For Christmas, my brother Johnny got me a Mr. Beer kit. It’s a kit where you buy malt extract and do very simple preparation before you stick the ingredients into the fermenter. This simplified process won’t produce beer of the highest quality like brews produced by brew master and colleague Tom Puzak who creates his own wort (see below). This is true, much like canned tomato sauce won’t make award-winning pasta recipes. However, it’s very quick and we had a lot of fun making it. I invited a few friends over and we went through the instructions.Here is a picture of the beautiful substance early in the fermentation phase:
That same night we also made root beer which shares the same basic process as making beer. You create a sugary concoction and then add yeast. There are a few differences which make the end-products different. First, the yeast is different. For root beer we used champagne/wine yeast and in real beer we used top-fermenting ale yeast. Second, fermentation has two by-products, carbon dioxide and ethanol. For the root beer, we added a yeast solution to the main mixture and then bottled right away allowing only a few days at room temperature for fermentation before we put the bottles in the fridge. Carbon dioxide will be produced in the bottle which will carbonate the root beer. For the real beer, we allowed a lot more time for ferment at room temperature (2 weeks) which is where the main ethanol component will come from. Carbon dioxide is produced here as well, but the fermenter breathes so this is vented out.
When we bottled the beer, we added a little added sugar to wake up the yeast and have them produce a bit more ethanol and cabon-dioxide. As mentioned before, the closed environment is what carbonates the beer.
Yesterday morning, I took one bottle from the basement and put it in the fridge so I could try it out. I should really let another week or two of conditioning but I was impatient and curious. Plus, my cousin was coming over and he was excited about it too. Here is a picture of our ale, named by my friend Tom Becker who came over last week to help me bottle. It’s called The Andromeda Strain Pale Ale and it had a wonderful head:
The beer was good. It wasn’t sweet and it was well carbonated. It had a clean taste and a complex head (as opposed to a uniform soda-foam). The style itself wasn’t my ideal style. It tasted like a good MGD or maybe a Heineken. It’s been a while since I had a non-hoppy bear or a non Belgium beer so I had trouble identifying something it tasted like. The malt extract I used had the label “California Pale Ale” but I must have done something wrong since it didn’t taste like an Anchor Steam or Sierra Nevada. LOL.
I went and ordered the IPA kit ’cause although the extract I used had hops in the ingredients, I could not detect them in the flavor. The IPA kit comes with two cans of the malt extract and will make 4 gallons in two batches. With shipping, it cost me $27. 4 gallons is about two cases of beer so doing it in this way is a bit of a bargain and a bit more fun than a trip to the beverage store.
Of course, at some point I want to make beer from scratch. This is where I perform the mashing myself from dry grains and create wort, the sugary substance that I pour into my fermenter. Mashing is where you steep the grains in warm water and convert their latent starches into sugars which is the food for the yeast. Otherwise the process is identical to the simpler process I used to create The Andromeda Strain.
Right now, I have a second batch of Andromeda fermenting. Next weekend I’ll bottle and hopefully by that time I’ll get the IPA kit and can try that. It seems like just about every one of my friends is curious about this and making beer is a great excuse to have friends over. I can’t wait to be drinking homebrew the next time I’m making homebrew.