Start-ups: Better Beer and Coffee with Brewbot and Bonaverde

Home brewing gets an upgrade

Photo: Simon Mills
Brew With Panache: Brewbot’s largely automated home beer brewery is monitored and controlled with a smartphone app.

The poster child for the Internet of Things is the smart refrigerator, which keeps track of your groceries, orders new ones, and acts like a digital bulletin board. Alas, grocery management hasn’t inflamed much passion among the early adopters crucial to driving new consumer technology. But maybe a new idea for the kitchen of tomorrow can: do-it-yourself beer and coffee.

Two start-ups have recently successfully completed Kickstarter campaigns, one for a smart home brewery and the other for a coffee roaster. The first start-up is Brewbot, based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, whose eponymous product replaces brewing’s traditionally hand-tuned processes—adjusting boiling temperatures and tweaking fermentation times—with automated algorithms and smartphone-app control.

“As a group of people, we got together and decided to start brewing,” says Chris McClelland, Brewbot’s CEO, of his company’s origins. “We were worried about plumbing issues and heating elements and…[then we thought,] why aren’t we looking at our phone and getting indications that say something’s happening or not, or when to change something?”

So McClelland and his team of five developers reengineered home brewing for automation. The Brewbot is about the size of a small file cabinet, with tubs and bins inside connected by silicon tubing. An iOS app (an Android version is in the works) keeps tabs on each step, automating some steps and notifying the home brewer when it’s necessary to go to the Brewbot to complete other steps. “In the app, you’re able to choose the baseline recipe that you want to make, like a pale ale or stout. But you can swap in and out hops and customize the beer to call it your own,” says McClelland.

Brewbot is targeting its device at home-brewing hobbyists as well as restaurants and bars that want to have their own line of beers on tap, taking advantage of the current popularity of craft beers. “I think beer is the new wine,” McClelland says, “the way people are thinking about it and drinking it and pairing it with food.” Brewbot began shipping units to Kickstarter backers in the second quarter of this year, and the general public can purchase one for about US $2,900.

The second start-up, Berlin-based Bonaverde, is making another eponymous product, but this one is smaller and quicker, and it’s aimed toward everyday consumers. Bonaverde communications director Nathalie Sonne says its PC-tower-size appliance began with founder Hans Stier’s hatred for the acidic, sour stomach he got from coffee. He came to his eureka moment, like Brewbot’s founders, when he realized how much of his beverage’s production process could be simplified and automated. And he found he could provide a smoother drink by roasting, grinding, and brewing the beans in the same device.

“The roasting takes 4 to 6 minutes, depending on the roasting degree you’ve selected,” Sonne says. “The grinding takes around 90 seconds. Then it’s the standard brewing process. So it actually takes around 12 to 14 minutes till you have your fresh cup of coffee.”

Bonaverde has launched a separate Indiegogo campaign for its parallel effort to enable its customers to buy dried (but unroasted) green coffee beans directly from the company’s partner farmers in Central America. The company promotes its farmers’ Facebook pages and encourages Skype chats and Google Hangouts between farmers and consumers.

“He posts pictures of his farm every day,” Sonne says of one partner in Nicaragua. “We want to make it that transparent, so people can see where their coffee comes from, learn more about their coffee—and make it more like the experience of tasting wine.” The machine will start shipping in December. Though the company’s successful Kickstarter campaign priced its machine at the $350 pledge level, Sonne says a retail price for the unit hasn’t yet been announced.

This article originally appeared in print as “Start-ups: Brewbot and Bonaverde.”