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Lumberjack-style home brew versus BrewArt

Eat | Drink | Explore

Homebrew has certainly become a lot less messy and much more high-tech - now, you can even use wi-fi to monitor fermentation. John Krüger puts the latest kit to the test and gives his verdict on the end result.

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When I first really got into brewing at home around 15 years ago, I’d go out into the shed early on a Saturday morning and mill up a heap of malted barley with a hand-cranked corn mill.

I’d work up a sweat and be covered in a fine sticky malt flour before coming inside for a shower.

There’d still be mashing, boiling, chilling and adding yeast to go after I was cleaned up. It’d take the majority of a full day.

It was kind of like the lumberjack version of brewing: messy, lots of work, but very rewarding in the end.

I was interested to try out Coopers’ new BrewArt equipment designed for home-brewing. A system that’s more like a high-tech coffee machine than hand-cranked mills and low-tech bits and pieces put together in a shed.

The term “home-brewing” is slowly losing its negative connotations, which were well deserved in the ’70s and ’80s when old guys in terry-towelling hats and footy shorts knocked up rough and ready brews that consisted mostly of white sugar, utilised no temperature control for fermentation, and usually had some kind of infection that rendered the final product dry as chips and decidedly funky, in a bad way.

Although marketing departments are still madly trying to come up with another label, “home-brewing” is the term I choose to use as it describes the process perfectly … and those ’70s beers were a long time ago.

BrewArt is quite the opposite of those old days of measuring out kilos of white table sugar, and the system itself is quite a blast to use if, like me, you love gadgets. It comes in two parts: the fermentation unit called the “BeerDroid”, which brews the beer, and a separate dispensing system called the “BrewFlo”, for pouring cold carbonated beer from a tap.

The fermentation unit is a temperature-controlled device, complete with wifi, that can be controlled from a smart-phone and even send push notifications alerting the brewer when different stages of the process are finished.

Although you could still use the 10L system for all-grain fermentation, it’s really set up for a much easier process of ordering brew packs called “Brew Prints” online and fermenting these. They’re smart packages that remind me of astronaut snack pouches. Each one is custom-made to suit the capacity of the fermenter perfectly, so there’s no measuring and minimal mess.

For my brews, I chose an Irish Stout and an American Pale Ale. Although making your own custom brews would be fairly straightforward, I decided to try a few of the standard off-the-shelf Brew Prints. These are available through an extensive online store and the details of the brews ordered are added to your smart-phone app.

The dried malt extract can still be a bit messy, but the hop and priming sugar additions are all in simple squeeze packs with no mess and no can openers involved.

Once the fermentation is complete, the phone app and unit both let you know that it’s either time to bottle your beer like old-school home-brew or keg into custom 5L plastic kegs. The addition of liquid sugar for the kegs or solid sugar drops in bottles supplies nourishment for the yeast to go through “secondary fermentation” which is enough yeast activity for CO2 to be produced, resulting in fizzy beer.

Traditional kegging can be a minefield of infected beer lines, wrong pressures, gas leaks and expensive gas bottle hire. BrewArt has a smart work-around for this. Each brew goes into a new clean plastic liner that goes inside the keg. Then it’s primed with liquid sugar (so no CO2 bottle hire).

After two weeks, the phone app reminds when secondary fermentation is complete and the mini kegs are then stored in a fridge or chilled one at a time in the dispensing unit.

But how do they stop the keg going flat when the plastic bag is only half full? An air compressor pressurises the gap between the keg and the plastic liner, so the beer pressure is always the same. Now that’s smart!

A small connecting line between the keg and tap is replaceable, so instead of having to clean out the beer lines, it’s just occasionally replaced with a new piece of line. There also seems to be some kind of filter in the keg liner because the beer was surprisingly clear. The beer always poured well from the start of the keg down to the last pint.

I decided to get some beer-loving friends to drop by to taste the beers and give their feedback. One pale ale lover was mightily impressed with the American Pale Ale. Raised eyebrows and quite a few pints ensued.

Another dark beer enthusiast loved the Irish Stout, which was my pick of the two, only by a whisker. The mouth-feel was the icing on the cake.

Pros: It looks cool. It’s shiny and black and has cool lights and buttons. Seeing it set up in the kitchen, everyone who walked in immediately asked: “Oh, what’s that?” It’s quite simple to use, although for first time you need to watch a series of online instructional videos, which are easy to follow.

Cons: You’ll need to buy a magnetic Phillips-head screwdriver or rub a magnet in one direction on a screwdriver before you try to put the tap on the dispensing unit. Otherwise you’ll swear quite a bit. Also, as smart as the compressor idea is, it’s a little noisy for a surreptitious beer before bed.

John Krüger is an Adelaide-based photographer and home brewer with a passion for good beer. He’s on the Royal Adelaide Beer and Cider Awards committee, and has served for a number of years as a beer judge with the awards. Read more of his beer reviews here.

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