Mr. Beer

For Christmas, Mom gave me a Mr. Beer homebrew kit. I had noticed these in a couple of advertisements and was a little intrigued, so it was a good idea for a gift. I have thought it would be neat to make my own beer, but you can buy pretty good beer in the store, plus the equipment and ingredients are expensive because you can’t just go to the grocery store and buy hops and malting barley. You end up going to a specialty store which means it will be expensive. Plus most beer-making equipment has you make 5 gallons at a time and I probably don’t drink 5 gallons of beer in a year.

The Mr. Beer kit fills a good niche. The kit is affordable due to plastic construction of all the parts and it only makes 2 gallons of beer. They sell you the only ingredients you need which are a packet of yeast and a pint-sized container of “hopped malt extract”. You supply water and sugar. The starter kit that Mom got for me includes Classic American Lite beer, but Mr. Beer makes a lot of other types of refill mixes, all for $15-18, made by a brewery in Australia. The reviews on Amazon are actually pretty good, both for the kit and for the beer, and it seems like a number of people have gone on to make additional batches. The reviews at Beer Advocate aren’t as good, which is to be expected since those are more serious home brewers who poo poo Mr. Beer’s shortcuts.

One of the complaints on Amazon was that the spigot leaks. To make sure mine didn’t leak, I used sand paper to get a smooth surface where the washer makes contact with the outside of the keg (the plastic mold line goes right through the washer area and the hole had some little plastic burrs that I was able to smooth out). I tested for leaks by filling the keg with tap water, and happily it seems water tight.

The kit came with a DVD which I watched a couple of times and some instructions. Because you’re making this stuff and letting it basically rot for a couple of weeks, if there is any of the wrong bacteria or yeast in the brew (“wort” before it becomes beer), it can cause major problems. So sanitation is essential and they include some sanitizer mix to clean all of your utensils as well as the keg. They’re serious, they have you clean a plate with sanitizer so that you can put your other clean utensils on it, including the can opener you are going to use. You mix the sanitizer in the keg itself and then dump the utensils in there, then drain sanitizer mix out the spout to clean off a plate and anything too big to fit in the keg.

The other thing you need for making the beer is water. The easiest thing is to go to the store and buy a couple of gallon jugs of spring water, but I made a bunch of filtered water yesterday, filling pitchers and putting them in the refrigerator giving time for any chlorine to evaporate out. Once everything is clean, you soak the can of malt extract in warm water to make it flow better (at room temperature it is thicker than molasses, like sap maybe, and just as sticky; it is sweet and malt-flavored with some bitterness maybe from the hops). Then you boil a quart of water. You open the warmed up can of malt with your sanitized can opener and then pour the extract into the boiled water (taken off the heat), scraping all of the malt into the dish with a sanitized spoon or spatula. This is where I had a little trouble because the can opener chewed up the paper label on the can of malt and a bit of paper fell into the pot, but I fished it out. If I do this again, I will just make sure I remove the label and sanitize the whole can.

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You stir the hot malt and water mixture until it is all dissolved. Then you pour some of the cold water into the keg, followed by the warm malt and water mixture. Then you add more cold water up to the 8.5 quart line on the keg (the keg is brown clear plastic) and stir some more (the instructions say use a whisk to get as much air into the mixture as possible; I probably should have mixed more vigorously at this point). The yeast needs oxygen so you want oxygen dissolved in the mix (wort).

You are supposed to store the keg in the dark at a constant temperature between 68 and 76 degrees. A lot of people put it in a closet and some people put the whole keg in a cooler to keep the temperature even. I cleared out a spot in the closet of the main bathroom which I don’t use much and put the keg down on a baking pan in case there is any leakage. Once I had it situated, I took the lid off and sprinkled in the contents of the yeast package (you don’t stir in the yeast; it just sits on top).

Now I just wait for two or three weeks. The next step is to pour the beer into bottles with some sugar in the bottom. The sugar feeds the yeast culture a little more, producing carbon dioxide which carbonates the beer (the keg doesn’t hold pressure, but the bottles do). After a couple of weeks of aging and carbonation, you can refrigerate and drink the beer. It makes 8 1-liter bottles. Hopefully I’ll have beer in time to watch the Falcons in the Superbowl!

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15 thoughts on “Mr. Beer

  1. The instructions said you could use a flashlight to check out how the reaction is going. So I checked it out today and it is really cooking! There are a bunch of suds on top and a bunch of sediment on the bottom. I can’t believe the yeast took over so quickly. There are bubbles that come up every now and then. It’s really quite disgusting. And there are still at least two weeks to go.

  2. It continued to be pretty active for a couple of days and then died down quite a bit. Apparently what was going on was the yeast was using up all the dissolved oxygen in the water to eat up all the malt. There is a lot less foam on top now and fewer bubbles coming to the top. Also it has been very cold this week and the thermometer I put in the closet says it has been going down as low as 62 degrees, which is below the proper range, but I think that will just slow it down a little further. I’m waiting for the liquid to get clear and almost all of the suds to go away. It should take 2-3 weeks before I can bottle it. Enough of the yeast must live because it will then eat the sugar in the bottle to cause the carbonation.

