Makes 5 gallons of beer
Lots of instructional material
Simple brewing process
Pleasant flavor profile
Doesn’t come with bottles
Lengthy brewing process
Whether you’re an IPA, pilsner, or lager lover, there’s nothing better than brewing your own beer. The experience is fun and educational, after all. With the Northern Brewer Homebrew Starter Kit, homebrewers get all the equipment necessary to craft their own beer—be it an pale ale or a hefeweizen (you choose your recipe kit). We ordered the Block Party Amber Ale kit to see how things would shake out. Read on for our full review.
Setup Process: Simple and easy
Apart from gathering a few standard kitchen utensils, there’s barely any preparation needed with Northern Brewers kit. We followed the directions and cleaned our equipment with the provided no-rinse solution and assembled the spigot that comes with the bottling bucket. These steps were very straightforward.
Before you get started, we advise reading through the instruction manual and watching the video tutorial so you have a good overview of the process. Northern Brewer’s beer experts have included some tips to make the brewing process go smoothly, and they really came in handy.
One thing we noticed while reading the tips was that the instructions recommend cleaning some of the equipment you’ll use after the heating portion is over. But at that point, your beer will be in an ice bath—most likely in your sink. So they recommend making your cleaning solution either before or during the heating process so you have easier access to running water.
Apart from gathering a few standard kitchen utensils, there’s barely any preparation needed with Northern Brewers kit.
Just as you’d expect from a kit that makes 5 gallons of beer, it comes with a lot of equipment—and some of it is pretty big. Here is everything the amber ale kit comes with: two 6.5-gallon buckets (with lids), one 5-gallon pot, spigot, no-rinse cleanser packets, siphon, hose, bottle filler and caps, bottle brush, stainless steel spoon, steeping grains and mesh bag, 6 pounds of Gold Malt syrup, hop pellets, priming sugar, yeast packet.
Along with everything listed above, you’ll need some kitchen essentials to get you through the brewing process and then through bottling day. Here’s what you’ll need to have handy: kitchen timer (the one on your oven will work), scissors, tablespoon, towe, dishrack, ice for ice bath, small saucepan, enough pry-off beer bottles for 5 gallons of beer.
Brewing Process: Easy but time-consuming
Once you’ve set up your work area set up and you’ve gone through all the instructions, brewing your beer is as simple as it gets. The entire process is a mix of boiling water, adding a few pre-measured ingredients, and letting it boil some more. You’ll have to monitor the foam levels and take your mixture off the heat every once in a while, but that’s it.
The hardest part is waiting—because you’ll be doing a lot of it. At one point, you have to let your wort (unfermented beer) boil for an entire hour. You’ll want to set aside two to three hours for the brewing process, because you’re heating up a lot of liquid, so it takes a long time to get it to a boil. Then, depending on how much ice you have (we recommend a large bag from the grocery store), it takes around 30 minutes to cool in an ice bath.
The entire process is a mix of boiling water, adding a few pre-measured ingredients, and letting it boil some more.
After your wort is cooled down, it’s time to transfer everything into your fermenting bucket. We recommend decontaminating it (along with any other equipment you’ll use after the boiling process) during the 60-minute boil time. You’ll need to add some water to your wort so it reaches the 5-gallon fill line, but don’t worry—your beer won’t taste watered down at all.
To finish up, sprinkle the yeast from your kit on the surface of your wort. The lid should attach securely, and you’ll need to fill the airlock with the included cleanser solution before inserting it into the hole. The airlock is a simple device that allows CO2 (formed during the fermenting process) to escape your bucket without letting oxygen or microbes in. While this may sound complicated, we promise it’s extremely easy to use.
Since the bucket is so big, you’ll want to have a space cleared out for it as it ferments for two weeks. Northern Brewer notes that it’s supposed to sit in a cool, dark place, and we found that the floor of our coat closet was an optimal spot. From start to finish, the brewing process took us 3.5 hours—and that includes cleanup.
Bottling Process: Bottling wand makes it easy
After two weeks of fermentation, it’s time to bottle your creation. About half an hour before you’re planning on bottling, set your fermenting bucket on an elevated flat surface like a countertop. While you’re waiting for it to settle, it’s time to get ready to bottle your beer.
After you’ve cleaned all your equipment with the cleansing solution, all you need to do is mix the priming sugar with some water and heat in a small saucepan. You’ll combine this with the beer in the bottling bucket.
The siphon works smoothly, and you should have your beer flowing after a few pumps.
Siphoning the beer from the fermenting bucket to the bottling bucket (the one with the spigot) is easy. The siphon works smoothly, and you should have your beer flowing after a few pumps. From there, you attach the hose and the bottling wand to the spigot. Filling your bottles is as simple as sticking the wand inside the bottle, letting the beer reach the opening, and then pulling the wand out. According to Northern Brewer, this allows for the perfect amount of headspace in your bottles.
Pro tip: the siphon tube is stiff, so attaching it to the siphon/spigot is tricky. Northern Brewer recommends soaking the end of the tube in hot water for 30 seconds. That way, it’ll soften and be more flexible, making it much easier to work with.
Final Results: Pleasant but a little weak
When we cracked open our beer, our first thought was that it tasted watered down. We were worried that we added too much water right before the fermentation process (even though we followed the instructions) and it looks like we were right. The beer is very light, both in color and flavor. According to the Northern Brewer instructions, the Block Party Amber Ale should be garnet in color and should have “friendly flavors of toasty bread crust, caramel, and an inkling of floral and herbal hop character.” While we could detect some of these flavors, they weren’t very strong. If we were to use the kit again, we’d add less water.
Price: Costly, but you get a lot of beer
Northern Brewer’s Brew Share Enjoy Set is quite costly with an MSRP of $169.99. That said, you get 5 gallons of beer and some pretty nice brewing equipment that will last you in the long run. In comparison, introductory kits that go for $40 or so generally make a gallon or less and their equipment is almost always made of plastic.
Competition: Small-batch options available
Northern Brewer Craft Beer Making Gift Set: If you only want to brew a small amount of beer and you’d like to cut down on costs, then this kit will suit you better. The $80 kit (view on Amazon), comes with virtually the same equipment, just on a smaller scale (meaning no big buckets that you have to figure out where to store). It also comes with limited-edition bottles and glasses.
Mr. Beer American Golden Ale Complete Beer Making Kit: Mr. Beer’s starter kit runs for roughly $45 (view on Amazon) and while it comes with lower-quality equipment, it still gets the job done—and fast. We preferred the beer we brewed with our Northern Brewer kits, but Mr. Beer’s wasn’t bad, either.
- Product Name Brew Share Enjoy Homebrew Starter Kit
- Product Brand Northern Brewer
- Price $169.99
- Yield 5 gal
- What’s Included 5-gallon stainless steel brew kettle, Chinook IPA recipe kit, 6.5-gallon fermenter, bubbler airlock, bottling bucket with spigot, spring tip bottle filler, stainless steel spoon, tubing, Northern Brewer No-Rinse cleanser, bottle brush, bottle capper and caps, printed step-by-step instructions.