Fresh off the heels of the article that I introduced the idea that my wife, Sam, wanted to learn how to brew, we were cleaning out our attic and found something interesting. Because of social distancing, lack of places to travel to, and running out of things to watch on Netflix, Sam and I spent some our long Fourth of July weekend cleaning out our attic and found a long-forgotten Mr. Beer kit. I don’t remember buying this “homebrewing” kit but here it was in the box from some undetermined time ago, and I thought it might be funny to try and brew this beer. The weird coincidence in this scenario was that the beer kit that I had purchased all those years ago and forgot about is the Long Play Session IPA just like last week’s low-calorie beers. Go figure.
Sam had said she was interested in figuring out how beer is made. I sold my homebrewing stuff over 5 years ago so I couldn’t just pull that old stuff out. So, we unboxed the little plastic mini-keg fermenter, the instructions and the one can of ingredients and got to work.
The process of brewing beer is pretty simple and the Mr. Beer kit simplifies it even more. Beer is a combination or sugars derived from malted barley, hops to seal the beer and for flavor, hot water, and yeast pitched at the end to eat up the sugars and produce the alcohol we calculate as ABV. How this process works in a large brewery is that the malted barley comes in the form of unmilled grain. Breweries usually have an augur that mills this malt up, depending on the type of beer, a few different types of malt could go into this but it looks, smells, and tastes like cereal grains. You pour this into a brew kettle and pour under 200-degree hot water over this to take out all the available sugars from this malted barley. This is one of the more complicated moves in the brewing process to control temperatures and to control extraction times on this front-end stuff. Then after you have extracted all your sugars this way, you get into your boil territory, this is when you boil this combination of malted sugars and a variety of combinations of hops and timing to make the wort that is the simplest form of what you think of as beer here.
The way Mr. Beer kits handle this process is that they do all of that work for you. In your Mr. Beer kit, you get one aluminum can that has all the malted barley sugars and hops combined in one. There is no brewing in this process. You heat up a certain amount of beer. You mix this wort syrup together into a stove top pot and then you transfer this into the plastic barrel-shaped fermenter that already has a certain amount of cold water in it. This is the most fascinating part of the Mr. Beer kit.
One of the key things at this point after the usually 60-minute boil that melds together the malt and the hops, you have hot barley tea. Here’s the problem, you can’t pitch yeast into 170-degree water. So, now you have to get 170+ degree wort down to a temperature that yeast can thrive in. Most often 80 degrees is optimal. So, at Brickstone’s level of brewing how do you get 50 gallons of 170-plus degree wort cooled down in a timely manner? You chill the pipes that carry the beer to the fermenter with glycol. I don’t know exactly how this process works but how you would do this as a homebrewer just above the Mr. Beer level, is I used to put the brew pot with wort into an ice bath in my kitchen sink because cooling 5 gallons is a lot easier than 50. Then, when you transfer the still too hot liquid to your glass carboy (big glass tank you sometimes see people fill with loose change) you run water through copper piping because cooper pipe will remove heat from a hot liquid and transfer it to the tap water. Mr. Beer’s tactic was to combine hot syrupy water with already cold water. How unique! Once you have the already cold-water hot wort mixture set, then you can pitch your yeast. Set for 14 to 21 days, and then you will have beer served out of your fermenter which is also not the process.
So, then I asked Sam what she learned in this very truncated process of brewing.
She was surprised at Mr. Beer’s low-fi way of cooling the wort down by combining cold tap water and hot wort. Then she was surprised at how the beer extract syrup smelled like soy sauce a little bit. Now, I cannot verify how this substance was supposed to smell if we had brewed it within the suggested use date of the kit itself. We are two years late so Mr. Beer is not responsible for our mistake.
Her biggest takeaway was that she was surprised by how clean everything has to be. In the Mr. Beer kit, the first step is to mix their no-rinse sanitizer up in your mini barrel fermenter. Everything that could even potentially touch a beer touching surface has to be sanitized. For instance, the outside of the mini-barrel does not need to be sterilized. You get a Mr. Beer sticker to put on it which is inherently not a sterile surface. The inside, the plastic spigot, the bottom on the screw top lid to the mini barrel has to be sanitized. The scissors you cut open yeast packet has to be sanitized. The spoon you stir the wort with has to be sanitized. The lid of the can and the can opener has to be sanitized. This is doubly or triply true of the production facility. They use a lot stronger sanitizing chemicals to clean everything all the time.
On a separate note all together, Heather’s Custom Cakes is hosting its fourth-anniversary with a parking lot full of vendors and live music. The event is noon to 4 p.m. today at their shop, 970 W. Broadway St., Bradley. I heard about this through the drive-thru from my wife’s oldest friend, Sara Castongia, while I picked up some of their newest cupcake collaborations with Brickstone featuring Brickstone’s Jam’d Up Mango beer. Those cupcakes are fantastic and they will have some for sale this weekend at their 4th anniversary party, socially distanced of course.
So, in honor of this brewing adventure, I wanted to recommend a beer brewed in our area. While it is not a Session IPA. I have recommended enough of those. I have wanted to recommend Cerveza de Piedra Ladrillo or Brick Stone Beer, a fantastically balanced Mexican-style lager perfect for the hottest part of the summer.
Cerveza De Piedra Ladrillo from Brickstone Brewery
Style: Other (for whatever reason this is how it is currently categorized on Untappd)
Brewery’s note: “A dry, crisp Mexican-style lager with slight tropical fruit notes. Perfect for a hot summer day. Served with lime.”
Where to Buy: You can find this one at the brewpub in Bourbonnais in 16-ounces pours for $5.25 or a 64-ounce growler for $15 — which is a fantastic deal and great companion for a backyard barbecue.