This is mostly just going to be my commentary on making home brewed beer, and getting started in it very simply.
There are lots and lots of beer “how to”s out there, so why another one? Only for my POV. Many have very good advice, but at the end you are left feeling that if you don’t have the sterilizing skills of a modern hospital and the technical skills of a biologist fused with a chemist you are just SOL. (“So” Out of Luck).
I think that is just not the case. So I’m going to describe beer making with skills closer to those of a dishwasher and guy who can put gas in the car, then figure his gas mileage.
Just remember that the Ancient Egyptians made beer 5000 years ago, as did the Celts living in what is now Bavaria and the Sumerians. Egyptians used beer as payment for work and it was part of the regular ration for pyramid builders. (One wonders how they kept the walls so straight, given that! Must have been with dinner ;-) Now that was before any of them had any idea what a bacteria was, what sterilization meant, that they were actually growing yeast, nor did they have all the modern gizmos like hydrometers and graduated glassware.
What this means is really pretty simple. To make beer, all it really takes is some barley, water, and yeast. (Hops is actually a fairly recent addition to ‘bitter’ the beer). Take barley, let it get wet and wait. It sprouts. Roast it over a fire to dry out (and “accidentally” give it some smokey flavor and darker color). Then when ready, add it to a pot of boiling water and simmer for a while. When it cools off, wait a couple of weeks and it will bubble and ferment making a very crude beer. At that point, the Egyptians were done and drank up a mug of what was basically beery breakfast cereal.
Notice I did not say “add yeast” nor “boil wort with hops”. We have to come forward a few thousand years for those. In the beginning, folks just waited for whatever yeast was blowing on the wind to blow onto their tub of soggy grain. That is still done for some old style Belgium beers. Most everyone else wanted a more consistent product, and some even wanted less, ahem, “interesting” flavors from some wild yeasts. Over time, they figured out that if you had a batch you really liked, reusing that tub without cooking it, or reserving some of the “goo” from the bottom, continued to make that flavor of beer. “Pitching yeast” was born. Guess what? That still works. Folks are known to buy a bottle of bottle fermented craft beer and use the yeast deposit in the bottom to make a batch of beer. It is only in the last 100 years or so that all beer didn’t come with some yeast in it. So now we know to add yeast.
Hops are leaves of an aromatic flower. Like all such plants, it comes in dozens (hundreds) of cultivars with various flavors and strengths. Piney or orange or whatever. Folks will spend endless weeks arguing over the particular merits of one kind of hops over another for a particular style. You do not need to do that to make good beer. Early beers were flavored with all sorts of herbs and fruits. You can make beer plain, flavored with whatever spices, herbs, fruits, peels, etc. that excite you, or you can add just plain old middling hops. All up to you and your taste buds.
The process of “brewing” really means that process of boiling the roasted barley with some hops or other added stuff to make a flavored stew that is actually to be fermented. Called “wort” (and pronounce like wart) it’s just really the “boiled stuff you will ferment”. Let it cool down (so you don’t kill the yeast) and toss in some yeast. Wait a week or two and “drink or bottle”.
Now because some bacteria like to get into the beer and eat it, it will be much more consistent if you do this waiting with the beer covered. There will be lots of stuff about fermentation locks and sterilizing liquids and more. In reality, a simple lid is enough. Sure, you can and eventually will “lose a batch” if you have a sloppy lid in a dirty area; but it is NOT as tricky as folks make it look. Remember those Egyptians did it.
The “Mr. Beer” fermenter is basically a 2.5 gallon plastic jug with a spigot in the end. The cap has a notch cut into the rim where it screws on (cut into the rim of the jug) so it can’t completely seal. About 1/4 way down to the threads. With the cap fully screwed on, this gives a bit of an air pathway for fermentation gasses to escape out the threads, but it is hard for bugs and bacteria to crawl back up. Simple. Effective. It works. I’ve made cider in gallon jugs of apple juice just by putting the lid on, then loosening it 1/2 turn. Now a fermentation lock is better, but it is not a requirement. They are a little gizmo that lets escaping gasses bubble through something that kills bugs, again so they can’t get in.
