Back in my undergraduate days, my roommate and I dabbled in beer brewing using kits from William’s Brewing.  The beers turned out alright, and we certainly learned a lot from the experience.  Regardless, it was a cheap and effective way to obtain beer and learn something about the process of making it.  Unfortunately, since undergrad, I haven’t lived in a place where I could effectively continue the hobby, so I put beer brewing on hold.  Now that we live in a larger house with areas I can let beer ferment for weeks on end, Brooke and I have jumped back in and are brewing again, this time using kits and materials from Northern Brewer. Another company to try would be Midwest Supplies, and while I don’t have any personal experience with them, their prices seem to be comparable than Northern Brewer and I’ll probably give them a try in the future.

How To Make Beer:

Beer Varieties We’ve Tried:

  • Honey Brown Ale w/Specialty Grains — Took about 3 weeks to make, including fermentation and priming in the bottles, although most bottles were left for longer for aging prior refrigeration.  Distinct flavors were quite noticeable from the grains steeped in water prior to boiling the wort.  Brooke noticed a bit of an aftertaste from the beer.  I thought it tasted a bit “thin,” compared with what I was expecting of a Brown Ale, but still good.  The beer got considerably better after leaving it in bottles for close to a month.  The aftertaste Brooke noticed was gone, for all intents and purposes, and the flavors really started to come forward as you drank it.  Practically everyone that had tasted it earlier thought it was almost a different beer when they had it a month later.  A very good first brew, for sure.  Starting gravity was 1.050; final gravity was 1.011.  Estimated alcohol content was 5%.  Note: I popped open a 2 L bottle of this after two years in a refrigerator and it still tasted wonderful.  Very impressed with how it aged.
  • Bavarian Hefeweizen — Got this one for Christmas.  Fermented it in a 5 gal glass carboy for 3 weeks, then bottled.  Unfortunately, as this was my first time trying the beer in a carboy, I messed up the volume and had too much water.  In the end, the flavor and “body” of the brew was a bit thinner than was otherwise intended, yet the flavor was still there.  Starting gravity was 1.048; final gravity was 1.016.  Estimated alcohol content was 4.2%.
  • India Pale Ale w/Specialty Grains — In recent years, I’ve become a fan of “hoppy” beers, such as India Pale Ales.  I started the Hefeweizen and the IPA at the same time, as IPAs tend to take close to 2 months for completion.  Aging them is an important process and will require a Secondary Fermentation step.  In the end, the IPA was in the Primary for about 3 weeks and in the Secondary for an additional 3 weeks prior to bottling.  The flavor at bottling was considerably less “hoppy” than I expected, yet the beer was easy to see through (as the wort was limited by removing the beer from the Primary).  Starting gravity was 1.058; final gravity was 1.014.  Estimated alcohol content was 5.76%.
  • Hard Apple Cider — Something of an experiment Brooke wanted to try.  We borrowed a 3 gal glass carboy and added 2 gal of pasteurized, unfiltered, apple cider to it.  The key is to ensure that the cider is pasteurized, but with no preservatives, as they will kill the yeast.  To the 2 gal of cider, we added Red Star Champagne yeast.  Not sure how long it should take to ferment, but we’ll probably check it’s gravity after 7-10 days.  After it’s done brewing, Brooke wants to use brown sugar for priming.  We tasted the Cider at a few points during fermentation.  After 2 weeks, it had had a good, bubbly, apple flavor.  It started at specific gravity 1.052; final gravity, 1.016.  Estimated alcohol content was 4.8%.
  • Mild Ale w/Specialty Grains — We wanted a good “lawnmower” beer for the summer, so this should be good.  The alcohol content will be less than the others, but again, it’s designed as a lighter beer that still has flavor.  In the end, the maltiness of the beer ended up being so flavorful that I wouldn’t consider it a good thirst-quenching, “lawnmower” beer.  Definitely good, but perhaps better described as a “session beer” (i.e. you can drink many of them in a “session” without getting too tipsy).  It started at specific gravity 1.034; final gravity, 1.014. Estimated alcohol content was 2.52%.
