Monday, June 16, 2008

Free Beer! A Cooper's Kit Reviewed

Back in April I brewed a batch of beer from a beer "kit" that I received, happily enough, for free. Basically, I was reading a thread on a beer forum at just the right moment to send in my name to receive the kit from a representative of the Cooper's Brewery, who kindly sent out "Cooper's Bitter" kits to the first ten folks who sent him an e-mail (the whole story can be found here.)

I got the kit in January and finally got around to brewing the batch on Friday, 11 April. I was planning on doing a regular all-grain batch that Saturday, a process that takes about five hours from start to finish, but when I got home from work on Friday I realized there was just no way I was going to have time to brew the next day. But the family was at the library, so I thought what the heck, this is a perfect chance to try the Cooper's kit. Some beer is always better than no beer.

This kit was super-easy to make. I pre-heated the can of malt extract for ease of pouring, then added half of the 1 kilogram package of "brewing sugar" (corn sugar and maltodextrin mix) that came in the box, then the prescribed amount of boiling water. I topped this up using my tap water, which was an experiment in itself. I'm on a well and I did not sanitize this water in any way before using it in this brew. My (original gravity) OG was 1.038. I used my new MixStir for the very first time to oxygenate, pitched the Cooper's dry yeast that came with the kit, and fermented at about 68 deg F. The whole process took me less than an hour--I had everything cleaned up and dinner started before the family got back.

I kegged this exactly two weeks later. Final gravity (FG) was 1.012. The beer was much darker than I expected. Once I got it chilled and carbonated I took a taste and was very pleasantly surprised. It has a firm, balanced bittering and a prominent but nice molasses note. The body is light but not overly so--it's nice for such a low gravity beer. There is no hint of any infection problem from the well water. The change in gravity represents a beer at approximately
3.4% ABV, so you can see that it's a relatively light beer, but with a very full flavor.

I took this keg to church on Sunday, April 27 (our Mass is at 3 pm and we always have potluck supper afterwards). Serendipitously, we had a visiting priest, Fr. Joseph Redfern, who hales from Australia and he was very familiar with Cooper's products. Everyone who tried the beer enjoyed it. The beer smoothed out very nicely over the next weeks, but for a two week old beer it was really quite nice.

I still have a little of this batch left and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't think this kit makes an award winning beer, but it's darn good--great for everyday drinking. It's the cat's pajamas for those times when you don't have time for an all-grain batch. Would I use a Cooper's product again? Absolutely.

You can find their products for sale here, here, and here. I think this is a great way for a beginner to learn the basics of brewing. Get a good book on brewing, like How to Brew: Everything You Need To Know To Brew Beer Right The First Time by John Palmer, start with ingredients from a reputable maltster like Coopers, pay close attention to sanitation, and I think you'll be very happy with the results.