Smart beer

Home Technologist 02 Smart beer

A student in the Netherlands has created a system to control fermentation temperature for his brew.

Elco Jacobs

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Maybe it’s because he’s Dutch that Elco Jacobs likes beer – so much, in fact, that he brews his own. “Before BrewPi, I fermented it in a sealed bucket in my kitchen,” he says. “The temperature needs to stay around 20°C. But during the summer, it was 26°C in my kitchen and I had to interrupt brewing for several months.” He came up with his own control system to transform a refrigerator into a fermentation chamber with a stable beer temperature.

“The system is interesting because it lets you change the beer’s temperature slowly,” says Benjamin Levaux, master brewer at Les Bras­seurs in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Jacobs named his invention “BrewPi” because the device, in the shape of a transparent box, has the nanocomputer at its core. It comes equipped with three sensors – one in the beer, one in the refrigerator, one in the room – and an LCD screen.

An Arduino board controls the temperature, while the Raspberry Pi logs data and provides a web interface for settings and graphs. It is accurate to a tenth of a degree. All the software and assembly instructions are open source. The only difficult part is disconnecting the thermostat in the refrigerator and installing the BrewPi in its place.

Jacobs has sold more than 600 BrewPis in 35 countries since 2012. A full kit costs about €150. “I want to give home brewers and small breweries the same level of control as the bigger ones”, says the electrical engineering student at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). He has found a good niche market: independent breweries represent five per cent of European beer production, and micro breweries are all the rage with hipsters.

“Since the early 2000s, amateur brewers have been popping up all over the world,” says Jan Lichota of Brewers of Europe. “Thanks to the Internet, anyone can learn to produce their own hops and buy the basic ingredients.”

Jacobs wants to help home brewers and small craft breweries make better beer. “Their beers are just much more interesting than those of well-known big breweries.”

A whole community of adult “makers”, like Elco Jacobs, Adam HartmannAlex Klein and Tyler Freeman, are unleashing their creativity thanks to Raspberry Pi and Arduino boards.

– By Benjamin Keller. With Thomas Pfefferlé and Sara Bandelier

Technologist 02.007

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