  • American Wheat Beer — As the Mild Ale wasn’t all that good for quenching thirst, we opted to try this one next.  6 lb of malt, so should be a bit more alcoholic than the Mild Ale, but still be flavorful.  We left it fermenting for a little over 2 weeks and then bottled it.  The flavor’s pretty excellent, but a bit maltier than expected.  Still, less flavorful than the Mild Ale, so a bit better as a “quench your thirst”-style beer on a hot day.  It started at specific gravity 1.043; final gravity, 1.012.  Estimated alcohol content was 4.05%.
  • Hard Apple Cider, Part Deux — Brooke’s co-worker had access to apples bought at a “fruit auction,” so she had him get enough and press enough for 4 gal of apple cider.  We were in the middle of a move at this point, so we didn’t check its alcohol content, but we let it ferment for 3 weeks in the primary vessel before bottling with brown sugar as the priming solution.
  • Dunkelweizen — This is the first brew we made at our new place in St. Louis, and the first brew I got to use the new propane burner system on.  Overall, the process was pretty simple, though the boil involved half the malt for the full 60 min, but the last half of the malt only boiled for the final 15 min.  I let it go for 3 weeks, but in the end, the alcohol content ended up being lower than expected.  That, and the volume only ended at 4 gal, so I’ll need to make some adjustments for the next batch.  Regardless, the flavor is good! It started at specific gravity 1.044; final gravity 1.016.  Estimated alcohol content was 3.66%.
  • Chinook IPA w/Specialty Grains: I brewed this beer in mid-January and use my wort chiller for the first time, so we’ll see if it makes a difference in the flavor.  Also, having learned from the Dunkelweizen that my basement is pretty chilly for the yeast, I am using a small heater to keep the temperature closer to a consistent 60 F around the fermentation carboy.  No joke, this is likely the best beer I’ve ever made.  I’m very, very impressed with it and so are the others who have tried it…and I believe them when they say “it’s good!” this time…  The beer started at specific gravity 1.050; final gravity was 1.012.  Estimated alcohol content was 5.0%.
  • Cream Ale w/Specialty Grains: We brewed this hoping for something light and “lawnmower beer”-esque.  It fermented for 2 weeks, again with the small heater like before, and then bottled.  The flavor at bottling was pretty good and had a “nutty” taste to it.  In the end, it’s definitely a lighter beer and is the closest to something I’d drink in the heat of summer that I’ve made.  I also ended up with 4.5 gal of it, which is more volume than I’ve been getting with other batches.  Pretty happy with the final product, overall.  The beer started at specific gravity 1.040; final gravity was 1.012.  Estimated alcohol content was 3.7%.
  • AK47 Pale Mild w/Specialty Grains: This is a relatively cheap kit, so far as Northern Brewer’s stock goes, but it should still yield a lightly-bodied brew that’s more amenable to hot, summer days out at the BBQ grill.  I expect the alcohol content to be pretty similar to the Cream Ale we just made, but hopefully even lighter with respect to the viscosity and flavor.  Starting gravity was 1.028; final gravity was 1.010.  Estimated alcohol content was 2.3% (better than I expected, considering how low I started…).
  • Dry Dock Breakwater Pale Ale w/Specialty Grains: This kit is actually part of Northern Brewer’s “Pro Series,” which are designed in cooperation with other micro breweries across the country to make a “scaled down” version of a beer they manufacture.  In this case, it’s Dry Dock Brewing Company from Aurora, CO.  I went with this one because it’s very similar to the Chinook IPA I brewed earlier in the year, but this time, it’s dry-hopped with Citra rather than additional Chinook.  The Starting gravity was 1.050; final gravity was 1.010.  Estimated alcohol content was 5.17%.
  • Dead Ringer IPA w/Specialty Grains: Mom and Dad got me this one for my birthday, largely because Dad likes IPAs and probably wants me to give him some!  That aside, this one will be a big beer (target starting gravity of 1.064) with 5 oz of Centennial hops, so I anticipate that, if it turns out anything like the Chinook IPA from earlier in the year, I’ll be pretty pleased with this one. Based on how the beer looked at the start of fermentation, I’ll likely be transferring this one to a secondary fermenter after 2 weeks.  Starting gravity was 1.070; final gravity was 1.016.  Estimated alcohol content was 7.11%.
