Getting into brewing is a daunting prospect. I had been thinking about brewing for a while and kept mentioning it to my wife, but there were three barriers that held me back. First is the cost. I am stingy, and so while the beginners equipment if not very expensive, I had a problem with the fact that a primary fermenter costs about $16, but its just a paint bucket with a few minor alterations. Surely I would just buy a $5 paint bucket and put a rubber grommet in the lid...but of course I never got around to it. Second is the possibility of failure. It takes several weeks to get to a drinkable product, and the process seems full of potential pitfalls. Was I capable of putting it all together? And finally was the issue of temperature control. Like I said, I'm stingy, so my house is cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Would I only be able to brew in the spring or fall?
Eventually my wife got tired of hearing me talk about it and bought me a Mr Beer kit for my birthday. Mr Beer have created an entry level brewing system that I'm sure lots of brewers look on with scorn, but I'm going to stand up for them because I think their system is actually quite clever.
The whole concept is based on hitting the correct pitching temperature every time. Making beer inevitable involves hot water, but at the point the yeast is added the temperature cannot be more than about 80F, preferably lower, or the yeast will instantly die. What Mr Beer have you do is heat up a set amount of water to boiling, add hopped malt extract, then make up the mixture to the 2 gallon mark with room temperature water. The resultant volume is always going to be about the right temperature for pitching ale yeast.
The Mr Beer system also compresses the amount of time required to brew, which I think makes it easy to set aside a slot of time and really concentrate on your technique. One of the most important aspects of brewing is good sanitation, as any contamination from bacteria can ruin a batch. Good sanitation needs to continue right thru until the beer is drunk, but on brew day it is especially important because you are in the business of preparing a nutrient rich liquid for your yeast to digest. If anything else gets in at the start it has a chance to compete with the yeast. After fermentation is in full swing there is less chance of a contaminant being able to gain a foothold.
The Mr Beer kits come with a no-rinse sanitiser which works well because it doesn't create a lot of foam, which can be intimidating for a novice. While there are many limitations to the Mr Beer setup, they definitely come through on the promise of allowing a complete new-comer to brew a decent beer on the first attempt.