With Pico, PicoBrew Looks to Create A Keurig For Beer

Picobrew Pico Kickstarter.png

PicoBrew announced a new product, the Pico, this week.  PicoBrew CEO Bill Mitchell will speak on the future of home brewing at the Summit and PicoBrew will be serving beer made with their machines during happy hour.  This post is one that originally appeared in Forbes from Smart Kitchen Summit creator, Michael Wolf. 

When I first learned about the Picobrew Zymatic in 2014, I thought it was a big step forward for home beer brewing. Sure, the device was still a little spendy at $1699 for Kickstarter backers and $2000 retail, but it was a long way from the old-school method which usually involved metal vats, propane burners and large batches of wildly inconsistent beer.

The Zymatic promised simpler and cleaner brewing and more consistent batch quality with its microwave size appliance. As a result, it promised to make home beer brewing more approachable and, just maybe, a way to take the craft of homebrew beyond it's core audience of the bearded 30-something male.

As it turned out, while the Zymatic enabled someone like myself to homebrew without sacrificing my marriage or growing a ponytail, the connected brewing system still wasn't quite easy enough for the "casual" hobbyist. In other words, it wouldn't bring in the type who's excited about the idea of brewing beer at home, but doesn't want to put in the work of measuring grains and perfecting a recipe.

But while the Zymatic wasn't easy and automated enough to make home brewing a mass market hobby, the company's new beer brewing appliance, the Pico, just might be.

The Keurig For Beer is Here

The Pico is the second generation home brewing appliance from PicoBrew, which they just launched on Kickstarter, and in it they've made massive strides in simplicity, size and cost. The Pico is half the price of the Zymatic, dropping in around the thousand-dollar mark at $999. By coming just below a thousand bucks (and half of that for Kickstarter backers), the Pico will be priced below an important psychological barrier in the minds of many consumers, many of whom see anything over a thousand dollars as  a big commitment.

It's also a much smaller commitment in terms of size. The Pico is about half the width of the Zymatic at twelve inches (vs. 20.5 inches for the Zymatic). That's more coffee-maker than microwave in terms of footprint, something that can be "slid-back" on the counter much easier or put away in a cupboard.

But the biggest change of all is how the Pico brews beer. Unlike the Zymatic, which requires measurement of loose grains, the Pico uses pre-measured packages of ingredients called 'PicoPaks'.  All you have to do to start the brewing process is insert a PicoPak, which are pre-packaged ingredient "pods" built from recipes from one of the fifty or so brewmasters PicoBrew licenses beer recipes from, and soon you're brewing beer.

But Here's The Big Big Story: PicoBrew Is Creating A Royalty Model For Craft Beer

While the technology of the Pico is great in that it simplifies home brewing to almost Keurig like simplicity, maybe the most exciting part about PicoBrew's plans is that brewers using the Zymatic will soon be able to submit their recipes for use in PicoPaks and get a royalty for each one sold. In other words, PicoBrew is trying to create a new distribution model for beer, one where consumers brew fresh beer at home and burgeoning brewmasters get royalties for their recipes.

To see why this is a big deal, it helps to understand the typical career path in craft beermaking. Usually beginning beer makers start by perfecting their skills at home, often spending thousands of hours creating batches of beer before maybe, just maybe, moving on to the "wedding circuit" to start selling their beer. Eventually a small percentage of these folks get to live the dream of starting a small craft brewery or brewpub and, if things go really well, an even smaller percentage of these may distribute their beer in bottles or cans locally.

Make no mistake: this is a long and difficult road. But now, if Picobrew's vision becomes a reality, the career path in craft beer brewing could become something more like that of an app developer, one where an aspiring beermaker perfects their craft using a Zymatic and eventually leverages a digital distribution system to reach a global audience with their recipes.  If a brewer's recipe is chosen by PicoBrew through its own internal curation or by a crowdvoting mechanism to become a PicoPack recipe, then they will get royalties for each PicoPak sold, resulting in money for beer than they never have to brew.

PicoBrew CEO Bill Mitchell told me that this vision of a new brewing payment model was one they had from the start. In order to get there first, however, they knew they needed to first release a true beer brewing device that allowed for experimentation, one with which dedicated creators could learn the craft. This was the Zymatic. Now, he market seeded with over 1,300 Zymatics, they are rolling out the Pico, a more user-friendly device that can benefit from the installed base of Zymatics and the recipes being created by a growing number of aspiring brewmasters.

Admittedly all of this is a big vision, one that 'big beer' probably isn't all that excited about. After all, well less than 1% of beer consumed in the US is made at home, compared to over 70% of coffee. PicoBrew wants to change that be creating a large community of casual beer enthusiasts that brew their own beer at home, using recipes from a growing community of indy brewmasters.

Can they do it? It's too soon to tell, but I certainly think there's significant room for growth in the percentage of beer made at home, particularly if the process is simplified and the costs continue to come down. And just think: if ten years from now home brewed beer can account for 10% of all beer consumed, that's a massive market, one that PicoBrew is as well positioned as anyone to help kickstart.

A version of this post was first published in Forbes.