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The quick and dirty: Pressed for time? Here's the top tips for Mr. Beer...
- Can this thing really make beer?
- Yup. In spite of what "real" home brewers may say at your local home brew store, the Mr. Beer mixes are top quality and the processes followed aren't very different from what "real" extract brewers do. Made with care, Mr. Beer can (and has) produce award-winning brews.
- Sanitize! Sanitize! Sanitize!
- Read, and then re-read the Mr. Beer directions on sanitization. Many critters like bacteria and fungi would love to make home in your wort. The goal is to sanitize everything that touches your wort using One-Step or heat (boiling) so the yeasties are the only ones who feel at home. The One-Step included with Mr. Beer mixes really is an excellent sanitizer. Mix as directed and a few minutes contact are all that's required. One-Step is also no rinse. Do not rinse your sanitized gear! Any One-Step residue left inside the keg is perfectly harmless to your beer.
- It's all in the water.
- The primary ingredient of any beer - water - is particularly important in Mr. Beer. Unlike more traditional extract brewing where all water gets boiled, driving off chlorine and other impurities, Mr. Beer uses fresh cold water. If your tap water tastes bad, it's a safe bet your beer will too. Wal-Mart and lots of other places sell Artisan Drinking Water for under a buck a gallon. Why skimp on the biggest ingredient in your beer? Stay away from distilled and reverse-osmosis water. They lack the minerals the yeast need to reproduce.
- Despite what the Mr. Beer mix instructions may say, your beer will not be ready in two weeks. Good beer is an exercise in patience. Rush it and you'll have watery, cidery, flat, disappointing beer. This is the #1 reason why Mr. Beer gets a bad name. For beginner Mr. Beer users making ales (the only kind of yeast Mr. Beer includes with their kits), we strongly recommend 2 weeks fermenting at 65-75 degrees, 2 weeks carbonating in the bottles at 65-75 degrees, and 2 weeks cold conditioning at fridge temps. 2-2-2. You'll hear it over and over on the board because it's the single best thing you can do for your beer. Oh, can't get all your bottles in the fridge at once? No worries. Get in what you can and "rotate" the stock. When you drink one, toss a warm one in the back to begin conditioning.
The nitty-gritty: Still got questions? Read on for lots more Mr. Beer tips...
Equipment and Gadgets
- An accurate thermometer is the first gadget you should add to your brewing tools. Followed exactly, the Mr. Beer wort preparation instructions should produce wort at a safe temperature for pitching the yeast, but why guess? Make sure your wort is at a yeast-friendly 70-80 degrees and they'll get right to work!
- Not a must-have, but a hydrometer is a handy, inexpensive tool for monitoring your beer's progress and calculating alcohol content (ABV). Read the directions included with your hydrometer thoroughly. Readings must be corrected for temperature. The most common beginner mistake is folks taking a reading of their finished beer and being disappointed that the alcohol scale only reads 1 or 2%! Hydrometers don't work that way. An initial reading of the un-fermented wort must be taken and the ABV is the difference between the initial and final readings. here's a handy guide on hydrometer usage with some on-line calculators.
Cleaning and Sanitation
- What kind of soap to clean my keg?
- The Mr. Beer instructions are spot-on. Wash your gear with a simple anti-bacterial dish soap and rinse thoroughly. After many uses, your keg may exhibit some funk, even when clean. Don't obsess over it. The goal of washing is to eliminate all solids from the keg. It's the One-Step's job to sanitize and knock out those odoriferous bugs - A job it does superbly.
- Cleaning bottles sucks!
- Yup. Sure does. That's why many home brewers eventually invest in kegging equipment. Still, it doesn't have to be too bad. As soon as you pour off a brew, immediately rinse the bottle and then put a drop or two of anti-bacterial dish detergent in and let it soak. Next time you do dishes, thoroughly rinse the empties and put 'em up for the next batch. A bottle brush is also a handy investment for scrubbing crusties from neglected bottles.
Making Wort and Ingredients
- Arrrrrgh! Will this Booster ever dissolve?!?!?
