Whether you’re a new brewer or an experienced brewer, “kitbashing” can be a fun and easy way to get wild and creative while brewing.
But first, let’s get this out of the way: For many, I’m using the term “kitbashing” incorrectly. Kitbashing is model aficionado lingo for taking pieces of existing models – tanks, planes, etc. – and building something new with them. To me, though, taking a beer kit and mixing and matching to create something new is in the same spirit, so let me coin it now for homebrewers.
The idea is simple. You take a beer kit from your local homebrew shop or a retailer like Midwest Supplies, you tweak it with other ingredients, adjustments, and your own creativity, and the end result is a new beer.
This is homebrew kitbashing! And this is a kit:
I LOVE to kitbash. I’ve done it since my earliest homebrew batches, and feel like it’s a big part of the fun of brewing. The great thing about it is, it’s EASY. You just have to be willing to have fun, take inspiration from beers you like, and to think outside the box.
Most recently, I tweaked two intro kits from Midwest. I generally find that basic, stripped down recipe kits make for great kitbashing fodder, because the recipes tend to be simple, clean, easy-to-brew, and wide open for creative possibilities. That means you have a great canvas to paint upon.
The first Midwest kit I played with was their oatmeal stout. Bashing up this kit into something new was easy. I’ve played with oatmeal stout kits in the past, using them as a base for my Old Kicker, a beer I look at as a session version of Founder’s Breakfast Stout. I took inspiration from a favorite beer, and it's what I suggest you do, too
For their oatmeal stout, my adjustments were easy. At flameout (the time when you stop the heat on your boil), add two packets of Swiss Miss milk chocolate mix.
Yep, that’s it. I’ve used baker’s chocolate powder and other variations on the theme in previous versions, but simple hot chocolate mix will do. The basic idea is, add enough chocolate mix, no matter the source, to make yourself 2-5 cups of hot cocoa, depending on strong you want the chocolate to be.
When you are ready to bottle – no less than three weeks later, in my opinion – brew roughly one cup (8 oz) of coffee. I have done the brewing many ways, from simply making a cup in our Keurig to cold-brewing a robust cup over the course of a few days. Results WILL vary depending on how you do it and your taste for coffee, so feel free to experiment (I’ll offer coffee advice in another post), but however you do it, make the coffee and add it at the same time you add your priming sugar or, if you keg, right to the keg.
And that’s it. That’s all you do. It's simple!
The result is a low-gravity, i.e. low alcohol, beer with rich, complex taste you won't expect from a simple, run-of-the-mill extract kit. I’ve done many variations on this over the years (including one with bourbon and oak chips, another with orange peel, and others), but the end result is almost always a pleasant, drinkable beer that emulates many of the flavors I want at a low, manageable ABV.
Consider doing this at home – and it works with almost ANY standard oatmeal stout. I first did it with my local homebrew shop’s recipes, and here applied it to Midwest’s. The results are similar.
The great thing is, kitbashing is fun and easy and CHEAP. I could make a list a mile long of kits I’ve “bashed” into something else. I took Midwest Supples’ Boundary Waters Wheat and added lemon peel, coriander, and sea salt to create a refreshing summer beer. I added some of my favorite hops to their Amber Ale and did it Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA style (additions staged over an hour) to make a hoppy amber. I’ve racked my local homebrew shop’s witbier onto cherries and raspberries and blackberries to create fruit beers. And so on
The ideas are endless. I have “bashed” countless kits and come up with many great beers. Some duds, sure, but that is part of experimenting. It’s part of the fun. So DO it!
For ideas and inspiration, I recommend Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head fame, Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher, and your own creativity. These things + a disregard for the rules will result in awesome beers you have never tasted before!