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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Home Brewing Part 1


A few years ago, my brother got me a Mr. Beer kit for my birthday. The idea of brewing my own beer had never occured to me, but as a biology major the process of fermentation was nothing foreign. I always imagined home brewing as something extremely time consuming and easy to screw up, and it probably is. Luckily, the "Mr. Beer" kit is kind of foolproof. Think of it as the EZ bake oven of home brewing.

The first batch of beer I ever made was the one that came with the kit, and I didn't veer from the instructions at all. I was terrified that after months of conditioning and fermenting, somewhere along the line some unwanted microbial pest would make its way into my keg and spoil my whole batch. Surprisingly, the results of my first try were delicious: not too weak on the alcohol content, but not strong enough to be undrinkable. It was pretty balanced, and I was excited to be drinking something that I brewed at home.

Yesterday, I started the process again. The kit comes with a convenient little packet of powdered sanitizer. How does it work? I have no idea. You mix it with water in your two-gallon plastic keg, swish it around to coat everything, and then drop all of your tools into the keg. After 10 minutes, everything is sanitized and ready to use. You also need to place your tools onto a plate that you coated in the sanitizer/water mixture so that they remain clean throughout your process.

The sanitized tools (yes, even your can-opener needs to be sanitized) 

The brewing procedure starts when you measure out four cups of cold water into a pot and dump in a packet of stuff called "booster". The manual says that this stuff is composed of dextrose (I'm assuming this gets converted to alcohol during fermentation after yeast is added) and maltodextrins. You bring the solution to a boil, remove it from the heat, and add a can of Mr. Beer's hopped malt extract. This recipe is supposed to make a nice, red beer, which is one of my favorites. I also added some molasses for flavor and to jack up the alcohol content just a tad. This mixture is called the "wort". My brother is a little braver and adds stuff like orange peels and other yummy sounding things to his beer, and the ones I've tasted are always delicious. I'm not brave enough yet, but if I didn't somehow ruin this batch maybe next time I'll get a little more experimental.

That's "Wort", not Worf 

The wort (the word always makes me think of Worf from The Next Generation) gets dumped into your plastic keg and diluted with cold water. The kit comes with a little packet of brewer's yeast that you sprinkle into the keg. After five minutes, you stir everything up and screw on the lid (which has vents in the sides, so no exploding kegs.)

The good stuff, before screwing on the lid 

That's the whole process! I just have to leave my little keg out of direct sunlight in an area with a relatively stable temperature for about two weeks until the fermentation process is complete. It will probably take a little longer since I added the extra sugar. Afterwards, I'll bottle the stuff and let it sit for even longer to condition the flavor, and then I'll update again. I should be able to taste if it's ruined by that point.

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