Sometimes the most intriguing ideas can also be the most problematic – like Edison’s quest for a phone that could communicate with the dead: brilliant in theory, but practically speaking, potentially impossible. Recently, the beverage industry has taken hold of a concept that I believe has a similar bent: the at-home alcoholic beverage making machine. And the latest brands to hop on board the questionable trend are two of the biggest names in the industry: Keurig and Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Late last week, the K-cup coffee giant and the world’s largest beer company announced a joint venture “focused on the research and development of an in-home alcohol drink system.” These types of machines have taken all sorts of forms – from the automatic homebrewing system Pico, whose biggest selling point is that it allows you to brew name-brand beers at home, to the more recently released Whym which boasts better speed but is essentially a beer flavoring device. (One thing these devices have in common is they both have gotten investments from the Anheuser-Busch-backed ZX Ventures.)
But the real problem with these appliances is that they tend to want to make brewing beer a simpler and faster process – but in actuality, making good beer can be quite complicated and, thanks to fermentation, a process that can’t really be rushed, it also takes time. Some of these appliances, like Pico, at least respect that you can’t rush fermentation and leave you waiting on your beer for a week or more, but other attempts at in-home beer devices want to work like a Keurig – giving you beer instantly at the press of a button – and doing that requires some serious workarounds. In the end, most of these devices feel doomed to fail because any gains made in speed or customization are lost in quality.
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For now though, this new Keurig/Anheuser-Busch InBev endeavor has one major advantage: The project is almost painfully vague. “The venture, which will bring together the expertise of both companies, will build on the Keurig KOLD technology and system innovations and AB InBev’s brewing and packaging technology, and evolve them within the realm of the full adult beverage category, including beer, spirits, cocktails and mixers,” the brands stated in a press release. What they fail to mention is what exactly such a device will do. At its core, the concept doesn’t even entirely make sense. Beer making machines exist, and cocktail making devices exist, but one device that does both would seem counterintuitive to the way these beverages are produced. It’s like saying you’re going on a search for the Holy Grail and not going to stop until you find two of them.
But as of now, ambiguity is Keurig and AB InBev’s friend. “We’re thrilled to be moving forward with this joint venture and look forward to working closely with the Keurig Green Mountain team to explore the possibilities of what we can achieve together,” said Nathaniel Davis, CEO of the new venture which is expect to employee a 50 person workforce. “We can’t wait to get started.”
Alright, first step, what the hell are we actually trying to make here?