Review: Making the Brooklyn Brewshop Chestnut Brown Ale

The box for the Chestnut Brown Ale kit, and a bag of malt.

I recently posted about the one-gallon beermaking kits by Brooklyn Brewshop, designed for those tiny kitchens in New York City.  Despite having most of the equipment already, I went ahead and ordered one of their kits just to see what they were like; to have the whole experience, as it were.  I chose the Chestnut Brown Ale, as that sounded both tasty and intriguing.  My choices included jalapeno saison, chocolate maple porter, and a coffee & donut stout, so looking back I seem to have made a very conservative choice.  Oh well, I like brown ale, and the addition of chestnuts intrigued me (very positive associations with hot roasted chestnuts in cones of paper from street vendors).

I have Shea and Valand’s book already, which includes the Chestnut Brown, so I’d already read through the recipe and their very plain basic instructions in the front.  If you’ve never made beer before, you could do worse that to have this as your very first text. Other than referring to sterilizing instead of sanitizing sometimes, the biggest difference from most beer recipes is that these folks don’t go into much jargon or get very technical.  They also count time the way real people do, rather than the backwards way brewing recipes are recorded.  You really do have just basic how-to instructions.  For a lot of people that’s probably not a bad thing.
The exciting day came when my kit arrived.   I was ready to start immediately.  But wait! There were no instructions in the box.  That’s because, when you read the remarkably informative box (more information than marketing there), all instructions are online in both video and document form.  This was not the first time I’ve thought I’d surely like a tablet in my kitchen, and wondered idly again how I’d ever keep it from getting coated in dinner ingredients.  So, a brief stop to go online and get the instructions, which I printed out.  I felt inadequate, but admired them for keeping their packaging light and their information distribution nimble.  Besides, if I use the book I have to flip back and forth between how-to and the recipe; they’re integrated in a nicely linear fashion in the downloadables.

I had to wait perhaps another week to actually try the kit out.  Friends came over, we cracked some beers, had savory Salvadoran takeout.  Then I discovered – much too late on a Friday night – that in addition to the very short list of equipment needed but not included (which I had on hand), there is also a list of ingredients needed but not included.  The ice for a bath to cool the wort in I had in my freezer, check.  Three tablespoons of honey for bottling, check, don’t need it for another two weeks.  But the chestnuts, the distinguishing ingredient…the chestnuts are not included, and I wasn’t going looking for them at that point of the evening.  So don’t let that happen to you.  Read the stuff in the margins. It’s in perfectly normal type, but if you’re all focussed on the instructions as I was, you could miss them too.

A couple of days later I found pre-roasted chestnuts in my local health food store.  I bought a pack, made tea out of three of them, and added that – just a half cup of tea water, I couldn’t have gotten any more liquid into the carboy.  Undoubtedly not the same as dropping three chestnuts into the boil as per instructions.  I hope I can taste them at all in the final product.

OK, so back to the brewing evening, I proceed sans chestnuts, just making

small carboy of homebrew
My chestnut brown had nowhere near this much sediment

a brown ale…the instructions are very plain, which is really nice.  They include a packet of sanitizer, and because I’m a believer in brainwashing new home brewers early, I was gladdened by it.  The logistics of managing a one-gallon batch – well, it’s downright refreshing.  No question of getting a really thorough sparge, or being able to control your temps.  Where they add technique advice, it’s down-to-earth practical and accurate (example – the mash: “You likely don’t need to apply heat constantly.  Get it up to temperature then turn the heat off.  Monitor, stir, and adjust accordingly to keep in range.”)  There are technical terms, but they write in such a way that you could ignore them if they intimidate or disorient you.There wasn’t anything alarming technique-wise.  It took about as long to make as a five-gallon batch does. I  started around 7:30pm, finished around 11:00pm, let it cool in an ice bath in the sink and put it in the carboy around 1:00am. Maybe I could’ve done that bit earlier, maybe not.  I’m looking forward to trying their bottling technique, as they’ve got a method for getting the siphon going that I haven’t tried before.

What I liked:

  • The batch is so small that it’s a great way to play with ingredients and flavor combos.  I’d gotten out the of the habit of making one gallon of anything, and I’d never made beer in such a small quantity.
  • I like how manageable the equipment is.  I can see that, were I to move overseas (London!) or to a smaller home – someday with luck I’m going to be elderly and I already want less home to take care of so I can write more – this would give me a way not to give up brewing just because I have to leave my big buckets and pots behind.
  • A five gallon batch of beer is a lot for li’l ole me.  I don’t drink that much by myself.  Right now I have occasional big events where I can bring five or ten gallons, but that’s not every week (thank goodness).  I like to brew pretty often, always testing and learning, but there has to be an audience for the product.  I can find an audience for ten bottles of beer at the average dinner party (which I enjoy hosting).
  • I really could tailor the beer specifically for the dinner party menu.  That opens all sorts of interesting doors.
  • Their blog, The Mash, has all sorts of interesting stuff – spent grain recipes, brew news, hop of the month.

What I don’t like? I’ll let you know if there’s anything once I taste the beer.

Next time I might order one of their one-gallon mixes, just to see what’s what.  The one-gallon mixes include the grains, yeast, hops, and spices if there are any.  So far all their kits and recipes are from the book, so I could just go to my local hombrew shop instead.  I’d still have to be careful to get any extra ingredients in the recipe — not gonna make that mistake twice!

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  1. Elspeth – so how did the beer turn out? ( unless you commented and I missed it)?

    How was the flavor – are you familiar with Newcastle Brown Ale? If so – is it close to a Newcastle beer?

    Any response is appreciated.

    I see you posted a while ago but I just purchased this from Bed Bath and Beyond.

    Thanks again


    • It was nice, but definitely pay attention to roasting those chestnuts. That flavor is what will make this beer a little different, and your own. Otherwise it’s pretty much just a brown ale. Nifty kits, though.
      One caveat – I found it took as much time to make these one-gallon batches as it does to make five. Set aside an afternoon, you’ll need 3-4 hours, especially if you’re not a practiced beer brewer.

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