  3. I’ve been checking on the beer and it looks pretty clear, plus almost all of the suds are gone from the surface. There are still some little bubbles coming up from the bottom. Mr. Beer says that fermenting shouldn’t take more than 3 weeks, but the instructions say it can happen in one week. Given that this batch is being brewed a little colder, it will definitely take longer than 1 week. Anyway, they said you could pour some out of the spigot and try it, and that if it tastes like flat beer, it is ready. So I poured some into a shot glass. It does taste like beer, but also kind of like champagne, indicating there could still be sugars in there. Seemed like it had a little fizz to it. I think I might as well give it another week to be safe and then give it 4 weeks in the bottle for carbonation and conditioning, which will be a week late for the Superbowl. But 3 weeks fermenting and 4 weeks conditioning seems to the common recommendation from people who do this regularly. I’m already looking at the prices of refills, but I will definitely wait until I try the product to buy any more.

  4. Bottling Day! Today I bottled the beer. There were still occasional bubbles coming up, but the beer in the keg was pretty clear and there was no more foam on top. I moved the keg from its closet to the kitchen where it would be easier to fill the bottles. I put a towel over it to keep it in the dark and waited a couple of hours for everything to settle after disturbing the keg. Then you mix up some sanitizer in a gallon jug and pour each of the quart bottles about half full. Then put the caps on and shake them up and let them sit for 10 minutes (the instructions don’t say you have to wait, but I read it later). I put numbers on each of the caps. I had thought about varying the amount of sugar I put in each bottle (the instructions say use 2 1/2 teaspoons), but decided to make all the bottles the same, though I did pour them in order, so Bottle 1 comes off the bottom of the barrel. I was worried I might run out, but it worked out so that I probably had about 12 oz of beer left over that I had to pitch (I tried some and it tasted more like beer this week, but didn’t have a lot of flavor, but this mix is supposed to be a light beer). Then I sanitized a plate, some measuring spoons, knife (for leveling off the measuring spoons), and a funnel for putting the sugar in the bottles. I emptied the sanitizer out of a bottle, put sugar in it, filled it most of the way with beer (you’re supposed to leave a little more air in there than the typical beer, I think to give more room for expansion so the bottles won’t explode), and then you invert it a few times to get the sugar all mixed in. I forgot the inverting part on a couple of bottles but went back and got them. Then I cleaned all the goop out of the keg, which wasn’t as hard as I thought.

    The instructions say wait two weeks, but people on the boards say wait at least 4 weeks (the instructions hint at this, saying you will get better results if you wait longer). So that puts me at February 9. The people on the Mr. Beer forum say this is the hardest part because once the beer is in the bottle, it seems like you should be drinking it. After it is done, you put it in the refrigerator a couple of days which makes the yeast go dormant. There will be some trub on the bottom of the bottle, so you have to be careful when you pour not to stir that up or get that in the glass.

    Eight bottles of beer in the closet. Eight bottles of beer.

  5. I was looking at the Mr. Beer forums and some people were saying that Mr. Beer kits were on clearance at Rite Aid for 75% off (they only sell them around Christmas). I stopped by my store last night and they had 3 kits, but they weren’t in the 75% off bin, instead still marked $49.99 and in the beer section. I took one up to the register for a price check and it came out $12.50! I love the internet. That is less than the price of a refill. And $12.50 for almost a case of beer is an incredibly good deal (unless it’s bad beer). Plus you get the bottles and another keg. So I bought it.

    When I got home I thought I should let my brothers know about this deal, so I wrote to Jeb and Grant and let them know and said I would let them buy the kit from me if they wanted. Grant passed (he said he might be more interested in a Mr. Bourbon kit), but Jeb said he would take the new kit and try it out.

    But I also thought it would be good to have the extra bottles since now my keg is empty and I could be making another batch except I wouldn’t have bottles (alternatively you can save up non twist off 12-ounce glass bottles and buy caps and a capping machine for around $20). I’m not sure I will want another batch of light beer that the kit comes with, but I looked up what variations were possible. Using a wheat beer yeast gives the beer a different flavor and then maybe I could add orange peel and coriander to make a wheat-ish light beer that might be kind of like a saison. But since Jeb wanted the kit, I went back to Rite Aid this morning and bought another one. Having two kits gives me about 5 gallons of storage that would enable me to make real homebrews (that seems to be the standard batch, though I’m not really considering doing real homebrew right now).

    I’m thinking that the way homebrew stuff works out is that you are much better off being the friend of a homebrewer than the one who actually does the brewing.

    Meanwhile, you can check on the progress of the plastic bottles by squeezing them. As they get harder, you know the carbonation is happening. Even though it has only been a few days, some of the bottles are firmer than the others (this seems to be common; eventually they will all firm up). And there is a little bit of trub in the bottom of some of them, even though the beer seems pretty clear.

