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Which Brewing Kit to Buy?

People often wonder about the best way to get started brewing, or the best gift to purchase for someone who is interested in brewing. This question can be answered in a variety of ways. It really depends on how seriously someone may eventually take the hobby. What’s important? Is it the novelty of making a batch of beer? Or is it the ability to eventually create a beer that’s better than many you can pick up at the store? Maybe it’s to save money by making your own beer. No matter the reason, there are some great options for anyone who would like to get started brewing.

As someone who has run the gamut from Mr. Beer extract kits to all-grain brewing, I have a good idea of the benefits and drawbacks of each brewing option. I’ll go through each type of brewing that I have done and size up the products that would be best to get started with each variation.

Mr. Beer Kits

A Mr. Beer Home Brew Kit is likely the most common way for people to get started brewing. There are some really solid benefits to getting started with Mr. Beer. The start-up costs for this type of brewing are easily the cheapest, and the batch sizes area a more manageable 2 gallons. Mr. Beer keeps everything very simple. A standard brew kit includes pre-hopped extract, a generic “booster”, and generic yeast. Whipping up a batch with Mr. Beer is as simple as making soup. Actually, it’s quite a bit easier. Everything is really basic, you even use table sugar for bottle conditioning!

Sure, there are some solid benefits to getting started with Mr. Beer, but the Cons far outnumber the Pros. Yes, Mr. Beer is an easy way to brew beer, but can you really take any pride in your work? You’re literally mixing a few ingredients together, leaving it to ferment, then bottling. This leaves very little room for error, but also very little room for any sort of creativity. The beer these kits product is decent enough to drink, but it’s never left anyone begging for more. The batch size is also an issue. At only 2 gallons, the amount of beer produced barely seems worth all the work it takes to make. Finally, by biggest complaint with Mr. Beer kits is that they are really only good for making Mr. Beer kits. Most beginning brewers are making 5 gallon batches, and Mr. Beer is maxed at 2 gallons. To advance or grow as a brewer, you’re likely going to need to pick up all new equipment, rendering the small 2 gallon keg pretty much useless.

Brewing Equipment Kit

A “real” brewing kit has equipment that gets the job done, yet allows you to grow and upgrade some equipment without replacing everything.  There are a lot of options for brewing kits (linked below), but almost anything sold as a kit is going to have what you need to get started brewing, even the cheapest one. For less than $60, you can pick up the Basic Homebrew Kit. This kit contains almost everything you’ll need to get started brewing. A kit like this is where it’s at. After 3 years of brewing, I still use most of the equipment that came from my first kit. I actually recently bought a second kit so I could update some of the stuff that was showing some wear. The equipment included with this brewing kit includes: 6.5 gallon fermenting bucket with lid, 6.5 gallon bottling bucket with spigot, Fermentation lock, Siphon tubing, Bottle filler, Bottle brush, Auto Siphon, Bottle capper, Hydrometer, and Sanitizing Cleanser.

If you have a local homebrew shop, I would suggest looking there first. If you can support the local guys, by all means, do it. If you don’t happen to have one, or the price difference is too great (which happens), Amazon is an awesome place to look. Just a quick scan found these kits:

Pretty much the only downside of choosing one of these kits over the Mr. Beer kit is that most do not include anything to brew (one of them does). That problem is easily fixed, though. If you have a local homebrew shop, they’ll have anything you could want. If not, just do a quick search True Brew to find something like the True Brew Pale Ale Home Brew Beer Ingredient Kit. There are also a bunch of websites that sell extract brewing kits. I am a huge fan of Northern Brewer.

Get Started Homebrewing

A friend and I started brewing at the same time a few years ago.  I started out with one of the a homebrew kit just like this, while my coworker started out on a Mr. Beer system.  Both of us have continued to brew, and have both progressed to all-grain brewing.  The difference, however, is that he’s had to slowly accumulate all new brewing equipment to get where I was when I started with a brewing kit.  Mr. Beer and Coopers Kits are a great way to get started brewing quickly and easily, but if there’s any chance you might pick up brewing as a hobby, by all means consider getting one of the better kits mentioned above.

Once you have a kit you’re almost there, but not quite.  Any of the above will require the use of a brewing pot.  You can pick up a decent priced 5 Gallon Stock Pot from Amazon, or whatever you can find at a local store.  Other than the brew pot, you’re basically set!  As you continue to brew, you will likely find new toys and gadgets to buy, but a good kit will provide everything you ‘need’ to brew.  Check out my Brewing Equipment page to see the gear I am currently using on brew day.  As you’ll see, most of it isn’t anything to fancy.

If it’s not already obvious, I LOVE brewing.  Hopefully I can help somebody get started brewing with a kit that’ll give them the greatest chance of success in the future!

Additional References

Overview:  Mr. Beer Kits
Brewing with Mr. Beer Kits
Brewing Coopers Ales
Brewing Extract Kits (Brewer’s Best)
My Personal Brewing Equipment
Brewing Equipment Auctions

 

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