot of cash. Granted it would be tough to sign a top free agent in their prime without committing to a long contract that covered their declining years as well, but in Mark’s case he could have had his best post-Yankee years in 2015, if not for a foul ball that fractured his tibia. I mean, this is not the kind of injury that you can truly prevent while performing at an All-Star level.

The prudent and sensible way to evaluate the contract is to compare this 8-year contract with other similar-length contracts of position players who signed at around their late 20s. But I think I’m more interested to see how hindsight bias overwrites the factor of luck that plays into these long-term contract evaluations.

Injury is a part of MLB. People get hurt, especially the more they play and the older they got–two factors that are also correlated. The fact is you can guess how much a player is likely to get hurt only based on fairly poorly-explored medical knowledge. Injury due to hit-by-pitch or hit-by-foul-balls are as freakish as anything.

How did luck play a role in how we evaluate Tex’s contract? In hindsight, Tex was just good, not great, during his healthy years, outside of 2015 and 2009. He was great in 2015 and 2009. He was effectively out of commission for 2 seasons (but you take that over the situation he’s in today, as a Yankee fan). So not counting the injuries, the Tex contract was just OK. It definitely worked out in a way that you could have foresaw back in 2008 (minus, again, 2015).

It’s similar to that you can’t really expect David Ortiz to be the best hitter in the Majors at age 40, I suppose. Luck is a skill in these things.


I’m okay with no more headphone jacks

On smartphones, at least.

There is this nonsense driven by fear of change. Yeah, there are billions of 3.5mm jacks headphones, but who cares about the quality because all billions of those are the $0.02 variety pooped out in China that might as well go straight to a landfill? Wouldn’t an equally lame $0.02 variety adapter work just fine?

I speak out of personal experience, and I know I am just one person with one set of experiences, but a wireless headphone/earbud experience significantly trumps a wired one, when the smartphone is the basis of your sound. Let’s skip the at-home use cases for now (in which you probably want to stream to a receiver or a google cast client of some sort anyway), and focus on the on-the-go and traveling-stationary cases.

In the former I’ve spent enough money replacing wired headphones to know that if this is my use case for a lot of the time, wireless will be the cost-sensitive solution because you will be spending $$ replacing cables all the time. I think my rate was like $20 a year at least. Now I suck it up with an average bluetooth headphone that has no cables, over the ear, because cables always will break if used on a mobile use cases, for prolong (12+ months) periods. To be specific, all I use my headphones for are my ~2hr commutes daily, and sometimes trips and excursions.

There are some times when I’m using my phone for audio and I plug it into an external DAC. I have to use a USB to Go cable, then plug the DAC into that. No headphone jack is involved. And why any self-respecting audiophile doesn’t use a portable DAC for phone audio is beyond me. In this case you have no use for a 3.5mm jack anyway. OK, maybe your favorite amp doesn’t have a DAC, and it’s annoying to have a DAC and an amp, as portable devices, I hear you. But I think in this case you can excuse a wimpy adapter, right? Or even buy a better one than the one out of the box? No bigs.

All this whining and focusing on the losing of the jack is standard, textbook, resistance to change without looking at what you gain out of it. For most people, nobody uses the headphone jack. My folks don’t use it, and my mom uses a headphone all the time on her iPad to watch dramas anyway. So yeah, keep that on a tablet, where size is not a problem. On phones where device component size is a lot more important, the jack takes up a good 5% on the total footprint of the device. Does anyone uses the jack 5% of their phone’s overall lifetime?

Yeah, the only ones that would use it are the people selling stuff using a card reader (Square, etc), and I think those guys will be okay to live with an adaptor so the rest of the society can enjoy the benefit of that extra real estate on their smartphones.

There are other “hardware” ecosystems attached to the smartphone headphone jack, but none of them has to do with your audio experience, nor should it. Get some bluetooth cans and move on to a better future.