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When many people first start drinking beer, a lager or IPA can seem a little like magic. Equipped with grain, water, yeast, and hops, brewers transform those four core ingredients into constellations of taste, aroma, and alcohol content with no two beers alike. Making beer can seem out of your reach, as impossible to master as the local bakery’s crackly loaf of sourdough bread, but it's not.
Don’t be intimidated. At its core, brewing is just another form of cooking using different raw materials and recipes. Homebrewing is an easy hobby to acquire—provided you have the right equipment. If you have a stainless stock pot in your kitchen cabinet, you’re halfway to making your first batch of beer. You can assemble the rest of the necessary equipment piecemeal, but a better option is getting a homebrewing kit that includes everything you need to start fermenting.
There are great beginner kits for folks just dipping their toes in the hop-filled waters, while advanced brewers can grab high-tech rigs that rival professional brewing systems.
Grab one of the best homebrewing kits and start planning the next great IPA.
Best Overall: Northern Brewer Brew. Share. Enjoy. Homebrew Starter Kit
Makes 5 gallons of beer
Ample instructional material
Simple brewing process
Pleasant flavor profile
Doesn’t come with bottles
Lengthy brewing process
The first step to homebrewing is buying the right equipment. You need a stainless steel brew kettle, fermenter, tubing, sanitizer, and testing equipment, among the essentials, not to mention tools for bottling the beer. Piecing together the equipment one item at a time can be a pain. Instead, Northern Brewer handles the heavy lifting with its everything-included starter kit that promises to make the process “as easy as making mac ’n’ cheese.”
The Minnesota-based shop backs its boast with experience. It’s been in business since 1993 (it’s currently owned by brewing colossus AB InBev) and understands the ins and outs of homebrewing better than most. Each starter kit comes with one of three recipes (Hank’s Hefeweizen, Block Party Amber Ale, Chinook IPA) that makes 5 gallons of beer, the equivalent of 16 pints. The clear step-by-step instructions are complemented by a wealth of instructional videos, a database of informational articles, and homebrew experts that you can contact by text if something goes awry.
“At Northern Brewer, we want to provide the full spectrum of brewing knowledge,” says Nick Stephan, the director of marketing. “If you want the CliffsNotes, we can help. If you want an entire online learning portal devoted to the pursuit of homebrewing knowledge, we’ve got that too.”
"Apart from gathering a few standard kitchen utensils, there’s barely any preparation needed with Northern Brewers' kit." — Rebekah Joan, Product Tester
Best for Beginners: Mr. Beer American Golden Ale Complete Beer Making Kit
Super-fast brewing process
Comes with bottles
Great introduction to brewing
Fermenting keg and bottles are plastic
Beer extract can is hard to open
Since 1993, Mr. Beer kits have launched the homebrewing hobbies of thousands of amateurs, likely leading more than a few to start their own craft breweries. The kit’s beauty is its ease of use: Instead of simmering grains for hours, you’ll instead open a can of hopped malt extract created by Australia’s Coopers Brewery. The extract cuts the brew day to around 30 minutes; from there, you just need to wait a few weeks for the beer to finish fermenting inside the LBK—the kit’s plastic little brown keg.
Alternatively, Pia Sen, the president of New York City’s largest homebrew club, Brewminaries, is a big fan of The Brew Bag, which “you can use for your brew-in-a-bag setup in your kettle, and then later use it to line your mash tun if you move to a different setup,” Sen says. “It’s great for convenience and efficiency, and lasts for years. We’ve had ours for five years and it’s still going.”
"Mr. Beer’s American Golden Ale Complete Beer Making Kit is ideal for the beer lover who’s short on time and space, but still wants to try their hand at homebrewing." — Rebekah Joan, Product Tester
Best Variety: Brooklyn Brew Shop Everyday IPA Beer Making Kit
Great range of recipes
Perfect for brewing a variety of beers
Well-priced for a gift
Doesn't come with bottles
One gallon is a small yield
The craft brewing industry built its success on bold flavors and innovative recipes, which can be tough to find in many starter kits. Brooklyn Brew Shop, which Erica Shea and Stephen Valand founded in 2009, offers the industry’s widest range of all-grain beer kits. The 1-gallon kits (that’s 8 pints of beer) range from a lip-prickling jalapeño saison to a honey ale and double IPA, in addition to collaborations with craft breweries including Stillwater, BrewDog, and Mikkeller. (The recipe for the coffee-infused Beer Geek Breakfast stout is so good.)
