How WIRED Built Beer Robot, Our DIY Kegerator
This is the story of Beer Robot, an ugly old fridge that grew into a super geeky kegerator.
It started out innocently enough. After work one day at the local brewpub, three Wired.com staffers had a revelation: “What our office really needs is a kegerator!”
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We didn’t know this passing idea, the kind you often have after several beers but never follow up on (“Dude, we should totally road trip to Jazzfest this year!”), would culminate in a keg party at that same brewpub to celebrate the public debut of Beer Robot.
But at the next editor’s meeting, we suggested converting a fridge into a kegerator for our How-To Wiki. Who’s going to say no to that? Nobody in that meeting anyway. Soon we had dreamed up a super geeky, tricked-out kegerator that would have all sorts of functions involving everything from a Twitter stream to a Wii.
With a budget of $200, we quickly determined that the fridge would have to be free, because the cheapest conversion kit we could find was $192, on sale. Fortunately, there is a lot of free stuff on Craigslist, where we found a fridge that was just right: a homely, but working, almond-colored fridge that had been left on the sidewalk in Alameda to make way for a newer model.
It turns out converting a fridge to a kegerator is pretty easy. You only need a conversion kit and a few tools, and there’s really only one step you can mess up, which we discovered by messing it up. We were only on step five of 32 steps when we drilled a hole that was too big. But we managed to recover using only our wits and a broom handle.
A keg of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale materialized and… success! The beer was cold, and it flowed. Perfect pints, with lovely head, at the ready. Mmmm… beer.
On to the pimping.
With our budget wiped out, we turned to our readers and Twitter followers for help pimping our kegerator. We received tons of good ideas, a few volunteers and even some free stuff (some are included at the end of the story). Our readers had similar geeky, gadgety ideas involving wheels and lights and twittering how much beer is left. Professional motorcycle airbrush artist Robb Ortel of Orange County Choppers even offered to “pimp that bad boy with some cool paint,” but unfortunately we couldn’t send Beer Robot to him in New York because, well, there was already beer flowing.
Fortunately we also received an awesome offer from Jeff Stallings of Print NW to make and send us a custom vinyl wrap for Beer Robot with whatever design we could dream up. We decided to stick with the gadget theme. After all, a kegerator is really just a big, awesome gadget that serves cold beer.
We are lucky at Wired.com to have a talented designer on staff, Dennis Crothers, who is apparently easily duped into doing a load of extra work. He patiently turned our many ideas, good and bad, into beautifully designed parodies of an iPhone, Sony PSP and Flip Mino, and never once cursed us (to our faces) when we changed our mind about what the apps should be or the Space Invaders score.
The end result turned out better than we ever imagined. The front, iPhone-like face of Beer Robot displays 13 “apps” including Top 10 List Generator (useful for coming up with story ideas), Frosty Mugs, The Tap Store, /root beer (for the tap) and just above that, iFoam. The Flip side has a HAL 9000 eye where the lens should be, and almost every number we used on all three sides has some sort of geeky significance.
Somewhere along the line, the kegerator project grew to include testing two commercial kegerators. With so many hungry taps to feed, we began looking for help from some of our favorite local brewers. The folks at 21st Amendment, just a block away from the Wired office, loved our idea. Rather than just filling a kegerator for us, they threw a debut party for Beer Robot at the pub. This involved wheeling Beer Robot across streets, through a park and up the stairs to the mezzanine level of the pub as seen in the video below. Not surprisingly, San Franciscans barely blinked at the sight of a giant iPhone kegerator parading down the sidewalk.
In a contest to identify the significance of the numbers on Beer Robot, only one person got them all. Perihan Cumali, who learned of the party by following @beerrobot, took first prize (which was this paragraph right here) by being the only one to know that 37 is the UHF frequency reserved for radioastronomy.
“I had a vague recollection about 37,” Cumali said. “I did reinforce my cloudy knowledge with my iPhone. But I did take astronomy at RPI!”
WHAT’S ON TAP?
What’s a kegerator without beer? We tested several kegs provided by local breweries.
Brew Free! or Die IPA from 21st Amendment Brewery is a pretty typical California-style IPA. A deep, golden brown beer, it has a nice hoppy kick to it without going over the top or veering into more fruity and floral territory. A strong malty undertone balances this beer out nicely, distracts you from its 7.2 percent alcohol content, and can lure people who normally shy away from hops without scaring off serious IPA fans.
Brother Thelonius from North Coast Brewing Company is a serious beer without all the hoppy pretensions. Though it’s Belgian-style — high in alcohol (9.5%), expensive, and kinda sweet — it packs a bit of the beefiness of a porter into its front-end taste. There’s even a hint of coffee in the aftertaste. All in, Brother T plays a brilliant variation on the classic Belgian head, and every note that might seem stray at first, ends up hitting just the right spot.
