Home Brew Homework: Evaluating Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Kit
This post first appeared on our Men’s Shop blog.
Image and animation by Elizabeth Rudge
To better consider Brooklyn Brew Shop’s beer making kit–which we love and will be demonstrating on this blog in the near future–we asked a professional brewer to give it a test drive.
Our friend Andy Arguelles at Two Beers Brewing Company, which is right down the street from our photo studio in Seattle, said he’d give it a whirl. After he played around with Brooklyn Brew Shop’s kit for a few days, we called him and asked what he thought.
Here’s Andy on the beer kit, his favorite parts of the brewing process and which beers to pair with meals you will almost certainly cook/eat this week.
Shop: Brooklyn Brew Shop
Nordstrom blogs: So what do you think about the brewing kit: the real deal, right?
I think it’s the real deal, man. It’s pretty sweet. Anyone can do it. A lot of times, when people want to get into brewing, it’s intimidating. But this is broken out simply, there’s minimal equipment and you just do it on your stovetop.
Image by Jeff Powell
It’s a semi-experimental thing for us to be selling. I wanted to get your perspective on it, as a professional.
I would say it’s very legit. One thing that’s legit about it is it comes with barley. A lot of home brewers, they go to a home brew store and they start with what they call DME, which is basically malted barley in powdered form; it already has all the sugars in it. It’s a big shortcut and it’s how a lot of people start out. I think it’s a cop out. This kit uses malted barley. I definitely give them props for that. I remember four years ago hearing about Brooklyn Brew Shop and checked out their book. I liked that. I think this kit is pretty sweet.
How can a home brewer use this kit and directions, but maybe mess with it a little and leave their own mark on the flavor of the beer?
Well, I have the Pale Ale kit over here, and it’s a pretty blank canvas. It uses Two Row malt. It’s a pretty standard beer. You could go to the home brew store and get specialty malts, like caramel malt or roasted barley. You could add honey while you’re brewing to make it sweeter. Or molasses. What we do for a lot of beers is dry-hop their beer, so you could do that, pick up more hops and add aroma.
What if there’s no home brew store around, could you make a kit like this from products at the hardware store?
Yeah, of course. Once you get the fundamentals down, which people will get from using the kit, there are so many variations and systems. If you wanted to upgrade to a bigger size batch, you could use a cooler–people use those big Gatorade coolers. You’d need valves. It’d be pretty cheap if you made a system at the hardware store.
How did you get started in brewing?
I got started when I came out here. I’m from Massachusetts. I came out here five years ago, and while we had beer back home, coming out to Washington and the Pacific Northwest in general was completely different. In the grocery store I found a whole aisle of beer, and it was all local. It kind of blew my mind. My roommates at the time were brewing at home, so they taught me the basics. And Two Beers was my favorite brewery–I was there a few times per week–and when I saw they were hiring, I went for it. That was four years ago.
What’s your favorite beer that Two Beers has now, even that’s not commercially released?
I have two. One that’s released is the Wonderland IPA, a west coast style IPA, huge floral nose, really juicy. Something great to go with a meal. That’s my favorite. And I really like dark beers. We make an imperial stout that’s aged in brandy and bourbon barrels for 12 months. That’s called Fall Line. It’s delicious.
Does the Pacific Northwest deserve its reputation as the U.S. capitol of beer?
I say absolutely. The West Coast and California have a lot going on. But Washington and Oregon are just ahead of the curve. There are so many breweries. Everything on the East Coast is one or two years behind. Coming up with new styles and pushing the limit, and just quality of beer: the Northwest is at the top.
What’s the most creative part of brewing for you?
Coming up with new recipes and doing pilot batches and test batches. But in the actual process, I like measuring out the hops–it never gets old, that smell–and the other thing is filling barrels. Those brandy and bourbon barrels I was talking about. There’s something really special about working with oak barrells.
What do hops smell like?
You know, a lot of times they smell like weed. They can smell like marijuana because they’re a little bit related, the plants. But there are so many varieties, just like there’s so many varieties of malt. The range is crazy. People smell different things, but the juicy, fruity smells are popular on the West Coast now. There are milder traditional hops in Europe. There are ones that are dank, like weed. There are hops that smell like onion, which might not sound good to people but tastes really good. They’re constantly coming out with more. Yakima Valley here in Washington produces 70% of what America uses for hops. Every year they’re breeding different hops.
What’s the last, coolest hop you were introduced to?
There’s this one, when I went out for hop harvest this past year, that doesn’t have a name yet. It takes a couple years for hops to get a name. This one, the descriptor was either cedar or oak. I can’t remember. It had a wood character to it, which I hadn’t ever smelled before. That’s unnamed and not on the market yet, but it will be at some point I bet. As far as commercially available, I like Mosaic, which is what we use for the Wonderland IPA. It’s dank, can be oniony and has a fruity character. Also Citra is a favorite of a lot of people for good reason, because it makes things taste like citrus.
Let’s freestyle some beer pairings. Are you good at that? If I name foods, can you suggest a beer?
Yeah, I love doing that.
OK: nachos and chili. Think about the Super Bowl.
With the chili, an IPA would be good to match the level of heat. And with nachos, something sessionable. An IPA would also be good, but something sessionable, easy-drinking, clean. Maybe a lager. At the Super Bowl you’ll be having more than a couple beers. So a lager or pilsner.
Nice, OK. What about roasted chicken?
To use in the roasting process? Or to eat with the chicken?
To eat with roasted chicken. Say dinner is roast chicken and a side salad.
If I did that, I would want to have something with wheat in it. A saison would be refined and delicate, and wouldn’t be overpowering. An IPA would be too much. A saison would be light and refreshing. That would be good.
What about salmon and potatoes?
Usually you think of white wine. Also the lighter direction. Maybe a blonde. Something not overpowering. Same thought process as pairing with chicken.
Gotcha. What about steaks? Say you’re eating a ribeye.
If you’re eating something big and bold like that, it might seem counterintuitive, but I think a big and bold beer is perfect. I like a robust porter or imperial stout. I really like this beer called Yeti by Great Divide, an imperial stout. They even have it listed on their bottle to pair it with a New York strip steak. I would completely agree.
What about pizza?
IPA, man. IPA or double IPA. I’d go double. That’s a beautiful thing. The IPA has a lot of flavor, and the bitterness of it kind of–not cleanses your palette–but resets it in a way. Makes you want to eat more. It’s not really cleansing, but the bitterness dries out your mouth a little bit, makes you salivate more. When I think of pizza I just…pizza and IPA. Trust me. I kind of want that right now.