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A completely automated brewing system? Mashing, lautering, boiling, hop addition, fermentation, cold crash, storage and serving. All this in one system? Yep! The MiniBrew is a real all-rounder.
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Some weeks ago I got the MiniBrew for testing. Admittedly, I was a little skeptical. As it was standing in front of me after unboxing, I inevitably had to think of a pretty big filter coffee machine. But it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Let’s see what this thing can do.
I have already used various equipment, but a brewing machine that combines all brewing and fermentation processes? Here are a few key questions I asked myself before I started using it:
- How do the automatic hop dispensing systems work and can the Minibrew handle the trub?
- How does it heat and does it cool the wort even after boiling?
- Is the keg conical so that trub can be collected during fermentation?
- How pressure resistant is the keg?
- Is the keg used for boiling? And where do the vapours end up?
- Is the fermentation temperature controlled?
- Can I use my own recipes?
- How do you control the keg?
What is MiniBrew?
The device is a fully automatic mini brewing machine. This means, unlike the Grainfather or the Braumeister from Speidel, it continues to take care of your wort even after boiling.
With this oversized „coffee machine“ (58x48x30cm) you can produce between 5 and 5.5 litres of beer. Oops, this is not much. But if you look at the intention of the producer, it becomes clear very fast, it’s about producing different beers with small volume to have a certain choice of delicious beers. Because you can use unlimited SmartKegs. In these SmartKegs, beer is brewed and then fermented before the finished beer is also draught directly from them. This means: When you are finished brewing, you can already place the next SmartKeg in the system and start another brewing cycle.
Everything is controlled and monitored via app. The kegs are also displayed in the app.
Who is the MiniBrew for?
First of all of course for absolute beginners. If you feel like brewing your own beer without (initially) getting completely into the subject, this machine is great for you. You don’t need any accessories from grain to glass and you only have to do a few steps.
I see another use for it as a pilot brewery. The big advantage of the MiniBrew is the reproducibility of the brewed beers. The temperatures during mashing are always kept exactly, the hop additions can be timed exactly and the fermentation process is controlled. This allows you to experiment with recipes, adjust individual parameters and compare the beers directly with each other.
Control – What is possible?
The MiniBrew is controlled by the MiniBrew app, which is currently only available under iOS, but an Android app is on the way. When you turn it on for the first time, it will create its own network. You can find it in the WLAN settings of your phone and connect to it. Then you can enter your home WLAN and the MiniBrew will connect. In my case it took a few minutes of updates until it was ready for use.
There is no way to control the MiniBrew „out of the box“ without the app and an internet connection. However, the device will go to the next step on its own, so that a failure of the Wifi connection during an active brewing session is not a problem.
In the app you can also order the „Brewpacks“. They contain all the ingredients you need for brewing. There are currently 17 different beers, some of them developed together with established breweries. You can also create your own recipes. For this you need access to the brewing portal. This is not free of charge. The subscription for one year costs 89€.
The app is on the one hand a controller for the brewday and the fermentation, but also a step-by-step guide through the whole process. The app explains every step from brewing to cleaning and serving in text and pictures. Partly there are also small film sequences.
The system and the SmartKeg can be controlled via the chargeable brewery portal as well as via the smartphone app.
Well, now let’s brew some beer! For my first run I chose the Saison „Hainaut“.
Before it really starts you have to open the BrewPack and scan the QR Code in the lid with the app. After that the app knows what you are up to and starts the brewing process with all information about ingredients, mashing program, boiling, hop additions, fermentation temperature and time up to the serving temperature. First of all: You can’t change these parameters and the QR Code can only be used once.
In my package was a bag of crushed malt and oatmeal, a hop package and the Belle Saison yeast. What? The Belle Saison? A rather bitchy and very highly fermenting yeast. Even experienced hombrewers get into trouble with it from time to time. Anyway, we’ll see. There was no information about the malt and the hops. Which I find a pity.
First the system including the SmartKeg is flushed through once. This is also already automated. For this you have to connect the system to water. That surprised me a little. I didn’t assume that after the pictures on the homepage and social media.
There is a hose included in the delivery. The nozzle for the water connection has a 3/4″ female thread. You should consider this when planning. Basically the hose should remain permanently connected with the tap open. Since I connected the hose to the water tap in the kitchen by means of an adapter, I was uncomfortable leaving the system alone without supervision with the tap open. But it was no problem, as the water connection is basically only used for cooling during the brewing process. If a step needs water supply, you were told in the app to check this and then I opened the tap.