  6. The beer has been bottled for 3 weeks. Even though you are supposed to wait 4 weeks, I decide to go ahead and try a beer while watching the Super Bowl. I put Bottle #4 in the fridge Friday night. It didn’t pour with any kind of head, but the carbonation is great, with bubbles constantly coming up. It is not cloudy at all and the color is light straw like a pretty normal beer. However it smells and tastes just a little sweet, like champagne. I’m not sure if this will go away in another week or not. After the first taste, you don’t notice the champagne as much and it tastes pretty much like regular beer, though not really good beer.

    Also, I told Mom about getting the Mr. Beer kits on clearance on Rite Aid, and she said if they had any more I should get her one. I went by and they still had the one kit that I hadn’t bought, marked $49.99. I took it up front, but it rang up for $49.99, so I didn’t get it. I might give her my second kit, which I haven’t opened yet.

  7. After 4 weeks of bottle conditioning, I took a couple of quart bottles over to Jeb’s today for the official tasting. Jeb, Kathy, Nicole, and Danny all tried it. I think it turned out pretty well, but it is weak (“refreshing” said Nicole, and a good summer beer said Danny). Jeb said I should bring a bunch on vacation. It still has a little of the champagne taste to it, but I think that might go away if I waited a little longer.

    Sears had a good deal on the American 2-pack which has the Classic American Light that I just made as well as Patriot Lager, which I think is supposed to be like Sam Adams, but people at the forums say it is still pretty weak (the 2-pack was $21 on sale at Sears; Amazon sells individual cans for $18 and 2-packs for $27 to $31). So now I have two more batches to do at least. To make a better beer, you have to add more stuff to it which could include liquid malt extract, dry malt extract, and maybe additional hops. Mr. Beer sells LME packs that add flavors (robust, smooth, golden (has wheat), and pale). One of the recipes at Mr. Beer called for using two refills to make one batch of beer (that could get expensive!). I think I will make the Patriot Lager this week, just straight up to see what it tastes like. With 3 bottles empty and 2 in the fridge, I should have all the bottles available in 3 more weeks when fermenting is done. At $11 for essentially 21 bottles of beer, it can be a decent deal. Even if you buy LME packs and increase the price, you start competing with better beers. Still, this doesn’t seem to be about saving money, just about saying you make your own beer.

  8. Made the Patriot Lager today. I still have 3 bottles full of the original batch, but I won’t need them for another 3 weeks, so that seems about right. That puts me at March 10 for bottling and April 7 for drinking. The yeast got active within a couple of hours, creating a lot of trub, but no bubbles. I took the label off of the can so I wouldn’t get pieces mixed in, but I still don’t think I stirred as much as I should to get a lot of oxygen into the wort.

  9. The second batch got active very quickly, but then really died off. Not a lot of bubbles coming up the last two weeks (a few though). I went ahead and bottled today. This batch tasted more like regular beer, no champagne taste at all, even last week when I tried a little. I put 2 1/2 teaspoons of sugar in the odd numbered bottles and just 2 teaspoons in the even numbered bottles to compare. I thought the last batch was a little overly fizzy, so maybe a little less sugar will help.

    Now four weeks in the bottle, and that will put me at April 6. The last few bottles of the first batch were probably the best, so I do think it gets better over time. I have the discount kit from Rite Aid that I will take to Mom’s tomorrow, and then I still have a can of Light that I want to make before Summer, but I want to maybe try adding additional extract and hops to get a little more flavor.

  10. Took the kit from Rite Aid up to Mom’s house today and we made a batch of Classic American Light beer. It went pretty well except for a bad can opener and me being a little messy, spilling some of the cooked extract. Her sink is big enough that I was able to clean off the keg before we put it in her hall closet. By the time I left, it was making trub and doing pretty well. It will be ready to bottle on Easter.

  11. I tried the first bottle of my second batch tonight. At first it tasted pretty bland, but it seemed to get better as I drank more. By the end I was thinking it was pretty good. It didn’t have the mildly champagne taste of the first batch. It just tasted like regular beer, albeit a little weak. I’m okay with it being a little weak since I have to drink a whole quart.

    Also last weekend at Easter we bottled all of Mom’s beers. I tried some from the tap and it seemed to taste okay. Mom and Michael smelled it and thought it smelled like beer. Michael helped wash the bottles by shaking up each bottle after it was half-filled with cleaning solution. Then he put the beer in the bottles from the keg. Mom measured out the sugar and put it in each bottle using a homemade funnel. Then I inverted the bottles a few times to try and get the sugar to dissolve. We put the bottles back in the Mr. Beer box and then that in a plastic bag in case any of the bottles explodes. Mom should have beer by April 28.

  12. I talked to Mom today. She had Grant and Jami over and they were right at 4 weeks in the bottle for her batch of Mr. Beer. She said it turned out quite well, one of the best beers she’s ever had. From the picture Grant sent (posted in the entry above), it looks like they got pretty good head retention and nice lacing on the glass.

  13. I haven’t brewed since last year. I had one batch that went a little south on me, probably somewhat contaminated, but I drank most of it with no ill effects. The masterpiece was a batch I made with my brother where we added extra hops and dry malt extract. Those were very good. Mr. Beer had a sale recently that was tempting. I need to see if they still have it going. Their high prices kind of ruin it for every day use, but it was a good learning process. Good luck!

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