1 Gallon Porter Kit Review

This kit is good for getting your feet wet in home brewing! Especially if you want to go all-grain right from the start. We'll discuss equipment, brewing, bottling and tasting in this review. Being an experienced brewer, I have a lot of gadgets that make brewing / bottling days quicker and easier. They're cheap, and come in real handy. So let's get to it...

Upon opening, the packing list right on top, with plenty of paper around the box. The Kit's box is wrapped in bubble wrap to protect it. By the size of the boxed kit, it can be readily seen that it takes up little space, an important consideration for apartment dwellers who want to brew. A one gallon brew will give as much as 12- twelve ounce bottles of beer, allowing for many different styles to be brewed that won't take up a ton of space. In addition, the down-sized equipment won't cost you very much. I'm going to brew this beer pretty much as any newbie brewer would, with exceptions to equipment and process. Keep it simple, stupid!

Un-boxing the Kit

Porters are an ale, the pre-cursor of “ stouts”, a roastier, more full bodied version of porter. The style is named for the folks plying that trade that would stop at the pub for a pint of this ale when taking a break, starting about the 18th century. It became so popular with them that the name stuck.

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Let's go over the kit's contents. There is bag of pre-crushed grains, recipe and instructions, two foil packets of hops, and a blue packet is Safale S-04 dry yeast. A yeast strain from England, which is a prolific fermenter that floculates (drops out of suspension) well. There is also a fine mesh nylon grain bag, with a floating thermometer. Also included is a bag of cleaner/sanitizer. Then the racking-bottling tubes with clip, “S” type airlock and bung. Lastly is a one gallon jug (or carboy) which is used as a fermenter.

Brewing the Porter

I always store the yeast packets in the little butter cubby on the fridge door, as refrigerating yeast keeps them fresher longer. Same thing with LME's, or Liquid Malt Extracts. Hop packets are best stored in the freezer to keep them as fresh as possible for many months. In this way, these particular ingredients will be in better shape until used. Take them out to warm up a little bit before brewing. I'll also be using spring water to brew this beer. But RO or distilled can be used as well. It seems the yeast like the slight trace of minerals from the spring water.

Shop Starter KitsPer the instructions, you'll need a 3 gallon (12 Qt) kettle for this brew. I happened to have a 3 gallon stainless steel one, which is great. Aluminum pots can also be used, but an oxide layer must be created first. To do this, fill the aluminum kettle with water and boil it 30 minutes to create the grayish coating on the inside. This will prevent the rather acidic wort from leaching aluminum into the beer as an off-flavor.

kettlewater1In the left pic, the grain bag is stretched over the lip of the kettle. You may need another person to hold it in place on one side while you stretch it over the other side. Pour two gallons of water per the instructions for the mash. In the right pic, the two gallons of water in the kettle with the floating thermometer added.

After heating the water to 160F, turn off the heat and pour in the contents of the grain bag. Then stir to break up any dough balls and evenly wet the grains. The reason for turning of the heat is that we don't want to denature the enzymes in the malted grains that convert the starches to simple sugars in the mash by getting it too hot. Then place the lid on the kettle to retain heat.

mashtun1I laid a fleece-lined jacket/shirt inside my quilted hunting coat to insulate the mash tun in order to hold mash temp of 153F. Wrap the inner fleece-lined coat sides around the tun (kettle), tying the sleeves around it snugly. I repeated with the outer one, as seen in the right side pic. If you don't have anything to cover the kettle, it should be okay, but make sure the mash temp doesn't dip below 147F over the course of the mash. Boiling water can be added a bit at a time to increase the mash temp if need be. Set your timer for one hour.

From past experiences with grain to water ratios for mashing, this is where I should've deviated from the instructions. Mashing is not quite the same as steeping. Water to grain ratios are 1.25 to 1.5 quarts of water per pound of grains for mashing. So one gallon in the mash would've been closer to ideal for the 2lb, 6oz grain amount. Then sparge with another 1⁄2 gallon in another kettle and 168-170F for 10 minutes in what is known as a “ dunk” or batch sparge. This would've given 1.5 gallon boil volume that would've boiled off in the usual 1 hour to one gallon in the end.