In addition to ingredients, each starter kit includes a thermometer, glass fermenter, airlock, sanitizer, tubing, and more. The equipment is reusable, too; to brew your next batch, you can either buy ingredients from a homebrew store or grab one of Brooklyn’s tested beer-making mixes. They include of-the-moment styles, such as a milkshake IPA, low-alcohol sour ale, and even a porter that tastes like chocolate-covered pretzels.
Best Small-Batch: BrewDemon 2-Gallon Conical Fermenter System Brewing Kit, Prophecy Ale
Ease of brewing
Stick-on temperature gauge
Bottles and equipment are plastic
Focus on classic styles over modern recipes
Go behind the scenes at any brewery and you’ll spot stainless steel fermenters, their conical bottoms collecting yeast and other brewing sediment that settles during fermentation. BrewDemon’s 2-gallon kits come with a miniature plastic conical fermenter that holds enough for more than 20 12-ounce bottles of beer.
Brewing a batch is a breeze. BrewDemon’s beer-making kits, created by New Zealand’s Speight’s brewery, come with cans of malt extract that you mix with warm water. Pour the wort into the fermenter and add the yeast, a process that should take 30 minutes tops. The hardest part is waiting a week or two for fermentation to finish, before bottling the beer in the provided plastic bottles and waiting a week or so for carbonation. Refill recipe kits range from an Irish stout to Belgian witbier and nut brown ale.
Best Electric: Bräu Supply Unibräu 10-Gallon Electric Brew System
Sleek and stylish
Easy to upgrade
Top-notch customer service
Entry-level cost is high
Price can easily add up with accessories
Veteran homebrewer Anthony Roman is a big fan of the "awesome" Unibräu Electric Brew System, which he's been using for nearly three years. The Vancouver, Canada, company’s electric brewing system, which can make up to 6 gallons of beer, is crafted from stainless steel and utilizes a digital controller to help you better manage each step of your brew session.
“It comes with everything you need to start brewing day one,” Roman says, praising the quality and functionality. The system can also expand with your brewing ambition.
“You can add components to make it exactly the system you want,” Roman says. He's upgraded his heating elements to turbo his boils. Overall, he adds, Unibräu is an “electric system that can grow with you."
Best All-in-One: Anvil Foundry All-In-One Brewing System With Pump, 10.5 Gallons
Huge value for the price
Push-button dual voltage
Fermenters and bottling equipment not included
Design reminiscent of a coffee urn
It can be tough to sift through the range of all-in-one systems on the market, but Mark Hurley, a manager at The Brew Hut in Aurora, Colorado, views the Anvil Foundry as the best of the breed. (In 2020, the American Homebrewers Association named The Brew Hut the homebrew shop of the year.)
“If you compare the price of this unit to what you get, I really don’t see any other system that is coming close,” Hurley says.
The bells and whistles are built right into the silo-shaped design. It’s double-wall insulated to hold heat without the need for an outer jacket, Hurley says, meaning the dual-voltage system can bring water to temperature faster. Other big pluses for Hurley: The low-density heating elements won’t scorch the mash, and the grain basket features extra side perforations for better flow and less chance of a stuck mash. The digital controls let you calibrate your boil temperature down to a specific degree.
Best Advanced: Ruby Street Brewing The Fusion 15
Nearly infinitely customizable
Will last years
Requires tons of storage space
Produces more beer than some may need
For more than four years, The Brew Hut’s Hurley has taught homebrewing classes on the Fusion 15, which yields 10 gallons of beer. He "absolutely loves the brewing systems from Ruby Street,” a Colorado-based fabricator founded in 2011.
Nothing is off the rack. Each system, powered by propane or natural gas, is customized to a brewer’s specific requirements (go on, get the digital control panel), and ambitious brewers can even upgrade to producing as much as two barrels of beer, which comes out to 62 gallons.
