The Picobrew Zymatic countertop brewery is cool looking, that's a given, but guess what... it actually makes great beer and can work with almost any equipment in your home brewery.
I spent 3 years building a propane brewing stand with dual pumps, a control panel for mash temp control and many other features. She was a thing of beauty. My brew days averaged about 10 hours from start to finish on the 20 gallon system. With equipment setup, cleaning, sanitizing, mashing, boiling, chilling, aerating, yeast pitching and cleaning again I was wiped out after brew day. Mosquitoes biting my legs the entire time in summer and sweating my ass off in 100 degree Texas heat were other added bonuses. The idea of this type of system ended up being more romantic than the actual operation.
As I stepped up from 5 gallon batches to 10 and then eventually to 20 gallon, the less I actually brewed. My time had become very limited and a 10 hour brew day was the opposite of what I wanted. I learned that putting together new recipes and creating unique beers was what I really enjoyed about brewing.
There were a lot of "Set It and Forget It" style brewing machines popping up on the scene like the (GrainFather, Braumeister, and Zymatic). I was very skeptical about this type of brewing. It seemed like a big coffee maker and wouldn't all the fun be lost?
I went with the machine that made smaller all-grain batches and seemed to have a quick cleanup. With the Zymatic the batches were smaller (2.5 gallons) and consumed quicker which meant I would get to brew more often and the beers would actually be more coveted. Supply and demand at its finest.
So, why did I ditch my 20 gallon all-grain brewing system in exchange for the Zymatic? Different things are important to different brewers at any point in their brewing career. Time, space, and repeatability were important to me at that moment and the Zymatic claimed to be faster, easier to clean and would repeat great beer every time.
I'm sure my brewing priorities will change again at some point in my life, but for now this is where I am.
My wife kicked my brewing efforts outside over a decade ago because the smell from the boil engulfed the house. She's not a fan of the 'brewery smell' like I am. She also hates the fact I trash the kitchen with equipment and leave sticky puddles everywhere.
The first time I brewed on the Zymatic, she didn't even know I was brewing until she walked through the kitchen. The machine definitely kicks off less steam and smell than the rolling boil of a kettle on the stove.
The machine can hold up to 9 lbs of grain, has 4 hop/adjunct baskets and has a powerful recipe customizer that allows a lot of freedom with recipe creation.
At the time of this review I have brewed around 25 beers with the machine. The first 5 batches made ok beer, but the final product was lackluster. Everyone agreed that something was off in comparison to brews I had made with my other brewing systems. After reading in the Zymatic forum how to use the Advanced Recipe Creator, I found the machine had more capabilities than I was aware of. Tweaking the machine for more efficient advanced mashing, chilling faster and hop bursting in the keg has produced some of the best beers I've ever made.
Here's What I Got
My new brew day (in the kitchen) is 4 hours start to finish with some planning. The Zymatic saves you some serious setup time, cleaning time and space. My favorite part of the machine is its versatility. You can essentially pause a brew session at any point and add in any type of equipment you want. Cornelius fittings added to almost any piece of brewing equipment makes it easy to plug and play chillers, hop backs, barrels or any other infusion/fermentor vessel with the Zymatic. There really is no limit to how creative you can be with the machine.
Here are few other setups I have done...
ZYMATIC to Keg
ZYMATIC to Ss Brew Bucket
ZYMATIC to Fast Ferment
ZYMATIC to Carboy
ZYMATIC to Barrel
Advanced Mashing & Recipe Creator
The advanced recipe creator allows you to choose between a single infusion mash at a single temperature or a high efficiency mash schedule, which will allow much more control for Dough-In, Protein Rests and Saccharification Rests.
Here are a few examples that really helped me understand what the possibilities are.
I want to mash for 30 minutes at 148F and then (without draining) raise the temperature to 154F and mash for 60 minutes.
I want to do some first wort hopping (heat up to boil temperature while circulating through hops in the first compartment)
I want to add some acid malt near the end of mash (after 70 minutes) by taking out the step filter and putting acid malt on my other grains and mashing for 10 more minutes.
I want to try flameout hopping the hops I put into hop cage #2 by circulating through the hops while connected to my chiller.
What I Did Wrong in the Beginning
My Exprience with Picobrew Support
After brewing more than 25 batches on the machine and putting all the parts in the dishwasher after each brew I could see the plastic parts starting to become brittle. Eventually a crack formed on the main step filter (the plastic bin the grains and hops go into). So, I emailed the support team and I had a replacement step filter in the mail the next day. The new step filter had some dishwasher draining tabs, so they are always making improvements when they see an issue.
The support team told me not use alkaline cleansers or acid based sanitizers like PBW, OXYCLEAN, StarSan or BLC. Only use Picobrew cleaning tabs. Zymatic moves "boiling" wort through all the parts of the machine during the brew, which removes the need to sanitize the internals.
Overall, one of the fastest and nicest support experiences I have ever had.
The Zymatic has made me think about brewing differently. Just as when I built my 20 Gallon pilot system, it made me think different from the 5 gallon extract batches I started with.
I would suggest this type of all-in-one brewing machine to those that have a well rounded understanding of all-grain brewing. If you don't, go get yourself a few Igloo coolers, brew kettle and a good brewing book. Learn to make beer the traditional way first and you will have a better understanding and appreciation of what machines like the Zymatic can offer you on brew day.
|Christian Lavender is a father, husband, computer geek, beer writer and homebrewer in Austin, TX. He currently brews on Picobrew's Zymatic and enjoys styles ranging from hoppy barrel aged barley wine to funky sours.
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