BEER—be dog man’s best friend, then let beer sit in his circle of close acquaintances. From the immortal mantras of Ben Franklin to something your roommate blurted out while getting stuffed in back of a police cruiser, philosophies on man and beer span centuries; the general consensus, of course, circling back to “it’s pretty darn good.” But have you ever thought about what goes into making beer? Perhaps you’ve watched or read on the topic, perhaps you’ve taken a brewery tour, perhaps you’ve even experimented for yourself. The science and methods by which we brew seem to grow complicated with the ages, yet the formula stays the same: grain, yeast, water and time.
Thanks to a holiday gift, I had a chance to try my hand at this formula.
The method I used was essentially an adult spin on a kid’s science kit, being the Mr. Beer Craft Beer Kit by Cooper’s Brewery. The complete set gives you everything you need to get started:
a two-gallon keg fermenter, a can of Brewing Extract, a packet of yeast, a pack of “carbonation drops,” bottles and caps, cleaning solution and an instruction booklet. First, I assembled the plastic fermenter by attaching a spigot to a hole in the side of the barrel-shaped keg, then used the cleaning solution to rinse both the barrel and the utensils I’d be using. This keg is where the magic—err, science I guess—happens.
Next, I filled the keg about a quarter up with cold water, while also filling a large pot with four cups of water to boil. Meanwhile, I set the Brewing Extract aside in a bowl of hot water. This can contains the actual “beer stuff:” malted barley, hops, water and yeast, which combine to produce a sweet, pungent syrup called wort (the wort included with this kit brews an ale). Once I got a rolling boil, I cut the heat and poured the whole can of wort into the pot, whisking until everything was nice and acquainted. I Introduced the wort mixture to the keg and filled it about halfway with more water. After whisking once again and sprinkling in the yeast, I was all set to brew.
When fermenting beer, you want to store it in a cool, dark place—this will allow bacterial cultures to grow and survive throughout the process. I fashioned a makeshift brewing stand from an end table and ottoman in my basement, cushioned by an old bath towel and a paper towel-lined drip bowl to hinder any leaks or explosions. And that’s it: over two weeks, the starch sugars in the wort reacted with enzymes in the yeast, fermenting it into alcohol. Ten days in, I tasted a bit of the mixture to see how I did; flat beer means it’s almost ready, while a sweeter taste means it needs more time.
As for my first impressions, well, it was certainly…beer.
It looks like ale, the beer sharpness and bitterness is there, but the taste seems really off. I’m stuck wondering if I didn’t clean the pot enough, or if I was too overzealous with the cleaner, I don’t know. That said, we aren’t in wartime England; we don’t drink our beer warm and flat. I still need to carbonate and bottle the drink, so I’m wagering two more weeks of conditioning will settle things.
I’ll be honest: if you’re expecting a serious brewing experience that whisks you away to the Biergardens of Baden-Baden, this probably isn’t your kit. As a gift for the amateur beer connoisseur in your life, it’s an easy experiment that did pique my interest into the science and process of craft brewing—heck, after a few more tastes, my beer did start to grow on me. Either way, I hope to try again in the future.