MAN VS TECH

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS -

Beer. Our great­est in­ven­tion. Even bet­ter when you can make it your­self, so we try the lat­est home-brew­ing tech to see if we can con­coct a tasty brew

THE MIS­SION

Can we pro­duce bet­ter, faster and cheaper craft beer us­ing the best new home­brew gad­gets, or through time­honoured tra­di­tional meth­ods? T3 sets the chal­lenge. Andy’s an ex­pert home­brewer with a taste for English brown ales. Ju­lia just likes beer.

THE MA­CHINE HEATS THE WA­TER, RUNS IT THROUGH THE PACK AND WHIPS UP A BATCH OF WORT IN JUST A FEW HOURS

Let’s face it. Brew­ing a per­fectly crafted beer from your own home isn’t as easy as it looks. Nail­ing the mash. Cal­cu­lat­ing vol­umes. Get­ting your head around grains, hops, yeasts and how they work to­gether. It’s an in­tim­i­dat­ing sci­ence – and that’s be­fore you even get into the busi­ness of wa­ter pro­fil­ing or fer­men­ta­tion tem­per­a­tures.

But when you get it right, pour­ing a glass of de­li­cious home­brew from a keg in your kitchen is un­beat­able. So when a ma­chine that promised to craft per­fect beer with­out the com­plex equip­ment, tech­niques and clean-up came across our desk we were quite cu­ri­ous. Could a coun­ter­top gad­get re­ally cre­ate a tastier brew at just the push of a but­ton?

ART OVER SCI­ENCE

To find out, we cre­ate two batches of IPA over a week­end: the first us­ing US firm Pi­coBrew’s $799 pre­ci­sion brew­ing ap­pli­ance Pico Pro; the sec­ond us­ing time-hon­oured home­brew­ing meth­ods.

With the Pico Pro, it’s cer­tainly eas­ier. The ma­chine au­to­mates the key stages of the brew­ing process, let­ting you craft five litres of beer in your kitchen in about two hours, us­ing ready-to-brew $20 Pi­coPaks – pre­mea­sured sa­chets of grains, hops and yeasts from more than 160 brew­eries around the world. Want to make your own? You can – well, sort of – by adding cus­tom in­gre­di­ents to a se­lec­tion of base recipes through Pi­coBrew’s Freestyle pro­gram. (There’s only one choice of yeast though, and lim­ited hops.)

Ini­tial set-up of the Pico Pro is a fiveminute af­fair, in­volv­ing lit­tle more than re­mov­ing the pack­ag­ing, plug­ging it into a socket, con­nect­ing to Wi-Fi and reg­is­ter­ing on­line. De­spite be­ing la­belled a ‘coun­ter­top’ ma­chine, it doesn’t ac­tu­ally fit un­der the cab­i­nets on our kitchen counter, but a swift lo­ca­tion change – and a 10-minute pre-rinse later – and we’re ready to go.

The good news is that it’s easy to op­er­ate. I place the Pi­coPak into the ma­chine – each one has a RFID chip on top, en­abling the Pico Pro to iden­tify it – and add wa­ter. We’re mak­ing an Im­pe­rial IPA, St­ingray, from San Diego-based mi­cro­brew­ery Coron­ado Brew­ing Com­pany, so I use the con­trol knob to set the al­co­hol con­tent to 7.9 per cent (crikey) and bit­ter­ness to 48 IBU (in­ter­na­tional bet­ter­ing unit), and hit start. That’s it. The ma­chine heats the wa­ter, runs it through the pack and whips up a batch of wort in just a few hours, let­ting us watch its progress us­ing the on­line tracker.

PRE­CI­SION IN­STRU­MENT

This is truly lib­er­at­ing. We’ve been home­brew­ing for a few years now, and the big­gest chal­lenge is main­tain­ing con­trol over the tem­per­a­ture. Get it wrong and you’re sunk. You won’t get the pre­dicted con­ver­sion of sug­ars from the grain, which will af­fect the al­co­hol con­tent, and the taste.

With the Pico Pro, it’s re­as­sur­ing to know the op­ti­mum tem­per­a­ture is be­ing main­tained through­out. And though it doesn’t tell you which hops are go­ing in at which stage, it does walk you through each step of the brew process with a clar­ity that would be use­ful to be­gin­ners. The best part? It slashes the phys­i­cal brew­ing process from four hours to two, and you don’t have to baby-sit the beer – turn the Pico Pro on and for­get about it.

We don’t for­get about it, though. Be­cause it’s loud. Very loud. This isn’t a ma­chine that’ll let you qui­etly brew with­out the rest of the house­hold know­ing about it. But it can be left alone, so with an un­ex­pected free Satur­day evening ahead, we leave the Pico whirring away and hit the pub.

The next morn­ing, the wort has cooled overnight in the Pico Pro’s keg, so I add a yeast packet and leave it to work its magic. Mean­while, Andy preps the tra­di­tional brew. Suf­fice to say, it’s a more la­bo­ri­ous process.

He cal­cu­lates the vol­ume of in­gre­di­ents we’ll need for our home­brew IPA recipe, as well as the pre­dicted al­co­hol con­tent, IBU and grav­ity. To make the mash, we need to heat the wa­ter to 66 de­grees. How­ever, we’ll need to hit 74 de­grees to com­pen­sate for the cold grain we’ll be adding – and main­tain­ing the mash tem­per­a­ture is a no­to­ri­ously tricky task. En­ter ETI’s Su­perFast Thermapen 4 dig­i­tal ther­mome­ter. It gets to work quickly, giv­ing a read­ing in just three sec­onds, and the handy 360-de­gree self-ro­tat­ing dis­play makes it easy to record the data from any an­gle.

An hour and a half later, the mash is done. Andy sparges the grains, com­mences the boil, and adds the dif­fer­ent hops at var­i­ous stages over the next hour and 15 min­utes. (It’s worth not­ing that he’s been ster­il­is­ing the kit at every stage af­ter the boil - un­like with the Pico, which is a self­s­ter­il­is­ing ma­chine.)

When Andy’s done, he runs cold wa­ter through a 7.6m Cop­per­head Im­mer­sion Wort Chiller to cool the wort to pitch­ing tem­per­a­ture. We’re in the dan­ger zone, here: this is where the wort is most sus­cep­ti­ble to bac­te­rial con­tam­i­na­tion, so we need to bring the tem­per­a­ture down to 20°C as quickly as pos­si­ble. For­tu­nately, the Cop­per­head han­dles it like a pro, re­duc­ing the tem­per­a­ture in a frac­tion of the time an ice bath would take (and with a lot less mess).

RIGHT The Pico Pro is easy, but you’ll still need to leave it for a cou­ple of weeks to fer­ment pre-drink­ing ABOVE RIGHT The brew­ing process starts here: just add your prepack­aged brew and away you go

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