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Home brew dissed by Consumer Reports

While waiting for my wife to get some dental work done I opened the C R for aug '13. Near the front is a short piece on craft beer. The section on craft beer is okay, except for their repeating the information that ale yeast rises to the top and works from there and lager yeast drops to the bottom and works from there.
At the bottom on the page was a box entitled “How does home brew stack up?” Imagine my horror to see them use MrBeer to represent home brew. Needless to say “home brew” doesn’t stack up very well at all.

Here’s a link to the article for online subscribers: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/maga … /index.htm

Funny, their description of the homebrewed beer sounds like a classic case of a bad kit or poor process:

[quote]How did home brew do?

We asked three staffers to brew Classic American Light beer using Mr. Beer Premium Edition Home Brewing Kit. Prices vary; we paid $40. The kit includes a plastic keg, bottle, hopped malt extract, sanitizer, and yeast. You add the malt extract to boiling water; put cold water in the keg, add the malt/water mix, stir, add yeast, close the lid, and store the keg in the dark for about two weeks. You then sanitize the bottles, add sugar, fill the bottle with beer mix (yeast consumes the sugar and creates CO2, and therefore fizziness), cap the bottles, and store them for a week or two. The process wasn’t bad, but the beer wasn’t good. It had a yeasty, cidery character and would have been at the bottom of the Ratings.[/quote]

Ha! I hate that you can’t comment on their stuff :frowning:

Man, how I wish there was a “comment” function!

Sad that they picked probably one of the weaker offerings from Mr. Beer, and Mr. Beer itself, as representative of home brew. I noticed that they followed the minimum quick result path on brewing it.

Nothing against Mr. Beer. I appreciate the start I had with them, and also that you can do some decent things if you take care with them.

Yep. I’m e-mailing them. This was some shoddy testing at best.

customerservice@cr.consumer.org

My e-mail:

[quote]Dear CR,
I applaud that you attempted to test homebrewed beer for this article, however the outcome is a classic example of a case involving a bad kit and/or flawed process. The “cidery” off flavor is most commonly due to using too much simple sugar in the recipe. A “yeasty” off-flavor is generally attributed to a problem with the yeast (e.g., too many dead cells) or could simply be from sampling too soon.

Beer (including commercial beer) requires conditioning time before it should be consumed. Without the technology available to commercial brewers (e.g., filtering), homebrewers typically will allow their beer to rest for a longer period of time. The generally accepted standards among the experienced homebrew “community” are as follows for a standard American ale:
• Two to three week fermentation period. After the initial “active” fermentation phase, additional time is required for the yeast to further condition the beer.
• After bottling homebrewed beer, wait a minimum of three weeks before tasting. The beer will continue to improve for several additional weeks.

My advice would be to buy a fresh, properly designed kit from a reputable homebrew supplier, such as Northern Brewer, Morebeer, Austin Homebrew Supply, or Midwest Supplies. Better yet, buy a kit from several suppliers and compare the results to your Mr Beer experiment. Give the beer two to four months before testing. You will find a very different outcome.

Mr Beer will win in the convenience category, but lose on flavor. The other kits may require purchasing additional equipment, but the product will be far superior.

Best Regards,
Tim
[/quote]
I just realized I should have asked them to ensure they decant when they pour. I’d like to think at least did enough research to pour properly.

[quote=“kcbeersnob”]My e-mail:

I just realized I should have asked them to ensure they decant when they pour. I’d like to think at least did enough research to pour properly.[/quote]

Research? Wasn’t Shock Top one of their recommended craft beers?

As far as CU’s hombrew experience, I think it would be fun to start sending them bottles of properly made homebrew for a tasting.
I suspect that their panel of “sensory experts” would change their tune when they taste what’s possible when brewing at home.

But while CU did indeed miss the boat totally on the homebrew aspect of their testing, I have to say that I have no problem whatsoever with their characterization of Shock Top as a ‘craft’ brew. Personal opinions aside (I’m not particularly a fan of the stuff) it is certainly not an artisanally produced small brewer product, but it is as much a ‘craft’ product as any other beer that is more distinctive than the norm.