Next, I used the paddle to squeeze more wort out of the grain bag. Next, put the kettle back on the stove and turn heat to “high”. Leave the lid off so DMS pre-cursors can boil off. You don't want that off-flavor later (DMS is a flavor like canned corn)! Anyway, you'll see quickly rising foam right before the kettle boils. This is called, “ hot break”, proteins in the mash clumping together and foaming up. Stir quickly, maybe even use a spray bottle of water as well to calm it down. You can also turn the heat down some, and turn it back up once the hot break has subsided. If it boils over, you'll have a real sticky mess all over the stove that's hard to clean! Keep stirring for about 3 minutes and the foam will suddenly dissipate.

Adding Hops

flavorhop1

Next, I pour in the bittering hops. You'll also notice in this pic that it foams up again. This is normal, as the hops create nucleation points that cause the foam. Stir it down after starting the timer for 1 hour. I used my digital kitchen scale (not pictured) to separate the .2 ounces of EKG (East Kent Goldings) flavor/aroma hops into two .1 ounce parts. Three ounce bathroom cups are great for this and are cheap!

In this next pic, it's time to add flavor hop addition of .1 oz, which is with 15 minutes remaining in the boil. In this next shot, the timer has run out. Now it's time to pour in the aroma hop addition, known as a “ flame out” addition, since the burner is now turned off. This is also known as a 0 minute addition in the instructions.

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chill2bPut the lid on the kettle and allow this addition to steep off the hot burner. Go and get out the small bag of ice you'll need to chill the wort down to what is called, “pitching temp”. This is the temperature where the yeast can be safely added to the wort to get a healthy fermentation. This will be done in the kitchen sink, since this kettle is small enough to fit in it with water and ice to cool it down.

I used cold tap water twice to reduce the initial heat off the kettle. This got it down to about 100F. Then I added ice to further chill the wort down to 60F. You could chill it down to 65F and be fine, I just happened to chill a little lower this time. My 12 ounce grain scoop comes in handy for scooping the ice around the kettle.

fermenter1Here, I've strained the chilled wort into the 1 gallon carboy to a line I measured as exactly one gallon. You can also see the hydrometer and tube filled with Starsan sanitizer I had already mixed up. The cleaner/sanitizer that comes with this kit will do just as well. I just had Starsan mixed already. The estimated OG for this kit beer is 1.058. I measured this one at 1.060! Higher gravity will yield a hair more ABV. Since half a packet of the yeast is used, per the instructions, I weighed out 6 grams of the 11.5g total in the packet and pitched it dry per the instructions.

By the next morning, at 6:30AM, it began fermenting. Since there's very little head space in the fermenter, I used a “ blow off” rig, which allows excess krausen foam to blow off with all that CO2. This prevents a mess on the ceiling and walls from a clogged airlock during initial fermentation. When the rapid bubbling slows or stops, the sanitized airlock can replace the blow off tube. Fill the airlock to the line on the side with water, vodka, or even sanitizer. The last shot was taken when initial fermentation was in full swing.

fermenting1Day two, and the bulk of fermentation is done. So we're done with the blow-off tube/rig. I lost part of one bottle's worth to krausen blow-off. I sprayed top of bung with Starsan, then sprayed stem of airlock and wiggled into the bung. The airlock got filled to the line on the side with Starsan. It started bubbling again in seconds and I replaced airlock cap as well.

Today, Fat Tuesday 2016, I took a 1st FG sample. With the siphon and tubing given with the kit, I sanitized both parts, leaving the tubing about half full of Starsan. Running the Starsan out of the tubing into the used blow off jar, this causes a vacuum and thus starting the siphon. When the beer got close to the end of the tube, I filled the sanitized test tube/hydrometer combo. Then quickly lifted the racking cane out of the beer to stop the siphon. Needless to say, my timing sucked and I spilled a little. I'm not used to the lack of a spigot on this small fermenter. An auto-siphon can also help with any mess by removing the requirement of liquid being in the tubing to start a siphon.