  • American Rye Ale: We were up at Northern Brewer on our vacation and picked up a Rye Ale kit while we were there.  Rye beers tend to taste similar to wheat beers, yet have a lower gluten content, if that’s the kind of thing you care about.  Regardless, it should end up similar to the American Wheat Beer we made awhile back, and is very simple in its components (6 lb of malt, 2 oz of hops…and yeast…that’s it!).  The Starting gravity was 1.040; final gravity was 1.012.  Estimated alcohol content was 3.76%.
  • Black Lager: This beer came from Kristen and Jake and it’ll be my first attempt at making a lager.  It’ll also be my first attempt at a beer from The Home Brewery, another purveyor of fine beer-making goods.  In any case, lager yeasts typically require colder temperatures and longer fermentation periods, so I may need to wait to try this until later in the year.  In order to brew this sooner than February, I picked up a California Lager Yeast from Northern Brewer, which should give “lager characteristics” to the beer in a yeast that ferments at temperatures up to 65 F. The Starting gravity was 1.042; final gravity was 1.014.  Estimated alcohol content was 3.71%.
  • 80-shilling Scottish Ale w/Specialty Grains: Got this one for Christmas and am looking forward to it quite a bit.  I enjoy Scottish ales, but haven’t tried my hand at making one yet.  It’s definitely more “malty” than “hoppy,” but perhaps that’s a good thing for a Winter beer.  Interestingly, Northern was (somehow) out of priming (corn) sugar, so we got carbonation pellets this time.  This should allow me to leave the beer in the fermentation bucked for longer and not worry about yeast falling out of solution.  We’ll see how it goes!  The Starting gravity was 1.052; final gravity was 1.016.  Estimated alcohol content was 4.72%.
  • Cream Ale w/Specialty Grains: I’m making some beer for Kristen & Jake’s wedding, so here’s batch 1 of 3.  Starting gravity was 1.038; final gravity was 1.010.  Estimated alcohol content was 3.65%
  • Chinook IPA w/Specialty Grains: I’m making some beer for Kristen & Jake’s wedding, so here’s batch 2 of 3.  Starting gravity was 1.054; final gravity was 1.016.  Estimated alcohol content was 4.98%
  • Cream Ale w/Specialty Grains:  I’m making some beer for Kristen & Jake’s wedding, so here’s batch 3 of 3.  Starting gravity was 1.034; final gravity was 1.010.  Estimated alcohol content was 3.13%.
  • Dead Ringer IPA w/Specialty Grains: I’ve made this brew before, but I suspect that the previous one didn’t carbonate properly because I went ahead with a secondary fermentation step, rather than bottling earlier in the process.  Thus, this time around, I adjusted the process a bit to see if I got a better beer (…’cause that previous one is likely the worst beer I’ve made thus far, despite this being Northern Brewer’s “most popular kit”).  As suspected, making the beer without relying on a secondary worked much better!  I can verify that it makes a great beer, though I still prefer the Chinook IPA.  Starting gravity was 1.062; final gravity was 1.014.  Estimated alcohol content was 6.57%.
  • British Pale Ale: Now that Northern Brewer doesn’t do flat-rate shipping, I’m exploring other options.  The Home Brewery is close by and had an interesting kit that may be a bit different than I’m used to.  I should mention that, right off the bat, I’m not a fan of the fact that they don’t tell you what kind of hops you’re using (they’re labeled “aromatic hops” or “bittering hops,” but they don’t tell you specifically what kind you’re adding).  That said, the kit started off fine and I’m looking forward to tasting the finished product.  Starting gravity was 1.046; final gravity was 1.010.  Estimated alcohol content was 4.7%.
  • Yellow Dog Ale: Another beer from The Home Brewery.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what this will be like (aside from “Pale Ale”), but that’s good enough for me.  Starting gravity was 1.046; final gravity was 1.014.  Estimated alcohol content was 4.03%.
  • Chinook IPA w/Specialty Grains: Same ol’, same ol’…but damn, if it doesn’t turn out well every time I make it…  Starting gravity was 1.053; final gravity was 1.012.  Estimated alcohol content was 5.4%.
  • Toasted Pecan Brown Ale: This is the first beer I’ll try from Austin Homebrewing, a purveyor of many kits and materials that also happens to have flat rate shipping (or, thankfully, free on this particular day).  Regardless, this beer is destined for Thanksgiving Day, so I want to get on it now so it will be ready by then.  Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed in this brew.  It definitely had a “nutty” character to it, but it was cloudy enough that it just looked gross.  I think the oils contained within the pecans played a large part in that.  The flavor wasn’t horrendous, but I won’t try this beer again.   Starting gravity was 1.044; final gravity was 1.018.  Estimated alcohol content was 3.49%.
