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Homebrewing with a recipe kit

Jeremy Short · April 30


I’ve been all-grain homebrewing for a while and have almost forgotten what it’s like to brew up an extract beer on the kitchen stove. And it’s awesome—the smell of malt and hops throughout the house. Who doesn’t love that? Oh yeah, my wife isn’t a fan. Anyway, one thing I’ve never tried: making a homebrew from a recipe kit, and I got a chance to do just that with my sister-in-law and her boyfriend—who have just entered the world of homebrewing. And brewing from a recipe kit isn’t a bad way to start out. In fact, I think it’s a great idea to use a kit on your first few brews.

We brewed up a Crosby & Baker Nut Brown Ale kit. There was an interesting mix of 3 specialty malts, a bag of brown sugar, some hops, dried malt extract and a can of hopped extract. Wait right there. Did you say hopped extract? Yep. I’ve only read about hopped extract and have never used it before. And as I had always assumed, it’s awful. I took a taste of the syrup and nearly spit it out because of the bizarre hopped flavor. Why do they do this? I mean there’s already a bag of hops in the kit, why not toss in one more? Personally I would stay away from the kits that use hopped extract. But, not to worry, we made some plans to make this beer a bit more interesting.

Earlier in the day my sister-in-law’s neighbor tapped a couple of his maple trees and was boiling down the sap into some tasty maple syrup. This was all new to me and fun to watch as the syrup boiled on an open camp fire flame. You could taste a bit of the campfire smoke in the syrup and then it occurred to me. This syrup must go into a beer! This thick delicious syrup would be a perfect addition to the brown ale kit that they had already bought. We decided to toss two cups worth of syrup into the kettle. As a side note, be sure to use real maple syrup in your homebrew. Most of that junk in the store is just corn-syrup and should be avoided.

Boiling maple syrup on an open flame.

With the maple syrup we started trailing away from the original intent of the kit. Which I think can add a little bit more interest to some of these recipe kits, but it is important to think about the impact of adding more sugars to the wort. When this recipe we crafted it had a particular gravity in mind. There was also a bitterness level that the recipe called for. Why is this important? In beer there is a delicate balance between the bitterness and the gravity of the beer. Not enough bitterness and the beer will be too sweet. Too bitter and well, wait is there such a thing as too bitter? Okay, okay we don’t want a bitter brown ale, but we also don’t want to drink something that’s too syrupy sweet. We'll need to make an adjustment.

One option was to remove or lessen the use of another ingredient. It would have been pretty easy to just drop the brown sugar and use the maple syrup as an alternative—a simple one for one in this scenario. Or we can go big and pump up the gravity and have a bigger beer. Of course that’s what we’re going to do! So to help keep that balance we have a little challenge and that’s to give a slight increase to the bitterness or IBUs of the beer. To do that there two possible approaches: one, add more hops; two, add the hops that you have earlier in the boil. And that’s what we did as getting more hops wasn’t an option. I split the one bag of hops in half and moved up the first addition. In this case, without my homebrew books or recipe software, I just made a guess at the changes. You can be more scientific in your approach and there is plenty of software to help calculate your bitterness levels. At home I use Qbrew.

Almost boiling. Sea level sucks for boiling.

Regrettably, I didn’t take any notes during this brew session, so I am not sure what OG we ended up with but I do remember that it was several points higher than what the recipe called for, as expected. One other thing made me nervous about the kit and that was the yeast. It came with just the words “YEAST” written on it. Well what type of yeast? No idea. When was the yeast packaged? Not sure. Do you remember when they used to have the generic section in the grocery store and the beer cans just said BEER in big black letters? That’s what the yeast reminded me of, with a bit more color and a dash of graphics. But who knows how long the yeast has been sitting around? We bought some fresher Safale dry yeast to toss into the wort. The yeast was actively bubbling away when we woke up the next morning. Now I just have to wait back for a report on how the beer turned out.


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