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How to Make Beer Taste Better with Smart Brew Tech

We write about emerging technologies at Nanalyze because we fundamentally believe that advancements in areas like artificial intelligence and robotics will make life better in tangible ways – and investors need to understand the companies behind the curtain. These technologies can obviously be abused to oppress people (or create a great society, depends on who you ask), especially as companies vacuum up all of the big data out there for purposes ranging from sales to surveillance. But we’re living in an extraordinary time when technology may help us live longer, help the blind to see, and fix stuff before it breaks. That’s why we’re particularly excited to see technology being applied to one of the oldest industries in the world. No, we’re not talking about sex robots – at least not yet. This article is about how to make beer taste better with smart brew tech.

We live in extraordinary times, with some 7,000 craft beer breweries in the United States alone. But news stories over the last few years have shown that people are turning away from beer, especially the swill produced by Big Beer companies. We assumed that was because more people are now enjoying legal marijuana. It turns out the bigger concern is that no one goes out to bars to hook up anymore, relying on things like DNA dating apps for meeting that special one-night stand.

Market map of beer tech startups.

Credit: CB Insights

That’s forcing the beer industry to embrace new types of technologies to compete and attract new consumers. Below we highlight some of the interesting startups, as identified by the bright minds at CB Insights in the market map above, which are finding new ways to create, brew, and pour better beer.

Beer Brewed with AI

Click for company websiteYou knew there would be at least one company claiming it’s using artificial intelligence to make beer taste better. A London-based brewery founded in 2016, IntelligentX is claiming the title of the first beer brewed with AI. And, yes, there’s even a TedX video about ABI, Automatic Brewing Intelligence. The idea is that the ABI constantly improves beer recipes by engaging with consumers via an app, sort of a chatbot for beer. The IntelligentX model also hits on one of the recurring tech themes today in everything from healthcare to footwear – personalization.

Data Make Beer Taste Better

Click for company websiteSan Diego-based startup The 5th Ingredient, founded last year, adds another ingredient to the core list of water, malt, yeast, and hops – data. The Software as a Service (SaaS) startup has created Beer30, which tracks about 100 data points from grain to glass. That can help provide insights into why batches of the same beer turn out with different tastes or why one is taking longer to ferment, for instance.

Data-driven insights into beer-making process.

Data-driven insights into beer-making process. Credit: The 5th Ingredient

Started by a pair of former San Diego area brewery employees, The 5th Ingredient is focused mainly on local breweries under 7,000 barrels, with hopes of raising a little venture capital for expansion this year, according to the San Diego Business Journal.

Breaking the German Beer Purity Law

Click for company websiteFounded in 2015, Sandymount Technologies is an MIT spinout of sorts based in the Boston area that raised $3.4 million last year. Sandymount is challenging the 16th century German Beer Purity Law by removing – at least temporarily – one of the allowed ingredients in beer: water. The startup has developed what it calls Revos hyperfiltration, a low-temperature, membrane-based technology that can remove up to 80% of water from beer, without messing with the flavors or aromas. The company’s business proposition for basically dehydrating beer is a simple one: It makes it a lot cheaper to transport to distant markets, where it can then be reconstituted. We’re all about cheap beer that still tastes great.

Automated Beer Brewing Systems

The human race is lazy if not inventive. We’ll spend millions of R&D dollars to build things so we can do less work, especially if it involves cleaning up after ourselves. How else to explain the coffee pod craze? It’s the same concept behind a new generation of automated beer brewing systems targeted for both amateur and professional brewers. While some may argue these companies are taking the craft out of craft brewing, time is money – and you’ll need a wad of it to afford some of these systems.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2010, Seattle-based PicoBrew has raised $15.1 million between traditional venture capital and crowdfunding. The company’s flagship product is the PicoBrew Pro. Brewers can choose from more than 100 PicoPaks – coffee pods for brewers – that contain the grains and hops needed to brew a tasty beverage. The machine does most of the work, and is WiFi connected so you can monitor the brew while you do value-added work elsewhere.

