Review, Part I: Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Kit

A couple of days ago, I posted a “mysterious” picture of a “mysterious” box and headed the post with “So it begins…” Actually, nothing about it was mysterious. Not even a little bit. I homebrewed, y’all.

Instead of constantly referring to the PDF instructions, I wrote them down and taped them to my cabinet.

Instead of constantly referring to the PDF instructions, I wrote them down and taped them to my cabinet for quick reference.

I spent most of yesterday avoiding homebrewing (through “last minute prep”) and finally homebrewed for about five or six hours. I’d like to tell you all how it went because let me tell you, it was quite an interesting experience. I’ve put together a review of the first part of the process from sanitizing to fermenting with a review of the second half, fermenting to bottling, coming in the next couple of weeks.

First the basics: Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Kits can only be found online at their website or for sale in beer shops and certain grocery stores. I bought my kit in the small but enchanting beer section of the Whole Foods on Bowery for $38.89. It wasn’t heavy at all and fit nicely into my reusable grocery bag. I “lugged” it around for about an hour with no trouble.

The kit includes:

  • grain mix of your choice (I chose their Chocolate Maple Porter mix) plus fuggle hops and yeast
  • 1 gallon glass fermenter
  • 3-piece chambered airlock
  • screw top stopper
  • glass thermometer (a brewer’s best friend and victim of my post-brewing clean up idiocy R.I.P.)
  • plastic tubing
  • tubing clamp
  • racking cane
  • sanitizer

In addition to these things, you need:

  • maple syrup (specific to this recipe)
  • bags of ice or 4-5 ice packs
  • 6 quart stock pot
  • fine mesh strainer
  • funnel

The kit was wonderfully put together. It really has those hard to find things in a nice portable package. My only problem was that they included a sanitizer that needed to be rinsed off. That definitely slowed the process down. Brooklyn Brew Shop sells no-rinse sanitizer on their website but for whatever reason, C-Brite brand sanitizer, was in my kit. Oh well. It did the job.

In any case, it was what was needed but not included that gave me the most trouble. I found the maple syrup, ice and strainer easily enough and I already owned a 6 qt. stock pot but I could not find a funnel to save my life. I ended up purchasing a large measuring cup with a narrow pouring lip and using it to create a more controlled, focused stream. It worked out very well if I do say so myself. Buying all these other items ran me about $10-$15 dollars, which isn’t terrible. Especially when you consider the fact that most of the kit is reusable and I won’t have to buy an entire kit ever again.

My handy-dandy measuring cup. Note the narrow pouring lip.

My handy-dandy measuring cup with the narrow pouring lip.

My second problem was the 6 qt. stock pot. I own ONE 6 qt. stock pot because I am a single 22-year-old woman living in a small apartment in New York City. To make the brewing process more fluid, it serves to have at least two 6 qt. stock pots. The PDF instructions only said,¬†“a second pot is handy.” That’s an understatement. A second large pot is necessary.

During the sparge stage (wherein you pour hot water over your grain to collect wort or “pre-beer”), I used two smaller pots on the stove to heat up water. Then I had to strain the grain, collect the wort in a bowl and pour the wort back into my only 6 qt. pot. I needed to collect 5 quarts of wort and I only had one pot big enough to hold that much. Eventually the 6 qt. pot got too full and I couldn’t hang the strainer over the pot anymore. So I held up the heavy (dollar store) strainer of wet, spent grain in my hand while pouring hot water over it and keeping an eye on the temperatures of the two smaller pots of heating water.

Phew! There was a lot to be said there!

However, aside from those hiccups/setbacks (I had another run-in with the pot problem while filling the fermenting jug), I found the brewing process to be really fun and rewarding. I felt very self-made in those hours. It’s much easier to understand and appreciate beer if you not only know how it’s made but take the time to make a batch yourself.

Here are some highlights: the grain for the Chocolate Maple Porter smelled divine and during the mashing process, it became even more fragrant. Another amazing stage was the sparge even if it was taxing and messy. I watched as the sugars from my grain became a dark nearly black wort (it’s not beer until it’s fermented) simply by adding hot water. Finally, in a nerdy way, I loved controlling the temperature. It felt like a grand science experiment.

I had only one truly worrisome moment: once my wort was in the fermenting jug with the yeast, I became so anxious that the yeast would never wake up and begin the fermenting process. I gave it some extra shakes just in case. You really don’t know if you’ve done things right until that yeast gets going.

Surprise! The yeast went crazy! I woke up to a small puddle of beer on the ground because my yeast got a little too excited and sent some beer foaming through the blow off tube. Now they’re working away steadily and quietly, eating the sugars and making my wort into beer. My bedroom smells like a brewery. Before I know it, I’ll be batting away gentleman callers!

Note the puddle of beer around the blue bowl, the beer in the blue bowl (it was filled with clear water yesterday) and the towel soaking up the rest of the mess.

Note the puddle of beer around the blue bowl, the beer in the blue bowl (it was filled with clear, sanitized water yesterday) and the towel soaking up the rest of the mess.

At the end of the day, I give this first part of the Brooklyn Brew Shop Brewing Kit an A-. I think the company should find a way to incorporate the funnel (if it’s financially feasible) and not just suggest another 6 qt. pot but make it a requirement.

This experience hasn’t dampened my excitement for homebrewing. In fact, it’s kindled it. If you’ve always wanted to try brewing on a small scale, get this kit! Brewing doesn’t have to be a big to-do. It can be an incredibly nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon in a small apartment in a big city.

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About Nikita Richardson

My name is Nikita Richardson. I'm a recent graduate of NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute where I earned a Master's degree in Magazine Writing. I got my start as a music blogger (musicforthemusicallychallenged.com) and as part of a semester-long assignment, I've became a beer blogger. These days I'm working as an editorial fellow at The L Magazine and Brooklyn Magazine where I continue to write about music and beer among other things. You can check out my portfolio at my professional blog: nikitalrichardson.com
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