Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

December 21, 2008

Home Brewin’:

’Tis Better To Give, THEN You Can Receive!

A home brewing kit for the first-time brewer is a gift that’ll keep on giving—to you, hopefully.
by Jug Dunningan

Jug Dunningan is just here for the beer.
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If you are like me, this week kicks off the official start of holiday shopping. Today I start to think of gift ideas for my friends and family. Tomorrow or Tuesday, I’ll start shopping for the items I came up with during the football commercials. (Sorry, Jared, I am immune to your annoying commercials).

One of the logical choices a beer dork will come to is, of course, beer. Who wouldn’t enjoy opening a delicious, malty present Christmas morning? This is a gift that will rival an Eddie Glick autographed thong for popularity. But unlike the thong, the beer is unlikely to survive the holiday. Once consumed, the gift you carefully chose will be, except for the pleasant memory, gone.

For the serious beer lover, I would suggest a gift that will reap you dividends. A starter brew kit. This is exactly how I started home brewing eight years ago. I received a basic starter kit as a gift. I know how intimidating this can sound to someone that has no inkling about the brewing process, but trust me, anyone can learn to do.

The beginning brewer should start with brewing from extracts. Forget everything you see for all grain brewing for now. Think of this as baking a cake from Betty Crocker cake mix as opposed to making one from scratch. There is nothing wrong with a Betty Crocker cake, and it is a much easier way to learn the ropes than starting with all the raw ingredients.

The first thing you will have to do is select a place to purchase this equipment. I do advise, as always, shopping locally. If you have a home brewing supply store near you, use them. The service and knowledge you receive from them will be priceless. I can vouch for the Wine & Hop Shop in the Madison area. If you do not have a store near you, Midwest Supplies has very reasonable shipping rates and a huge selection of extract-based recipe kits.

Most homebrew shops sell everything you need to start brewing as kits. Most basic kits range from $60 to $100 depending on accessory upgrades. My advice is to start simple. No need for the biggest and best kit for the new home brewer to create that first ale. Buy the most basic kit since it’s easy—and fun as Hell—for recipients to add to their arsenal as they gain more brewing prowess.

Your first beer-making kit should include:
• A 6.5 gallon fermenter (it’s just a food-grade plastic pail) with a lid
• Siphon tubing
• A bottle brush
• Bottle caps
• A bottle capper
The Complete Joy of Home Brewing book by Charlie Papazian

There are several other items that are nice but not required such as a bottling bucket, glass carboy and accessories, siphon pump and hydrometer. These can always be added later.

Now you will need a few things that will not come in the kit:
• You will, of course, need bottles. You can simply reuse the ones your craft beer comes in (but no twist offs!), or you can buy them where you purchase your starter kit.
• A simple kitchen thermometer
• A colander
• A 12 quart kettle

Now all you need is to select a beer kit! Every home brew supply store sells these. They usually come with everything needed to brew with an option for dry or liquid yeast. I strongly suggest getting the liquid yeast. I would also suggest selecting an ale over a lager for starting out. Selecting just one kit may be the hardest part of this whole process. If you cannot decide, opt for a holiday brew kit. These are always popular, plus they’re seasonal.

Now you know everything you need to give the perfect gift. And the best part is, this is truly the gift that keeps on giving. No beer dork blessed by such a gift will deny you, the giver, a few bottles of their first homebrew!


Today is the feast day of St. Arnold, patron saint of beer.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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