BEERMKR vs. PicoBrew
One of the questions we get asked most often by prospective brewers is “how is BEERMKR different from PicoBrew”? In short, BEERMKR is a beer making machine: meaning it makes beer and manages the entire process from grain to glass. PicoBrew, on the other hand, is a wort maker (wort meaning unfermented beer): a device that only manages the first few hours of the weeks-long brewing process. Fermentation management and kegging and bottling is a technical process that BEERMKR manages automatically but PicoBrew does not. In this article we’ll go into how each machine produces beer and what it is like to use each one.
In the world of automatic brewing, few devices are as well known as PicoBrew. Early on, PicoBrew marketed their devices as “all-in one” or “automatic” beer brewing machines, and after a handful of successful Kickstarters, they became the leaders in this new automatic brewing space. PicoBrew launched the original Zymatic in 2015 and has released new models every few years, including the Pico S in 2016, which was later rebadged as the Pico Pro. In 2017 they launched the Pico C for the entry level homebrewer which at the time brewed exclusively Pico Paks, their proprietary ingredient pack (like a Keurig K-Cup, although they have since opened their machines up to loose ingredients). In 2018 they launched the Pico Z for breweries or restaurants to make pilot batches of beer. These machines range from $399 for the Pico C up to $2749 for the Pico Z.
Unfortunately for the brewing world, PicoBrew has since gone out of business and things like their Pico Paks are no longer available. They plan to continue maintaining the servers that run all of the Picos, but they won’t say for how long, and there is still an active community of brewers who have ‘hacked’ their Picos, to a certain extent. There are still a lot of Picos available on places like Amazon and eBay, so beware that one of these machines may not do everything it’s marketed to do anymore due to lack of Pico Paks and server shutdowns.
At BEERMKR, we believe in the democratization of homebrewing, much like Pico did. We think all beer lovers can and should brew their own beer! While Pico is no longer with us, we will continue the journey and we readily welcome any PicoBrewers into the family.
BEERMKR vs PicoBrew: The Beer Making Process in a Nutshell
Both BEERMKR and PicoBrew products produce wort with all-grain mashes. Neither machine gets up to a full boil, but both achieve hop-isomerized wort to be fermented into beer. BEERMKR creates wort, ferments, pressurizes, and serves beer. PicoBrew just produces wort and leaves the rest up to you. Ultimately, PicoBrew leaves a handful of very complicated and integral steps up to brewers, while BEERMKR truly delivers on the claim of automatic beer making machine.
Brewing and Mashing
BEERMKR: To begin a batch in your BEERMKR, open the BEERMKR app on your phone and choose your recipe, either a MKRKIT or your own creation. Plug in a fresh set of bags, add your grains (all included in a MKRKIT) and water, then hit start on the app. Over the next 24 hours the machine will mash your grains and produce wort. Setting up this process takes about 5 minutes.
PicoBrew: To begin a batch on a Pico, you need to first create a recipe in their software on the computer or use one of their PicoPaks that already has a recipe built in. The recipe will tell the machine to hit specific temperatures for specific times. If you are using loose ingredients, you will load them into the appropriate chamber. Wash out a keg thoroughly and fill it with the specified amount of water from your recipe program. Turn on your Pico and load your recipe from the screen prompts. If it is your own recipe, you will have to connect to the internet and sync your recipe to your machine. Select your recipe then press brew. Once your Pico is set up, which takes about 5-10 minutes, getting the brew started takes another 10 minutes. The PicoBrew will then begin brewing, which takes 2 to 4 hours to complete. It will heat up the water from the keg and the pump will move water through the bed of grains then heat the wort up and move it through the varying hop containers, all the while recirculating in the keg.
A Note on No Boil + Hop Isomerization
Neither the PicoBrew nor the BEERMKR get up to a boil. The PicoBrew gets to a near boil (207º F) to isomerize the hops in the machine. BEERMKR gets up to 170º and relies on Steam Hops for isomerization. Steam Hops are hops that have gone through a steam process prior to being packaged that isomerizes their alpha acids and adjusts the oil content to yield the same flavor profile that is expected from hops that have been boiled with the wort. They are available in 60, 30, 20, and 10 minute versions. This 170º maximum temperature ensures tannins aren’t extracted and ensures SMM does not convert into DMS, a flavor flaw that tastes like canned corn. While PicoBrew isomerizes the hops in the machine, it is a closed circulation system which allows SMM to convert into DMS and does not provide an efficient evaporation route for the DMS to leave, which can make DMS an issue in some PicoBrew beers. Water adjustments are often needed to prevent tannins from being extracted as well.