Then first put the malt in a large bowl and add the indicated amount of water. After that you have to stir, mix and whisk. Call it what you like, but spread the water well in the malt. The „pre-moistening“ serves to prevent doughballs. The sticky malt must now be transported into the malt basket provided. This operation is a bit difficult, because the basket is not very big.
Now all parts must be assembled. This reminds a bit of Lego especially since everything is made of plastic. But the app helps you and it is possible. Finally, place the hops in the hop bags provided in one of the seven hop compartments. Be careful not to squeeze the bag too tightly. It should lie rather loosely in the compartment so that it can fall out later.
Now fill the SmartKeg with the brewing water and the preparations are complete.
If everything is in, everything is assembled, the mashing starts fully automated. Through the transparent malt basket you can see the water flowing in. In the app you can still follow every step, but you don’t have to click anything. MiniBrew does this on its own.
After Lautering, the wort ends up in the SmartKeg and then starts to boil. You don’t really get that. During this step the hops are added, of course automatically. The hops are in a compartment on a ring. This ring turns like an egg timer. When the hops are over the opening, they fall in. I actually missed this step because I was sitting comfortably on the sofa.
By the way, the hop sack does not fall directly into the wort, but into a filter suspended in the SmartKeg. The filter with hops can then be easily removed after boiling.
I wonder how boiling in the MiniBrew works. Heating must work with a continuous flow heater. But the lid sits on the SmartKeg, that should lead to boiling over and the vapours condense and drip back into the Keg, which should lead to DMS (vegetable taste). Small spoiler: The finished beer had no off-taste at all.
Then we cool. You need cooling water from the tap now. Within about 25-30 minutes the wort was cooled down from 100°C to 25°C. Not a masterpiece, but the counterflow cooler in this unit can not be very large. With the 25°C was by the way the end. Is in the Saison recipe so intended and with it the brewing was also finished after approx. 4 1/2 hours.
After you have removed the SmartKeg from the base station, it is placed on the substructure. Now the yeast is added. The keg should then be shaken to add oxygen. I never aerate dry yeast, so I skipped this step. A trub container is screwed into the bottom of the keg. Now attach the airlock and connect the power supply to the SmartKeg. Afterwards you can find this in the app including information about the temperature and the state of fermentation.
Cleaning the system is quite easy. Disassemble everything and throw away the spent grains or bake a delicious bread. The individual parts all fit in the dishwasher. You can simply rinse the hop bags by hand.
The rest will run automatically again. For this you have to connect the CIP set, throw a dishwasher tab in and then you have to wait for one hour. Yes, one hour! Quite long, I think, but then everything is really clean.
What is a pity is that there is a residual water in the machine after completion of the CIP process. This is also the reason why it is rinsed again at the beginning of each brewday.
Let there be beer – The SmartKeg
The keg has a slightly conical bottom and a kind of ball valve is attached at the bottom. This can be operated via a rotary switch on the side. It is insulated and has two handles for easy transport. On top is the lid with the safety valve and the classic NC connections for beer and CO2. The lid is screwed into the keg. It can withstand a maximum of 60 PSI, i.e. 4 bar. The cooling unit is located at the back of the keg. The fan inside is quite quiet, similar to a PC fan.
When you click on your SmartKeg in the app, you will see a ring consisting of four phases:
The keg runs through these phases automatically. Only a few steps are necessary. On the one hand, the airlock must be replaced by the pressure relief valve in order to carbonise the keg. Secondly, the Trub container must be emptied from time to time. This is then always flooded with CO2 using the pressure reducer and a CO2 cartridge to minimise the entry of oxygen. Towards the end of the process, forced carbonation is also done with it. At the pressure reducer you set the maximum 30 PSI (2 bar) and then you can hear the CO2 hissing into the keg.
My Saison was finished after 16 days. I’m not really a fan of general timing of fermentation. Since you get meaningful results only with measurements. However, I must say that the beer was ready. I measured of course because I was curious. We started at 13 Brix original gravity and after the 16 days the final gravity was at 4.6 Brix. This means that the attenuation percentage was slightly more than 90%. Yes I belong to the refractometer group.
