If you’re looking to pick up a new hobby while stuck social distancing yourself… consider homebrewing. I’m on my third batch now, and although I have been studying the beer industry intently over the past few years, I must say: it gave me a whole new appreciation for the industry.
The initial start-up costs pushed production back, and MB = MC Brewing Company (short for Mash and Boil for Marvelous Content… or for my econ friends, Marginal Benefit equals Marginal Cost) “officially opened” on January 20, 2020.
I went with Northern Brewer’s Homebrew Starter Kit. It’s a 5 gallon brew kit that is perfect for the first-time homebrewer. Eventually, I want to upgrade to the glass carboys, but MB = MC Brewing Co. is not looking to expand at this time. You’ll also need glass bottles. I went with 22 oz. bombers so bottling wouldn’t be as tedious (36 bottles total). Again, the start-up costs can be daunting, but it pays off in the long-run.
Quick back of the napkin calculation:
Start up costs were, let’s call it, $200. The initial homebrew kit comes with the primary fermentor, bottling bucket, boiling pot, essential equipment (e.g., thermometer and hydrometer), and the ingredients for your first batch. My first batch produced 24 – 22 oz. bottles. Scale this to 12 oz. bottles, we have 44 – 12 oz. bottles; alternatively, over seven – six-packs. Take your common price per six-pack and scale this by seven. So, if you’re typically paying $10.99 per six-pack, you’re making nearly $80 worth of beer. Plus, you’re making it yourself — something I think is super cool and adds additional value in and of itself.
From here, the kits/selecting your own ingredients cost anywhere from $30-$70, depending on the style of beer, hops used, etc. Once those initial start-up costs are out of the way, it becomes a relatively inexpensive hobby. (Note: You will also need to buy sanitation solution periodically. I use San Star, which is a 16 oz. bottle that will last me eight brews.)
MB = MC Brewing Co. Tap List
First batch: Laid Back Lumberjack (ABV 6.2%)
West Coast style IPA brewed with Chinook and Simcoe hops with floral notes on the front end, and a bitterness that provides a swift kick at the back end. Notes of pine and grapefruit. [Used the Chinook IPA starter kit from Northern Brewer and took the liberty of adding some Simcoe hops.]
Second batch: Birthday Baby’s Breakfast Brew (ABV 7.1%)
Oatmeal coffee stout inspired by Founder’s Brewing Breakfast Stout. Hefty notes of coffee with subtle chocolate aromas. Solid carbonation, though I would love this on nitro. [Used the Peace Coffee 2nd Crack Stout from Northern Brewer and, again, took the liberty of modifying the recipe and brewing with some Quaker Oats.]
Third batch: Kitchen Sink 001. I decided to put together my own recipe, gathering ingredients from Northern Brewer and a local homebrew supply shop. Below is the ingredient list and step-by-step recipe if you’re interested in starting up homebrewing or just genuinely curious about the process.
The following recipe is for a five gallon brew.
Specialty Grain: These are grains and other adjuncts that enhance the flavor, color, and overall body of the homebrew. For our purposes, they will be steeped in warm water using a mesh-grain bag. This recipe uses:
- 1 lb. Dingemans Belgian Cara 8 Pils Malt
Malt Extract: Barley is one of the four key inputs to beer. For brewing, the barley must be converted to malted barley, or simply malt. The real quick summary: the barley germinates and is then dried. For novice homebrewers, we use malt extract. There are different malts for different beers, but I chose the following:
- 6 lb. Briess Pilsen Malt Extract Syrup
- 1 lb. Briess Pilsen Light Dry Malt Extract
Hops: There are over 200 hop cultivars on the market, each providing different flavors and aromas to the final product. This recipe calls for four different cultivar types:
- 1 oz. Citra (provides citrus, grapefruit, lime, and tropical fruit)
- 1 oz. Michigan Copper (floral, tropical)
- 1 oz. El Dorado (tropical fruit, pineapple, and mango with aromas of pear, watermelon, and stonefruit)
- 0.5 oz. Chinook (pine, spices, and subtle grapefruit)
Yeast : This is the spark for fermentation. The yeast converts your simple sugars (from the malt) to carbon dioxide and alcohol. There are countless varieties of yeasts for homebrewing, I chose:
- LalBrew® BRY-97 American West Coast Ale Dry Yeast Packet
Priming Sugar: Used as a final fuel source for the yeast when you are moving your beer into the bottles. Not used during the brewing process, but necessary for giving your final product the carbonation you are looking for. I’ve used, and will continue to use:
- 5 oz. Northern Brewer Priming Sugar.