The Fusion is also a heavy-duty workhorse. Hurley says, “Everything is built to professional standards and can handle the most demanding brew day. It has never let me down."
The Northern Brewer Brew. Share. Enjoy. Homebrew Starter Kit gives aspiring brewers all the necessary equipment they need to turn their fermented dreams into real beer. The Brooklyn Brew Shop kit (view at Amazon) and fun, flavorful recipes allow homebrewers to make miniature batches of some of today’s trendiest styles.
What to Look for When Buying a Brewing Kit
Homebrewing systems can be very simple or rather elaborate. Some kits require little more than combining ingredients and letting the yeast work its magic until it’s time to bottle. Others are very involved and require a more hands-on approach for a successful batch of beer. If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll really enjoy the brewing process, it may be best to start with a basic kit to familiarize yourself with the process and work involved.
At the fundamental level, the brewing process requires a few simple supplies and steps. It starts in a lidded kettle—some kits include these, though a large stockpot works just fine—with a long-handled spoon. Grains, malt extract, and hops are added to the pot of boiling water to create a wort (sugary water). After cooling, the wort is added to the fermenter where more water is added along with the yeast. An airlock is inserted to let carbon dioxide into the tank while keeping oxygen out as the yeast converts the wort’s sugars into alcohol during fermentation.
Once complete, a racking cane and siphon help move the beer to the bottling bucket. For carbonation, a second fermentation is required. Called conditioning, this can be done by introducing a priming sugar to the entire batch or dropping a carbonation drop (or fizz tablet) to each bottle before capping. The entire brewing process typically takes a couple of months—fermentation takes two to four weeks, while conditioning requires another two to three weeks.
Malt Extract or All-Grain
The average starter brewing kit is designed for malt extract recipes. These can be hopped malt extract (HME), dry malt extract (DME), or liquid malt extract (LME). This is a convenient option for flavoring the wort and often works well in beginner beer recipes. The alternative is all-grain brewing; many brewers find it makes fresher-tasting beer. These kits are not as numerous but do include the essential equipment needed to cook the grains into a mash, giving the brewer more control over the beer recipe right from the start.
The fermenting vessel is a key component of any home brewing system. At its most basic, a food-grade plastic bucket works just fine, and many kits use these for both fermentation and bottling buckets. Some kits include spigots for easy drainage and do not require a siphon. There are also barrel-style fermenters and glass jugs (called carboys), which are a little less industrial-looking than their plastic bucket counterparts. For that mini microbrewery feel, conical fermenters are a good choice that produces clearer beer.
Starter kits typically brew 1 gallon of beer per batch, and up to 5-gallon systems are available. This will affect not only how much beer you can brew at once but also the amount of space it will require in your home. Larger batches require larger vessels and may not be a good choice when space is limited. Though you don’t get as much beer, the smaller home brew setups do let you explore more beer recipes without a big commitment.
Many brewing kit manufacturers also sell ingredients for brewing beer. The kits often come with everything you need for one batch of a particular style of beer. Many companies also sell recipe kits that include all of the ingredients you need—grains, malt extract, hops, and yeast—for various styles. Or, you can buy the ingredients individually for custom recipes. With manual brewing systems, these ingredients are pretty universal, but more automated brewers may require proprietary ingredients. For instance, some will use a “pod” similar to those for single-cup coffee machines, which may limit the variety of beers you can brew at home.
Types of Home Brew Kits
Home brewing can be either a manual or automated process. The majority of kits are manual and require the home brewer to move the beer throughout the various stages. These require more individual pieces of equipment that must be sanitized but can also be upgraded individually. This hands-on approach is preferred by many home brewers and is the most affordable way to get started.
All-in-one automated brewing systems are most often a single machine that does the majority of the work for you. The initial cost is higher, and some models require a significant investment. The primary benefit is convenience, as well as the fact that most of the variables are controlled with a precision designed to increase the chances of turning out successful batches of beer. Due to the internal workings, it is important to properly maintain the machines.
