Homebrewing ‘robot’ aims to make beer-making smarter

Homebrewing is being dragged by Brewbot from its hiding place in airing cupboards and attics

 

Homebrewing is back in fashion, but anyone who has tried to do it can tell you it’s a cumbersome and complicated process. One company planning to make it much simpler is Brewbot, a Belfast-based start-up. It’s about to launch a custom-built brewing machine or “robot” that can be controlled with a smartphone.

Brewbot wants to bring homebrewing front and centre by dragging it away from its hiding place in airing cupboards and attics, and bringing it into the livingroom by housing the machine in a well-designed Ikea-style casing.

Measuring 121cm x 40cm x 119cm and weighing about 100kg, Brewbot is a compact stainless-steel brewing machine that comes with a number of different façade options (including reclaimed wood, chalkboard and walnut). The machine, which can produce up to 18 litres of beer, retails at €2,100, so it’s not for everyone.

The beer-brewing machine takes care of a lot of the complexity involved in the process by automating much of the brewing. It looks after temperatures, timings and volumes, while still enabling users to feel like they have control of the overall process.

Brewbot’s specially-designed app includes a recipe platform that allows anyone to download or create a recipe so that they can brew a beer of any style. Enthusiasts can then follow along on the app as water is turned into beer, intervening when necessary to ensure they get the brew they are after.

“We came up with the idea of doing this because we brewed ourselves and found it to be fun but also stressful. There was a lot of work involved in it and it was difficult to get the same quality every time as there are so many variables when it comes to brewing,” Brewbot chief executive Chris McClelland said.

“We thought that we could apply technology and come up with a solution so set about it. We started off with some rules about the appliance in that we wanted it to be a piece of furniture as well as a working machine so spent some time considering form-factor as well as technical specifications. It might not be to everyone’s taste but it will be to some. We’re thinking of designing a guide on how to convince your other half to allow a Brewbot to be in the front room!” he added.

While some homebrew nuts will react with horror to the idea of making the brewing process any easier, plenty think Brewbot is on to a winner and have been happy to fund it.

The start-up, which originally began as an app development company called Cargo, sought funds after coming up with the initial idea a few years ago. It raised more than £114,000 (€160,000) from crowdsourcing website Kickstarter to start bringing the product to life in September 2013. It then got a further funding boost when it secured $1.5 million (€1.35m) in an oversubscribed seed round led by Bebo founder Michael Birch last October.

The start-up has used the funding to create a fully-functional production unit and to scale its team, with former employees of Tesla and Dyson among those to join the company recently. Over the past year, the firm’s engineering team has torn the prototype machine apart to test every component of the system. Assembly on the final version of the Brewbot got under way at the end of April with the product due to officially go on sale during the third quarter.

The company has already secured a large number of pre-orders from across the world and while many individual homebrew enthusiasts are keen to get hold of the machine, some craft breweries are also interested.

The Brewbot team has developed a new data and visual format for the app that they call the “DNA of Beer”. This format allows for easy reproduction and collaboration of beer recipes, giving both enthusiasts and microbreweries the opportunity to share and distribute their beer globally without even shipping a bottle.

Among those to get excited about this particular prospect is Chris Treanor, head brewer at Galway Bay Brewery, who can envisage drinkers outside Ireland enjoying their beers.

“We struggle to sell our beer a few hundred miles away, but the Brewbot platform and technology changes everything. All of a sudden, someone in Australia can enjoy our beer. There is a craft beer revolution, but this is a whole different level,” he said.

Mr McClelland is optimistic about the take-up of the product by craft breweries.

“We’re just in the process of raising the volume capability on the machine to between 30 and 40 litres so that opens up commercial market a bit more and so far we have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction from breweries we’ve had contact with. A lot of them have shared the recipes that they use for their beer to brew on the Brewbot so that’s a really exciting potential growth area for us and hopefully for them as well,” he said.

Mr McClelland is the first to admit that assembling a fully-functional production unit has been far from easy. “It has been a journey in terms of working out what materials to use. We’re still tweaking away at it now and I’d say there will be no end to that. We’ve had numerous technical challenges along the way with working out issues such as insulation and how to make the product usable in the US, which has a lower voltage power supply,” he said.

Ahead of the launch of the machine, the company, which now employs 30 people, opened up its first brewpub on the Ormeau Road in Belfast in June. The bar sells 150 different varieties of craft beer from other producers across the world as well as some varieties created by its Brewbot system.

“The bar is going great so far and it’s proving to be invaluable in terms of user experience and product research. We’ve learnt an awful lot from doing this and I can definitely see us opening more brewpubs in the future,” he said.