Jon Bentley tries his hand at brewing beer and gets creative with the HTC Vive

10 May 2016


The Gadget Show

Sometimes I can have a huge amount of admiration and respect for a gadget I’m testing but not actually want to own it. In this week’s show I tested two things that, while I won't be rushing out to buy either of them, were both in their own ways endearingly brilliant.


The first was a gadgety take on one of mankind's oldest technologies, beer making. Now, I’ve always preferred my traditional pints to be brewed by experts and have never considered making my own beer at home. However, when the Gadget Show producers suggested that technology was now available to make home brewing easier and yield better results, and that, along with Ortis, I should test it by going head to head with a professional brewery in one of our versus challenges, I couldn't wait to give it a try. I duly found myself with something called a Braumeister in my garage. This device, which looks rather like a sophisticated Burco boiler, with a digital controller attached, made relatively light work of processes like mashing, brewing and hop boiling. And it was wonderful aromatic delight to handle the Mosaic hops selected for my test.


The bottle conditioned pale ale I produced couldn't beat Adnams Jack Brand Mosaic Pale Ale whentested by a panel of experienced beer tasters, but it didn't do too badly. Two tasters even felt it was drinkable! A similar but slightly superior verdict was reached on Ortis's porter, which he also made at home but using different technology.


I won't personally be taking up home beer making any time soon, however. The equipment is on the expensive side and still quite labour intensive in spite of the electronic assistance. But it's good to know that it can help even brewing novices like me make a credible tipple, and the test has made me more aware of hop varieties and their tastes, and the brewing process itself.


The other bit of technology I enjoyed testing was perhaps rather more cutting edge. Along with my tech testers I tried out the latest in virtual reality headsets to answer the question of whether we should all buy one. My particular device was HTC's Vive. Like all virtual reality headsets it uses video and sound in an attempt to put you in an alternative world. The Vive really does, in part thanks to its two motion sensing base stations and 70 sensors that track your movements and enable you to walk round in the world created in the headset. This space can be up to 5 x 5 metres and you interact with your environment using two sensitive and intuitive hand controllers.


I used Google's Tilt Brush, a drawing app that encourages you to create 3D works of art you can actually walk around and through. It's a new and unforgettable experience. But I don't think I’ll be buying a Vive. It requires quite a bit of disruptive kit in your living room, and I wouldn’t get nearly enough use out of it to justify the considerable expense.