The BA can and should be applauded for promoting and protecting the small brewers of the world, but if they are bent on protecting the snob appeal of small scale brewery products, they seriously need to come up with a better descriptive than “craft”. It really doesn’t work any more.
Brewing is, after all, itself a “craft” to begin with.
And truth be told, there are some BMC “craft” products emerging that are as good as anything produced by the little guys.

Sorry for drifting off the main topic…but it is tangentially related.

I think the fact that they chose kits for light lager for beginning brewers says it all. They don’t realize that the most prevalent style is not the easiest to brew. They also thought the hefeweizen they tasted had “off” flavors. I’m not sure that they actually know what a hefe made with german yeast tastes like. CU does a great job when they have objective things to measure (braking distance, etc). But they sometimes have trouble rating things like beer which have more subjective properties. Just because you don’t understand something does not mean it is bad.

[quote=“breslinp”]
Research? Wasn’t Shock Top one of their recommended craft beers?[/quote]
Touche

I try to tell people that beer is like soup. You can’t just say, “I like soup”, without qualifying the statement. I love a hearty barley beef soup, I kinda like snapper soup, and a truly dislike tomato soup. I love a Belgian trippel, I kinda like west-cost IPAs, and I truly dislike light lagers.

I haven’t read the article, (not a CR subscriber) but seriously, they took an entry level kit and used it to represent home-brew as a whole?! Isn’t that like using cup-o-soup to represent “home cooking.” Then they made comparisons across styles? And you wouldn’t get someone who has never cooked before, then stack their results against professional products. Give me a brisket to cook in my oven, then see how my result stacks up against a Texas pit master’s smoker. Yea, that’s fair.

When CR does objective comparisons they do well, but it seems like they removed all chance of objectivity here.

What I’d like to see is a review where they take some low-to middle experience home brewers; say more than a year home brewing, but less then 5. Give them each some same-style kits from different suppliers, so all Irish Red’s or all IPAs. Judge the kits on packaging, and clarity of instruction as well as taste of the final result. Then see how the results stack against commercial offerings in the same style, as well as against more experienced home brewer’s offerings.

I expect the same results as with ANY food category. Quality of homemade improves with ingredient quality AND experience. Homemade CAN, but doesn’t always beat commercial. Commercial always wins on convenience.

The review of MrBeer was spot on. It’s probably the most readily available home brwing system, and cheapest.
I’m betting that CR does not have any homebrewers on staff.
Perhaps if enough people write them complaining about the low level of home brew kit they’ll rethink it and do more testing.

Thanks for the link to the email; here’s what I wrote, with thanks to JMcK for a leader on a good analogy:

[quote]Dear CR,

I’m disappointed at the lack of any scientific rigor when evaluating home-brewed beer against a suite of commercial products. You used only one example, and perhaps the poorest example, to summarily dismiss “homebrew” out of hand. To use an analogy, you’ve made a cheap, instant maccaroni-and-cheese, disliked it, and then dismissed all home-cooked pastas of all varieties as equally bad.

Putting it kindly, Mr. Beer is not a top-of-the-line product in the world of home-brewed craft beer, and “american light beers” are delicate and surprisingly difficult to faithfully replicate. I recommend you actually (a) make a brief effort to learn the basics, and (b) explore more than the big-box store option, before you make any statements with regard to home-brewed beer in the future.

Sincerely,
~Andrew W.
Minneapolis, MN[/quote]

I was harsh, and rightfully so. Consumer Reports has been really pissing me off lately with a lack of in-depth reporting on a wide-variety of topics. It’s clear that they make all their money evaluating automobiles.

[quote=“Silentknyght”]Thanks for the link to the email; here’s what I wrote, with thanks to JMcK for a leader on a good analogy:

[quote]Dear CR,

I’m disappointed at the lack of any scientific rigor when evaluating home-brewed beer against a suite of commercial products. You used only one example, and perhaps the poorest example, to summarily dismiss “homebrew” out of hand. To use an analogy, you’ve made a cheap, instant maccaroni-and-cheese, disliked it, and then dismissed all home-cooked pastas of all varieties as equally bad.

Putting it kindly, Mr. Beer is not a top-of-the-line product in the world of home-brewed craft beer, and “american light beers” are delicate and surprisingly difficult to faithfully replicate. I recommend you actually (a) make a brief effort to learn the basics, and (b) explore more than the big-box store option, before you make any statements with regard to home-brewed beer in the future.

