Tuesday, September 1, 2015

You can go all grain! with your Mr. Beer Fermenter... Bell's two hearted clone.

Many of you got your start in brewing with the Mr. Beer brewing system.  And you had enough fun that now, years or months later,  you are reading a home brewing blog... There is nothing wrong with Mr. Beer.   I'm sure that the beer produced from a Mr. Beer kit probably tastes fine.   (I say probably because I have never brewed a Mr. Beer kit, and I don't really have any plans to do so in the near future).  I'm sure it tastes fine, but I know for a fact that an all grain "Bells Two Hearted Ale Clone" does taste more than fine... it tastes delicious,  every sip, every time. (the recipe, by the way, is a couple of posts back) And let's face it,  all grain brewing is loads of fun.  So I decided to show you that you don't need some huge fancy 3 vessel, 3 pump, Recirculating Mash, ionic filtration system, temperature controlled brewing structure to make all grain beer... all you really need, you probably already have if you're reading this blog.  A large pot (4 or 5 gallons, $19 at Wal-Mart)  a brewing thermometer ($10 at the LHBS) , and a couple of 5 gallon paint strainer bags ($1.97 each at Sherwin Williams)

So Here is the first Pillar of Truth... All grain brewing is not difficult. If you can make oatmeal you can make all grain beer, if you can operate a thermometer, you can make all grain beer, if you know the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, you can make all grain beer.  It just isn't that difficult.   As the saying goes, "the hardest part of making beer, is arguing about how to make it on the interwebs"  People make all grain brewing look more difficult than it is.  Yes there are some tricks to learn and traps to avoid.   I'll cover them a little bit here.  This is not a treatise on all grain brewing.  There are entire books dedicated to it.  But in a nut shell, Mash grains to extract sugars, Boil wort to denature proteins and isomerize hop oils, Chill, aerate, pitch yeast, ferment at the correct temperature, package, drink... repeat.  That is the all grain hobby in a nutshell.

The second pillar of all grain Truth...It doesn't matter how you choose to Mash Grains.  It doesn't matter if you use a traditional 3v system, a Recirculating Immersion Mash System,  Brew in a Bag, a eBIAB system, or a giant clay crock in your oven (yes that's a real thing).  To me the debate between BIAB, RIMS, and 3V is ridiculous.   I truly don't care how you choose to extract sugars from grains.  I just hope that you will extract sugars from grains, and that you will share the end result with me.   That being said, there are a few more steps to an all grain brew, which brings us to the first trap of all grain brewing...you have to be organized and prepared.   You need a plan, and you need to take good records.  You are the one creating the extract... to repeat what you did, or to improve on it... you have to know what you did...I am always organized when I brew, and I always take great notes.  I usually also fill out a brewing log on brewtoad.com  So with all of that out of the way here it is...

On this day, in this kitchen... I was determined to show you that if you have a 4+ gallon pot, a paint strainer bag from home depot, a thermometer, and a Mr. Beer fermenter, you can brew all grain beer.    

As you can see from the picture, at left,  I am using a paint strainer bag for my brewbag, a long thermometer, and a 5 gallon pot.  I am mashing this batch right on the stove top.    That is a great place for many of you to start all grain brewing.  I do make water adjustments, but the only one you need to concern your self with to have success is pH.   If you just purchase a little tub of 5.2 pH stabilizer, your beer will come out great.  And one tub will last for hundreds of batches.   As you grow you will learn more tricks, like the use of campden tablets, gypsum, and other brewing salts to de chlorinate the water and to give the water the exact flavor you want.   Which brings us to the second trap of all grain brewing... keep your mash simple until you have more experience. Again the only water adjustment you need to make is for pH.  (in theory you don't have to even do that, but it is great insurance, so just do it). This mash was a simple one stage saccrification rest at 152 F for 60 minutes.   I prefer to do step mashing, with a mash out... but today... easy.  At the end of the saccrification rest, I simply lifted the bag out of the water and let it drain into the boil kettle.    I did not sparge.  I have no problem with sparging, But when you are making a 2.125 gallon batch of beer... the time savings is just too appealing to me... yeah... well... so I no sparge on my small batches.