Initially the wort will become frothy and foamy as the yeast gets really going. For this reason you want about 20% of empty space above it. The 2.5 gallon Mr. Beer jug makes 2 gallons of beer. You don’t want the foam getting to the fermentation lock (or slot). In about a week, it gets much quieter. You will be tempted to bottle then, but that’s usually a little too soon. A couple of days later you are less likely to have too much fizz and exploding bottles. This was a problem in the old days ;-)
There are two ways around this and one semi-works coping behavior. With a bit of practice tasting fresh beer, you can get a pretty good track record of knowing when it has just enough sugar to fizz but not so much as to explode. Most of what I make, this is about 2 weeks. Odds are, though, you will not be doing this with an expert old hand training your tongue, so the next two methods are the better ones.
1) Ferment to dryness. This means wait about another week until no fermentation is still happening. About 3 weeks total. Then add a measured amount of “bottling sugar” to your bottle (how much depends on the size of the bottle) add the fresh beer, cap it, and let it sit on the shelf for a couple of weeks.
2) Learn to read a hydrometer and it will tell you how much sugar is left in the fresh beer and when to bottle. As some “other stuff” is also in the fresh beer, and how much of it varies with type of beer, the exact hydrometer reading to use varies with the type of beer being made. Use a recipe and follow it.
The Mr. Beer comes with plastic screw cap bottles. These have the ‘feature’ that you can squeeze them to see the pressure build up. If it is getting to be too much, loosen a cap to vent some gas, then tighten it again. (Or do what I do, open it and drink it ;-)
That’s pretty much the whole process from end to end.
Now a lot of folks don’t really want to buy hops and barley and sprout the barley (called ‘malting’) and dry it and mix it all to boil wort and on and on. Nice folks have gone out of their way to make it easy by selling barley malt, and even barley malt extract with the hops flavoring already in it.
For those, you just open the can, dump the molasses like malt extract into the fermenter. Add hot water to dissolve. Wait for it to be cool enough (about room temperature) to “pitch the yeast” (that comes freeze dried in packets and you just dump the dust in), close the fermenter and wait a week. IF you can make Kraft Mac & Cheese, you can make beer. In some ways the Mac & Cheese is harder.
Other folks want some control over the style, or particular hops, or just get tied of spending crazy prices for cans of malt. They buy packaged dry malt, and hops, and do that “boil the wort” step. Again, about like making Spaghetti. Not hard at all. You will need to filter out the hops later, and there are several ways to do that.
Smithwike’s Irish Red Ale
Time Out for a product review.
I’ve finished my first Smithwick’s Irish Red Ale and I’m ready to give an opinion.
Nice, smooth, and not overly hopped. Hops add bitterness to beer and also help to preserve it (kill stray bacteria). They also have some medicinal and psychoactive properties, though mild. Some folks just LOVE that combination and put lots and lots of hops in beer. On the trip to BevMo to buy this, I discovered that about 1/2 their cooler is now IPAs. India Pale Ales. These are ales with way over the top hops in them. Early beer shipments to India did not keep well in the heat. The answer was to double up the hops for beer being sent to India for the troops and Colonizers. They also raised the alcohol level a lot… But regular ale is much more drinkable. Softer on the tongue and gentler on the disposition.
The Irish Red is one of those gentle souls. Enough hops to be interesting, but not so much you can’t taste a bit of sweetness from the residual non-fermentable sugars. It has a dark “beer bottle brown” color (from a small amount of well roasted barley) but with hints of red overtones in it when the sun shines through.
Fermented as an Ale, it will be bottom fermenting yeast that doesn’t want to be too cold while working. Similarly, fresh from the BevMo fridge, it is a bit awkward and flavors not as deep and mellow as they ought to be. The reason is simple: This beer ought to be served at Irish room temperature of about 55 F, not at 35 F and lifeless like Budweiser… As it warms in the glass toward ideal temperature, the flavor blooms and it becomes a very nice draught indeed.
To make it will take Ale yeast, cool room temperature fermentation, and some well roasted barley. Lets see what I can find…
Making Irish Red
Well, if someone had not already started it, I’d be tempted to! “BeerSmith(tm)!”
Irish Red is an refreshing, popular beer style closely related to English Bitters. This week, we’re going to take a look at Irish Red ale recipes and how to brew this beer at home. The style has quite a few variants, but is known most for its deep red color and mild flavor.
The history of Irish Red Ale is difficult to trace. Many Irish Ales made in Ireland are closely related to English Bitters, and some authors say characterize Irish Red as a sub-category of English Bitters or Pale Ales. Others believe Irish Red stands as its own distinct style. Some Irish Ales are lagers, though they share many of the same characteristics as ales. Adding to confusion, breweries in America have taken American Amber Ales and added coloring or a bit of roasted malt and called that Irish Red as well.
