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PicoBrew's Pico Model C Put To The Test By Veteran Hombrewer Joe Formanek

PicoBrew Model C

In the more than 30 years I have been a homebrewer, I’ve seen remarkable progress in both the homebrewing knowledge base as well as available supplies. When I started, it wasn’t uncommon to find homebrew shops offering old hop pellets stored at room temp, stale extract, and contaminated dried yeast. The exceptional quality and range of ingredients offered now have contributed to a true revolution. Homebrewers today proudly make brews of the highest quality.

The new Pico Model C homebrew appliance fits well in this evolution of the hobby, using typical all-grain ingredients and standard brewing processes to create high-quality beverages.

The Pico C is the latest addition to PicoBrews’ portfolio of automated homebrew appliances, including the Pico Pro and the Zymatic. The Pico C is the simplest system, ideal for use by both brewing neophytes as well as more seasoned homebrewers. And it does a commendable job, although a basic understanding of the brewing process and fermentation is still necessary in order to be successful. 

 

How It Works
The Pico C arrives as a complete system, including the Pico C unit, fermenter, serving keg, and all associated hoses and accessories necessary for operation. Complete instructions are found online and must be printed if you want a hard copy to follow during your brewing. You will also need to purchase separately a PicoPak complete brewing “recipe kit”, which includes a self-contained pack of milled grain (the “grain pak”) along with a smaller “hops pak” and other ingredients, depending on your selected brew. You will then have everything that you need for brewing your first batch of beer, except for the necessary distilled water that you must supply.

There are over 100 PicoPak recipes available on the PicoBrew website for brewing a wide range of beer styles. Many of the PicoPaks have been vetted by award-winning breweries around the world that supplied their recipes to PicoBrew. These selections allow the homebrewer to make a very similar beer to those made commercially available from the breweries.

Additionally, you have the ability to create your own recipe using the FreeStyle PicoPak option on the website. Start with one of ten base recipes and then customize the grains, hops, yeast and dry hops to create your individualized PicoPak.

The Pico C traces its roots to the previous Pico Pro, with a few modifications that bring the price of the equipment down without sacrificing utility. The LED info panel is slightly smaller and molded plastic is used for the front plate instead of stainless steel. An improvement over the Pico Pro is that the company’s proprietary Brew Keg system has been simplified and is easier to clean as a result.

Getting Started
The Pico C is internet-capable and requires you to connect your Wi-Fi to set up an account with PicoBrew and register your equipment. Through this account, you are then able to monitor the progress of your brewing. Instructions appear on the info panel at each stage.

With 3 gallons of distilled water and the brewing kit at hand, click on “first rinse” and follow the instructions to prepare the Pico C for its first brew. You’ll know it’s working because of the noise from the pumps and heater.

The step filter is mounted on a sliding rail in the front of the machine. First, the hops pak is inserted into a metal cradle. Then the grain pak, along with the hops pak in cradle, are inserted into the step filter and slid into the Pico C unit. Once the indicated amount of distilled water is added to the cleaned brew keg and the water reservoir on the top, the machine will detect the kit’s radio-frequency identification and display the information on the panel. Use the knob to select “start brewing” and let the magic begin!

The Process
The mashing and boiling process may be monitored via the PicoBrew website by logging into your account and selecting “Brewhouse” or by simply watching the panel. The brewing steps are of the standard single-infusion type − dough in, combined beta amylase and alpha amylase rest, mash out and boil − and take somewhere between 2 and 3 hours depending on the kit. There is no question that it is a rather noisy unit, so keep that in mind when deciding where to set up. 

Prompts will appear after the mash and boil process is complete to chill the wort to fermentation temps, and then to pitch yeast. The pressure in the fermenter is maintained at around 0.5 psi. The fermentation process can also be monitored by using the PicoFerm unit. This Wi-Fi enabled apparatus attaches to the ports on the lid of the Brew Keg and transmits the pressure and temperature of the fermentation to the PicoBrew website. This allows you to monitor the progress of the fermentation on your smart phone in real time so that you know when it is complete. This is very helpful for those like myself who like to keep track of my fermentations.

Dry hopping might be necessary depending on the recipe kit selected, with all instructions on how to do this supplied by Pico Brew. Afterward, the fermented wort is racked to a 5-liter Mini keg, which is then carbonated and served. The beer can either be carbonated using the supplied dextrose, or by carbon dioxide injection using PicoBrew’s nifty carbonation unit using CO2 cartridges.

While the process is largely automated, some things must be done by hand, such as cleaning the fermenter after fermentation is complete. A basic knowledge of sanitary technique is also important in order to brew a clean product, but the cleaning process is quite easy due to the redesign.

Is It Worth It?
There are a great number of PicoPak recipes and custom options available through the PicoBrew website that may be selected to brew. The kits range from $20-30, or about $4-6 per liter of beer. I brewed the Fate Brewing Co. Moirai Pale Ale as supplied in the package. While I have never had the opportunity to try the beer from the brewery, the homebrewed version turned out quite clean, though a bit hazy and estery, with assertive hop bitterness, moderate hop flavor and aroma on top of a subtle yet layered malt backbone.    

I can see the Pico C serving some very useful functions in the hobby of homebrewing. One added benefit, particularly for a foody like me, is that it has sous vide capabilities where meats can be cooked “low and slow” in a bag to deliver a tender and juicy finished product.  I have not tested this capability yet, but I am planning on it!

Certainly, it is an easy way for someone new to the hobby to brew a beer using standard mash and boil criteria. To the uninitiated, all-grain mashing can seem rather intimidating. I learned the process through a homebrew club demonstration; those without the opportunity to brew with friends can now easily brew an all-grain batch using a vetted recipe. For those with ample brewing experience who find themselves short on time, or who lack the room for an extensive collection of equipment, using the Pico C gives the opportunity to craft smaller batches of quality homebrew. 

If you are interested in learning more about PicoBrew and the Pico C, you can find them online here.
 

Joe Formanek is a veteran award winning homebrewer. He is also a member of The Beer Connoisseur's judging panel for the Official Review. Learn more about Joe and read his reviews here.

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