At the end of the mash I had a wort that was 1.054 gravity.  I had collected 2.8 gallons of wort.  And it was a beautiful light orange color.   I do not always check my extraction gravity... after all, at this point there isn't a lot you can do to increase the gravity other than add DME or SUGAR.   But it is fun to know how well your extraction went.  For this recipe, we were hoping for 75% efficiency, and we got 77.3%... so very cool.  (by the way, that happens a lot with MCI stout malt) Here is an easy trick to check your extract gravity.   After the bag drains into your boil kettle, move the colander and the bag over another pot and give it a gentle squeeze.  The wort trapped in the bag is the same gravity as the wort in the boil kettle. So use it to check your gravity.... easy.

which brings us to the third trap of all grain brewing... do not focus on your efficiency.  There are guys who obsess about their efficiency... and their beer... well, it doesn't tend to be all that great.  They are more focused on the amount of sugar they extract than the quality of the beer being produced.  There is more going on in a mash than efficiency.  The malt is kicking off other delicious flavors.   So don't obsess over the extraction of sugar, it doesn't necessarily mean you are doing a better job.

Which brings us to the third pillar of all grain brewing...after the mash, it's just like extract brewing. At the end of the mash I began my boil... I made my hop additions at first wort, 20 minutes to go, and 0 minutes to go.  I added my small stainless wort chiller at 11 minutes to go.  I added Irish Moss at 10 minutest to go, I added yeast nutrient at 9 minutes to go.  At flame out I did a 20 minute hop stand.

As you can see in the photo at left With small batch I always use a brew bag for the hop additions, I don't want to lose volume to hop trub.   I use a full sized paint strainer bag, I want the hops to have room to move around.

Another neat little trick.   Coffee filters are disposable and sanitary. They make great places to sort and organize your hop additions.  And the best part, after the addition...throw them away, or recycle them.   As you can also see, my ever present brewday log is with me.  I can't stress enough the difference that record keeping can make in your brewing.   A big reason my beers are so good... I can look back at previous brew sessions and make changes, and adjustments.

After the boil, I chilled the batch with my small stainless immersion chiller.  I chilled right at the sink. The wort went from 190 F to 80 F in about 15 Minutes. Still looking for better chilling solutions that use less water. I'm having success with that but there are risks.  For large batches I'm investing in a Jaded Hydra or wasp.    I am also considering using a cooler filled with Ice water, and a sump pump... there are already examples on the internet, check them out.   We waste way too much water as brewers.

After the chill I transferred the entire volume into the Mr. Beer Little Brown Keg.  I love the LBK.   It is a perfect volume of beer to brew, if like me you brew a lot.  A pot on the stove, Sinatra on the radio... perfect.   After transfer, I aerate my wort.   I used to pour it back and forth between two buckets and call it good enough... but one of my lagers ended up sweet... clear proof that my method wasn't good enough.   So now I use an aquarium pump with a hepa filter and a stainless steel air stone. I aerate for 10-15 minutes. Which brings us to the fourth pillar of truth...always be cleaning.  I clean while I'm aerating.  The late great sage "Mankind", who taught me to all grain brew back in the dark ages of home brew said once "if you don't like cleaning, you don't like brewing." 

After aeration, I pitched my rehydrated Fermentis, Safale US-05 yeast.   I am a fan of dry yeasts. US-05 (and all chico strain yeast) is a notoriously slow starter.  But a great finisher.  Re-Hydration and proper aeration fix this problem.  It had a great Krausen 15 hours later.   I can't say the air lock was bubbling away because... with a Mr. Beer LBK there is no air lock, just a series of vents in the lid. The LBK is dark brown, not sure why... but it is, so it is hard to see the fermentation going on.  The trick is to put a flashlight against the outside of the LBK, then you can see your Krausen.

So there it is, I brewed an all grain beer and I am fermenting it in a LBK from Mr. Beer.  It was a great brew day.  If you love home brewing but you don't have the gear to do a traditional 5 gallon all grain brewing, jump into small batch all grain brewing on your stove top with your old LBK.

Update 9/4.  The beer was brewed on 8/29... The krausen almost reached the top of the Mr Beer LBK.  Even still I think I can get to 2.5 gallons of lower gravity beers in the LBK... Gonna try it soon and see. Wednesday night I add the dry hops next weekend. I bottle.  Can't wait for this one.  I love Bells two hearted ale. 


  1. Great summary; I use LBKs for small batches all the time. BTW, I believe the Mr. Beer fermenters are brown/amber in order to block harmful light (as with beer bottles).

  2. Thank you Steve. I actually use my LBKs all the time, and I am about to order 2 more. I also like their plastic bottles and caps. I still can't comment on their beer, but their equipment is great. I actually have a book shelf that holds 6 LBKs. I have modified my lbks to use an air lock. Ill post soon about that. It is a good practice for big beers. The vents can let oxygen and nasty wild yeast into your beer if you are fermenting something that is really high OG.