This weekend is the sold-out Great American Beer Festival in Denver, a celebration of craft beer and the delicious results offered when the mighty quartet of hops, grains, yeast and water collide.
Though humans have brewed beer since the time of Mesopotamia, it wasn’t until recently that beer moved from a populist elixir to a gourmet beverage via the microbrewery and craft beer movements.
And the craft scene is, ahem, hoppin’ with cities like Asheville, North Carolina, boasting one beer brewery per 8,000 people.
With this perfect storm of increasing demand for artisan beer and multiplying breweries with novel approaches to producing it, it was only a matter of time before makers and techies got involved.
Parallel with the explosion of craft beers is the hobby of homebrewing, which is becoming more high tech with each batch. The crowdfunded BrewNanny takes much of the guesswork out of brewing, replacing the fermentation lock with a small sensor that monitors temperature, fermentation, light and other factors that affect the quality of the wort (pre-beer).
If anything goes awry, the BrewNanny sends alerts wirelessly to connected devices. Additionally, the BrewNanny offers guidance throughout the brewing process, and the beautiful dashboard interface lets homebrewers visualize the health of beers.
For homebrew masters looking to automate the process even further with technology, enter the Brewbot. Brewbot includes both the hardware (mash tun, kettle, etc.) and software (mobile apps) to provide a complete brewing setup out of the box.
While Brewbot will certainly find a market with hobbyists who enjoy considerable expendable income, it more importantly can help small businesses interested in breaking into the booming beer market to quickly put out a consistent and sophisticated product without taking up much space, all the while allowing the user to experiment with recipes sans the oft-tedious process.
The Brewbot process is remarkably simple: you dump in the ingredients purchased from your local homebrew shop, input the desired recipe into the mobile app and Brewbot takes it from there — from the boiling to fermentation.
Like BrewNanny, Brewbot comes packed with sensors that send connected devices vitals on the health and readiness of the beer. Unlike BrewNanny, Brewbot handles all the particulars itself, only alerting you when ingredients need to be added. Though not yet available on the market, Brewbot (just under $4,000) currently accepts pre-orders.
Of course, there is also far less intensive (and cheaper) beer technology. Apps such as iBrewMaster and BrewPal have become the industry standard in terms of sharing and organizing personal brewing, and are both wildly popular.
San Antonio-based developer Monks Toolbox exclusively builds apps for homebrewers and businesses. One of their products, Batch It, provides a cloud-based solution to managing all the logistics of the brewing process — keeping stock of inventory, saving favorite recipes, tracking the progress of current batches and more. It’s a veritable Swiss army knife for keeping your brewing organized, and will be available in Beta in the near future.
Their other product, OnTap, helps restaurants and bars manage rotating craft taps. OnTap creates a clean, mobile-responsive interface for the bar or restaurant’s website, providing an easy and user-friendly way for businesses to keep an always up-to-date and accessible draft list for patrons and employees. The app also provides metrics on bestselling drafts, average keg life, menu-driven traffic and other valuable information. It’s now free for a limited time.
At Intel Developer Forum, Doug Davis, head of Intel’s Internet of Things group, pulled a pint from the Steady Serv iKeg, which collects data on consumption habits, accessible through a mobile app. It measures data about inventory, allowing bar managers to never get stuck with kegfuls of old beer. It can also track the weather and how it could affect drinking habits — a cooler day, say, could mean patrons would cozy up to a cream ale instead of a summery IPA.
Richard Beckwith at Intel Labs suggests “big data” might be the next big trend in beer technology.
“Let’s say a brewery notices that their ferment just isn’t progressing. They’ve got their recipe and their protocol, but it’s not doing what it normally does, so what do they do? If lots of breweries were to have data online, you could imagine an easier diagnostic process,” Beckwith said.
“With lots of others doing it, you can imagine data being online that would help, and with enough metadata associated with it, you could simply let the machine know what you’ve been doing, and it would let you know what the problem might be.”
In other words, as homebrewing tech makes its way to production breweries, we can all look forward to more consistent and, quite possibly, better beer.