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.
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!