- Stuff's a bear, isn't it? Warming the water first and using a whisk to stir rapidly while gradually adding the booster helps greatly. You can also avoid booster entirely (and make better beer) by using Mr. Beer Deluxe and Premium refills where the simple Booster is replaced with more flavorful liquid malt extract (LME).
- Should I boil my wort?
- Traditional extract brewing requires a boil where hops and possibly other ingredients are added at various stages. The Mr. Beer mixes are pre-hopped and boiling can significantly alter the taste. Once your water is boiling and booster mixed in (if needed), remove the pot from heat and stir in your Mr. Beer mixes. It's really that simple.
Yeast and Fermentation
- Should I get a "better" yeast?
- Dry or liquid, ale or lager, there's a ton of yeast choices out there for the home brewer. If you're just starting out, the dry ale yeast included with your Mr. Beer mix is quite good and pretty darn bullet-proof. Once you've got a successful batch or two of ales under your belt, you can explore other yeasts like liquids (which often require additional prep before use), and explore the world of lagers which ferment cold and have very strict temperature requirements.
- How do I use Mr. Beer liquid yeast?
- Mr. Beer's liquid yeast comes in a "smack pack". Inside the foil packet is another pouch of sterile starter wort. To activate the pack, this inside pouch must be burst. This gives the yeast sufficient food to wake up and reproduce to a population sufficient to ferment your beer. This process is critical and must not be skipped. Unfortunately, while the directions on the packet are spot-on, many first timers don't realize it takes some real force to burst the inside pouch. Place the yeast packet on the counter and using the heel of your hand, push the liquid around until you've got the inside pouch cornered. Put some real weight into your heel until you feel it pop and squirt. You will know when you've got it. Now, shake it up and wait. WAIT. Not hours, but most likely, days. Do not proceed with brewing until the pouch has expanded at least 1 inch. If you brew too soon, there won't be a sufficient yeast population and you'll have a long lag time, risking infection of your beer. If the yeast pack does not expand at least 1 inch after a week, it's time to get fresh yeast from your LHBS or call Mr. Beer for a replacement.
- x hours/days have passed and nothing's happening!
- RDWHAHB (Relax. Don't Worry. Have A Home Brew). Wort wants to be beer, and unless you pitched the yeast into boiling hot wort, it's pretty unlikely the batch will fail. There are a lot of variables in how long it will take your beer to show visible signs of fermentation (krausen). Temperature, yeast type, wort ingredients, and wort oxygen level can all greatly alter the timing. The two biggest tips for a quick fermentation start are to pitch your yeast at or below a wort temperature of 80 degrees, and to thoroughly whisk the wort in the keg to get the oxygen level up. Yeast need oxygen early on to reproduce. Note this is the only time in your beer production that adding oxygen is a good thing. Very generally speaking, krausen (a foamy layer) should form on your beer within 12 hours, but 48 hours is not uncommon. Some yeast styles - particularly lagers which are bottom fermenters - may never show significant krausen.
Bottling and Priming
- Table sugar. Really?
- Yup. Plain ole' cane sugar is ideal for carbonating your brew. Despite what the "expert" down at your home brew store says, cider flavors are not caused by using table sugar. Cider flavors are a sign that carbonation and conditioning are incomplete, and they can occur with any kind of priming material. Can I use honey / corn sugar / malt extract / brown sugar / agave / maple syrup to carbonate my beer? Sure! Just realize they've all got different levels of fermentability so the quantity required to carbonate will not be the same as cane sugar. Unless you know what you're doing, you could end up with flat beer, or worse, bottle bombs. Don't expect any of these exotic priming materials to add flavor to your beer either. There's simply not enough used to make a bit of taste difference.
- My bottles aren't hardening equally
- No biggie. Some bottles may have gotten slightly more sugar. Bottles drawn from the bottom of the keg tend to have slightly more yeast in them which can make them firm up quicker. No matter what, give your beer 2 full weeks at room temperature to carbonate (2-2-2 remember). If your bottles are really starting to bulge and you're worried about a blowout, consider tossing them in a cooler (no ice!) to contain any accidents. Bottle bombs are rare, but they do happen. Part of the fun of the hobby!
