Robot Bartenders and Brewers: Is the Future of Beer Scary?

January 27, 2018

By Pat Evans, January 27, 2018

The annual Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is a wonderland of the latest gadgets and technology shaping the future and it’s obvious walking around the massive trade show were the world is headed. It’s a world where we make fewer decisions and encounter more automation, and a world where data infiltrates every task imaginable, whether it’s what a user really wants or not.

What does that technology mean for the world of beer, drinking, and going out for an evening out on the town? That was less obvious.

There was one obviously beer-related product at this year’s CES in Las Vegas: PicoBrew.

PicoBrew has been around for a while now, and many beer lovers are likely aware with the idea of the Keurig-like homebrewer for beer. PicoBrew was, after all, the most funded KickStarter campaign in the food category.

The company was at CES to showcase its new Pico C model, which can brew five liters of beer in two hours, with a 10 to 14 day fermentation time. PicoBrew also has partnered with more than 200 breweries across the globe to provide brewing kits for their most popular beers, ever increasing the ability for a user to homebrew. Breweries like Rogue, Coronado, and Fremont. The system does allow for recipe changes to make the recipes the brewer’s own.

[Disclosure: ZX Ventures, which invested in October, also has a minority stake in PicoBrew.]

Pico BrewYou can even cook your chicken with it.

It’s an innovative machine and one that will be of great use to many people who want to try their hand at homebrewing or expedite and clean up the process.

The gadget also includes the ability to Sous Vide – a trendy cooking technique – and now can come with the PicoStill, giving a user the ability to distill essential oils, or, with proper licenses of course, spirits.

For a lazy Sunday afternoon, this is perfect, but one can’t help but wonder what this might do to the creativity and know-how of doing it all on one’s own, from picking up the grain, hops, and yeast from the homebrew store to dialing in all the right points throughout the brew process.

So many of the nation’s great brewers got their start on a kitchen stove. PicoBrew is a substantially more admirable and useful product than the cocktail Keurig-like device on display, which mixed cocktail-mix pods with a carafe-based liquors. It’s a shame, as for many a connection can be made while mixing up a cocktail, increasing the joy while consuming.

One possibly solid step for drinking culture might be the strides self-driving cars are making.”

The PicoBrew critiques are small nit-picks for sure, but it’s in theme with what can be seen across the multiple exhibition center floors throughout Las Vegas during CES. While technology enthusiasts can be excited about all the upgrades and advancements in the world, it can be disheartening for people who already feel apprehensive about placing all their trust in a digital world or struggle with change.

Las Vegas already showcases a bar where robots mix the drinks for customers, a place called the Tipsy Robot in the Miracle Mile Shops on The Strip. Part of the joys of heading to a bar is interactions with a jovial bartender. Press a button and a drink dispenses, through a cold, humanless interaction.

Back at CES, some of the technologies on display are fairly harmless in advancing life, for better or worse, and are just meant to be auxiliary items to our current tech.

Wireless charging was everywhere at CES this year, so in a few years simply setting your phone on the bar may charge it.

There also was a wine cellar storage system, which syncs with a phone app to keep track of what and where the wine is stored. It’s easy to take the step to think a similar system could be set up for beer cellars, or even just a refrigerator.

Refrigerators are getting smarter, too. They can take inventory and generate a recipe for the night. A small leap is basing a recipe on the beers or wines available.

One possibly solid step for drinking culture might be the strides self-driving cars are making. Sure, it’s probably a few years before autonomous vehicles are ubiquitous on the streets, but GM has announced plans to roll out a self-driving model as soon as 2019.

Pat EvansA bar, but with no bartenders.

While ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have made it all the easier to roll out of a bar and avoid getting behind the wheel, self-driving cars could be another game-changer in avoiding drunk driving incidents. Obviously, there are a few kinks to work out legally, and making manual driving a choice is a whole different issue many won’t take kindly too.

And therein lies a truth heading out of CES in 2018. It appears technology is heading toward a time where it leads humans, rather than humans leading the technology. How many movies have been made to warn against this, even something as harmless as Pixar’s Wall-E?

Data collection and artificial intelligence is heading to a world where humans don’t have to make decisions, as all their decisions are made based on their habits.

Perhaps that’s why it was best beer was largely absent from CES. Grabbing a cold one from the cooler has long been a way to kick off some steam from a long day at work. Hitting the bar with a bunch of friends should be a place where eyes aren’t trained on a screen. Heading to a pub solo to read, even on a screen, is a delight, but that's a choice made by a customer. 

There’s more choice than ever when it comes to beer on the shelves, and while sometimes more finite and well-curated taps might be appreciated, limiting a consumer’s choice of what beer they get to try would be a shame. Beer, and consumer products as a whole, have made a move away from commodity products, and it’s a beautiful part of life.

Perhaps it’s a cynical view of where the future of technology is headed, but if it exists to simplify life to the point of reducing all of our choices and having them made for us, perhaps it would be better if technology and the act of drinking beer stay away from each other for a bit longer.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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