So far I have made two batches of Mr. Beer plus one more at Mom’s house just following their instructions and using a can of their hopped malt extract, plus yeast, plus some sugar in the bottle for carbonation. The two batches I have been able to drink (Mom’s isn’t ready yet) have been okay, but kind of watered down. That’s not just my opinion, but pretty much everyone’s opinion on the Mr. Beer forums. The way to get a more flavorful beer is add stuff to these basic recipes. You can boost the alcohol and flavor using additional malt extract, either dry malt extract powder (DME) or liquid malt extract (LME). However, if you add malt, you should also add some hops to balance it. You can buy these things from Mr. Beer or a local homebrew store, and I found a store called Ale Yeah in Decatur that sells some homebrew supplies, but mostly beer and growlers. It seemed like the simplest and cheapest next step would be to get a pound of DME and 0.75 oz of hops. I was going to try a wheat beer, but that would involve getting some yeast as well and I wanted to stay simple.
Ale Yeah was pretty cool. They have a lot of really good beers sorted by style and I wound up buying a bottle of a (reputedly) really good Saison by Boulevard Brewing of Kansas City called Tank 7 and a growler of a Winter Stout by Choc Beer Co. out of Oklahoma (I brought my empty growler just in case). They had six packs of Founders Porter, which is one of the best beers I’ve ever had, but maybe I can get that next time. They were helpful with the homebrew stuff as well. Mr. Beer makes 2.5 gallons of beer whereas all the homebrew supplies are for 5 gallon batches, but they had smaller size packs available.
They set me up with one pound of Briess Pilsen Light DME and 1 oz of German Hallertau Hop Pellets. So that’s about $8 worth of stuff plus the Mr. Beer Classic American Light can which was about $11. $19 total for essentially 3 six packs of beer that should be pretty good. Amazon sells the Mr. Beer refills for $18, but I got a good deal at Sears on this can, so I feel like I am doing okay even with the cost of the added stuff.
With the Mr. Beer refill you just boil some water, take it off the heat, add the can of Mr. Beer and stir. Then you pour this into the keg with some cold water and add yeast. There are a few more details, but that’s basically it. However, with DME and hops you have to do some cooking. The idea seems to be to get the water hot and start adding DME, which doesn’t dissolve that easily. Hopefully it will all be dissolved by the time you reach a boil at which point it can boil over and make a mess, so you have to be ready to lower the heat or remove heat altogether as things get out of hand. But once you get past that point, you can boil for 30-60 minutes. The sooner you add hops, the more bitterness they will impart. As you add them later, you get aroma, but not as much bitterness. The idea is to get both, so you might add half of the hops at 30 minutes and half with 10 minutes to go. After the time is up, you cut the heat and add the Mr. Beer extract. Then you stir and dump it in the keg. So using DME adds a lot of time to the process, but shouldn’t be all that hard. I’ll try this tomorrow I think. That would have me bottling on May 4 and drinking on June 1. This is the last batch of beer I’ll make because in the summer I think my house will be too hot.
This is a small step, but there are a lot more next steps in brewing. There are a lot of different malt extracts, some for dark beers, some for wheat beers, etc. And there are also a lot of different hops, so that gives you pretty much endless combinations. Also you can do additives like coriander, orange peel, molasses, cherry juice, coffee, etc. There are different yeast strains, for instance the one for wheat beers. You can also add specialty grains (roasted, different varieties) in place of or in addition to the malt extract. At some point you do away with extracts entirely and cook all malt grains to produce the wort. I don’t know that I want to go there, but I didn’t just want to brew up a third can of Classic American Light.