- What kind of bottles can I use?
- If it previously held a pressurized beverage, it'll likely work just fine for your beer. This includes PET pop bottles (in various sizes), Grolsch style "swingtop" bottles, and non twist-off beer bottles, if you've got a capper. Steer clear of root beer bottles (the flavor's darn near impossible to get out) and twist-off beer bottles. The glass on them is thinner and tends to brake under the pressure of the capper. If your bottles are not brown, take extra care to store them out of sunlight to avoid skunking your brew. If you're willing to make the investment (or like to drink Grolsh), swingtops are a homebrewing favorite. Infinitely reusable, they're also immune to "bottle bombs". The gasket in the top will vent off excess CO 2? long before the bottle breaks.
Conditioning and Lagering
- My beer's all cloudy! Is it ruined?
- Just about every beer you make will go into the bottles cloudy. It's perfectly normal. During the four weeks of carbonation and lagering, the beer will clear as the yeast and other sediments flocculate out. It's also worth noting that home brew should be drank from a carefully poured glass so the sediment is left behind in the bottle.
- Conditioning? Lagering? What's the difference?
- Home brewers are pretty loose with these terms. From a Mr. Beer perspective, we call "conditioning" anything that happens after bottling. This normally includes two weeks of carbonation time at room temperature and two weeks of lagering (a German word for cold storage) at fridge temperatures. More experienced home brewers will have more advanced conditioning techniques that can vary from brew to brew. Belgian Wits, for example, may require no conditioning beyond carbonation, while a Barleywine may be stored for 6 months to a year (or more!) before drinking. For beginner Mr. Beer brewers, stick to the 2-2-2.
Kegging and Forced Carbonation
- I'm tired of dealing with bottles. What are my options?
- Most home brewers that move to kegging use Cornelius or “Corney” kegs. Cornies are usually 5 gallon which makes them sub-optimal for Mr. Beer sized batches. There are 3 gallon cornies but they're rare and quite expensive. A couple of other good options for the Mr. Beer brewer are the Tap-a-Draft and the Party Pig. Tap-a-Draft uses 6 liter bottles. A batch of Mr. Beer will fill one bottle and 2 Mr. Beer 1L PET bottles. The Pig can easily hold an entire batch of Mr. Beer. Tap-a-Draft can force-carbonate beer while the Pig is more portable for picnics, etc. Both require extra "consumables" - Tap-a-Draft uses 8g Co2 cartridges (these are not the same as the 12g ones BB guns use), and the Pig requires special one-time use pressure pouches.
Problems making my beer
- My beer tastes funny! Is it ruined?
- Very doutbful. Most likely, you've rushed opening that first bottle and the beer's still green. John Palmer's How to Brew has an entire section on off-flavors in your beer. Give it a read and remember, time really does heal many brewing mistakes.
- What's that gunk at the bottom of my keg?
- It's called trub. It's yeast, hops, and proteins that have settled out and it's perfectly normal. Some beers will have a lot of trub, some only a little. Sometimes trub can block the spout. When you're ready to bottle, pour off a shot glass or two to clear the spout first.
- Oh no! My Strawberry beer is exploding!
- Ain't fruit beers fun? When brewing any beer with fruit in it, place the keg in a large turkey or cake pan to catch overflow. If the keg starts bulging, it means fruit particles have clogged the tiny vent ridges under the keg cap. Gently unscrew to release the pressure and keep an eye on it during fermentation. Cleaning fermented berries off ceilings / walls is not a good time. If possible, fermenting fruit brews slightly cooler (say 65 degrees) and for a longer period (say 3 weeks) greatly reduces the violence of fermentation.
- What's DME? LME? UME?
- UME is Unhopped Malt Extract; LME, or Liquid Malt Extract is the more generic name for the exact same thing. Your local homebrew store will also offer Dry Malt Extract (DME) which comes in a powder form instead of liquid. You can easily interchange them in your recipes with the following conversion: 1 lb LME = .8 lb DME. LME is slightly less messy and easier to mix in, but a bit more expensive, per gallon of beer made. DME stores better and is readily available in bulk.