OK, so when making one, you will have some latitude in the product, but when reading any given recipe, won’t know exactly what it will end up being. Some testing required…
The Irish Red Ale Style
Irish Reds have virtually no hop aroma low to moderate hop flavor, and have low to moderate malty aroma and flavor. They have a very clean finish with a low buttery or toffee flavor. The use of roasted barley for coloring often results in a slight roasted finish and also creates a dry finish for the beer. Unlike English Ales, Irish Red has no ester (fruity) flavors. Some Irish Reds are fermented with lager yeast, but again they have a very clean finish, low diacytl flavors and should exhibit a clean finish.
Overall the impression is slightly on the malty side, with a clean slightly dry finish. The body and mouthfeel should be light to medium. Highly alcoholic versions may have a slight warmth. The beer should be easy to drink.
Original gravity is in the 1.044-1.060 range and final gravity in the 1.010 to 1.014 range for an alcohol level of 4-6% ABV. Bitterness is in the low to moderate 17-28 IBU range. The color is a moderate 9-18 SRM, though it should have a distinctive reddish hue (provided by a small amount of roast malt).
Those “gravity” readings are what you will want on a hydrometer. The 4% to 6% ABV Alcohol By Volume indirectly tells you how much malt to use (more gives more alcohol) The low bitterness tells you what hops and how much. Color tells you how heavily roasted the barley ought to be, or just lightly smoked while drying. In reality, most folks just follow a recipe and buy the specified ingredients.
It goes on to list 4 recipes. 2 with extract and 2 with malted grain. I’ll look at one of the malt extract recipes.
Kilkenney Red Ale
Batch Size: 5.00 gal
Boil Size: 3.50 gal
Boil Time: 60 min Equipment: CCHBS partial boil instructions
Taste Rating(out of 50): 35.0
Amount Item Type % or IBU
6.00 lb Pale Liquid Extract (8.0 SRM) Extract 84.51 %
0.60 lb British Crystal – 55L (55.0 SRM) Grain 8.45 %
0.25 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt – 10L (10.0 SRM) Grain 3.52 %
0.25 lb Roasted Barley (300.0 SRM) Grain 3.52 %
0.50 oz Target [10.00 %] (60 min) Hops 15.1 IBU
0.20 oz Williamette [5.50 %] (15 min) Hops 1.7 IBU
0.20 oz Fuggles [4.00 %] (0 min) Hops –
1 Pkgs Irish Ale (White Labs #WLP004) Yeast-Ale
That’s a lot of ingredients. Extract AND a couple of added malts and some roasted barley then three kinds of hops and a special yeast. That’s for folks who’ve made a few beers already.
How about a Mr. Beer friendly recipe?
Printable version of their instructions:
An amber red ale with a deceivingly mild flavor, this beer will creep up on you if you don’t pay attention. A very drinkable beer, it is reminiscent of the finest of English ales. Howl at the moon while brewing and always bottle after midnight for best results… Ahh-ooooohh!
FOR FANS OF:
Avalance Ale – Breckenridge Brewing
Levity Amber Ale – Odell Brewing
1 Can Oktoberfest Lager Brewing Extract
1 Packet Dry Brewing Yeast (under lid of Brewing Extract)
1 BrewMax LME Softpack – Golden
1 1/2 oz. Packet Cascade Pellet Hops
1 Muslin Hop Sack
1 Packet No-Rinse Cleanser
OG: 1.044 (approx.) — FG: 1.008 (approx.)
ABV (alc/vol): 4.8%
SRM (Color): 14
IBU (Bitterness): 21
BJCP Style: 15. Irish Beer – 15A. Irish Red
So, ok, not fully authentic. Using a lager malt and lager yeast. Might be good for a starter effort. They ferment it for 3 weeks then carbonate it for another few weeks.
After giving everything a good sterile cleaning they have the process (followed later by bottling):
STEP 2: BREWING
Brewing beer is the process of combining a starch source (in this case, a malt brewing extract) with yeast. Once combined, the yeast eats the sugars in the malt, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). This process is called fermentation.
Remove the yeast packet from under the lid of the can of Brewing Extract, then place the unopened can in hot tap water.
Place the pellet hops into the hop sack tying it closed, then trim away excess material.
Using the measuring cup, pour 4 cups of water into your clean 3-quart or larger pot. Bring water to a boil, add in hop sack, then remove from heat.
