The Pico C is an all-in-one beer brewing system from PicoBrew. With its small batch sizes and short brew times, the Pico C is aimed at both the beginner homebrewer and the veteran looking to automate some of their process. This is the Power Homebrew review of the Pico C by PicoBrew.
What’s in the box?
The Pico C arrives with nearly everything you need to brew beer from start to finish. The only thing that PicoBrew asks you to provide is a wifi connection, 3 gallons of distilled water, and CO2 cartridges (optional) for when the beer is finished fermenting. For a beginner homebrewer this is very important; it’s tough to know what you will need when you’ve never brewed beer before. It can also relieve a lot of frustration, as nobody wants to take a trip to the homebrew store in the middle of making a batch. The Pico C comes with:
- The Pico Model C brewing machine
- Pico Model C Brew Keg and fermentation temperature decal
- Keg cozy for maintaining brewing temperature
- 5L Serving Keg and dispensing bung plug
- Racking tube for transferring wort from brewing keg to dispensing keg
- Cleaning tab for deep cleaning
- Bucket for measuring and system cleaning
- Hops Pak Cradle
- Step Filter + Lid
- Quick Start Guide
The Pico C brewing machine is surprisingly small for what it does. At 16.5″(H) x 12.5″(W) x 15″(D), it looks more like a cappuccino machine than a brewery. It has a matte black body and a small status screen on the front.
The ‘PicoPak’ recipe packs that you buy separately from PicoBrew contain all the ingredients you will need to make a batch of beer. The grain, hops, yeast, sugar, and even water salts are all included. Picobrew currently has over 100 PicoPak recipes for sale, with more added all the time. The recipes run the gamut from dark stouts to light session ales. The recipes are somewhat customizable; you can tweak the alcohol content and hop bitterness slightly during the brew. These aren’t massive changes, (±5%) but it can be enough to cater a recipe to your specific tastes.
You can create your own recipes for the Pico C, but you can’t use any loose ingredients that you may already have. To brew your own recipe, you need to create and order a PicoPak from PicoBrew using their ‘FreeStyle’ software. Luckily this software is simple to use, and it is easy to build most recipes you have in mind. This can still be a pain if you also brew separately from the Pico and would like to use your own ingredients, but beginners will appreciate the simplicity of the system.
How it works
The Pico C is a small batch brewing machine that brews 5 liter batches. This means that when all is said and done you should have 13 standard 12 oz beers, which is slightly more than you will get with a 1 gallon kit such as the Brooklyn Brew Shop Beer Making Kit. Where this machine really shines over kits like the Brooklyn Brew Shop are its automation and ease of use.
Brewing with the Pico C is made very simple by the fantastic documentation that comes with the machine. The Pico C is shipped with a spiral bound instruction manual, which walks a user through each step of setup and the PicoBrew brewing process. This documentation is a big part of why brewing with the Pico C is so easy. Brewing beer can occasionally be a frustrating experience, which is exactly what PicoBrew is trying to avoid with this product. The step by step instructions are easy to follow and even the screen on the unit itself will help out when it can.
Once plugged in and turned on, the Pico C will prompt you to connect to a wifi connection. After this is set up, the Pico C will run through a rinse cycle to clean the machine before its first use. In all the setup only takes about 20 minutes, meaning you can brew the very day you receive your PicoBrew.
The brewing process on the Pico C is amazingly hands off. First, the PicoPak containing all of the recipe’s ingredients is loaded into the machine, and then the brewing keg and the machine are filled with distilled water. Once turned on, the Pico C will automatically detect which PicoPak has been used and will load the appropriate recipe. Once you hit the start button the Pico begins brewing, and the next 2-3 hours are totally hands off.
