You have a wondrously-varied collection of kits to choose from if you are just cracking into the beer making game. I thought I’d help you out and give you the lay of the land.
The goal here is to give an honest and thorough comparison of all the beer making kits out there that are targeted at the absolute beginner. I would disagree with that categorization for some of these kits according to my own experience, but I will be fair and categorize according to the kit maker’s intention. Following the same logic, if the business does not list them as a starter kit, you won’t find them here.
I have chosen to only assess kits available from the maker directly. If you must hunt them down at a brick-and-mortar retailer, they’ve been disqualified. If they can only be purchased from some iffy third-party online, they’re out. We want accessibility and a direct connection in case of mishaps. Personally, I always feel much better knowing I bought from the business that made the kit and can get the support I need no matter what. If you disagree, comment below and I can always modify the comparison to best fit what you folks need.
Factors I Considered:
Ease of Use
Though some beginners will want the full experience from the moment they first brew, many aren’t interested in the hours of effort that all-grain brewing demands. Any masterful brewer will tell you that extract, steeping, mini-mashing/partial mash, and all-grain are simply methods – flavor will not be impacted. In fact, many expert brewers will build an incredible all-grain recipe, only to modify it for extract so that they can cut off the hours of work all-grain takes. If some dingus has threatened that extract doesn’t taste the same, we suggest you read here, and ignore that noise. Choose what you can truly start comfortably with, or else you’ll get burnt out.
Batch size will rely upon the amount of space you have to brew, how frequently you’d like to jump into another batch, the “risk” of experimenting with larger batches, and how rapidly you are likely to consume your batch. Most kits are offered in 1-gallon and 5-gallon batch sizes. More kit makers are opting for 1-gallon kits. Much of the fun of homebrewing is experimentation, and with experimentation can come mishaps. So, 1-gallon batches can feel much more forgiving than a big ol’ 5-gallon batch. But if you are of the go-big-or-go-home mentality – go for it!
This one is crucial as we enter the era of fancy, automatic, beer-making machines. If you have lots of money to invest in your beer making, you could always purchase a machine that does the work for you. However, if your goal is to learn the process, an automatic device would not be ideal. The kits I show here range from $40.00 to $2,499.00.
Also Worth Considering:
Beer Styles Offered
Most beginner kits come with a batch of beer in one of their most popular beer styles to start you. Before you make the big purchase, you may want to verify that either there is a beginner kit in your favorite beer style, or that you can opt for an affordable equipment kit and add a beer of your choosing in your order.
Will You Have to Siphon/Rack Your Beer?
It’s that step where you use gravity to pull your beer into another vessel for bottling, kegging, secondary fermentation, etc. Racking requires a long-ish cane (maybe tubing) and a way to stagger the heights of the fermenter and second vessel. It’s easy enough, but like any added step it gives another opportunity for contamination, oxidation, or loss of later head retention. If you are a particularly cautious beginner, you may want to opt for a kit that skips this step altogether.
Kits that skip racking: Mr. Beer kits, BrewDemon kits, More Beer 5 Gallon kits, and the automated systems (BrewArt, Brewie+, and Pico Brew).
If you have a reserve of clean 12 oz. glass bottles at home for reusing and find a kit with a capper, this won’t matter to you. But if not, you’ll want to be sure you aren’t caught without bottles on bottling day.
Kits that offer bottles and all: Mr. Beer Complete kits, BrewDemon Plus & Extra Kits, Craft a Brew Gift Packages, and Northern Brewer’s Limited Edition Gift Set.