For those that are regular readers you know that in between my British ale brewing I brew a bunch of kits from Northern Brewer (NB). The quality of the brews is high and every few months they introduce something new. I especially enjoy the beginning of every new quarter when Wyeast and White Labs put out a special limited edition selection of yeasts and NB crafts a special recipe to showcase the yeast. This quarter NB put out a Rogue Dead Guy Ale clone and Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout clone to complement the Wyeast Special Edition release of PacMan yeast, the proprietary strain from Rogue Breweries
I have brewed quite a few of these kits over the last 12 months, some more than once and a couple one too many, so I thought I would provide my own little guide to the kits I have drunk and some little tips I have picked up along the way.
1) Quality – Almost all the pre-prepared recipe kits I have brewed have been of the highest quality. The ingredients are fresh and pre-packed to the right quantities. Grains are crushed and hops are sealed and fresh. If brewed correctly the quality of the finished brew is also of the highest order with some exceptions. I thoroughly recommend the clones such as the Broken Spear Bitter (Brakespear Best) or the Grateful Dead Guy (Rogue Dead Guy Ale). I have done side by side comparison with the commercial version and the clone and they are so close, helped of course by the fact that the yeast strains hail from both version are the same.
Here are my top 3 quality favorites:
#1 New Old Ale – winner of my 2009 brew of the year. This ale matures well with age, strong fruit with a rum quality on the back with a balanced hop flavour make this strong old very approachable. Many friends who are not ale drinkers have been converted after drinking this ale because it is so well balanced with a distinctive flavour. Leave this brew in the bottle for at least 2 months before drinking,
#2 Sinistral Warrior IPA – this brew is currently in my 2010 favorites list. A killer American Style IPA with a high IBU count. But give this brew 2 months in the bottle and watch as the ale begins to mellow slightly whilst retaining the hop driven peppery spice leaving a really smooth IPA. It goes down way too easily for its alcohol content, so be careful.
#3 Peat Smoked Porter – an American style porter that goes down smooth like desert. It has a full mouthfeel and delivers a balanced hop malt character. The kicker with this stout is the inclusion of peat smoked malt giving an almost bourbon note to the drink. This ale will fill you up, its not a session drink and is great as an end of the evening brew. Needs at least 1 month in the bottle.
2) Degree of Difficulty – NB extract kits are not hard to brew, if you can cook oatmeal you can brew these kits. The OG’s tend to be conservative but SRM and IBU calculations to my eyes and taste are typically on the money. There are some exceptions.
#1 Lord Fatbottom Ale – a very viscus Barleywine. The kit ships with a monster 14 lbs of extract and its nearly impossible to avoid the hot break boiling over. I recommend using a 10G boiler for this brew. Many people who have brewed this ale have reported the need to kick start the primary fermentation with champagne yeast as the ABV climbs over 10%, most yeasts pack up and go home with ABV’s over 10. Its a tough one to brew, I have and its is a decadent, thick hop bursting delight. I have one in the carboy conditioning away at a happy 13% ABV. Needs almost a year to finish. I recommend at least 1 month in the primary, 6 months in secondary. But come prepared.
3) Ones to avoid – not everything or everyone is perfect and NB kits are no exception. We all have times when our brews have gone wrong due to matters well within our control, wrong ingredients, poor sterilization, temperature etc. But sometimes there is nothing we can do, the ale just isn’t that good. Here are my least favorites from NB
#1 Cream Ale – just don’t try it, it’s bland, has poor head retention with nothing distinctive whatsoever. The brew process was accurate, OG, FG, color and IBU perfect. It just doesn’t taste of anything.
#2 Irish Draught Ale – this was a big disappointment but the wife liked it. None of the nutty character claimed by the kit was present, it was a little too dry and left an after taste not too my liking, the late clover honey addition appeared to have no effect. I had high hopes for this brew based in the reviews but I will not be brewing this one again. Again the brew process was perfect, the taste just wasn’t there
So that’s my list for now. I have the two Rogue clones on the go right now and I cracked a sample of the Dead Guy Ale clone and had a bottle of the real thing immediately after. The results are almost identical. This brew will definitely be making my favorites list this year. If you have a favorite kit drop me a line or post a comment, would love to get some recommendations.