About a year ago I started to wonder how home brewing works so I started reading about it. I read home brewing blogs, forums, websites and I even got a few books, but every time I went to a suggested online store to get equipment, I was held back by the extremely high cost of shipping the items across the border and even within Canada. At one place the entry level set of equipment was around $130, which seemed very reasonable, but the shipping was estimated at $220!!! I understand that most of the equipment is heavy and bulky and therefore costs more to ship, but I was discouraged
I then started to look around for local stores, but every place I found near me focused on wine making and the ones that advertised themselves as “home brew” stores simply made the beer for you at their location.
Eventually I found a place in Hamilton, a quick 1 hour drive, which offered the Coopers Home Brew kit for $99. I thought this might be a great place to start since you get some basic equipment and some extracts and the work for a beginner is light and easy.
When I got there I picked up a box and decided to get some additional extracts to make an IPA after the lager, which was included in the kit. The owner was kind enough to suggest switching out the extracts so I got what I wanted and not what was in the kit. I thought that this was a great idea and opened the box to swap the contents. I paid and was on my way home to make the stuff.
One thing neither one of us thought of on the spot was that the malt extract was lager-specific and was not recommended for an IPA. Well, it was too late for me to drive back and get a different malt extract since everything was open and ready to go. I decided to press on and just make the stuff because I was so excited to try it.
Side note: malt is the backbone of a beer. Not using the right malt for the beer style is like using the chassis from Yugo with the engine from a tank.
Well, you get a pail, a lid, a bunch of plastic bottles, caps, extracts and a CD with instructions…and a pen.
I didn’t like the idea of bottling beer in plastic bottles, but since the store I picked this up from didn’t have a capper in stock, I had to use them. I even drove to all stores in my area that specialize in preserves, but just couldn’t find a capper in a week.
The instructions are pretty straight forward and are everywhere. The kit comes with a booklet and a CD with videos. The extract also comes with its own instruction booklet, which repeats some of the steps, but tosses in some beer-specific instructions which vary from style to style.
Very simple – you just boil some water, dissolve the malt extract and warm up the can with the liquid extract.
Then you combine the two and add water until you hit the 23L mark.
Of course there is a specific temperature range in which you must be in order to pitch the yeast. I found the instructions lacked information on how to get to this range. The only listed instruction was to add cool/cold water until you get there.
What I found was that adding cold water, filtered from the tap, does not get you into this range, but very close to it. Why? Because already there is BOILING water in the pail.
In hindsight, I should have filled various vessels with cold water and put them in the freezer to cool them down to near 0 degrees. I could have also used clean ice to get the temperature down.
Well, this was one step I sort of missed. But, never mind, I moved on. I waited for about 30 mins until I saw the beer reach the desired range and then added the yeast and sealed the pail.
I later read that you shouldn’t wait for too long to pitch the yeast or else your batch might get contaminated.
After Pitching (Adding the Yeast)
Once the yeast was pitched, a plastic sleeve was inserted into the pail and the container was sealed (sorry didn’t take any photos of that).
As per the instructions, a few days later, I removed the sleeve and resealed the container.
At the end of the week, the container smelled like an IPA and so did the room it was housed in.
After checking the SG for several days in a row and finding it to be constant, I prepped things for bottling.
The best thing about the container which comes with the kit is its spout, making bottling very easy. Other kits that one can buy only come with a carboy or a pail. You can always buy a bottle bucket/pail, but because this kit already comes with one, it does make things a bit easier the first time around.
The kit comes with a bunch of 750 mL plastic bottles, caps and tablets to carbonate the brew. Prior to filling them up with the brew, I rinsed each one and let them air dry for a while.
Filling the bottles is very easy thanks to the bottling extension which is plugged directly into the spout. The extension is inserted all the way into the bottle until it touches its bottom. With the bottom touched, a small plastic pin is pushed into the extension tube and lets the beer flow into the bottle. This made bottling a very quick exercise that one can do in less than an hour.
As per the instructions, I left the bottles to carbonate for a week before putting them in the fridge to chill. The reason for that is that room temperature promotes bottle conditioning, while refrigeration keeps the chemical reactions to a minimum.
After a week of bottle conditioning, I put a few of the bottles in the fridge overnight.
The end result was not a great beer…not at all. It had a fantastic IPA aroma with a ton of hops and fruits, but its backbone was lager-based which gave it grassy/cereal notes and made it a bit sour. Also, the beer was a bit sour due to, what I assume, is contamination at the yeast pitching stage.
As I mentioned earlier, the malt I used for this was the malt intended for the lager, not the IPA. The IPA required a completely different type of malt. If I had known that earlier, I would have swapped that too.
I didn’t throw the beer out, though. I kept it in the fridge and started cooking many beer-based meals. Once we used 2 bottles in a chili, which turned out great. Beer ribs consumed another 1.5 bottles.
Final Words and Opinion
In my opinion the kit is pretty decent for starters who do not wish to go into more serious home brewing, but I do advise you to not repeat my mistakes as they will cost you some time and the initial batch. Also, I would not pay more than $99 for this kit. Since I bought this kit, I have seen it other places for as much as $140.
Once I saw a Mr. Beer kit at Winners for $40. That is a similar kit, but will only yield about 12-14 bottles. Also, the container is great for small batch brewing.
I have since learned a lot and have applied this knowledge to the rest of my home brewing sessions, which have produced some excellent beers from scratch. I am still using the Coopers pail as my bottling bucket and will be for quite some time.
Check out the “Home Brewing” section of the site as I am planning on slowly (emphasis on the word slowly) adding recipes, instructions, tips and my mistakes as an amateur home brewer.