By Aaron Ramson
So, I’m scrolling through Groupon, and you know what I see? No, not the discount Thai massages (I kind of wanna order one. No, I don’t. Yes, I do. No, I don’t! But I kinda do). No, not the hot air balloon rides (which even when discounted from $147 to $63 per person, still seems kinda high. I mean, if I wanted to risk permanent death and disability, I could just walk into traffic for free). What I see is that Groupon is now selling the entire line of Mr.-fricken-Beer kits!! I just got through telling you guys how this kit is the one for you if you’re hellbent on brewing mediocre brewskis, and BAM it pops up on a discount site, ready to take your money.
Don’t do it, Jack, there’s better ways to make beer at home! There are plenty of companies and sites that sell excellent kits, designed to make you feel like the brewmaster of your apartment complex. Here’s what to spend your money on if you’ve never brewed beer before and are interested in starting.
AUSTIN HOMEBREW’S KIT
Austinhomebrew.com’s online store is probably the best stop for a beginner, and their kits offer the best value for anybody. For double the price of that wretched Mr. Beer kit and it’s plastic 2-gallon barrel, The AHS Beginner Homebrew Kit gives you two 6.5 gallon pails (one for fermenting, the other for bottling) with lids and an airlock, an auto siphon, tubing, a hydrometer and flask (for measuring the ABV of your beer), a thermometer, a scrub brush, a bottle capper, and your choice of what beer you want to brew. All for only $79.99!
The choice is yours between brewing an amber ale, blonde ale, a chocolate stout, or a Hefeweizen. The kits are either extract (like Mr. Beer), or extract with character grains that need to be steeped in a giant tea bag to extract sugars and flavor. Packets of hops specifically chosen for each recipe are included, but you need to purchase the yeast as a separate add-on. The upside of that you get your choice of liquid or dry yeast and the choice of brand preference, instead of the bunk-ass generic packet that comes with Mr. Beer.
You’re going to have to purchase your own bottles and caps as well, but if you want to take things to the next level, you can just keg that batch of beer instead. It’s pretty easy to get your hands on a used 5-gallon corny keg and a small tank of CO2. No one said homebrewing was a cheap hobby, but what is? And why would you want to take up a cheap hobby anyway? What, like bird watching? Needlepoint? Needlepoint’s not even cheap. There are no cheap hobbies!
Brown glass bottles are definitely the way to go if you choose not to keg your beer, trust me you don’t want to put the fruits of your brewing labor into plastic bottles after dedicating a month of your time making sure your first beer is going to taste its best. If you don’t own a brewing kettle, Austin Homebrew also gives you the option of adding it to your kit for a moderate price, as well as the option to upgrade to more premium kits that come with gear designed for all-grain brewing. Northern Brewer, MoreBeer, and Brooklyn Brew Shop are other online stores that also produce kits with similar high-quality ingredients, and you’ll produce a fantastic first beer if you get something from any of those guys too. But Austin Homebrew gets my recommendation because of the incredible value offered with their Beginner Homebrew kit.
As your experience level increases and you become more comfortable with the brewing process, you can upgrade your brewing system with more toys and doodads designed to give you greater precision and control over your brewing process, and the resulting beer you make. Of course, if you want to take the plunge right out the gate, Austin Homebrew offers several tiers of kits, each one upgrading your initial investment with quality equipment that you’ll end up buying over time anyway.
Next installment, I’ll go over the finer points of extract brewing, and guide you through the process of brewing your first beer. This is where the fun begins!