Open the Brewing Extract and the LME, and pour the contents into the hot mixture. Stir until thoroughly mixed. This mixture of unfermented beer is called wort.
Fill keg with cold tap water to the #1 mark on the back.
Pour the wort, including the hop sack, into the keg, and then bring the volume of the keg to the #2 mark by adding more cold water. You’ll leave the hop sack in the wort for the duration of fermentation. Stir vigorously with the spoon or whisk.
Sprinkle the yeast packet into the keg, and screw on the lid. Do not stir.
Put your keg in a location with a consistent temperature between 65° and 75° F (18.3°-23.8° C) and out of direct sunlight. After approximately 24 hours, you will be able to see the fermentation process happening by shining a flashlight into the keg. You’ll see the yeast in action in the wort. The liquid will be opaque and milky, you will see bubbles rising in the liquid, and there will be bubbles on the surface.
You’ll ferment for 21 days total. Your fermentation will usually reach its peak in 2 to 5 days (this is also known as “high krausen”). You may see a layer of foam on top of the wort, and sediment will accumulate at the bottom of the fermenter. This is totally normal. Complete fermentation will take approximately 2 weeks. After high krausen the foam and activity will subside and your batch will appear to be dormant. Your beer is still fermenting. The yeast is still at work slowly finishing the fermentation process.
That is pretty much it. The room temperature fermentation is likely why this is going to taste more like an ale than a lager.
I’d likely go with this kit and deal with cutting it in half for the Mr. Beer (or use my 5 Gallon carboy and fermentation lock):
They also have a dropdown where you can select particular yeast you like and include proper Ale yeasts.
Irish Red Ale Extract Kit w/ Specialty Grains
Flat Rate Shipping only $7.99 only from Northern Brewer
Irish ales are malty, smooth, and many, like our kit, are a rich copper-red color. Great taste, drinkability, and low aging requirements make this our best-selling kit.
Irish Red Ale Extract Kit +$28.99
A bit pricey compared to using malt directly, but not that bad for 5 gallons of beer…
Says 6 weeks to make it.
Irish ales are malty, smooth, medium-bodied, and most, like our kit, are a deep copper-red color that is created by a blend of specialty malts. Our malt blend also gives this recipe its signature toasty and sweet aroma and flavor.
Another defining characteristic of Irish Red Ales are their immense drinkability — definitely a crowd-pleasing beer. Its great taste, drinkability, and low aging requirements make this our best-selling kit.
So that’s the basic beer brewing for a guy with the ability to change the oil in his car. Not really much to it. Works better if you are good at washing things. A big jug with a little bubbler in the top works better for making 5 gallons than running a Mr. Beer 2 1/2 times, but a Mr. Beer makes more, faster, than I can usually drink. (Then again, I’ve been fermenting things fast and warmer).
If you can wash dishes, keep your cuts from getting infected, and follow the directions on the package to make Mac & Cheese, you can use a Mr. Beer to make several styles of beer.
I’ll be back in a few minutes to post an evaluation of the next Red Ale I bought…
Deschutes “Swivelhead Red” India style red ale.
Lacking the word “Irish” but with India in the name it is what I feared it would be. It is NOT an Irish Red, but an India Ale with a bit of red color to it and a startling amount of hops.
Not a bad beer, just nothing like an Irish Red with it’s smooth and easy mouth feel and flavor. Well, OK, I knew it might be, but there were only 3 beers that were remotely likely to be Irish Red style and I figured I’d go for it.
As an InotPA it’s a good beer. Hops are a bit more than I like even in my IPAs. The darker color is a nice touch, but doesn’t really add much. The flavor is a nice malt, but not quite enough to stand up to the hops level. Probably better after 3 or 5 of something else has dulled your taste-buds. I’d call this an IPA with some added roasted barley for color and then a bit too much of some aggressive hops.
Their profile says:
PROFILE – A head-turning IRA with herbal hop aroma and smooth caramel maltiness.
Alcohol 6.5% and IBU of 70. Yeah, 70 Bitterness Units. Compare the 21 for the Irish Red Mr. Beer kit above… So over 3 x as bitter.
I’ll drink the rest of them and enjoy it, but only after a couple of something else.
There’s one 22 oz of a local craft brew Irish Red in the fridge. It needed to cool down. As I’ve just finished dinner and things need to settle before pouring another 22 oz down the gullet, that review, whenever it comes, will be in comments.