Just this year I made my first foray into home-brewing. After a fair amount of research online and through the help of friends, I made a not-so-brief trip to Maine Brewing Supply in Portland, ME.
I started with the Crosby & Baker True Brew “Maestro” kit (and an Irish Stout extract kit) which came with a fermenting bucket, bottling bucket, siphon & racking equipment, hydrometer, and a bottle capper. Short of the actual bottles, it’s everything you need to get started.
On a return trip to the brew shop I hesitated over which kit to pick next. The Oaked Imperial Stout kit stood out to me, though the $10 premium over other kits was an early deterrent. The potential higher ABV and included toasted oak powder – plus the chance to modify the recipe some – finally won me over.
The general process for these kits are all the same — ‘mash’ your specialty grains for 30 minutes, add your extracts and hops, and boil for some length of time. Chill, add yeast, and let the magic happen.
I’ll admit there are potential problems with the True Brew kits, as easy as they prove to be. While a brew shop may see decent product rotation, you may not be so lucky with any other retailer — see Overstock’s selection of brew kits, for example. Older kits may have wonky grains, past-due extracts, or worse.
That aside, the directions are a bit limited with at least one misleading step: that the mashing – or steeping, really – of the specialty grains should be done at a near boil.
(The specialty grains are left to mash for 20-30 minutes, but with no after-mash sparging, hence the “steep” term.)
I followed the Irish Stout directions perfectly, bringing the water to a boil before adding the grain bag. My new-found knowledge of whatever I memorize from John Palmer’s How To Brew suggested that the mashing should be done at a lower temperature, so I aimed for a starting temp of 165°F for the Imperial Stout. I believe this will be a key factor as the beer already looks and smells much better than the Irish Stout did at the one week mark.
Thirty minutes in, I pulled the grain bag, dropped in three quarters of the Nugget hop pellets and the dry & liquid extracts, and we were off to the races.
I decided to play with the recipe a little, holding out a quarter ounce of the Nugget hops for the final 10 minutes of the boil. Knowing I was going to rack to secondary – and add the toasted oak powder at that time – I decided to stick a couple of vanilla beans into a few ounces of bourbon to add one last twist to this stout.
The Irish Stout kit drew praise from fellow homebrewers, including a “It doesn’t taste like homebrew!” from a serious all-grain brewer. I can only hope that the Imperial Stout further impresses, though early signs are positive.
I’ve already made plans to graduate from these retail beer kits, but that should not be a knock on True Brew. The more choice and direct interaction I have as I brew my beers, the better I’ll feel about the end result. Brewing with a set of training wheels doesn’t quite offer that experience, but the end result is perfectly drinkable. These kits are certainly something I’d recommend to any budding homebrewer.