Makes excellent, consistent and tasty beer - Makes me much more creative and productive
I was an early kickstarter supporter of this machine. I only have glowing things to say about it.
I have been homebrewing since the winter of 2000/2001, and have brewed on a number of set-ups. And have dozens if not hundreds of brews under my belt. I share my machine with a brew partner, and I share my traditional set-up with a homebrew collective of friends.
I know my stuff.
The Zymatic is a countertop appliance that brews all-grain wort to make 2.5 gallon batches of beer. It has a slide-in compartment in which you put your grains, as well as compartments for your hops and other additions. The machine is attached to the in and out posts of a keg which you fill with a specified amount of water (obviously varies by recipe). The keg is sealed with a special rubber seal and a "foam trap" which allows unwanted compounds to dissipate while still sealing the system from unwanted bugs and contaminants.
On the front of the machine there is a manual dial selector with which you can select the recipe you uploaded earlier to the machine (more about that later). Then you press start, and the recipe will cycle through your programmed mash schedule and hops additions, etc. Internally there is a moving faucet which pours water into each compartment according to a schedule you specify. The water is pumped from the keg into the Zymatic and returned to the keg until heated to the proper temperatures depending on your recipe step. Once the mash is done, it "boils" the wort in the keg (not quite boil temperature, but that makes no difference), and cycles the wort through the hops compartments according to your recipe's timings.
On one of the hoses going to the keg there is a sample port with which you can take gravity readings.
Once your boil is complete, you can chill your wort in the keg in a number of ways (attach a wort chiller, a plate chiller, or immerse the keg in ice water while the Zymatic pump-cycles the wort to temperature). Once chilled, you pitch your yeast into the keg, place an included airlock in the keg seal, and ferment in the keg until complete. You can then rack to a serving keg, or serve directly from your fermentation keg, sealing with the proper lid of course. You can also transfer from the keg to bottles.
The other half of the Zymatic process is creating your recipe online using the Picobrew site and uploading it to the Zymatic (which connects to your account automatically over wifi or ethernet). There is a recipe library in which Picobrew and others (including Annie Johnson, AHA Homebrewer of the Year) have posted recipes. Users also regularly share recipes there. There is an internal review system for user's submitted recipes so you know what others thought of the recipe when they brewed it before you choose to do the same. There are a few hundred public recipes at least at the time of this review (March 2015). There are also currently 753 registered public users at this time.
When creating your own recipe in the recipe crafter, you select what BJCP style you want to brew, then manually add your ingredients. The crafter calculates OG, FG, SRM, ABV, etc from your inputs and also compares it to the BJCP style guide so you know if you're within style guidelines or creatively outside them. You can tell the machine exactly what you want it to do: complex mash schedules and temperatures? No problem. Multiple hops additions? No problem. Add a pause for some reason? Easily done. Etc. etc. etc. It's pretty genius this way.
Key Advantages (from my experience):
This makes brewing a matter of exacting precision: your mash temperatures are exact (and can include very complex mash schedules) your timing is exact, your hops additions are exact, your cooling to temp readings are exact, etc.
This brew system, with the exception of when you pitch your yeast, is an entirely closed system from the time you press start on the Zymatic until the time you pour your beer. If you have cleaned and sanitized your keg properly, and cleaned your Zymatic properly, the chance of contamination is greatly greatly reduced compared to most homebrew set-ups.
It's also a simplified process compared to most. The traditional boil kettle, fermentor and keg of a traditional set up are all replaced by one brew keg. Once you start the brew, you can walk away and work on other things, no monitoring needed. If you do want to monitor it, you can do so in person or online (it tracks temperature and steps to a real-time graph for your review). It also automatically adds your hops, etc, requiring no more alarms, etc.
In addition, all components of the mash and hops compartments are dishwasher safe (they really are), and the actually do fit my dishwasher. You can run a boil water sanitation pre and post-brew, and every fourth brew you can run PBW or cleaning tabs through the whole machine for a couple hours.
Finally, it brews 2.5 gallon batch sizes, which I'll go into below.
To date I have personally brewed 17 batches on this machine, including: a Belgian Abbey Ale, a Flipside IPA Clone, a Heady Topper Clone, a Pliny the Elder Clone (x3), a Fresh Squeezed IPA Clone, a Citrus IPA, a Red Racer (Red Betty) Clone, a Fat Tug Clone #1, a Fat Tug Clone #2, a London Ale, a Pale Ale, an Amber Ale, a Porter (x2), and a Spotted Cow Clone.
All tastings have been excellent (with the exception of the Heady Topper when my fermentation chamber went haywire and decided it was a sauna instead). My brew partners and several other friends and acquaintances have told me my Zymatic-brewed beer is the best homebrew they have tasted, that they cannot tell the difference between my homebrew and commercial beer, and several have said my brew was the best they tasted this year (commercial or otherwise). I can say that after 15 years brewing, this is the best and most consistent wort I have produced (and I was a very decent and conscientious homebrewer before). My brew partner and I brewed two batches of the same porter recipe and the same Pliny recipe to test the variance between Zymatic batches, and the results were identical (OG, FG, SRM colour, taste, etc).
So long as your fermentation and sanitation are tight, and you're brewing a good recipe, I don't see any reason to doubt you could brew really excellent beer this way. I am way more confident about it now that I have used it 17 times and tasted end results. I have also run 4 deep clean cycles and 51 rinse cycles (1 before and 2 after each brew).
I initially thought the 2.5 gallon batch sizes would be a little small, but my volume and production have actually gone up since purchasing it, as the brew and cleaning process is considerably easier than my more traditional set-ups.
My creativity has increased as well: I am far more focused on programming interesting new recipes and testing mash schedules than I was before.
And it's just damn fun to use. Frankly, the Zymatic is a feat of imagination and engineering. Every time I brew I am amazed by all the details that were thought of.... and that it all works so flawlessly.
The name of this game is precision in timing and temperatures, which makes the effects of different hops, yeasts, grains and water treatments much easier to detect and experiment with.
Cleaning is more involved than I thought, but when doesn't cleaning last longer than you wished? All the compartments, etc fit into a dishwasher as advertized, but the hop residue needs be thoroughly washed out of the mesh cages and takes some effort. Same with the inline filter (connected to one of the hoses). A soak in PBW goes a long way in this regard.
Overall construction is sturdy, and nothing (with one exception) has broken to date despite my moving it to and from storage or back and forth in a hatchback with my brew partner.
Now, the reason I am writing this epic review: The Picobrew folks have truly been the best customer service experience I have ever had. I live across the border in Canada. When I mentioned to them I was connecting via ethernet cord due to wifi problems, there was a wifi bridge at my door the next day, (without my asking for it!) followed by a phone call to help me set it up. I also had an early Kickstarter edition, with an old version of the foam trap which cracked. Again, new one at my door across the border by the next morning - for free. That kind of cross-border speed and service is unprecedented in my experience. Their brewmaster Annie Johnson created a Fat Tug IPA clone for me and loaded it on to the recipe index within a couple hours of my asking for advice in the forum. Then she did the same for two more of my requests. And she regularly responds to questions we all have. I really can't say enough about them all. So they (and their machine) get a big fat 5 star rating from me.