Next Step in Brewing

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.

8 thoughts on “Next Step in Brewing

  1. Made beer today. It went pretty well. Reading through some of the posts it seemed like I needed a whisk, so I bought a set of 3 different size metal whisks this morning. They were talking on the forum about watching the breakover when the malt comes to a boil, but this wasn’t a big deal at all (having gas heat and stirring constantly with the whisk helped). Also the DME dissolved pretty easily, with the whisk helping break up the clumps. By the time I had all the DME dissolved, it was pretty close to boiling (I started with six cups of water). The biggest surprise was using the hops pellets. They make a real mess. There was only an ounce of hops, but they really expand in the wort and get all over the whisk and everything. The guy at Ale Yeah said I could just leave them in the wort during fermenting. But on the forums some people put the hops in a cloth (muslin) sack so they can get all the hops out. And some people use a strainer. After seeing all the mess, I decided on a strainer. This is a problem because the strainer quickly gets clogged with hop debris and you have to dump it out. That ounce of hops became half a cup to maybe a cup of debris. If it was in a sack, I guess you could squeeze some of the wort out of it, but I just lost mine (later with Jeb’s batch we were able to use a spoon to scrape the strainer and get all the wort through, ending up with drier hops to throw out). That’s okay because this wort should be pretty strong anyway with the pound of DME. I ended up boiling for 45 minutes, adding a quarter ounce of hops at the beginning (for bitterness), another quarter with 15 minutes to go (for flavor), and then dumped the rest in at 5 minutes (for aroma). Then I turned off the heat and added the can of Classic American Light. I whisked the mixture a lot, so hopefully it will have really good aeration. Now I just wait and see.

  2. I got trub on the bottom pretty quickly (maybe some of that actually precipitates out when the wort hits the cold water?), but it wasn’t until this morning that you could really see some activity taking place. It’s quite active and if you look closely you can see a lot of movement going on in there, almost like the bubbles in a glass of Guinness. There is about an inch of fairly fine foam on the top and it seems to put off more of a smell (kind of a sweetish stale beer smell, not really pleasant, but not that bad).

    But reading more about boiling the wort, I found out that you are supposed to boil it uncovered (mine was covered a lot of the time) and also you should have a big roiling boil, but I had more of a simmer. This is how you get rid of dimethyl sulfide, which causes off flavors. I’m hoping that won’t be a big problem. Given the 45-minute boil time (kind of long) and the fact that it was uncovered some of the time, I think I probably still got rid of a lot of DMS, just not as much as I would have otherwise.

  3. A day later there was almost no activity. I only found a few bubbles coming up in one part of the keg. The next day I couldn’t see any activity at all. Part of that may be because it is still pretty cloudy, so I can’t see that far into the keg, but it seems pretty dead to me. I don’t want to open the lid or anything, but I did pour a little from the spigot. It was really bad, quite bitter. There’s no reason not to just let it sit some more at this point, and it’s still so early in the process that I may be worried about nothing (I’ve never tasted it this early), but I have a bad feeling about it.

  4. Still essentially no bubbles, but it seems to be getting a little clearer. I gave it another taste and it seemed okay this time. Reading more about DME and bad tasting DMS, I don’t think a long boil is really necessary. None of the official Mr. Beer recipes boil the DME for any length of time. For a hop boil, you are supposed to boil for a while with at least a little DME, but then you can add the rest of the DME when you add the can of mix. I’m going to Jeb’s tomorrow to make a batch with him and will bring some DME and maybe some Willamette Hops. Might leave the hops in the keg this time and see how that goes.

  5. We made beer at Jeb and Kathy’s today. I stopped by Ale Yeah and picked up another pound of Pilsen Light DME (I was going to try golden or amber, but only saw dark; as I was checking out, I saw they had some golden at the counter) and 1 oz of Willamette hop pellets. Willamette hops are an American version of British Fuggle hops which are used in British ales and stouts. Later I realized I should have just gotten the Fuggle hops just because of the funny name and the fact that they are British.

    Since there doesn’t seem to be anything to gain from boiling the DME and you risk getting some bad taste, we put about a quarter of the DME in 6 cups of water and brought that to a boil. The hop oils need something to attach to, so you need some DME to go with the hops. After it was boiling we added about half of the hops for a 20-minute boil, adding the other half with 7 minutes to go. We turned off the heat and added the rest of the DME and then the can of HME, before adding that to the keg (used a strainer to filter out the hops) and whisking. Other than the hops and the method, this should be pretty close to the beer I made last weekend, so we’ll see how different they are.

  6. I bottled my batch today. I am not at all optimistic. It has an off smell, the beer is still cloudy, and the taste is bitter, not particularly like beer. But I went ahead and bottled it anyway since the only additional cost is a little sugar. I am hoping Jeb’s will turn out better when he bottles next weekend.

  7. Today I tried bottle No. 6 from the batch I had made, hoping that it would be one of the better ones. It is still cloudy, but the cold and carbonation mask any off flavors, so it was much better than I expected. As it warmed up, the off flavors (probably from boiling with the lid on) were more noticeable. Still, this gives me high hopes for Jeb’s brew which will be ready next weekend.

  8. We tried Jeb’s beer yesterday. Everyone thought it was good. I thought it was very good, with no off flavors at all, though a little bitter from the additional hops. Not in a bad way though and there also seemed to be a bright hop flavor as well, which was the intention.

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