If you’ve received a department store “brewery-in-a-box” starter kit (e.g., Mr. Beer, Coopers DIY, or the Beer Machine) as a gift and have brewed your first batch with it, then you may have already sampled your initial foray into brewing. While these off-the-shelf kits are certainly easy to use and a good way to get into brewing, the resulting beer doesn’t always meet the expectations of today’s discerning craft-beer enthusiast. If you’ve opened your first bottle, taken your first sip, and wondered why it tastes so, well, amateur, trust us: You’re not the first to be underwhelmed.
But don’t panic and don’t give up! Great beer is more about quality ingredients than it is about the equipment you use. Sure, certain equipment upgrades can make your brew day more efficient and let you make beer in greater volumes, but you can brew excellent beer using these mass-market kits. In fact, the inherent simplicity of such kits makes them a great choice for would-be brewers who don’t have a lot of extra space and aren’t ready to transform the spare bedroom into a science lab. The 2.1-gallon (8-liter) Mr. Beer fermentation vessel, for example, offers several advantages:
- The unit’s small size is ideal for apartment dwellers and others with space constraints.
- The wide mouth makes cleaning, sanitizing, dry hopping, and adding fruit a breeze.
- The fermentor’s unique geometry features sloping sides and a flat base to effectively collect trub, hops matter, and other sediment.
- The integrated spigot obviates the need to rack and makes bottling a piece of cake (attach a foot-long piece of sanitized tubing to the spigot to cut down on splashing when you bottle).
So why don’t these equipment kits enjoy a better reputation among seasoned homebrewers? I think it comes down to two things: snobbery and bad first experiences. Only a good dose of humility can chip away at the first of these (and even then, not always), but the second is easily remedied with a simple shift in perspective and process. With quality ingredients, these kits can turn out excellent beer with just a few minutes more of your time.
Picture the freshest, most delectable bread you’ve ever tasted. Imagine the dense chewy crust that gives way to a tender interior. Think of the yeasty, slightly tangy aroma and layers of nuanced flavor. I’m willing to bet that this loaf didn’t come from a store-bought bread-machine mix. Yes, decent, perfectly edible bread can be made using a bread mix and a countertop machine. But much better bread requires quality flour, pure water, healthy yeast, a bit of salt, and some of your own precious time.
Whether you’ve recently purchased a starter kit for yourself or received one as a gift, trust the knowledgeable craft-beer enthusiasts at Craft Beer & Brewing to give you the information you need to brew great beer the first time and every time. Sign up today for CB&B’s Make the Most of Your Extract Kit online class.
The same is true with beer. You might be able to make passable beer using canned-ingredient kits, but the number one way to improve your beer is to brew from fresh malt, hops, water, and yeast. If you’re ready to put your kit to the test and see what it can really do, try our kit-scale pale ale recipe.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
In “4 Reasons to Brew in Small Batches,” I list some of the advantages of small-batch brewing over full-scale brewing. Even if you master the small-batch brewery that your kit offers and move on to larger volumes, there are some good reasons to hold onto your original equipment:
- Maybe there are times when you neither want nor need five gallons of homebrew. Brewing in small amounts might simply be more convenient for your lifestyle.
- Splitting a 5-gallon batch into two or more smaller batches offers you an opportunity to play with different yeast strains, experiment with fruit additions, and more.
- Sure, you’re a great beer brewer, but have you ever tried your hand at mead, cider, wine, or sake? Small-equipment kits offer the perfect venue to try before you buy, so to speak.