Of course, even though you don’t need to check in with your brew doesn’t mean that you won’t want to. You can log into your Pico account online and follow along with the brewing process. A graph is created with the temperature being plotted and filled in as the brewing progresses. Points of interest are labeled on the graph such as dough-in, mashing steps, and any hop additions. Engaging with this feature is entirely optional; if you like you can just start the brewing and forget about it for 3 hours. But for brewers who are looking to learn more about the process and potentially create their own recipes this is an incredibly useful feature! You can start to learn how different mashing temperatures affect the taste or mouthfeel of the beer, and how different hop timings affect the bitterness and aroma.
Speaking of creating your own recipes, you are able to create your own PicoPaks by using PicoBrew’s FreeStyle software. The software has you either starting from scratch and building your beer up from just water, or starting with one of ten beers in different styles and tweaking it. The software is simple to use and features a drag and drop interface. The major stats of the beer are always visible, so you can see the changes to alcohol, bitterness and color as you add or subtract ingredients.
One issue with FreeStyle is that it is fairly limiting. There are 8 types of hops to choose from for your beer. All of the standards are represented, but if your recipe calls for a specific, more exotic hop you will likely have to make a substitution. Because of the format of the PicoPaks, PicoBrew has had to put some limits on the amount of ingredients you can use as well. A grain bill caps out at 96 ounces, which will make a beer at about 8% ABV, and the software won’t let you make a beer above 85 IBUs.
For 95% of the beers you will ever want to brew, the FreeStyle software will handle the recipe with no issues. It is only when you want to create something a bit off the beaten path (think a 100 IBU hop bomb or an 11% winter warmer) that you will run into troubles. Most brewers shouldn’t find this too much of an issue; in fact keeping within the FreeStyle guidelines is more likely to create a beer with wide appeal. For the more experimental brewer however, there are better solutions than the Pico C.
post-brew – Cleaning and fermentation
After the brewing cycle is complete, you are left with a machine full of spent grain and hops and a brew keg full of hot wort. Clean-up is simple due to the nature of the PicoPaks; all of the spent ingredients are still inside the PicoPak, which means no scrubbing hop residue off your brew kettle. Simply put some water into the Pico C and run the clean cycle, and then rinse off the in-line filter and keg wands. Clean-up only takes about 10 minutes, compared to the 30-40 minutes a standard batch normally takes me.
The Pico C utilizes no-chill brewing, where the wort is left to cool down naturally after the boil. So instead of worrying about chillers and ground water temperature, you just put the thermometer decal on the keg and leave it to sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Once the wort is down to pitching temperature, it is aerated and the yeast is pitched, and the beer is left to ferment in the brew keg.
Before it can be served, the beer is racked from the brew keg into a specially made serving keg. At this point you have the option to bottle your beer or to serve it out of the keg. Unlike standard kegs, beer in the serving keg cannot be force carbonated by CO2. The beer must be naturally carbonated by adding sugar and waiting a couple of weeks for the yeast to create the carbonation.
After the beer in the serving keg is carbonated, it is ready to to be drank. Beer from the Pico C serving keg is not pushed using CO2, but is gravity fed out of the keg. This is much simpler than a CO2 system; there is no gas to remember to buy, and you don’t need to balance your beer lines to get a good pour. The downside to this system is that the beer will get slightly less carbonated as more headspace is created in the keg. This is generally not an issue if the keg is drank within a couple of weeks, so in all likelihood will never be noticed.
The PicoBrew Pico C is a fantastic machine that has some limits as to what it can do. Homebrewers looking for a hands-off pilot system to test new recipes may find the limits on recipes frustrating, and other options such as the PicoBrew Zymatic or the Grainfather would be a better choice. For other brewers, the simplicity of the Pico C means that they can make fantastic beer and not have to worry about the details. This machine is perfect for brewers that:
- Want to brew small batches of beer
- Are confused about how to get started brewing
- Aren’t looking to experiment with unconventional hops
- Want a mostly hands-off brewing experience
- Want to make great beer with minimal experience
Want to learn more about how to homebrew beer? See my article on the best homebrewing books!