  • Our Special Holiday Ale: In the same vein as the previous one, this beer (also from Austin Homebrew) will be destined for Christmas.  It’ll be pretty complex, flavor-wise, with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and more, so it’ll probably need to mellow a bit before drinking.  In the end, I was pretty pleased with this beer.  I had some tell me it rivaled Schlafly’s Christmas Ale, which is pretty high praise.  It definitely retained the spice flavors, though the gravity isn’t where I wanted it to be.  In the end, worth making again.  Starting gravity was 1.038; final gravity was 1.016.  Estimated alcohol content was 2.89%.
  • Budget IPA: This is another brew from Austin Homebrewing, but part of their “budget” line.  The main difference is that it’s a “partial mash” kit, so you end up getting additional grains that must be heated in your brew pot before you can being the regular boil process.  That is to say, it’s cheaper, but takes longer.  Still, the beer turned out remarkably well in the end, though my final volume was lower than I’d like, reducing total yield.  Starting gravity was 1.056; final gravity was 1.018.  Estimated alcohol content was 4.85%.
  • Expeditious Kolsch 20 Minute Boil: Another cheap options, though this time, I’m really just after a good summertime brew.  Interestingly, I noticed there was a “20 min boil” option now, which cuts about 40 min of time off the process.  In many ways, it’s going the opposite direction than the previous brew while maintaining the cost.  In the end, it turned out relatively well, though I think it was a bit “maltier” than I expected, suggesting that the yeast stopped their work a bit early…  Starting gravity was 1.042; final gravity was 1.010.  Estimated alcohol content was 4.04%.
  • White House Honey Porter: Finally getting back into brewing after 9 months off.  I chose a honey porter for this go-round, as I figured something “heavier” yet “sweeter” would do us well for the winter time.  Ultimately, this beer was just “alright:” mostly inoffensive, but not spectacular.  Starting gravity was 1.050; final gravity was 1.010.  Estimated alcohol content was 5.29%.
  • Mosaic IPA: I’m a fan of mosaic hops, as they have a good floral character to them that isn’t quite so “hoppy.”  There are about 6 oz of hops in this beer and plenty of malt.  I’m thinking this may be my new favorite, over Chinook IPA.  It was spectacular.  Loved every second of it.  Believe you me, I’ll pick it up again.  Starting gravity was 1.055; final gravity was 1.012.  Estimated alcohol content was 5.72%.
  • Synchronicity Extraordinaire Wheaten Saison:  I got this one for Christmas.  I’d never tried a saison before (part of the reason Dad picked it out), so while it wasn’t necessarily difficult, there were some interesting additions in the form of orange peels and lemongrass that made the wort look much less appetizing.  Still, at bottling, the flavor seemed pretty good.  Starting gravity was 1.048; final gravity was 1.008.  Estimated alcohol content was 5.23%.
  • Weizenbier: This is another beer I got for Christmas that I finally got around to making over the summer.  It’s a “Brewer’s Best” brand kit, though I found the ingredients to be fine, with the exception of one of the hop packages.  It was already open, so I didn’t feel comfortable using it.  Instead, I substituted with our own Cascade hops that we’ve been growing and the beer shockingly turned out fine.  Nothing to write home about really, but it was a perfectly passable German wheat.  Starting gravity was 1.040; final gravity was 1.012.  Estimated alcohol content was 3.63%.
  • German Alt:  Picked this one up in anticipation of an Oktoberfest we’re hoping to host this year.  The overall process was fine, though I haven’t tried the final product yet.  When I tasted it at bottling, it tasted much like any other brownish-German beer.  A bit more malty than I’d prefer…  Starting gravity was 1.052; final gravity was 1.012.  Estimated alcohol content was 5.25%.
  • Bavarian Hefeweizen: Another beer for our Oktoberfest, but this time more of a wheat beer.  No concerns with the process, though it’ll have a very limited hop profile (which is to be expected, I suppose).  Starting gravity was 1.049; final gravity was 1.014.  Estimated alcohol content was 4.59%.

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