PicoBrew’s new Pico U, which the company calls “the world’s first universal craft beverage brewing appliance,” does more than brew great beer. The “U” stands for “universal,” because the Pico U also makes kombucha, horchata and milk-based drinks, as well as tea and single-serving coffee.
It’s also small enough to fit on a kitchen countertop — and costs far less than its predecessors. Pico U offers so many brewing options, at a price that’s so attainable, that Donald Brewer, PicoBrew’s VP of sales, calls it the “Instant Pot for brewed beverages.”
The Pico U, which Brewer brought to the Cult of Mac office to show off, at first glance seems like the MacBook Air of homebrewing when compared to PicoBrew’s much bulkier earlier models. The analogy breaks down when you consider how much more powerful, and how much less expensive, Pico U is than its predecessors.
PicoBrew makes homebrewing easy
When PicoBrew‘s first appliance came out a few years ago, it freed beer lovers from the drudgery of homebrewing. However, its high price and its size made it seem more appropriate to a guy brewing beer in his garage than something that could find a place in a regular kitchen.
With Pico U, the company finally cracked the “wife acceptance factor,” Brewer joked.
Measuring just 13 inches by 9 inches by 10 inches, the new brewing appliance is small enough that it will not look out of place next to a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. It can sit unobtrusively on a counter, replacing a Keurig for daily drinks like single-serving coffee — and making it easy to brew up 1-liter batches of a wide variety of exotic drinks.
You can program brewing time, temperature and serving size. The Pico U connects via Wi-Fi and can be controlled by an iPhone app.
The single-serve coffee doesn’t require expensive pods like the popular Keurig machines. That can mean real savings without sacrificing convenience.
“You get a hot cup of coffee in 90 seconds,” Brewer said.
Pico U makes kombucha, golden milk and other exotic drinks
As with its craft beer products, PicoBrew will sell premade ingredient packets that can be composted after use. The company’s PicoPaks typically go for around $25 and produce 5 liters of beer or kombucha.
PicoPak Minis will make 1.3-liter batches of various “fusion beverages” like energy drinks or kombucha. A kombucha pack will set you back about $15 for 5 liters.
“There’s a massive savings on kombucha with our solution,” Brewer said.
Pico U also makes golden milk in about 20 minutes, without the time spent slaving over a double boiler.
Recipes include cold-brew coffee, Thai iced tea, saffron turmeric golden milk, goji-acai kombucha and black rice horchata. Brewer dropped of a sample of that last drink. It tasted wonderfully refined and complex, with none of the chalky residue you sometimes get from the taqueria version of the Latin American drink.
Buy PicoPaks or make your own recipes
PicoBrew’s collection of more than 100 recipes includes some created by the company and some submitted by partner breweries. There’s even a FreeStyle option that lets consumers tweak recipes.
PicoBrew describes the Pico U as a natural evolution of a growing product line. After all, the Seattle-based company already mastered the technology needed to craft outstanding beer with a minimum of fuss.
“Beer brewing is very exacting work,” said PicoBrew CEO Bill Mitchell in a press release. “When pioneering the world’s first craft beer brewing machine, we had to ensure incredibly precise process control to accurately produce great beers from around the world. We realized this technology also enabled the most precise brewing of coffee and tea and began exploring a broader world of brewed beverages. We’re incredibly happy to introduce this breakthrough fusion brewing technology, and to be able to offer it at our most accessible price point ever.”
It turns out the steam pumps and heating system, and the programmability, meant the company’s technology could work for more than just lagers, stouts and ales.
“We conquered the hardest thing,” Brewer said. “Now we can work backwards.”
Brewing beer with Pico U
If you want to brew beer with the Pico U, you need the slightly more expensive deluxe model. With it, you get a larger filter for holding ingredients and a separate 5-liter stainless steel Brew Keg. That can all be stowed out of sight in a cabinet (or the aforementioned garage).
Pull out the extra gear, and you’ve got a full-fledged nano-brewery at your disposal whenever you need it.
“The guy can still make his beer once a month,” Brewer said. It only takes a couple hours to brew a batch of beer. Fermentation takes another week or so.
While some reviews of a previous Pico beer robot complained about the fact it didn’t produce beer instantly, that’s sort of part of the charm. You cannot produce real beer on a dime. It takes time.
PicoBrew’s technology takes some of the grunt work out of brewing, but it also dumbs down the beer-making process a bit. It makes cleanup easier — the Pico U has a self-cleaning mode, Brewer said, and all containers are dishwasher-safe. But it’s still not as simple as pushing a button and pumping out a beer. Again, it’s a brewing machine, not a Kegerator.
Preorder Pico U on Kickstarter today
While I never tested a PicoBrew product, the most common complaint I’ve read in reviews is the pricing — the original Pico listed for $799.
Well, PicoBrew nailed that with the Pico U. The truly amazing thing is that PicoBrew jammed all this additional functionality into a smaller form factor, and is offering it all at a price point similar to high-end Keurig coffemakers.
The only obvious bummer about Pico U? You can’t run out and buy one right now. PicoBrew is launching its latest Kickstarter campaign today, but the final product won’t ship until early 2019.
The basic Pico U starts at $169 on Kickstarter; the deluxe model starts at $189. When the products make it to retail next year, they will list for $249 and $299.
P.S. You can even turn Pico U into a still
If you go for the deluxe Pico U, you can take things one step further down the craft beverage path. The PicoStill distilling attachment and you can even make your own spirits. (Obviously this depends upon the laws in your state or country.)
Brewer brought along a sample of gin produced by the PicoStill. It tasted great. If you’re interested, you can preorder the PicoStill for $249 to work with your Pico U Deluxe.