Anyway, I got an initial FG of 1.014. Pretty close, as I'm expecting a 1.012 FG, or Final Gravity. I gave it until Valentine's day, Sunday 2/14 to check it again. 1.012, so I cleaned and sanitized my tubing, my 1 gallon water measuring jug (as a bottling medium), etc. I also decided to fudge a little and use my bottling wand. It makes things easier and cleaner than merely trying to siphon from one bottle to the next. The racking cane can be pumped, but only down to about the last quart. This is where good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity came in handy.

scale1I used a 3 ounce bathroom cup to weigh the .6 ounces of priming sugar from the 1 ounce packet provided, per this priming calculator; http://www.tastybrew.com/calculators/priming.html. The style (I used Brown Porter), calls for 2.1 VCO2 (Volumes of Carbon Dioxide) in order to be correct. I dissolved it in 1 cup of boiled water and cooled it before “ bulk priming” the beer in the bottling jug. On the right, I'm using the racking cane and tubing provided to siphon into the 1 gallon measuring/bottling jug. The racking can could no longer be “ pumped” to keep the siphon going when I got down to one quart. So I used my auto siphon to get the last of it into the bottling jug. Mini auto siphons are also available for smaller batches like this one (but full size ones will work fine). My son helped me keep the tubing and jug in place during the operation. An extra hand helps sometimes. I attached my bottling wand to the auto siphon tube and sanitized it again. The auto siphon has a vented plug to raise it off the bottom a little to prevent sucking up a lot of trub. I got all but a couple tablespoons out of the fermenter.

autosiphon1I'm filling the clean, sanitized 12oz bottles. You can also see that I've placed the jug of racked beer on top of the fermenter stand to use gravity in filling the bottles. When using a bottling wand, fill it all the way to the top, and at that very last second, pull up on the bottling wand a couple inches to close the pin valve on the end. This stops the flow of beer so you can safely pull it out to fill the next bottle. It also leaves the right head space by way of volume displacement. I got a total of 8 1/2-12 ounce bottles of porter from this batch. Not bad when considering there was an inch of trub in the fermenter, and some spillage, etc. Clear and dark brown so far; we'll now move on to capping. Crown caps in all colors and even oxygen barrier types are a couple bucks per 144 count bag.

capping2I've placed on top of each bottle as they're filled. I'm using a Super Agata bench capper to crimp the caps tightly on the bottles. It looks like I'm struggling there, but I'm actually trying to direct the camera and work at the same time. You can also use a wing capper here, but they're only a few dollars cheaper than the better bench capper. With all 9 bottles filled (8 1⁄2 by volume), I used a 12 pack box seen on the left side of the capper picture to store the bottles in the dark to help prevent skunking. I Put them in a warm place for about 3 weeks at 70F or a bit better to carbonate and condition. Now we wait...

And now the long awaited moment! After three weeks carbonating and conditioning at room temp in a covered box, I put a couple bottles in the fridge. I gave them the better part of 2 1⁄2 days in the fridge to meet the deadline. Head retention would've been better with more fridge time, like 5-7 days. Carbonation drives the head after pouring, which only lasted a couple minutes. My bad, as I didn't give enough time for more cold conditioning.

Anyway, it has a robust, yet smooth roasty flavor. Not at all strong like a stout. Still quite sessionable in my opinion. Had the bottles had more fridge time, the carbonation would've driven better head longer. With more fridge time, carbonation lasts longer in the glass to drive head, aromas and flavor. In addition to this Porters have a relatively low CO2 level for the style. This makes extra cold conditioning time important. Not much aroma beyond that classic ale aroma, since little hops are used in such styles. But this beer is definitely worth the price of admission!

porter kit reviewThe smoothness of the roasted grain was a surprise to me. Quite good for an all grain porter. More like a robust porter in the truest sense of the word! Adding some vanilla beans to this one would be great! So if you're in the market to try home brewing, maybe even all-grain, but don't want or have room for 5 gallon brew kits, this is the one you want! Liking porters and stouts is just a clear-cut bonus with this one. Wow, this is good...

About the Author:

I'm a retired auto worker with a long tradition of fermenting & distilling in my family. I guess my father's side being from Upper Bavaria might have something to do with it? I cut teeth on grandma's corn squeezin's. I started making wine at age 15 with a 1 gallon kit my dad never got around to. It came out so well he loved showing it off to relatives. My wine making continued up to about age 30 when job & family took over. 5 years ago, my wife & I were watching videos on YouTube & wondered how easy brewing beer had gotten at that point?

Since then, I've brewed many different beers from kit-n-kilo to partial mash. Pale ales, IPA's, English bitters, German beers like damphbier & kottbusser. Stouts & porters. Which, of course, goes great with the pit barbecue I also enjoy. My other hobbies include fishing, working on tuner cars, and watching racing. I'm married with grown children, and the experiences from which helped me start writing books in the sci-fi, home brewing, and true tall tales genres.

written by Leonard Cogar

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