Sincerely,
~Andrew W.
Minneapolis, MN[/quote]

I was harsh, and rightfully so. Consumer Reports has been really pissing me off lately with a lack of in-depth reporting on a wide-variety of topics. It’s clear that they make all their money evaluating automobiles.[/quote]

Harsh? Maybe. Well reasoned and accurate? Yes.

Good job representing the homebrew crowd. Thanks.

[quote=“Silentknyght”]
I was harsh, and rightfully so. Consumer Reports has been really pissing me off lately with a lack of in-depth reporting on a wide-variety of topics. It’s clear that they make all their money evaluating automobiles.[/quote]
Good job letting them have it. A pretty fair and true message, really.

[quote=“kcbeersnob”]My e-mail:

[quote]Dear CR,
I applaud that you attempted to test homebrewed beer for this article, however the outcome is a classic example of a case involving a bad kit and/or flawed process. The “cidery” off flavor is most commonly due to using too much simple sugar in the recipe. A “yeasty” off-flavor is generally attributed to a problem with the yeast (e.g., too many dead cells) or could simply be from sampling too soon.

Beer (including commercial beer) requires conditioning time before it should be consumed. Without the technology available to commercial brewers (e.g., filtering), homebrewers typically will allow their beer to rest for a longer period of time. The generally accepted standards among the experienced homebrew “community” are as follows for a standard American ale:
• Two to three week fermentation period. After the initial “active” fermentation phase, additional time is required for the yeast to further condition the beer.
• After bottling homebrewed beer, wait a minimum of three weeks before tasting. The beer will continue to improve for several additional weeks.

My advice would be to buy a fresh, properly designed kit from a reputable homebrew supplier, such as Northern Brewer, Morebeer, Austin Homebrew Supply, or Midwest Supplies. Better yet, buy a kit from several suppliers and compare the results to your Mr Beer experiment. Give the beer two to four months before testing. You will find a very different outcome.

Mr Beer will win in the convenience category, but lose on flavor. The other kits may require purchasing additional equipment, but the product will be far superior.

Best Regards,
Tim
[/quote]
I just realized I should have asked them to ensure they decant when they pour. I’d like to think at least did enough research to pour properly.[/quote]

With all due respect, I highly doubt any amount of conditioning would make a mr beer kit anything more than the crap that it is. And fwiw, I routinely drink fine homebrew that has aged less than 3 weeks. In fact I’m sipping on a bourbon vanilla cream stout that is exactly 7 days old.

As a once-upon-a-time Mr. Beer brewer who had made some very good beer using Mr. Beer I can honestly say that if they followed the Mr. Beer directions as written then they made a mediocre beer at best.

It’s one of those things that had always made us Mr. Beer brewers scratch our heads; Why doesn’t Mr Beer change/update their directions when they had been told repeatedly - through their forum - that the instructions, as written, will lead to poor beer. It appeared to me and others that they are more interested in telling the consumer that they can make beer in two weeks rather than telling them they can make good beer in five to six weeks. Very good beer in six to eight weeks.

[quote=“akbrewer”]
With all due respect, I highly doubt any amount of conditioning would make a mr beer kit anything more than the crap that it is. [/quote]
Yep. That’s why I told them to buy other kits.

Sure, you can drink it when it’s that young and it may be OK, but it will not be at its peak. I’ve found that more time improves the flavor of beer (sometimes considerably). Since CR is subjectively comparing homebrewed beer to commercial beer, they should let it condition properly before testing.

Using Mr. Beer to represent all homebrew is kinda like using a tv dinner to represent all home cooking. I understand they aren’t necessarily beer experts and homebrewing is a pretty deep topic, but they really shouldn’t cover it at all if they’re not going to do it right.

This whole article is humorous to me. First, as previously mentioned they did no research. Second, they compared numerous styles of beer to each other. If you can’t stand stouts, for example, of course it’s not going to win over that IPA you love. Lastly, and as previously mentioned, they took 3 people with no experience, with a mediocre brewing kit (at best), and a crappy beer kit (no offense Mr. Beer) and compared it to beers being produced by world renowned brewmasters with YEARS of experience and the best equipment available.

Can’t wait to see their comparison about the car my neigbor built from scratch and that Lamborghini…

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