MiniBrew – Part 1

Happy birthday to me!

For my 28th, I asked for money from my relatives – the reason being “MiniBrew”. MiniBrew is an “all-in-one” brewing device with smartphone capability. I’ve had a few shots at brewing including;

Given my work commitments and love of technology, the thought of a semi-automated device, which can link to an iOS device was very attractive. Be aware though, it’s an expensive product and would only suggest purchasing it, if you are a brewer wanting to test out small batches or are seriously into your beer! Safe to say, I’m the latter.

My MinBrew arrived shortly before my birthday. In the UK, you can buy the kit through Beerwulf or directly from MiniBrew themselves. In addition to this you need a keg (which comes with the base station, though additional are available to purchase), a service pack and some core ingredients – if you buy the starter pack you can get a service/3 different beer boxes as one delivered set. One of the features I really admire about MinBrew is the fact that you can brew from kits, or you can experiment with your own raw materials (water, malt, hops and yeast – + any other additives that you desire!). In order to test out the device I went for the starter pack, which contains the service kit (needed for cleaning purposes afterwards) and three beers;

  1. Hazy Daze, session IPA
  2. Wiltenburg Lager
  3. Wiltenburg Weizen

For my first MiniBrew brewing experience, I chose Hazy Daze. In terms of the base station, it’s actually quite easy to put together. It came in three separate boxes; base station, brew packs and keg. If you download the MinBrew App it talks you through the building of your machine, ensuring that your brewery jigsaw is slotted together correctly. I set the machine up in about 1 leisurely hour, hooked it up to my home wifi and was ready to tackle my brew project the next morning! I was wondering the best way to “clean” the machine before first use, thankfully a helpful Facebook group advised me that this was going to happen via the smartphone app.

I got up bright and early the next day, like a child waiting for Santa to come. I unpacked my Hazy Daze, hit “new brew”on the app, scanned the QR code on the pack and was ready to brew. Unfortunately I had to update my smart keg, though this was a brief 20 min delay. Once connected to wifi and the upgrade had completed, I am nearly ready to begin making my very own beer! The initial cleaning process was very straightforward. The mobile application easily guides you through step-by-step, advising where to attach each component and when to start your water supply. I managed to hook MiniBrew to an outdoor tap, with the waste pipe slotted into the sink. The cleaning process took approximately 20 mins and now, I’m definitely ready to brew! If you have a keg, become familiar with the open/close valve at the bottom of the keg – as if you were to open this at the wrong time, it could make a big mess!

Contents of a brew box

First thing was to get my components of my brew ready. I unloaded the Hazy Daze box and placed the grains into a large pot. Water was added and the contents were mixed together. The mixed components were then placed into the mash-tun and slotted above the smart keg which contained approximately 6 litres of drinking water. After this, the next 3.5 hours were automated, though I was slightly nervous, hoping I had screwed my water connection tight enough to the base unit and waited anxiously beside the machine in case I turned my kitchen floor into a pond! 

“Green” meaning connected and ready!

The process was really, really smooth. The water was heated to approximately 75˚C and the beer was mashed for roughly an hour. Curiosity in me won, I touched the mash-tun, just to check the temperature – yup it was warm! Surprisingly, however, the keg remained at room temperature – proving its engineering power and the amazingly insulation within the copper coloured keg. It was incredibly satisfying to watch the grain become fully saturated with the hot water, making what the brewing communiy to as wort.

After the mashing stage was complete, boiling began, heating the beer to nearly 100 ˚C for a further hour, with a single “hop drop”. Note: there was a brief puff of bubbly aromatic residue, which is known to sometimes occur and can be easily wiped away (i.e. don’t worry if this happens to you!). For those of you that are unaware, hops – which typically look like little green pellets, are dropped into the wort and depending on the properties desired from the different hops e.g. aroma, flavour or bitterness, is as a result from the duration and temperature they are exposed to. Given that this beer only involved one hop drop, the contents of my hop bag were placed into slot number one of the hop carousel. The hop carousel is the top that sits about the mash-tun and rotates at set points depending on how many hop drops there are. The hops themselves, are placed in saturated hop bags, ensuring they fall into the brewing liquid at the right times.  My single hop drop proceeded without question early on in the boil and the wort was left simmering into the keg. After boiling, cooling occurred and there was a brief jolt of the hose (and me!) as water began to flush through the system, aiming to chill the wart to 25 ˚C as quickly as possible, which was achieved in a further 20mins.

Mash in the mash-tun

At this point, in a typical brewing process, it would be expected to siphon the beer into a fermenting vessel for the next stage, though with MiniBrew, it all occurs in the Smart Keg. I took my keg into the spare room and placed it onto the stand. I plugged it in and within a minute or two, it had connected onto the local wifi. From here, I added my second batch of hops (for dry hopping), gave the keg a brief shake as instructed by the app and added an airlock. Throughout this I was taking great care for sanitation reasons, trying to minimize any possible risk of infection from this sterile liquid. Infection/contamination = bad beer. A trub was added at the base of the keg, for sediment that will accumulate during the fermentation/conditioning. Currently, this beer is 2 weeks away from drinking! I can’t wait.

Now it was time for the cleaning process, a few clicks, a washing tablet and it was ready to go. This cleans out the pipes in the MiniBrew base station. I tipped out the malt grains into the organic waste bin, but before this I sampled it. From my previous brewing experiences, I had learned that the used grain, should be bland, as all the starches and sugars removed during mashing. Quick check – yup, no flavour whatsoever. It was at this point I became really optimistic about the beer.

Had a cheeky BrewDog Elvis Juice whilst cleaning up!

All in all, this was an incredibly smooth process. A few clicks on an app, three-four hours later and the brew was complete. I’ll have a few small steps to complete my brew over the next two weeks and I’ll get a handy notification about when these are due. From a brewing perspective, it is incredibly simple and easy to walkthrough even for a novice. Though personally, I found that via previous brewing experience, I was more familiar with equipment, terminology and the processes involved during brew day – even though much of this was automated. I wouldn’t say that this was a mandatory requirement for those looking to enter the homebrewing world.

Advantages of MiniBrew;

  • Simple to use
  • Smartphone and online integration
  • All in one system
  • Minimal odour (home brewing can be quite pungent!)
  • Flexibility of using brew packs and own ingredients
  • Temperature regulated allowing controlled fermentation – giving home brewers greater fleibility of what can be brewed at home

Disadvantages

  • Cost, at over £1000, this is an expensive “toy” particularly when one can home brew for <£40, via a stove pot, thermometer, kettle and a bucket/demi-jar.
  • Only iOS compatible, though there is a work around if you sign up via the brewery portal (€89 a year), android app in development
  • Users need to have a reliable internet conneciton
  • As the device comes from mainland Europe, an adapter (which comes included when bought through beerwulf) for UK mains is required. Ideally however, you actually need two adapters, one for the base station and one for your keg once you’ve brewed, so a trip to your local supermarket may be needed.

So for now, it’s a waiting game. I’ll keep you updated on how Hazy Daze turns out. Here’s it bubbling away in the Smart Keg

Bubling away, 2 weeks until ready to sample!

If you have any questions on how MiniBrew works, how to use your system or advice then please get in touch

Best wishes

Dr Beer

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