Gear and Gadgets Week: Retro toy: The Brew Master

Gear and Gadgets WeekI’m calling this gadget a "retro toy" because while the concept is fun to play with, the technology (on this particular item) is a good decade behind the times. What I’m talking about is the "Brew Master" from Excalibur Electronics (and it doesn’t seem to be available anymore from them, even).

Background: Some time back (a few years ago, I think) I picked up the "Brew Master" from an ultra-clearance rack at J.C. Penney. Even then it was obvious the thing was already several years out of date (hence the "ultra clearance"), but it was so cheap I figured, why not.

It’s basically a handheld database lookup device, which in this case is a beer database, of course. You can look up beer data by name, brewery, style, alcohol content, and a number of other categories. Each beer has a rating (not sure what data they use though—my best guess is All About Beer Magazine, since some of the additional features are from that), description, and some additional metadata.

"Brew Master" box

1,500 ratings and reviews, it says. The most recent beer I can find is the "2003 Christmas Ale" from Alaskan Brewing.

It includes a few other features, as well—jokes, a basic (dated) list of Oktoberfests, some food and beer pairing suggestions, things like that.

So yeah, it’s a novelty device, basically a toy. It’s just slightly too big to carry around with you on any serious basis, and the LCD scrolling screen is, like I mentioned, about ten years out-of-sync with current technologies.

"Brew Master" screen close-up

The data is either really out of date or seriously constrained by memory limitations, or both; only ten Oregon breweries made the cut, for instance.

In general, I like the concept, and with today’s available tech there’s no reason why you couldn’t have a custom, Ipod-sized device and load it with every beer and rating imaginable and still have space left over. Oh, and have a full-color LCD screen and include pictures, too. But then again, there’s probably already such database programs you can already load onto existing handhelds—Palms, for instance, or even Ipods. Oh and ideally, it would hook up to the ‘net and automagically download updates (new beers and reviews).

I’ll dig around for just such an updated device—or a program for a handheld.

The "Brew Master"

In the meantime, here are a couple of other (unkind) reviews of this thing. One is from last month, even:

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