- I want to boost the alcohol in my beer!
- Easy enough. Add sugar. Will it taste good? Probably not. Really good beer is all about balancing flavors. A high alcohol brew needs a serious grain bill, healthy dose of hops, and plenty of conditioning time. That said, in most cases, you can use a pack of Mr. Beer Booster to give Deluxe and Premium refills a 1.5% ABV boost without ruining the taste.
- Steeping specialty grains
- One of the easiest and best things you can do to take your beer to the "next level" is use specialty grains. Your local home brew store will have a variety of Caramel and Roasted specialty grains. Ask for help in recommending a grain for your beer style and have them crush it for you in their mill. You'll want about a 1/2 lb for a Mr. Beer sized batch. While there, get a grain sock for steeping the grain in as well. To incorporate specialty grains into your brew, start by pouring a full gallon of water (not the 4 cups Mr. Beer says) into a large pot. Place your crushed grains in the sock and drop it into the cold water. Note no sanitization is necessary as you'll be bringing the wort to a boil eventually. Gradually heat the water, mixing the specialty grain regularly until the water reaches 165 degrees. Remove the grains and discard (do not squeeze). You've just made malt tea! Bring the wort to a boil, add in your Booster (if needed) and then remove from heat to add your mixes. Now, you need to cool your wort as it's way too hot to pour directly into the keg. The easiest way is to place the covered pot into a sink of cold ice water. You can bring the wort down to 80 degrees in about 15 minutes this way, stirring occasionally and gently with a sanitized spoon. Be viligent with your sanitization during this phase as the wort is vulnerable to infection until it's tucked away safe and sound in the keg. Once the wort is cooled, dump it in the keg and top with water, returning to the normal Mr. Beer instructions for yeast pitching, etc.
- Not all grains are eligible for steeping. Caramel and Roasted malts have their starches pre-converted so steeping is all that's required to extract their sugars and flavor. Base malts, kilned malts, and most adjuncts like oats, rice, and corn contain starches. To be useful for brewing their starches must be first converted to sugars. Fortunately, this is easier than you'd think! Base malts like 2-row, 6-row, Pilsener malt, Maris Otter, and others contain enzymes that do all the conversion for you. All that's needed is water, proper temperature, and time. To do a mini-mash, start by making sure at least half of your recipe's grains are base malts. The rest can be kilned malts, adjuncts, or even steeping grains like Crystal. Next, heat to exactly 158 degrees enough water to make for a 2:1 water to grain ratio (2 quarts water per 1 pound of grain). This insures a proper mash PH for the enzymes to operate in. So, if you've got 2 pounds of grain total, simply heat up 1 gallon of water. Once the water is heated, remove the pot from the stove and place your crushed grains into the grain sock or bag and drop it into the water. Stir the grains inside the sock thoroughly to break up any dough balls. Next, cover the pot and wrap it in a towel or two to hold in the heat. You want the mash to hold as close as possible at 150 degrees for 30 minutes. After the time is up, simply remove the grains and you're ready to boil! If you like, you can certainly rinse the grains in another pot with 165 deg water, just like a normal steep, and then combine the two pots before resuming with your boil.
Other Tips and Tricks
- The Brewer's Bible
- How to Brew by John Palmer is the home brewer's bible. Beginners and experts alike refer to this tome of brewing wisdom regularly. Best of all, it's free to read on the Internet!
- Keeping your cool
- Maintaining proper fermentation temperature is critical to avoid off flavors in your beer. Each yeast will have a tolerance range that must be adhered to for best results. In the Summer months, that can be a real challenge as most ale yeasts recommend 65-75 degrees. A good low-tech way to keep things cool is to drop the keg in a large cooler with a couple of frozen water bottles or ice packs. Swap the ice packs out once a day and your beer should be nice and happy. Don't forget to pick up some Brew-o-meters from Mr. Beer to slap on your kegs as well.