Miscellaneous: Here are some additional items you will need to purchase for each batch.
- 14-20 lbs of ice
- 1 or 2 mesh bags for specialty grain steeping
- Sanitation solution: Keeping your equipment clean is the most important part of homebrewing. A whole batch can be ruined by one piece of unsanitized equipment. Always have an extra supply of sanitation solution on hand.
- Some homebrew or local craft beer for your enjoyment while brewing. (As an aside, please do whatever you can to support your favorite local craft brewery during this tough time. Buy gift cards, six-packs to-go, or other merchandise. Local brewers rely on local business. They need your support.)
1. We start by heating 2.5 gallons of water on medium heat, uncovered. As this begins to heat, we allow our specialty grain to steep in the pot.
2. After 20 minutes, remove the grain bag, and be careful not to squeeze the excess water out of the mesh bag (You don’t want the grain in the beer.) Now, turn the heat to high, leave the pot uncovered, and bring the water to a boil.
3. Once boiling, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the malt extract syrup and dry malt extract.
4. Return the pot back to the high heat, and bring your concoction to a boil. This mixture is known as wort, the un-fermented, sweet infusion of malt and grains.
5. Once the wort is boiling, set a timer for 1 hour and maintain a gentle boil. Now, we add in some of our hops. At this stage, it is best to use your bittering or dual-purpose hops. I chose to add 1.5 oz of hops (0.5 oz. Chinook, 0.5 oz. Michigan Copper, and 0.5 oz. El Dorado).
6. With 10 minutes remaining on your timer, add in another dosage of hops. I went with 0.5 oz. of MI Copper. At this stage, start to prepare for chilling. Fill your sink with ice and cold water. The amount of ice depends on the depth of the sink. I have a relatively shallow sink; allows me to use 14 lbs. of ice.
7. With 1 minute remaining on your timer, add in a final dosage of hops. This time, I add 0.5 oz. of El Dorado. When the timer goes off, move the wort to the ice-filled sink.
8. Cool the beer for 30 minutes, or until the wort is approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit (or 37.78 degrees Celsius).
9. While your wort is cooling, sterilize your fermentor with the cleaning solution. (Directions for sterilization are specific to the cleaning solution you use.)
10. Add 1 gallon of cold water to the fermentor prior to transferring your wort.
11. Add wort into the fermentor and add cold water to the 5 gallon mark. (Optional step: Strain your wort through a mesh net strainer to remove the hop sediment. If doing this, be sure to sanitize the strainer prior to use.)
12. Take your initial hydrometer reading. This measures your density — which provides an initial reading on your potential alcohol content. Record this number. You will need to refer to it after the fermentation process.
13. Pitch your yeast. Again, this is specific to the type of yeast you purchase. Some dry-yeasts can be pitched to the wort directly; some must be activated prior to adding it to the wort.
14. At this stage, oxygen becomes the enemy. Seal your fermentor, fill the sanitized airlock to the “max” line, and insert to cap.
15. Move to dark, cool place for two weeks before bottling.
The Next Steps…
Between 12-72 hours after the yeast was added, you should see bubbles coming up through the airlock. This is the excess carbon dioxide leaving the fermentor. If you don’t see this activity, take a breath. The amount of CO2 you “witness” escaping will depend on the style (and your timing). (I didn’t see any activity in the airlock for my oatmeal coffee stout.) Another way to check on your fermentation is through a layer of sludge-like residual at the top.
After 7 days from the initial brew day, we have a chance to dry hop. Much of the fermentation is done by this point, but dry hopping allows us to introduce some additional flavors and aromas. I chose to dry hop with 1 oz. of Citra. Quickly pop off the cover on the fermentor, sprinkle in the hops, and re-seal the cover. DO NOT STIR IN THE HOPS. This introduces unnecessary oxygen and risk of contamination.
After another week goes by (14 days after brew day), we are ready to bottle. Surprisingly, this stage isn’t as straightforward as it sounds and requires a great deal of sanitation.
My next post will provide a detailed set of instructions on proper bottling techniques and sanitation. Cheers, and happy homebrewing.