Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Homebrewing With Midwest Supplies

Not too long ago I was contacted by Midwest Supplies about trying out one of their brewing kits and writing about it, so needless to say I took them up on the offer.  I don't write about as much as I do commercial beer, but I've been homebrewing for about two years now.  I enjoy the art of it, the creativity of creating your own beer, and I don't really mind the consumption of the finished product either.  So far, all I had done were my own recipes, but I know there are plenty of fantastic kits out there, so when the offer arose I knew Mandi had been really wanting to brew a pumpkin beer, so it was the perfect choice.

The kit came with almost all the ingredients required for the beer, everything but the pumpkin really, but that was easy to find on our own, and cheap as well.  Since I wanted to see how well these kits could be used by a less experience brewer, Mandi was the head brewer for this round, and I just sat back as the assistant to take some pictures and drink some beers!

First up, the water... I've always had the habit of using bottled water when brewing extract beers... it's probably all in my head, but the few times I tried with tap water the beer tasted off and I've never had that problem with just some natural spring water... at $6 for a full batch it's worth the little extra money.  I'm sure if you are brewing at home the tap water would be acceptable, but it also can't hurt to take the extra step.

From there, it was time to get the water to steeping temperature (155) and steep the specialty grains.  The instructions said to steep them for 10-30 minutes, and that 10 minutes was fine if you are pressed for time.  I just have one word of advice here... if you are pressed for time, DO NOT start a batch of beer.  It's a long process, no matter how much you try to rush it.  We went for the full 30 minutes on the steep, in a muslin bag that I had already (equipment was not included in the kit, but Midwest does sell a wide range of kits) and got the grains to steeping.

Once the grains were steeped Mandi pulled the bag out and got the water to a boil, while adding the malt extract and brown sugar and stirring until they were dissolved.  Since this was an extract kit, the extra step of malting and sparging the grains to extract all the sugar was unnecessary, which saves some time and I've made several tasty beers this way.  Even the award winning Rosemary IPA (2012 gold medal at the Dixie Cup!) was an extract brew.  As soon as the boil hit, the first hops went in, and then it was just hanging out until the end of the boil, when the pumpkin, the spices, and last bit of hops went into the pot.

The second to last step of brew day, was to chill the wort down to fermentation temperature... I have a copper heat exchange coil which works pretty well but even that can take 30-45 minutes.  It's a lot to ask to bring 5.5 (after boil off) gallons of water from 212 degrees down to 68.  Eventually though, the beer was at the right temperature, and Mandi pitched the yeast, gave it a stir, and the carboy went into the fermentation fridge.

As you can see, there was a lot of pumpkin sediment in the bottom, but that's alright.  It'll settle out over the course of a few rackings and won't make it into the finished beer.  After letting the beer ferment for a few weeks it was racked into secondary, and then kegged.  A couple of days of carbonation later, and the beer was ready to drink!  I thought it turned out very nice... and easy-drinking pumpkin ale with good pumpkin flavor and still some hop bitterness.  This beer actually smelled a lot hoppier when it was fermenting, but it settled down to a nice level for the finished product.  The color is right on for a pumpkin ale, and I must say I was very pleased with the finished product.  Mandi did a fantastic time with her brew, and with the instructions provided it was pretty easy to get the job done. 

If I had any suggestions, it would be that the directions were a combination of too intense, or too simple.  There were a lot of 10-30 minutes, or 5-10 minutes in there that could have been done away with in favor of an exact number. There were also some quick instructions which would have been fine for an experienced brewer but way too simple for someone with little to no experience.  This kit isn't really made to be an introduction to brewing though, it's an ingredient kit and it put out a really nice pumpkin ale.  If you want to get into brewing but don't have the equipment, find a friend who does, buy a kit like this, and get them to help you through it.  Then relax and have a homebrew!

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