Friday, January 13, 2012

Automated Brewing Systems for Home Brewers, some thoughts

Brewing beer is an expensive hobby, if you look at it:
:- one way - up front capital outlay for gorgeous equipment; or
:- another - endless tinkering with pots, and stands, and burners, and valves, and pipes, and bottles, and kegs, and, and...

But, when compared with other hobbies and past times, like:
:- motocross, speedway, go carting, sailing, gliding, flying - too ambitious?
:- mountain bike riding, trekking, mountaineering, skiing, hunting - too left field?
:- re-enactment pastimes (SCA), theatre, opera, ballet - going out each week/month to watch?
:- semi-professional sports, photography, chess, scat, paintball, skermish, etc.

its not hard to chalk up 10-20 grand on good quality, specialist equipment as you progress and find you need this bit of equipment, and then that bit, enter this competition, or go to that location, so on and so forth. Thus in comparison, brewing as a hobby is pretty much on par with many of the other past times listed above, comparatively cost wise.

However, brewing is one of those past times where, very often, our "Other Half," doesn't understand or see the rationale for the progressive, ongoing  increase in production scale and spiraling expenditure.

What's prompted this particular missive was a recent cruise through a few online brew shops and their 'automated brewery' options. The majority of these, technically are only automated or semi-automated brewhouses, some are fermentation to font kits, very very few appear to be complete, turnkey, grain to glass brewing systems.

Lets have a look at a few examples...
Single Pot Brewhouses - Prices vary from low cost to mid-range 'expensive'
Gambrinus 1
Braumeister
Bruaeule


Twin Pot Brewhouses - these tend to be at the higher end of, 'expensive'
Picobier (love to test one, but I recon I've got Buckley's Chance* of getting one of these)
Kleinbrauerei


Multi-pot Brewhouses - Vary in cost depending on self-assembly or built in place to order
Brew Sculptures
Brutus 10
The Electric Brewery
BrewMagic


Extract to Glass - There's only one of these as far as I know, and its at the high end of expensive
WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery (love to test one of these in series with a Picobier, but I recon I've also got Buckley's Chance of testing one of these)

**New! (Update, 6 Oct, 2013)
Automated All Grain - This brewing system called, PicoBrew Zymatic looks like shipping in 1st quarter 2014 and currently garnering Kickstarter Funding.

Then of course (Price On Application, third mortgage on your house systems), there are the pilot brewery systems designed for prototyping in large brewery research facilities, university courses etc. alongside micro malting equipment, pilot scale bottling/packaging lines  and so forth and onwards and upwards from there.

As you can see the upfront cost of such equipment, especially the automated and beautifully systematised equipment, is well outside the weekly/monthly family budget of the average hombrewer, and the cost per glass of beer produced on such systems, especially if you have a 200L/yr brewing limitation, takes it well over $10.00 per serve**. So, why target homebrewers with these beautful systems resplendent in their engineering simplicity and frugal arrangement of space? They offer us, the average home brewer a tantalising glimpse of what is possiblle, a hint of what, Brewery Equipment Perfection might look like.

Brewing Equipment Perfection... ahhh! Nirvana! Such bitter-sweet seduction!

Home brewers, apart from having an undescribable deep need and desire for making great beer, are also backyard inventors, tinkerers of the nth degree that have a consuming passion to cobble together found bits and pieces, experimenting with this and that, trying to improve their beer making process by trying to improve, fine tune, and streamline their production process; and to do this with as minimal, traceable, cost as possible - after all we have to keep our CCBW*** or KPS**** happy enough to continue to indulge us in this hobby.

It is in this context then that such systems have their true value. They offer most home brewers who can't afford them a bright, shiny goal to aim for. For those of us blessed with an open, all expenses paid, pocket book... prestige. And for those of us who have realized the futility of the Tinkerer's Pursuit as a never diminishing financial black hole, this equipment offers us a chance at Hobby Brewer's Redemption - Buy once and then spend little more or nothing again for the next 25 years to Life, on maintenance and upkeep, and swear before God and Country, with our better halves as witness, to stay the course and never to indulge in another 'expensive' hobby ever again.

Until next time,

Its Your Shout, Mate!

____________________
* Buckley's & None - when one wishes for something virtually unattainable, we usually have two very good chances of success. These are: Buckley's Chance, and None, i.e. no chance, no way, no how.

**Unless you amortise the cost over a 25 year period, which brings the cost back to something close to $2.00/L, based on a $10,000.00 system - not including cost of ingredients, oncosts, maintenance and operating costs.

*** CCBW - Chief Cook & Bottle Wash(er)

**** KPS - Keeper of the Purse Strings

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