Several years ago, a friend gave me a Mr. Beer kit for my birthday. I thought it was awesome and promptly put it aside with full intention of using it very soon. Last year I finally broke it out and made the “American Ale” that came with it, to rather disappointing results. In fact, I had started a post about it but the beer sucked so much that I gave up in shame. It was weak, probably around 1% ABV (I screwed up the hydrometer measurements, so I’m not positive on that), and cidery, and just generally bad-tasting. Well about a month ago, I decided to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again, just like Ginger Rogers.
Brew night was a lot of fun. A few friends came over to help. This kit is considerably more complicated than the first one I brewed, which was a simple starter pack containing one can of hopped malt extract (HME), a bag of “flavor and body booster,” which is a mix of sugars designed to mimic the carb profile of all-malt worts, and a packet of dry yeast. The Munich Malt Monster, however, is a horse of a different color. It falls under Mr. Beer’s “Recipes” category, rather than the typical “Refill,” which are all variations on the starter kit. MMM’s box contained THREE cans of HME (2 Octoberfest Vienna Lager, 1 High Country Canadian Draft), a pouch of liquid yeast, and two packets of pellet hops (Mt. Hood and Palisade). In short, nothing like the first kit I made. Now, I’ve heard some negative things about the quality of Mr. Beer’s extracts from more experienced homebrewer friends, but I figure if nothing else, this is a learning experience.
Following the instructions to the letter, we sanitized all our equipment using the packet Mr. Beer sends with every kit. Easy enough. Now it’s wort-makin’ time. If you’re reading this to get an idea of how to operate the Mr. Beer kit, be sure you place the HME cans in VERY hot water for as long as possible to loosen it up. That stuff is really gooey.
Initial specific gravity: 1.064
The instructions specified that the brew should ferment for a minimum of two weeks. I decided that since my last attempt was underwhelming in the ABV department (among many others), I’d extend that time to three weeks. Another factor in my decision was that we pitched the yeast at the end of summer while the days were still fairly warm, so the temperature in the house hovered in the low 70s (thanks A/C!), which is slightly warmer than optimal for the yeast, or so I’ve heard. So three weeks it was, except that no one could make it at the 3-week mark, so it stretched to 4 weeks.
Post-fermentation specific gravity: 1.016
Let’s do math! So the simplest calculation for overall alcohol by volume (ABV) is (Initial Gravity – Final Gravity) * 131. By that measurement, our inaugural brew clocks in at 6.288%, which is not bad at all, and certainly more than I expected. There are some other considerations though, such as the temperature, that make more precise calculations more complex. For these I found a calculator at Dave’s Dreaded Brewing Tools, and here’s the screenshot after inputting all the parameters:
So there you have it. Somewhere around 6.3% ABV/5% ABW, and 224 calories per 12oz. And if I go back to the Mr. Beer site and double check that against their numbers? OG: 1.065 (approx.) — FG: 1.017 (approx.) & 6.5% ABV. Pretty darn close, if I may say so. those Mr. Beer folks know what they’re doing over there, at least from a chemist’s point of view.
Obviously we don’t have a finished product quite yet, but we tasted what we have so far, and while it’s not something I’d enter in a contest, in my opinion it’s a respectable second try. FAR more flavorful and certainly more alcoholic than the first, but a little sour, not exactly sure why.
Speaking of which, since our 2-gallon batch yielded 16 500-mL bottles, I decided to experiment a little. I’m using Munton’s CarbTabs since their size makes bottle-carbonation super easy, no sugar measurement required. On the recommendation of the owner of my local homebrew store (Thanks Bull City Homebrew!), we split up the batch into three groups: 4 bottles @ 5 tabs (low carb), 4 @ 7 tabs (high carb), and 8 @ 6 tabs (average carb). This way we can decide what level of carbonation we find tastiest in the end result.
Well, we’ve tasted the beer, and unfortunately it looks like we picked up a lacto or aceto infection somewhere, because it’s definitely sour. How foolish I was to think that carbonation might decrease the sourness. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, since I like sour beers in general, but it was unintentional, and that makes me sad. The texture is a bit odd as well, since I think the bacteria have produced a pellicle. I try not to think about it, but I may attempt straining a few of the bottles through cheesecloth or something to see if it improves the mouthfeel.
Also, the beer is a little astringent, which may have something to do with the pH of my water. I’ll have to test it before the next batch. All that said, however, this batch is a runaway success compared to my first one, and I will definitely be making more, albeit with better brewing equipment.
As for the variation in priming sugar, I’ve found that the 6-tab bottles are just about perfect. My first pour yielded about an inch of beige head that stuck around for 20-30 seconds, and left very little lacing. Some of the 5-tab bottles are fine, but some are flat, and the one 7-tab bottle I’ve opened so far foamed in the sink for a solid minute, and I didn’t notice too much of a difference in carbonation compared with the 6-tabber.
I count this a success. Unintentional sourness aside, my friends and I made a beer that has the correct ABV and is sippable, if not drinkable, as long as sours please your palate. Here’s my to-do list for the time between now and the next brewing day:
- Get some real brewing equipment (6.5-gal buckets, a better temperature control system, and a real brewpot, to name a few). I appreciate the accessibility of the Mr. Beer kit, but it’s time to take off the training wheels.
- Buy a higher-quality extract kit from a local homebrew store. Luckily for me, Bull City Homebrew is just a couple miles away. This has the added benefit of supporting local business.
- Look into kegging equipment. After cleaning, sanitizing, filling and priming 16 0.5L flip-tops for this 2-gallon batch, I really don’t want to do that with 50 for a 5-gallon batch. I will probably continue to bottle a few of each batch, for conditioning and gifting, but it’s looking like kegging is the way to go, as long as it’s affordable.
Thanks for reading! Comment if you have any questions or want to berate me for letting my beer get sick!