Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Mr Beer Years

The starter kit came with the ingredients for the West Coast Pale Ale, which is kind of a classic American middle-of-the-road beer. Light in color and body, not too much hop bitterness. The recipe uses one can of a hopped malt extract. Basically, the jobs of extracting the sugars from the malt, and boiling the hops to add bitterness have already been done. Dilute the hopped malt extract to the full volume and you have the wort (the name for unfermented beer). To add a little more body and alcohol, the recipe includes Booster which is basically simple corn sugar. Once all this is mixed together, the yeast is added and fermentation takes place over a period of one or two weeks. I just let mine go two weeks to make sure fermentation went to completion despite the cold temperatures in my house. I put the fermenter in the cloakroom, which tends to be the warmest area of the house in winter.

When the beer is put into bottles, a little extra sugar is added and the beer is left to carbonate. The sugar is fermented as usual and the carbon dioxide produced cannot escape thru the sealed cap so the beer becomes carbonated. This takes another one or two weeks at room temperature, then the beer can be chilled, and drunk.

The West Coast Pale Ale was a success in as much as the beer was drinkable! My next beer was the American Devil IPA which used two cans of hopped malt extract, and skipped the Booster resulting in a slightly stronger brew. That turned out well, but not as hoppy as the name would suggest. I brewed a Vienna Lager which was very popular but wasn't a true lager as it used the same Mr Beer ale yeast as the other brews. I tried an Oatmeal Stout which was good during the cold weather, and a Doppelbock/Brown Ale that came out like a porter and was one of my favorites. From that point I tried to introduce a different element to my brewing with each beer.

I brewed a recipe called KT's Caramel Apple Cider that was half beer, half cider and used a champagne yeast to give the beverage a dry finish. It took a looong time to ferment and condition but ultimately came out really well. I brewed the First Pitch Pilsner which was my first time boiling some hops in the wort to add more hop flavor, and used an actual lager yeast (although I probably didn't ferment at a low enough temperature). The result was again very pleasant but not quite the right style.

My sister-in-law had given us some preserved strawberries so I made a slightly amateurish attempt at a lambic. I had read that lambics are traditionally a brown ale base, but wanted the beer to have some sourness so combined the brown with a red ale, then threw in a couple jars of strawberries. Getting the beer in the bottles without clogging the spigot was a challenge, but I was very pleased with how it turned out. A little sourness and not too much fruitiness, but you could taste the strawberries.

Next I brewed a beer starting only with the unhopped malt extract. I boiled the wort for a full hour with progressive hop additions to create a truer pale ale. I was also able to start with more that the final volume of liquid in the kettle. Some would evaporate during the boil, resulting on the correct volume. My maximizing the volume of liquid, the utilization of bittering compounds in the hops is also maximized, allowing me to really amp up the bitterness. I was really pleased with how that beer came out, although I think I ended up giving a lot away!

I returned to the Vienna Lager but this time used a real lager yeast and kept it at the right temperature (around 50F) but I;m not sure I can honestly say that it came out much better than the first attempt. I also tried to brew a wheat beer (hefewiezen) which came out more like a light ale. I could tell that I was starting to reach the limits of what could be achieved with the Mr Beer setup so began to transition to 5 gallon brews using some slightly more advanced techniques. However, I think the eleven beers I brewed with Mr Beer gave me a solid foundation for my future brewing endeavors.

No comments:

Post a Comment