Fermenting Your Wort
BEERMKR: Heading into fermentation, BEERMKR will chill down your wort and send a notification to the app to pitch yeast and add hops. BEERMKR will then monitor fermentation through a CO2 monitoring system and maintain the optimal fermentation temperature for your chosen yeast strain in real time based on yeast activity level. The built-in thermoelectric heat exchanger makes it possible to ferment close to freezing for classic lagers or all the way up in the 90s for saisons and kveiks. Even sours are possible. The machine has yeast presets in the app with optimal times to completion based on fermentation activity so the machine will know exactly when your beer will be ready to drink and defect free.
PicoBrew: After the brew is done, you will have a keg of hot wort. You now need to disconnect this keg of hot wort from the Pico and find somewhere to cool it down. This can be an ice bath, or a cold garage. You will need to monitor the temperature of the keg to know when it’s acceptable to add your yeast.
Be careful which yeast you use as in your Pico as you will have to temperature control the fermentation to ensure the beer turns out. Most ale strains require temperatures in the 60s, with ideal temperatures being in a range of 2 to 3 degrees F (i.e. 66-69 F). So if your house has swings in temperature, you will need a temperature control device like a refrigerator to place your 2 or 5 gallon keg of fermenting wort. If you are creating a warm fermenting beer, you will need to add a heater to your keg as well as a temperature controller for the heater. If you are unable to maintain the required temperature for your batch, it will generate off flavors that are considered flaws and will make your beer taste bad. Oftentimes people will manually manage their fermentation temperatures using ice baths that they refresh once per day (time intensive), or put wet t-shirts on their keg to wick heat away from the fermenting beer (can grow mold). Either way, Pico leaves it up to you to create a fermentation control system to create the beer you originally set out to make. This can make it potentially impossible to make a lager or any other style that requires a temperature that is outside of your ambient room temperature.
Over the next week or two, you will need to monitor your fermentation manually to ensure it is progressing properly. Pico sells a device called a PicoFerm that monitors fermentation pressure and will alert you when the beer stops producing CO2. It does not control for yeast strain and will not offer suggestions about optimal time to rest before drinking, so this will also need to be done manually.
Some Pico models include a pressurized fermentation cap which can extend the fermentable temperature range by a few degrees allowing PicoBrewers to ferment without temperature control. Fermenting under pressure suppresses many compounds that yeast produce. This allows a PicoBrewer to ferment a 68º ale strain at 75º + by using pressure to suppress the off flavors that are normally produced at this too-high temperature. Unfortunately pressure also works in the other direction, by also suppressing the good flavor compounds produced by the yeast resulting in a beer that, while drinkable, simply has less character.
Carbonating and Serving
BEERMKR: As fermentation and rest complete, the machine will send you a notification to remove your bag of finished beer and move it to the BEERTAP. The two quick disconnect valves allow easy removal of the bag without exposing your beer to oxygen or bacteria. Place the bag of finished beer into the BEERTAP, connect the two valves, and connect the included CO2 cartridge. Your beer is now pressurized and will be ready to drink in the next 24 hours.
PicoBrew: When fermentation is complete, it is time to transfer your beer to another keg or to bottles. This is a manual process that involves cleaning and sanitizing the receiving keg, then pressurizing the fermentation keg with CO2 and moving the beer to a clean and sanitized keg or bottles. Some Pico models pump air into the fermentation keg instead of CO2 to generate enough pressure to transfer. This air pumping process should only be used if you are refermenting in bottles or your keg with priming sugar because the oxygen added during this process needs to be removed by the yeast. This refermentation process takes a few weeks and it generates CO2 and carbonates the beer naturally.
If you’re new to brewing, this PicoBrew step is a bit more complicated than it might seem. Proper sanitation, cleaning, and preventing the beer from coming in contact with air is absolutely critical.