White Lightning American Wheat from Speakeasy Ales and Lagers is a crisp, blonde filtered wheat beer that beckons on a hot day. It looks and feels cleaner than the more prevalent unfiltered Hefeweizen style beers, and is also a little less sweet. Smooth and refreshing up front with a nice wheaty aroma, it follows with a pleasantly bitter, hoppy bite. This 5.2 percent alcohol brew goes down easy. Maybe too easy!
For the tap-to-tap kegerator competition between Beer Robot and the commercial kegerators, North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg, California provided a keg of Brother Thelonius and Speakeasy of San Francisco provided a keg of White Lightning American Wheat. We rounded out the trio with a keg of Deschutes Brewery’s Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Oregon.
We wanted to see how our $200 conversion stood up to the budget Edgestar KC2000 ($425) and the fancier Sanyo BC-1206 ($650) kegerators. The commercial kegerators put up a good fight and performed well, but according to all who attended the competition, Beer Robot was the clear winner. Though we are clearly biased. We love Beer Robot. A lot.
The geekifying of our fridge is an ongoing project. One of Beer Robot’s fans, bioengineer Bryan Hermannsson installed a flowmeter that will keep track of how much beer has been poured, and has a digital readout of how many pints are left. As I write this, Hermannsson and genomicist Tim Reddy are working on hooking this device up to the internet and writing a program to convert the information into tweets.
“Programming has never been more fun,” Reddy said. “Trying to maintain the optimal level of sobriety was a real challenge. I think we went past it a couple times.”
A web cam will soon be installed, pointing at the tap of course — we don’t want to discourage people from visiting Beer Robot. And we hope to get more ideas from our readers for other upgrades. Keep ’em coming!
Beer Robot is a work in progress, but already it has exceeded even our wildest drunken expectations. And to think, just two short months ago, our glorious kegerator was just a sad, lonely, almond-colored refrigerator abandoned on the side of the road.
Photos: Jon Snyder/Wired.com
How-to Make a Kegerator
Ready-Made Kegerators Cure What’s Ale-ing You
Extreme, Custom and Pimped-Out Kegerators
Help Wired Pimp Our Kegerator, Win Free Beer
Selected Reader Suggestions for Beer Robot:
Perhaps a Roomba robot kit that will automatically dock at the fridge, be filled with the tap and then be able to be remote controlled back to the beer drinker ? — Adrian Walleigh
I think the front of beer robot should look like Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Now that’s cold! — Adam Price (We did consider this idea, but found that the tap would have a rather unfortunate location in Han Solo’s crotch.)
Put an RFID activated nozzle that only allows WIRED authorized mugs with RFID embedded chips to get beer, and then measures the amount dispensed, so it knows when it is time to send out a re-order notice to your local beer distributor. It could also send out Tweets when it is getting dangerously low on suds. — John Azevedo.
Now, this may not sound very Canadian style, but it’s how everybody would have a Kegerator up north. First we need some sort of weight system to determine when the Keg is near empty. This would submit a signal to Twitter posting a Tweet that we need more beer. But this weight system gets better. When a new keg is placed, the weight system will be aware of this and initiate what is called the “Party Mode.” First a tweet is posted again to update everyone on a potential crisis averted with the replacement of the keg. Then, with the use of Bing travel, a 747 is chartered from Moscow, Russia to San Francisco full of Russian Strippers. Then a private jet is chartered to Toronto so that I (The genius behind this entire plan) can be picked up and brought to the party. And no recession will ever put a stop to our party, as the Bing Account will be linked to the White House’s Visa Card as It has proved time and time again, able to bail out anybody in their time of need. I expect my Jet on the tarmac by June 31st. — Jon Bianchi.
The following people contributed to this project: Jon Snyder — originator, namer, photographer. Betsy Mason — originator, coordinator, laborer. Dennis Crothers — designer, watchdog, wrapper. Dylan Tweney — geekifier, utility player. Danny Dumas — geekifier, rim shooter. David Kravets — originator, partaker. Evan Hansen — decider, protector, supplier. Chris Becker — converter, handyman. Fernando Cardoso — videographer, partaker. Michael Lennon — videographer, choreographer. Brian Chen — partaker, stalker. Stephan Leckart — partaker, loiterer. Alexis Madrigal — keg lifter, beer getter, partaker. James Temple — loader. Jim Merithew — unloader. Terrence Russell — partaker, backstop. Chuck Squatriglia — cheerleader, supporter. Michael Calore — consultant. Hadley Leggett — cheerleader. Shaun O’Sullivan — beer supplier, sponsor. Rob Strasser — event planner. Bryan Hermannsson — geekifier, partaker. Tim Reddy — programmer, partaker. Jeff Stallings — wrapper, sponsor.
Follow us on Twitter @betsymason, @beerrobot and @gadgetlab.KEGERATORAMA: More From Wired.comWHAT’S ON TAP?Brew Free! or Die IPABrother TheloniusWhite Lightning American WheatSelected Reader Suggestions for Beer Robot: