Irish Red Ale - Pouch Beer Kit vs All Grain Beer
Recently, you may have seen us promoting Mangrove Jack’s Craft Series Irish Red Ale for St Patrick’s Day. As part of the promotion, I thought I’d make the kit and document it for social media – check out @mangrovejacks on Instagram.
Funnily enough one of our brewers, Mark Maguire, planned to brew an all grain Irish Red Ale around the same time, so I thought we could compare the process and of course, the finished beer. So I asked Mark to take notes on his experience and then we had the taste test. Here’s how we got on…
Making the Beer
As you’ll probably expect and with most extract kits, the process of making my beer was relatively straight forward – clean and sanitise equipment, mix the malt, add fermentables and water, check temperature before pitching yeast and after 7 days, add the hops.
Having put photos of the process on Instagram – one comment stood out; “Too easy”. Now I’m aware of the satisfaction making a full or part grain beer can give a brewer. Some may consider an extract brew ‘cheating’ or not as authentic as when using grain, however I’d like to argue the point that although an extract kit adds a level of convenience to the process, and there is no recipe creation involved; it doesn’t cancel out all levels of gratification – it still requires technical brewing knowledge and there was no lack in anticipation when checking fermentation or when waiting to taste the beer I made.
I’d not made an Irish Red Ale before, and at the risk of sounding like I’m making this up, this is one of the best homebrew beers I’ve made. The beer is slightly sweet and fruity making it very easy to drink. It has a smooth body and a medium to strong malt character, a subtle floral hop flavour and the finish leaves a sweet aftertaste. It’s also got a fantastic dark red colour. Overall a pretty solid match for the style, and very pleasing to drink and share with family and friends.
Finished Beer from Pouch Kit
Here's how Mark got on...
"Sadly my brewday wasn’t quite as straight forward. I was testing a new piece of automated equipment which is designed to be as easy as it gets to all grain brew. Essentially you create your recipe online, prepare your ingredients and put the malts in the malt section and any hops or adjuncts in the relevant space and hit go. It draws liquor from the provided keg, runs it through a heat exchanger and when the right temperatures are reached, it diverts the liquor over the malt or hops for the time you tell it to.
Usually - when everything goes to plan - this piece of equipment means brewing is so easy and hands off. However on this particular occasion I had a few teething problems and had to think on my feet a bit. I won't go into detail, but I ended up having to transfer the wort back into the keg and continue the brewday in my Grainfather Sparge Water Heater instead.
Now this presented a new problem in that my batch size was about 2 US Gal and the sparge water heater is far too powerful for that. It boiled so vigorously my losses were much more than anticipated, meaning my original gravity was higher than planned, balance of bitterness to sweetness was way out and as it essentially scorched the sugars, it caramelised them and the beer was much darker than it should have been (maybe I’ll call this an Irish Brown!).
So I gave a bottle to Sam, so he could let me know what he thinks. In my opinion, it’s actually a decent beer – but it’s not an Irish Red. It’s very sweet and malty, a note of light caramel has delicate dark fruit notes, a tiny bit of roast and little hop character. If you hold it up to the light, it’s a gorgeous deep red, but otherwise it looks more like a porter. The head retention and lacing are okay, body and mouthfeel medium.
So overall it was a bit of a pain to make, but the end beer, although not what expected, is pretty good."
- Mark Maguire
So clearly the biggest difference between mine (Sam) and Mark's beers, was the beer making process and this therefore had an effect on the finished beer. Mark did hand me a bottle of his Irish Brown to try and he's right, it's a good beer, just not a typical Irish Red. The fact he almost stumbled across it highlights one of the beauties of making an all grain beer that you'd struggle to do with an extract kit.
To wrap this up, there are clearly benefits to both processes/homebrew methods. Everyone has their personal preference but that isn't to say you shouldn't try new (or return to old) methods as you can always learn from the experience. As long as the ingredients you use are top quality and you follow the method correctly you'll be able to make great beer, and you'll always get that with Mangrove Jack's.