Among home brewers, Northern Brewer is one of the most trusted suppliers. The company is dedicated to helping home brewers, offering brewing kits that cover all the basics as well as a vast range of equipment for upgrades. Recipe kits and individual ingredients are also available. It’s all reasonably priced, and the company provides good support for customers. Its website also includes very detailed tutorials that can help anyone get started or take their home brews to the next level.
For gifts and the most basic kits, Mr. Beer is a reputable company that can get any beer lover started in home brewing. The kits use a barrel design that takes up very little space, and they’re one of the most cost-efficient setups for people who aren’t sure if they’re ready to commit to home brewing. The refill kits let you explore a variety of beer recipes and they offer some rather unique and fun beers to try. Some users were underwhelmed with their results with Mr. Beer at first, but found that subsequent batches fueled the desire to pursue home brewing further.
Craft beer lovers have found that the BrewDemon system is a nice upgrade. The company claims to be the first small-batch conical fermenting system producer. The design mimics that of commercial brewers and produces what many home brewers say is a better-tasting beer. It also simplifies the process slightly; plus, the company provides detailed instructions, and the system is a little more stylish if you want to brew in a visible area of your home. For all the perks, BrewDemon's systems retain an affordable price.
No matter which brewing system you purchase, cleanliness is of the highest importance. Everything that comes in contact with the beer after the boil—including the vessels, hoses, tools, bottles, and even the scissors used to cut open ingredient packages—needs to be sanitized before each use. It is a critical step that prevents bacterial contamination, which can affect the yeast’s health and produce unwanted flavors in the beer. Home brewing suppliers offer a variety of cleaners that are proven to work well with brewing equipment. Bottle and hose brushes will also help clean some of those hard-to-reach places. The second step is to sanitize the cleaned equipment; the food-grade sanitizers used for brewing are typically liquid, and many do not require rinsing.
Automated brewing systems will have their own maintenance requirements outlined in the product’s manual. These instructions should also be followed without any shortcuts because there are many parts in these machines where bacteria can grow. Some manufacturers have cleaning tabs or solutions that they recommend, and some have automatic cleaning cycles. When using tap water, you may also need to descale the brewers regularly. As with the manual brewing kits, sanitization is required before each batch of beer.
The nice part about starting your home brewing experience with a kit is that, for the most part, each piece can be upgraded individually. With any of the manual brewing systems, you can try fermenting beer in a glass carboy or conical fermenter rather than a bucket. Likewise, if you find that the airlock provided with a kit isn’t working as well as you hoped, you can purchase a separate three-piece or S-shaped bubbler replacement at a minimal cost. In most cases, pieces of equipment that get worn out or damaged are also available without the need to purchase a new kit and replace everything.
If you find that you really enjoy home brewing, there are many tools and accessories that you can add to your system to upgrade it. For example, though it is pricey, a wort chiller is convenient: It is significantly faster than an ice water bath for those times you need to quickly cool the wort after boiling. Adding heat mats or an electric thermometer will help regulate the beer’s temperature during fermentation. This is particularly important when brewing ales, which should be kept around 68 degrees Fahrenheit, or when brewing in a basement or garage that’s prone to seasonal temperature differences. Bottle racks can be helpful when cleaning bottles for reuse, and there are a number of small cleaning tools and solutions that will help ensure your equipment is properly sanitized.
Do I need to buy a kegerator?
If you’re only brewing a gallon or two of beer, you’re better off packaging your beer in bottles. But if you start brewing serious volume (5 or 10 gallons of beer, maybe two or three times a month), you’re going to want to look to invest in 5-gallon Cornelius kegs and a kegerator. (We suggest several great models.) Bottling large volumes of beer can quickly grow tedious.
What are great books on homebrewing?
For a nuts-and-bolts primer on brewing, John Palmer’s "How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Great Beer Every Time" (view at Amazon) is a terrific start to your homebrewing library. Charlie Papazian’s "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing" (view at Amazon) is also a fundamental text, while Mitch Steele’s "IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale" (view at Amazon) is an excellent buy for any IPA fan.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Joshua M. Bernstein, the author of this piece, knows beer. He’s penned five books on the subject, as well as articles for The New York Times, Wine Enthusiast, Men’s Journal, and Imbibe. He interviewed three experts for this story.