they had nearly 100 all-grain kits, I sheepishly admitted my failure to properly navigate their rather helpful website and selected the Peace Coffee Java Stout.
I've been brewing IPAs lately and thought it was time for a big shift to one of my favorite styles. Plus, this kit suggests it brews up at 4.7% abv, so I was curious to see if I could brew up a great tasting session-ish beer.
The package arrived in great shape with all parts present and accounted for:
- Grains: 9 lbs 2-row pale malt, 14 oz Chocolate Malt, 4 oz Flaked Barley, 4 oz Caramel 60 L, and 1 lb Roasted Barley for a total of 11.375 lbs.
- Hops: 1 ounce Challenger (bittering); and 1 ounce Tettnang (aroma).
- Yeast: Wyeast Thames Valley (also had the option for dry yeast or White Labs)
- Coffee: 4 ounces of Peruvian organic coffee beans from Peace Coffee Roasting in Minneapolis
- Priming: 5 oz. of priming sugar.
The kit came with a two page instruction sheet with the basics for an all-grain batch. The instructions were fine, but I would not want to rely on them for a first ever all-grain. For one, the instructions provided for fly-sparging which is not newbie-friendly. It would be helpful to include batch sparging instructions, but it's also reasonable to assume the brewer is familiar with one or the other method. The instructions also suggested testing the viability of the yeast 1 to 2 days before brewing. This isn't too reasonable for a Wyeast smack pack, but better than finding out the yeast is dead when done brewing, I suppose. Still, the instructions aren't intended to be a a how-to guide, so I'm nit-picking here.
The Wyeast Thames Valley was a variety I had not run across before, but what the heck. Jared at our local Summer Sun Homebrew Supply talked me into using Wyeast's Ringwood Ale - another one I wasn't familiar with - for my recent IPAs and that has been a spot on recommendation. The Wyeast was 2.5 months old, but readily swelled to the max four hours after breaking the smack pack. I had nearly constant bubbling through the air lock about 20 hours after pitching it.
The instructions included two methods for adding the coffee to the stout. The beans could be added directly to the boil, but the result would be more bitterness from the boiling and fewer aromatics from the "scrubbing" effect of the vigorous fermentation in the primary fermenter. The preferred method is to brew the coffee and add it to the secondary fermenter. The instructions call for adding 48 ounces of coffee which seems like a lot and would certainly drop the gravity. Predicted starting gravity from the instructions is 1.042 to 1.046, but mine was 1.052 despite having about 5.2 gallons remaining after the boil (and I make no claim to a high brewhouse efficiency). The addition of the coffee to the secondary fermenter may well bring the gravity down closer to the predicted level.
Overall impression? It will be another 4-5 weeks before a taste test, but the kit itself was just what you would expect and quite good. The instructions could be improved, but when it comes to all-grain it is safe to assume the brewer knows the variety of methods and techniques available. Each technique has pros and cons and thousands of opinions on which are the best. Pick what you like and run with it. The kit has everything you will need for whatever method you use.
So, why pick a kit from Midwest Supplies? I am fortunate to live in a city with a great local homebrew shop - Summer Sun Brew Supply - and it is great to be able to bounce ideas off the guys there and get some expert advice. I also like to create my own recipes and tweak them for a variety of desired flavors and characteristics.
Yet, not everyone lives in an area with access to a place like Summer Sun. In that case, these kits from Midwest are a great option. Plus, not everyone likes to create recipes and it is sometimes a struggle to know where to start. These kits have been carefully thought out and tested. You can brew one up, taste a few pints, and get an idea what you like and don't like from the design of the kit. Need more body? Less bitterness? More roasted bite? Now that you have a base, it's easy to change things up by tweaking the ingredients in your own recipe formulation.
The last "kit" I opened some 16 years ago involved opening up a couple cans of pre-hopped malt and boiling it for a few minutes. It's safe to say brewing kits have come a long way from those days and Midwest Supplies puts together some very fine options. Taste test coming up in a few weeks.
Midwest Supplies, just outside Minneapolis, MN, is "the largest wine making and home brew supply shop in America and was voted the Twin Cities Best Homebrewing Supplies shop for 2012." They provided the ingredient kit at no cost to us for purposes of review. Have a product you'd like us to review? Send a note to: alan @ missoulabeerweek.com.