Many brewers who are relatively new to brewing use extract or partial-grain kits before making the move to all-grain brewing. Many brewers stick to the kits and never move to all-grain. And in fact, I know of several breweries that use all extract or partial-grain processes, and their customers are happy with their beer. Yet I still see many homebrewers insisting that all-grain is the only way to brew great beer.
I don’t think that’s entirely accurate.
This past weekend, my husband brewed a Belgian blonde on our three-tier gravity system. I wanted to get in on the action, but we didn’t have enough equipment for me to do an all-grain batch, too. No problem—I went to the brew store to pick up a partial-grain kit so I could have a little something for myself. But it wasn’t until I walked in and the owner (who is incredibly friendly and helpful) asked what I was making that I lost some of my enthusiasm. I sort of looked away and muttered, “I’m just here to pick up a kit.”
Silly, right? Well, I thought so, too, until I hopped on the Internet and happened across some of the comments fellow homebrewers made about those who brew from kits. And then it clicked. I think there will always be some snobbery regarding how others brew: using slick electric systems vs. hand-built rigs, expensive gadgets vs. the basics, and extract or extract kits vs. all-grain. That’s to be expected in any hobby or creative pursuit and comes with the territory. But I strongly believe that, in the end, all that matters is that you have a great time with the process, learn some new things, and enjoy the heck out of the beer you just made.
While there are many reasons people will give you not to use a kit, let’s focus on the upside.
Somebody has tested the recipe and ingredients ahead of time and assembled everything in a kit that often includes the extract, specialty grains, grain bags, hops, yeast, priming sugar, and bottle caps. About all that’s left for you to supply is a stovetop, kettle, spoon, fermentor, capper, and maybe bottles. This is especially nice for those who don’t have a lot of space (or the budget) for a bigger brewing rig. Not to mention, the process is fairly streamlined and straightforward. It might end up being a little more expensive, but the convenience is definitely worth it.
While my husband spent the better part of eight hours on Saturday cleaning, mashing, cleaning, sparging, cleaning, boiling, and cleaning some more, I had a slightly different experience. I had a lot to do that morning before I could get started, and about the time that he was starting his mash, I started my brew day. We pitched our yeast within 15 minutes of each other, then shared a beer (and I’m not going to brag too much, but I had more energy—and less pruney hands—than he did by that point).
As I mentioned before, the recipe is tested. This gives you some freedom to get a bit fancy. Look at some of the variations of the style and decide how much you’re willing to color outside the lines. While the recipe itself might not be yours, the creativity you bring to the recipe will be all you! For a stout kit, you can add some cacao nibs, cinnamon sticks, and a few peppers for a Mexican chocolate stout (this is a great recipe to use as a guideline). For a saison kit, go to your local kitchen store and grab some exotic peppercorn varieties (we have an excellent guide on the flavors you can get from pepper!). For a gose kit, go to the farmers market and nab some fruits to blend. Don’t let what’s in the kit be a limitation. Get out there and have some fun with it.
It’s Less Messy
Remember all that cleaning I mentioned earlier? Yeah, working with a kit is so much easier, mostly because it calls for far less equipment—you’ll have a kettle, spoon, fermentor, and possibly a few little things such as a thermometer and measuring cup. I think the messiest part is if you end up with a boil-over and you have to scrub your stove top for a little bit (the beer gods smiled on me last weekend, and thankfully, I didn’t have a boil-over).
It’s a Good Gateway
Invite some uninitiated friends to come over while you brew and get them in on the process. Or start a family tradition of brewing together over the holidays. With a kit, your friends and family will see that brewing can be fairly simple, and hopefully, they won’t be too intimidated by the whole thing. With any luck, you’ve recruited some new brew buddies! If a friend or family member wants to make the switch to all-grain in the future, you’ll be there to help get that process up and running.
For the kit brewers out there, we’d love to know more about why you use them and how they’ve made your brew day easier. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!
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