After years of wanting to get into home brewing, I came across the "Mr. Beer Premium Gold Edition Home Brew Kit" on sale at amazon. After reading a few reviews, I decided to take the plunge. This particular kit comes with two styles of beer: Cowboy Lager and Blonde Ale. The kit is incredibly straight forward and easy to use. They essentially replace the more laborious parts of brewing with a can of HME (Hopped Malt Extract) which is a condensed form of wort. Although the brewing process is extremely simple and quick, it allows for a great deal of experimentation. The basic beers (American Series) have a low alcohol volume (3.7%) and all fall in the lager/light ale category. But their deluxe brews allow for both higher alcohol volume (4.6%) and a wide range of styles (ales, stouts, porters, fruit beers, white beers). Finally, it is fun and easy to experiment using your own add-ins as the instruction booklet tells you exactly how extra adjuncts affect the abv level. For instance, I made the Witty Monk Witbier (4.6%) and added a half cup of honey (0.9%) to create Pine Creek Witbier (5.5%). I can't wait to try this one!
The variety and potential for creativity on the Mr. Beer website is huge. They have a large selection of regular and premium refills in all the styles imaginable. They also offer seasonal refills that typically sit at 6.5% (Belgian Dubbel, German Hefeweizen, English Strong Ale, Imperial Pilsner)and they even offer a recipe book where they combine different HMEs with UMEs and other adjuncts to create some very interesting brews (they have over 60 recipes right now). Using the same set-up, you can even by cider refills in a variety of flavours and old-fashioned root beer! As I mentioned earlier, this kit really satisfies the beer connoisseur because of the immensity of flavours it can accommodate. The "ingredients" section allows you to buy single cans of HME/UME in whatever combination you want. They also sell hop pellets and yeast strains in a variety of flavours and styles. All this allows you to get closer to the "true" brewing experience as you gain comfortability with the system.
Another reason I love this kit is its size. The brew keg holds about 8L of beer (equivalent to 20-24 standard beers)and is small enough to fit in an apartment closet. You don't need to have an elaborate set-up or an entire room devoted to brewing. I actually like that it only makes a case of beer at a time. If you don't like a particular beer, you don't have to slog through 5-8 cases before you can brew another one. I bought two set of bottles, so I generally have a rotation of two different beers in the fridge at any given time. The beer itself is very good thus far (I have only tried the Cowboy Lager) with a high level of carbonation leading to a nice, lasting head. With the lager, I found that it was really two beers in one bottle. The top half was a lager with nice clarity and head. The bottom half was cloudy in appearance with a diminished head. Swirling does little to counteract this effect. Overall, I'd say the beer is on par with an MGD in terms of taste and appearance.
As for the price, you are generally looking at $20-$25 for nearly a case of beer, which puts it on par with lower end beers at the beer store. (Carling, Lucky Lager, Bohemian, etc.)I would say the quality of the beer, even the basic recipes, surpasses those beers. Plus, you get the thrill of making it yourself! All in all, I'd say it is a very good deal. Amazon has a few of the deluxe styles and recipes and they offer free shipping. The Mr. Beer website has far more product but the shipping to Canada can be a killer.
In the end, if you are looking to get into the home brewing hobby and/or you don't have much space or money, this is an excellent way to start. It is simple for beginners and the variety of beer styles allows you to grow with the kit as you learn. If you are creative with your taste in beer then you will love the Mr. Beer Home Brewing Kit.