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What if there were a machine—a beautiful shiny machine—and all it did, with almost no work from you, was make you beer? Such was the dream that drove PopSci staff photographer John Carnett to spend weeks building what he simply refers to as “the Device”: a stainless-steel two-cart brewing system that starts by boiling extract—concentrated wort, or pre-fermented beer—and ends with a chilled pint.

  • Dept: You Built What?!
  • Time: 3 months
  • Cost: $4,315
  • Difficulty: easy | | | | | hard (Editor’s note: 4/5)

In most home-brewing setups, each step in the process requires moving the beer to a new container by hand, which increases the chance of contamination and requires you to lift stuff. Carnett’s machine keeps everything in the carts’ closed system and requires only that he swap a few CO2-pressurized hoses to move the liquid along. It also employs a complex temperature-control system to regulate the fermentation (often done in a corner of a basement) to within a degree or two. A couple weeks later, the same system chills the beer on its way from keg to tap, so the Device is always ready with a cold pour and consumes no power when it’s not serving or fermenting.

The next step: adding a third cart to make wort from raw grain instead of extract. But, says Carnett, there’s a lot of “testing” of this design to be done first.

This story has been updated. It was originally featured in the September 2007 issue of Popular Science magazine.