If you’re an all-grain homebrewer already, or if you’ve been wanting to get into it, but don’t have the space or ability to make it work at home right now, you might be looking into the Picobrew Z Series as an alternative, and hopefully more streamlined, way of making homebrew. If you’re on the fence as to whether or not to buy one for yourself, this Picobrew Z Series review might help you decide.
Let’s dig in and find out more about this thing.
A Homebrewer’s Picobrew Z Series Review
The Pico Z Series came onto the market with a splash of a Kickstarter campaign that drew a good number of supports (and dollars). The campaign alone proves that there were a lot of homebrewers, or potential home brewers, out there who would like to automate as much of the process of brewing as possible.
I mean, let’s face it: homebrewing is somewhat tedious and time-intensive. It can take up to 8 hours from start to finish to brew a batch of beer. What the Z Series can do for you is cut that time in half and streamline the process as much as electronically possible.
No machine can complete the entire process of beer making for you. Obviously there are still cleaning and sanitizing chores to do, both before and after the actual brewing, but this machine can at least automate the rest, leaving you mostly free to enjoy the process and sit back a little more.
How the Picobrew Z Series Works
First, the basics. How does it actually work? It doesn’t look like much – just a standard chrome box with a window. How is this thing going to help me brew beer? It’s actually a pretty interesting set up.
Picobrew has many beer recipes in their system that you can program into the Z Series with a touch of a button, or you can go in and build or tweek your own recipes. That recipe then gets dialed into the Z Series to tell it at which temperatures to conduct the boil and what times to manage the additions of grains and hops.
You can then watch the entire process on the web interface, which tracks and records the data throughout the brew process. This is what makes the system so convenient, instead of watching the temperatures and adding the ingredients yourself, you’ll be able to do something else entire while the machine does the work for you.
As far as the actual process, the Z Series hooks up to a standard corny keg, which holds the water for brewing. When you start the machine, the Z Series draws water from the keg into the hold where it heats it up, then adds it to the grains to complete the mash and boil the wort.
Setting up the machine is rather easy. The step-by-step instructions will guide you through the process. This amounts to filling the keg with the right amount of water, hooking it up to the machine, adding the ingredients and setting the recipe to start brewing. Then you come back a few hours later and chill the beer.
If you’re already a homebrewer, you might find this part of the process a little tedious, as it involves sticking the keg of hot beer into an ice bath and letting the system circulate the beer until it’s properly chilled. Spoiler Alert: this process takes longer than using wort chiller.
Here’s a YouTube video of the machine in action, along with some commentary and testimony from professional brewers.
Here’s another video you can go watch on YouTube, by PicoBrew Master Brewer Annie Johnson that walks you through the entire process of brewing on the Z Series. This will give you a pretty good idea of how it’s all done.
Once the beer is chilled, the machine’s work is done. You pitch the yeast, pop on an airlock and set the keg somewhere cool to ferment for a few weeks. You’ll then have to transfer the beer to bottles or to a different keg to attach to a kegerator.
What is Included With the Picobrew Z Series
You might be wondering what all comes with the Z Series and if you’re going to need to buy additional equipment. If you’re already a homebrewer, you likely already have all the equipment you’ll possibly need. If you’re new to homebrewing, you may need to buy a few extra things that don’t come with the kit.
The Z Series comes with:
- a 5-gallon modified corny keg
- a keg insulating sleeve
- all the necessary connecting hoses
- all the necessary cables for connecting the computer to the machine
- one ingredient kit
Things you might still need to buy in order to fully enjoy the Picobrew Z Series:
- another keg for kegging the beer, or for brewing another batch (2.5 gallons goes fast!)
- if you’re going to bottle your beer, you’ll need bottles, a racking cane, bottle filler, bottle capper and caps
- computer and internet connection (hopefully you already have these, but it’s important to note you can’t brew without them)
- cleaning and sanitizing liquid
How’s the Beer?
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering how’s the beer. Sure, this system can do everything for you and technically make a beer, but is it any good? The quality of the beer does still depend to a large degree on the recipe and the ingredients. The Z Series library of proven recipes that have been made by many other brewers. That doesn’t mean it’s always going to suit your tastes though.
They do have pre-packaged recipe ingredient kits, but you can just as easily get the ingredients from your local homebrew store. The quality of the ingredients always have an effect on the beer.
That being said, the general consensus is that Picobrew Z Series produces a high-quality beer, based on the recipe. This is to say, if you have a good recipe and good ingredients, the Picobrew will produce a good beer. If you don’t happen to like one of the library recipes, you might not like the beer it produces.
We’ve made many recipes that we didn’t really like, due to one or two ingredients, or the choice of yeast, but the one thing the Picobrew can do, and does well, is eliminate any user error reasons for beer that doesn’t turn out well. You don’t to wonder if you screwed something up in the process, because it’s fully automated. And if you want to make the same beer again, that’s entirely possible with the Z Series.
I can see the Picobrew Z Series being most fully appreciated in three scenarios.
If you’re already brewing all-grain batches of beer comfortably at home, you may not benefit greatly from the Z Series as a brewing vessel, but if you want to start experimenting with and improving your recipes, it’s a great way to do so without wasting a lot of beer or dealing with various changes in the beer from batch to batch.
If you’re just getting started in homebrewing and you don’t have a lot of space, or a lot of time, for making your beer, the Z Series Picobrew could be a good investment. If you add up the cost of all the equipment you’ll need for homebrewing, it won’t be too much more to buy the Z Series, and you’ll immediately be able to start making all-grain beers with a lot more ease than you would without this system.
You don’t want to deal with the time-consuming process of brewing beer (i.e. watching the boil, adding the ingredients at the right time, being fully present during the entire process), but you want to make good beer at home easily and quickly, the Z Series is the Cadillac way to do it. If you don’t mind shelling out for the investment, it will be a well-loved machine for this purpose.
If you don’t fall into one of those categories, you might be better off buying a different type of home brewing system, like a the smaller Picobrew Model C, or the more hands-on Brewer’s Edge Brewing System. There are a lot of choices out there for homebrewers. You just have to find the one that’s right for you. Hopefully this Picobrew Z review has been helpful in determining that.
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