I was really excited about the result and when the app finally told me to sample the beer, all you heard was a „Yes Sir“ and the tap was installed.
A straw yellow, slightly cloudy (but hey, so young and already so clear!) beer flowed smoothly into the glass and was topped by white, fine-pored foam. The smell is typical of the style: fruity esters, slightly floral, somewhat grassy and lemony. Makes you want to take the first sip. The beer tickles on the tongue. The season has little body, but does not seem empty. An extremely dry finish is accompanied by a note that is a bit too bitter for me.
All in all I am actually surprised how good the beer turned out and how well the Belle Saison yeast has been tamed. Really tasty. A great spring beer. The keg is now in the kitchen and it is hard to pass the tap.
By the way, you can now finally set a parameter even without a subscription: The serving temperature of your beer.
First I have to say that the brewday with the MiniBrew went off without any problems. On the next run it will be even more intuitive and I will certainly not have to follow every step in the app.
The device is really an easy to use all-in-one system. You do not need any other accessories from grain to glass. Except maybe a hydrometer. That’s really an announcement! Everything runs automatically, which means: The human source of error is eliminated.
I find the design quite appealing. First of all it takes some getting used to, because you expect something different under a brewery system, but if you see it as an additional kitchen machine, it is an elegant eye-catcher.
The often underestimated fermentation process is controlled. This makes a huge difference to the taste of the finished beer. You can also make bottom-fermented beers at room temperature. The SmartKeg is not a normal NC/CC keg, but much more flexible. You can harvest yeast with the bottom valve and the trub container. The keg is conical, so you always tap clear beer. By brewing, fermenting and tapping in the keg, all potential oxygen ingress due to decanting or bottling is minimized.
For me, one of the biggest plus points is the reproducibility. The process is always the same. That means you can brew every beer exactly the same way again. If you change single parameters, you can see the direct effects very well. A great experimental system to optimize recipes. But the crux of the matter is the upscaling to a larger system.
The MiniBrew is a closed system. Only with the annual subscription you can enter your own recipes or adjust recipe parameters. The connection runs through the server structure of MiniBrew. Should there be any problems here, the device cannot be controlled anymore. Doing a short reset fails. A stand-alone solution would be desirable.
The device consists of many small parts. Should one of them break, you can’t improvise, as often possible with the usual hobbybrewer systems. Spare parts are only available from the manufacturer.
The app is the user manual. I’m really a fan of multimedia and technology, but with a device like this I would simply like to have a small booklet as a user manual, where I can follow the steps and retrace them if necessary. It also works with the app, but the pictures are accordingly small and if you want to go back a few steps to read something, it’s quite fiddly. One reason for this is that there are now two SmartKeg variants. So you always have to check which variant you have in order to get the handles right.
Fun costs. Fact is the machine strikes with 1199€ in the basic equipment and at the end you get 5 liters of finished beer. Considered like this the price is in no relation.
But you have to look at the device in more detail. What do you get for your money?
A mashtun, in which you also lauter and boil, a counterflow chiller, a pressure resistant fermentation tank, a temperature control and integrated cooler, a portable keg, a pressure reducer, a tap… All in one unit. In addition, there is the brew-control with Wifi connection and the CIP set. If you would put together these accessories for the standard 20 litres hobby brewer class, 1200€ would not be nearly enough.
You see, I put this under „Note“ and not under Pro or Contra. I can’t put the price in your order. For one person the investment is out of proportion and for another it is affordable. I just want to show you what you get for the money. And in my opinion, the price is justified.
What I do not find justified is the price of the BrewPacks. These cost between 17,99€ and 32,99€. Let’s assume 18€ for 5 litres. Does that mean, per liter the costs are 3,60€. I brew about 35 litres of beer with my HERMS system. If I would pay 3,60€ per litre then the costs for the ingredients of a brewday would be 126€.
I also disagree with the 89€ for the annual subscription to use the brewing portal. There should be several options. A „test-month“ subscription would offer itself and then staggered prices. For 89€ I would almost tend to a life-long subscription.
My conclusion: I like this thing and I am planning to brew my own recipe with it: A pilsner. It’s a great experimental system for me, but I always look forward to a brewing day, because that’s when I get involved in brewing beer. It’s fun to be part of the process and to get to grips with it. With the minibrew you can’t do that. But the result is really great. So when it comes to producing beer as simply and compactly as possible, the MiniBrew is perfect.