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.