Whilst at the National Homebrewers Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we met with a number of product suppliers – see our previous article here. During this time we were fortunate enough to sit down with Annie Johnson, 2013 AHA Homebrewer of the Year, to discuss PicoBrew’s Zymatic in more detail.
We first heard about PicoBrew when their crowd funding KickStarter campaign was mentioned on The Sunday Session internet show and podcast produced by The Brewing Network. A few weeks later Annie appeared on the show to discuss both her 2013 AHA Homebrewer of the Year award and also the Zymatic which is a kitchen-top brewing device produced by PicoBrew.
The aim of the Zymatic is to program in a recipe, load the tray and compartments with ingredients, fill the attached Cornelius keg with water and press go then the machine will go through the various mashing steps, boil the mash run-off and add the hops and any other additions at the appropriate times. At the end of the process the keg will be filled with wort and once cooled down to pitching temperature the yeast can be added and fermented as usual.
We wanted to ask Annie some more specific questions and discuss various points in detail, these can be found below and grouped together by topic.
Here are some general points about PicoBrew and their Zymatic device:
- Kickstarter – PicoBrew’s campaign was the second most successful Kickstarter to date!
- Ingredient kits – PicoBrew are currently looking at working with homebrew shops to produce a range of kits that can be used with the Zymatic.
- Open Source – we wondered whether or not the device would be rendered useless if PicoBrew ceased trading at any stage in the future but it turns out that the code used is Open Source so accessibility is not an issue providing you have the relevant skills or access to them.
- Ordering – PicoBrew are accepting pre-orders until the end of August with delivery expected by the end of September 2014. After this date the product will be on general availability and likely to be at a higher price.
- Software – the Zymatic is programmed online via a dedicated web site and the device is connected to the internet via WiFi or Ethernet cable attached to a household internet router. The software is BJCP driven for the beer styles and has features such as scaling recipes, predicting alcohol strength (ABV), bitterness (IBU’s), color (SRM) etc.
- Support material – there are instructional videos and manuals available to help brew with the Zymatic.
- Voltage – 110V and 220V variants of the Zymatic are available with domestic US or International shipping.
- Warranty – the standard warranty of the Zymatic is one year though spares are also going to be made available. It is also suggested that due to the temperatures of wort going into the keg that every 60 brews the seals are replaced.
Here are some specific points about brewing with the Zymatic:
- Steps in the mash – typically 4 steps would be carried out during the mash but the controlling software is capable of doing up to 14 steps.
- Maximum batch size – the Zymatic produces 2.5 gallons of wort per batch but multiple batches can be combined into a single fermenter to increase this volume.
- Maximum wort gravity – one grain bed can hold 9 Lbs which will produce a wort of up to 1.092 Specific Gravity (SG) but it is possible to increase this by adding sugar directly into the keg. Another alternative is by using the <Pause> feature which can drain the liquid into the keg and allow new grain to be added into the tray then the brewing process can be continued and the gravity of the existing wort can be raised further. As a side effect a longer mash will generally give better fermentability.
- Hops – up to 1.5oz of pellet hops can be added to each of the 4 adjunct cages in the ingredients tray which equates to a maximum of 6oz per 5 gallon batch. Flower hops can of course also be added to the keg for dry-hopping.
- Extract & Adjuncts – liquid additions such as LME (Liquid Malt Extract) and sugar syrup can be added into the keg whilst dried additions such as DME (Dried Malt Extract) and granulated or rocks of sugar can be added to the grain bed.
- Sampling Port – in between the Zymatic and the keg there is a Sampling Port which can be used to check the Specific Gravity, taste the wort, and also make additions such as Irish Moss (for clarifying), herbs, spices etc.
- Hot & Cold Break – within the Zymatic there is an Adjunct Screen which not only helps keep the hops and other additions within their compartments but it also acts as a filter to catch the Hot and Cold Break produced during the brewing process and this reduces the particles entering the keg at the end ahead of fermentation.
- Kegs – the hose connections, and new Cornelius keg option, are the ball-lock versions. Annie suggested that if you use an existing keg that a 1/2 inch is cut off the long dip-tube to avoid picking up any trub during recirculation.
- Cooling wort – there are two ways to cool the wort produced by the Zymatic:
- Externally – the wort can be cooled by either using an external device such as an inline Plate Chiller (approx 25 mins) or by placing the keg itself in a large bucket of ice and recirculating the wort (approx 40 mins). Another option would be to detach the keg and leave it in a bucket of ice overnight.
- Internally – within the Zymatic there is a heat exchanger that can reduce the wort to 50-55 deg F within about 8 hours. Initially this might appear to increase the risk of getting a contamination until you consider that the system is enclosed and sterile which keeps out bacteria and opens up the option of leaving the wort overnight and pitching the yeast first thing in the morning.
- Cleaning & Sanitizing – this can be carried out using a full bucket and an empty bucket i.e. the full bucket would contain a cleaning solution which would pass through the Zymatic to finish up in the empty bucket. Sanitizing would then be carried out using the same process but with sanitizer replacing the cleaning solution. Every 5 brews it is suggested to do a deep clean with a dish washing tablet. All of the above are programmable cycles on the Zymatic. The ingredients tray and screen can be placed in a household dishwasher for cleaning. The appropriate cleaning & transfer tubes plus keg cleaning brush are included with the Zymatic.
DMS & hop utlization
Two key concerns that we wanted to clear up are about DMS (DiMethyl Sulfide) which is a sulfur compound produced during fermentation and has the aroma of cooked or creamed corn plus the efficiency of bittering oils being extracted from the hops. The reason for these concerns being voiced online relate to the fact that the Zymatic does not actually boil the wort and that the maximum temperature reached in 207 deg F.
Annie cleared this point up by explaining that bitterness extraction from hops occurs at 207 deg F and that the motion of the wort being dripped into the ingredients tray provides similar agitation to that which occurs during a vigorous boil in a Boil Kettle. This agitation is what helps with bitterness extraction from hops and also drives off DMS. As an added bonus there should be no more boil overs!
The DMS escapes from the Zymatic by coming out of the Foam Trap within the device and because an internal fan blows onto the Adjunct Screen then DMS is not smelled whilst brewing as would normally be the case with a Boil Kettle.
For further details on the Zymatic, please contact PicoBrew via any of the following:
If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to leave them below.