Dear fellow brewers,
this is going to be a bit long - please bear with my frustration.
After four batches of disappointing Mr. Beer brews, I have become a bit disillusioned with home brewing. None of the batches were outstanding, and one was downright undrinkable, despite altering the provided instructions to follow a more traditional brewing procedure (i.e. rehydrating the yeast, using longer fermentation times and carbonation times, using dextrose instead of table sugar, etc). I have been crazy about cleaning and sanitation, using Oxyclean and StarSan, respectively.
I am willing to explain this away due to poor quality ingredients and the fact that the Mr Beer keg is more prone to infections with its spigot and lack of a proper airlock. What I am worried about it, however, is that the room temperature in my house here in Florida simply doesn't get cool enough to prevent off-flavors (it's always around 72 degrees in winter and closer to 78-80 degrees during summer). Getting a second fridge or dedicated temperature control is not a realistic option for me at this time.
Until tonight, I was ready to throw the towel and give up on the hobby altogether. Without knowing what has been causing my misfortune, I did not want to take the gamble and invest another $200 in "real" brewing equipment that may not solve anything. But, after a couple of delicious Sierra Nevada Pale Ales, I decided to give it one more shot using a compromise approach: small test batches using real equipment and ingredients.
Basically, I have a couple of 1 gallon glass carboys (formerly cider jugs) sitting around that I want to experiment with. These small batches will allow me to test whether or not the Mr. Beer was the culprit without spending as much money on new equipment. While I will need airlocks, siphoning equipment and a hydrometer, I won't need a dedicated brewing kettle, Better Bottles and some of the other, more sophisticated equipment. I already have plenty of bottles and a bottle capper.
What I would appreciate your help with is:
a) selecting a couple of extract/steeping grain recipes that are fairly foolproof and likely to do well in my warm abode, and
b) any tips you may be able to give me on pitfalls to avoid when it comes to brewing small batches.
Some commercial beers I enjoy are any type of Koelsch (probably not a good choice for me since that required fairly low fermentation temperatures), Belgian Wit (Hoegaarden and the Blue Moon one), Pale ales (Sierra Nevada, Bass) and the occasional fruit beer (Raspberry and Blackberry). I am not a huge fan of IPAs and really don't like stouts and porters.
Your advice is greatly appreciated! Cheers!