Cleaning and Sanitizing
BEERMKR: Cleaning your BEERMKR is a snap. By eliminating the need to transfer from vessel to vessel, you don’t need to clean and sanitize all those tubes and kegs. When you pitch your yeast, you’ll remove the spent grains and the GrainBasket, which you can throw in your dishwasher. After you've moved your BeerBag to the BEERTAP, simply throw your valves and BrewTub into the dishwasher and everything will be ready for your next batch. The brewing step reaches pasteurization temperatures, meaning that your wort and everything it touches will be properly sanitized. We recommend you wipe your valves with a provided alcohol wipe when you transfer. In total, the time spent cleaning and sanitizing your BEERMKR is under 5 minutes.
PicoBrew: Cleaning and sanitizing your PicoBrew equipment is much like you would in traditional homebrewing. While the wort is cooling down in it’s keg, you need to clean your PicoBrew. Rinse out your brew chamber and fill a new keg with water. You may want to clean it, so add a tablet of detergent to your brewing chamber and run the cleaning cycle. This cycle can take a few hours will circulate cleaning solution and water throughout your PicoBrew. When you’re ready to transfer your fermented beer to either kegs or bottles, make sure to thoroughly rinse, clean, and sanitize all the tubes, kegs or bottles that you’re using. Improper sanitation can lead to contamination and thereby bad beer.
The Beer Making Process: In Conclusion
If the PicoBrew process seemed involved, that’s because it is! Pico is a wort maker, where BEERMKR is a beer maker, handling the process from grain to glass with only a few minutes of brewer interaction along the way. Pico automates a lot of things on the brewing side, but it still leaves most of the hard stuff to you, the brewer. Stuff like monitoring fermentation temperature and activity, cleaning and sanitizing, and transferring, bottling, and kegging. All of these sequences have pitfalls that can create bad beer if an error is made.
So Who Are These Machines For?
Who Is BEERMKR For? BEERMKR is for two major groups of people. The first is brewers who are short on time and don’t want to spend the 8+ hours required to make a single batch of beer. Often these brewers are doing ingredient experiments to understand how various ingredient combinations work before scaling up the recipe to their larger system. This group encompasses both experienced homebrewers as well as professional brewers.
The second group of people BEERMKR is made for is beer lovers who always wanted to brew but were held back by the complexity of the process, a lack of free time, the risk of having bad beer, the hassle of having too much equipment, or some combination of these four things. BEERMKR makes it simple and easy to begin brewing with excellent pre-built recipes called MKRKITs. MKRKITs are loose ingredients so they are easy to brew by themselves, or experiment with by making additions like adding coffee or chocolate or oak, or trying new hops!
Who Is PicoBrew For? Today, PicoBrew is for the experienced home brewer who is comfortable hacking systems that may stop running at one point. Previously, PicoBrew with their PicoPaks were a viable option for the new brewer who wanted to get their hands dirty with all the steps in the PicoBrew process, but since those PicoPaks are no longer being produced, the PicoBrew products have migrated into the hacker world of DIY.
Is The Beer Any Good?
BEERMKR: “Heck yeah it was good! I won gold!”, said Christian Chandler, a brewer in Phoenix AZ who recently won gold in the Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrew Competition. He brewed an American Porter on his BEERMKR that beat out 164 other entrants in the Stouts & Porters category. So yes, BEERMKR makes great beer! Brewers can brew one of our variety of MKRKITs, or they can build their own recipe from scratch like Christian did.
PicoBrew: Because PicoBrew leaves so much up to the brewer to get right, like fermentation management, transferring, bottling, sanitizing, etc, it will take considerable work to produce great beer with a PicoBrew.
BEERMKR vs PicoBrew: Conclusion
BEERMKR automates brewing and fermentation, and the transfer process is safe, painless, and fast. We highly recommend BEERMKR over PicoBrew. It’s ease of use, speed of production, app connectivity, and completely hands off brewing, give BEERMKR a significant edge. It helps beginner brewers create stellar beers on the first try. It helps pro brewers who are short on time easily develop repeatable recipes without spending hours cleaning, sanitizing, and managing the process.