The company also produces more sophisticated models for professional brewers who want to experiment with small batches, and a PicoStill for the true raging alcoholic amateur distiller out there.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2015, Dutch startup MiniBrew has raised about $7.5 million over multiple rounds for what really looks like a super-sized coffee maker. Like PicoBrew, MiniBrew comes with its own app for remotely managing the brewing process. Brewers also use the app for ordering ingredient packs through MiniBrew. The company has sold more than 600 units, which retail for about $1,360 (though not yet available in the U.S.).

Click for company websiteFounded in 2015, AIBrew out of Los Angeles has convinced people to give it about $1.1 million in crowdsourced funds for the iGulu. About the size of a bread box, the iGulu brews and dispenses beer all from the machine. While the iGulu can be operated with a few touches on the screen pad, the app allows you to monitor the machine and geek out with other beer geeks, among other functions.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2014, Budapest-based Brewie takes automated beer brewing to the next level, with the price tag ($1,999) to go with it. But you get “smart sparging” and an “anti-boil algorithm” among the bells and whistles, brewing beer from start to finish in four to six hours. The best part is that it is self-cleaning.

The company counts professional breweries like Carlsberg among its customers, who use the system to brew test batches.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2016, BrewFirst in the Los Angeles area offers what it characterizes as a commercial brewery in the size of a European washer/dry set. The machine can produce as much as 90 barrels, about 31 gallons, per month, if operating 12 hours per day. The company claims no brewing experience is necessary, which maybe isn’t the best way to start a brewing business.

BrewFirst brewing automation process.

It’s a six-step process to becoming a commercial craft brewer. Uh huh. Credit: BrewFirst

BrewFirst also claims it can cut the cost of making craft beers by up to 80%.

Smart Taps

The concept of tracking flow may at first bring to mind smart menstrual products. If so, you’re not drinking enough beer, because nothing kills a beer buzz faster than menstruation. Here are a couple of startups helping brewers squeeze every drop of beer out of each keg with smart taps.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2016, Raleigh, North Carolina-based BruVue has raised about $1.1 million for its smart tap sensor technology. The sensors fit over any tap, tracking keg levels in real-time. That not only saves back strain from lifting kegs to check on how much beer is left, but helps with inventory control. BruVue says its customers can save an average of $50 per tap in losses. And it can all be managed through a smartphone app.

Founded in 2015, San Francisco-based Pubinno has nickeled and dimed its way to about $765,000 in funding. Its Smart Tap II system is supposed to mimic a bartender, “learning how to pour from user behavior and sensory data just like an autonomous car.” Such optimization, the company claims, can save up to 20% per keg instantly.

Pubinno smart taps do everything but drink the beer.

Pubinno smart taps do everything but drink the beer. Credit: Pubinno

Tap II comes with a bevy of other features, such as monitoring temperature, pressure, cooling system health, keg freshness, and keg line maintenance. In addition, the app can help with sales management, forecasts, and inventory management.

Smart Keg Scales

Click for company websiteFounded in a little town outside of Indianapolis in 2012, SteadyServ has amassed nearly $20 million for its smart scale technology that tracks inventory at the source rather than at the tap. The connected scales work with the company’s iKeg app, which like Pubinno’s Tap II, also provides insights into the inventory of inebriation, predicting what beers might do well in the lineup based on past sales.

Conclusions

We suspect the beer tech craze is only getting started, as startups try to add value throughout the production and distribution chain in order to make beer taste better and make more money along the way. The scene is still mainly in the early stages, and looks to remain niche for quite some time, though IntelligentX Brewery has some designs on expanding its platform to other products other than beer. We wonder if any of these startups would be an attractive acquisition to a company like Scotland’s BrewDog, a crowdfunded brewery valued at more than $1 billion that pushes the boundaries of the typical brewing business model, with the world’s first hotel brewery in Columbus, Ohio. Now it’s time to find our favorite beer. Fortunately, there’s an app for that.

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