My first brew kit arrived in January 2010 and it contained everything I would need to craft my first 2 gallons of naturally fermented home brewed beer.
Directions And Utensils The brewing directions were well organized and very easy to follow and the Mr. Beer website has a ton of information on everything from brewing tips to ingredients. (See: Mr.Beer.com)
However I do recommend at a minimum, keeping a notebook handy for recording highlights of your brewing sessions. Depending on your level of computer skills you may want to create your own Blog like I did, to record brewing dates, recipe ingredients and how the beers turned out. You may also want to participate in some of the forums out there. It is helpful to post questions, about any brewing topic, and be sure that you are getting back reliable answers from very experienced brewers.
My favorite brewing forums are:
The Beer Borg
Mr. Beer Community
Home Brew Talk
Brewing KB Brewers Roundtable
The kitchen utensils needed to prepare the beer recipe were already on hand, 1 large spoon for stirring the ingredients, 1 small can opener for opening the beer mix cans, and a 1 cup measuring cup for exact proportioning. I picked up this tip on one of the forums, 'use a standard twist type can opener to completely remove the tops of the extract cans and then scrape the remaining extract off the bottom and side of the cans to get every ounce of extract out'.
Additionally a 3 quart pot is used for mixing the recipe ingredients, a small dish to place the utensils on after they've been sanitized and a pot or bowl large enough to hold 3 cans of HME and or UME extract.
Sanitizing The Equipment
All utensils, fermenter and bottles require sanitizing before using them to prepare each batch of beer. This is one of the most important steps in the beer brewing process, the extra time devoted to sanitizing your equipment and keeping good sanitization throughout your brewing process will pay off in really great tasting beer.
The One-Step no-rinse sanitizing cleanser that ships with all Mr. Beer recipes, uses oxygen to clean and disinfect your equipment, without influencing or changing the natural beer flavors. It is a safe, easy to use and a 'must do' step in brewing a good tasting and flavorful beer.
'One-step releases oxygen into solution in a way that forms hydrogen peroxide that kills bacteria and other infectious organisms. Hydrogen peroxide then degrades into water and oxygen and the only residue is a thin film of minerals that are naturally found in most water supplies.
One-step is not labeled as a sanitizer because the producer has not chosen to apply with the FDA for that designation. Mix One-Step at one tbsp. per gallon of warm water. One-step should not be used with hard water (over 200ppm total hardness). One step has no listed contact time, but in our experience 2 minutes is effective.'
The Wort: Essential To Crafting Flavor And Taste
Preparing the Wort can be defined as 'the mixing in and blending of key ingredients that define the character of finished beer'. The professional brew masters employed by Mr. Beer evaporate the wort down into a thick syrupy liquid called 'extract', to which we extract brewers add boiled water to before using it in our recipes.
I prepare my recipe 'wort' on a kitchen stove top, using the 3 quart pot to boil 4 cups water and a fairly long handled spoon to stir in and mix the cans of extracts and any other ingredients the recipe calls for.
2 Gallon Fermenter And 1 Liter (PET) Bottles
The reusable fermenter will hold up to 2 gallons of prepared wort, enough to fill 8 of the 1 litre plastic PET bottles included in the kit. I let all my beers ferment for at least 21 days before bottling them in 1 litre PET bottles. This is a matter of personal choice as there are plenty of fellow brewers out there who use shorter fermentation times and still produce a good tasting beer.
After thorough sanitizing has been completed, purified water, prepared wort and yeast are added to the fermenter before the top is screwed on tight.
The fermenter is then placed in location with a constant temperature (65-72F) for at least 7 to 14 days (I keep my fermentation temperature at a constant 65F for 3 weeks before bottling). When the fermented beer is ready for bottling, sanitize the 1 liter bottles and then add 2 teaspoons of pure cane sugar to each bottle before filling it with beer.
The carbonation stage is crucial in getting just the right amount and size of bubbles into your finished beer. I use pure cane sugar to 'prime' the bottles for carbonation, the extra sugar wakes up the yeast so they can turn the sugar into alcohol and Co2. Unlike in the fermenter where the Co2 was allowed to escape during the initial fermentation, the bottle caps are screwed on tight causing the Co2 to be absorbed by the beer producing natural carbonation in the process.
Carbonation can take 7 to 21 days to complete, at a constant temperature (65 to 72F). (I allow my beers to carbonate for 3 weeks at 70F). Recipes containing a lot of adjunct ingredients will take longer to condition than recipes with only a smaller amount of adjunct ingredients.
Where To Go From Here The key pieces of the brew kit have been explored and their role in the Mr. Beer brewing process briefly explained. The premium brew kit includes all the ingredients required for crafting a 'standard' recipe. The recipe steps are simple and easy to do and require no previous beer making experience at all. The 'West Coast Pale Ale' recipe is an inexpensive introduction to home brewing that also produces a 3.7% ABV light colored beer that is both smooth tasting and not bitter.
The number of ingredients used in each recipe can vary greatly, from a simple 1 can malt beer mix, 1 pouch booster and some dry yeast. To recipes containing additional cans of malt, unhopped malt extracts, booster, different variates of pellet hops, different types of yeast and adjuncts ranging from spices like grains of paradise to citrus fruits and beyond.
As a rule of thumb, the more ingredients used in creating the wort, the longer the fermentation process will take. This can also be said for the carbonation process as well. My first attempt at brewing the 'West Coast Pale Ale' used a 14 day fermentation followed by a 7 to 10 day carbonation processing time. (I enhanced the recipe by adding 1/2 cup pure maple syrup to increase the ABV)
I've come to learn that the cidery sweet finish usually means a few things, either the fermentation temperature was too high or the sugars in the brew haven't had enough time to mature. The maple taste was a bit too strong for my liking, I've since moved on to using pure honey as I find it's flavor to be milder and not quite so overpowering.
Up until this point I completely omitted the very important process of conditioning or lagering the beer for sometime, allowing the beer's flavors to fully merge and mature in the bottle before drinking. I condition my beer in a basement, with a consistent yearly temperature range of 55-65F, naturally brewed beer can be stored for up to 10 to 12 months as the alcohol will act as a preservative. Prior to drinking the beer should be refrigerated for 24-48 hours and served cold in a clean glass.
By the way, I enjoy drinking the naturally brewed beers I have made and sharing it with friends and family. I can't think of any better way to enjoy myself than inviting some folks over for a beer tasting contest.