According to the Beer Institute , Wisconsin was the nation's sixth largest per capita consumer of beer in the United States, and third in the Midwest (after North and South Dakota). But anyone who grew up with that classic Laverne & Shirley opening theme song will forever associate beer with Milwaukee. Not to mention anyone who's drunk a Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz and Blatz, or any of the many other beers made in the Badger State. But L&S took place well before the microbrew craze that has, thankfully, been sweeping the nation for the last several years. And well before the wide wonderful hobby of homebrewing.
Yes folks, I'm going there.
Official Name: State of Wisconsin
State Nickname: The Badger State
Admission to the US: May 29, 1848 (30th)
Capital: Madison (2nd largest)
Other Important Cities: Milwaukee (largest), Green Bay (3rd largest), Kenosha (4th largest), Racine (5th largest)
Region: Midwest, Upper Midwest, Great Lakes; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Wild Rice
Bordered by: Minnesota (west); Lake Superior (northwest); Michigan (upper panhandle) (northeast); Lake Michigan (east); Illinois (south); Iowa (southwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: badger (animal, though these aren't typically eaten anymore); corn (grain); dairy cow (domesticated animal); honeybee (insect, for the honey); milk (beverage); muskellunge, or "muskie" (fish); sugar maple (tree, for the maple sap); white-tailed deer (wildlife animal)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: typical Midwestern cuisine; German, Central European and Scandinavian foods; dairy, especially cheese and fried cheese curds; Wisconsin-style fish boil (usually done on a massive scale for many people); beer brats (bratwurst cooked in beer and grilled, usually on a "Sheboygan roll", a typical bratwurst roll from Midwest); beer, beer and more beer
Last Christmas my mother and sister got me something I hadn't expected or asked for. Mind you, I never ask for anything to begin with, but wouldn't you know it? They went and got me something anyway. They got something they thought I would enjoy: a homebrewing kit. The brand was Mr. Beer, just about the easiest introduction into homebrewing that a potential homebrewer could ever hope for! Mind you, it's often derided by more experienced homebrewers, but a guy's gotta start somewhere.
Of course, being the science-minded guy that I am, I had to over-complicate things, instead of just following the instructions that came with the kit.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's rewind back to when I first started planning to make my own beer. I was first inspired last year, before I had fortuitously been gifted this Mr. Beer thing, when I caught William Bostwick on an episode of NPR's Splendid Table discussing his book Beer Craft: A Simple Guide to Making Great Beer , which he co-authored with Jessi Rymill. Bostwick discussed the art of homebrewing - both on the radio and in the book - in such a way that it seemed fairly simple to have your own beer in four short weeks. Listen for yourself: the audio of the interview is embedded below:
Water and grain, mixed with some sort of spice, and fermented by yeast: That's all beer is. Of course, the choice of grains, spices (hops, mostly), yeast, and, yes, even water, make all the difference - but we'll get to that later. [Bostwick and Rymill 2011:27]
This is gonna be a long post, just to give a head's up, but I'm taking my beer making process from start to finish. Forgive the utilitarian name of this recipe. I don't have a snazzy title for it, okay?
For this beer making experiment - and I use the term "experiment" in the most literal sense - you will need the following, unless you already know how to make beer from scratch, in which case prepare to be amused:
* Mr. Beer Premium kit, which includes the following:
1. a fermenter - the container in which your beer will become, well, beer - with notched lid - for allowing carbon dioxide to escape during the fermenting process - and spout for dispensing into...
2. eight quart-sized plastic bottles with screw on lids - because everyone drinks whole quarts of beer at once. Most homebrewing sites, as well as the homebrew store staff, recommended - and sell - the regular sized bottles, along with bottle caps and a bottle capper. The next time I make beer I will likely use this method instead.
* "booster" - I'm still not quite sure what this is, except that it "adds alcohol [about 1.3% ABV, or Alcohol By Volume] and body" to the beer. I'm not sure if homebrew stores sell this stuff, and there is even extensive discussion on Mr. Beer message boards about whether the stuff is at all necessary. I used it. Why tempt fate the first time around?
* brewing yeast - this you certainly need, or you're going to have something that ain't beer a few weeks from now. This gets added after the boiling process, natch.
* sanitizing powder (Mr. Beer comes with its own, though homebrewers have many other options for sanitizing your fermenter and utensils. It is vital that you sanitize - and this isn't the same thing as "clean" - anything that comes in contact with your beer, because otherwise odd flavors will be introduced, and you don't want to drink deliciously nasty beer after letting it ferment for a month.
* Mr. Beer West Coast Pale Ale malt extract - this one came with the kit. They sell others too. The Brewer's Best also sells extracts - like the deluxe cake mixes to scratch baking - from DuClaw's, if you want to make all of their beers at home. Many homebrewers prefer to do it all from scratch, and most homebrewing stores have all the ingredients and supplies you will need in order to do that.
* directions [Mr. Beer 2011] - these will be indispensable if you've never done this before. They definitely streamline production - this set of directions are pretty much useful only if you're using Mr. Beer.
While at the MD Homebrewer's store, I also picked up the following:
* priming sugar (Mr. Beer's instructions, which gently ease you into the wide wonderful world of home brewing, suggests plain old table sugar, but the beer store had this stuff and I figured it would work better. You put this in the bottle just before bottling, which after a few weeks will lead to that carbonization you want and need in a good beer)
* another sanitizing medium - in this case Iodophor (about $4 or $5), which was recommended at the homebrew store. There are several options for this. I figured that Iodophor would need to be rinsed off, but websites I read suggested otherwise, since such a small amount of the iodine-based sanitizer is needed to actually sanitize your equipment. I used this on the bottles and tools I used for bottling.
* several gallons of bottled water (only for taste purposes - a few dollars for two large bottles)
* hops (in this case Chinook hops (about $1.50 to $2), a piney smelling and tasting hop from Hopunion. These are in "dissolvable" pellets though MD Homebrewers, as well as most homebrewers (I assume) sell the actual hops as well. I added these during the boiling process, to make my beer hoppier. Many websites suggest the different ways to hop up brew kit beer, such as this post at the Absolute Homebrew website).
* 1 cup of wild rice (my idea of an "adjunct", or extra ingredients added to any beer in order to give it unique or complex flavors)
In addition, you should also gather and sterilize the following equipment, which I found helpful throughout the entire brewing process (told you this was a long post):
* large non-wooden mixing spoon - preferably a metal one - for stirring the yeast into the liquid, or wort, in order to make it beer
* can opener if you're using an extract from a can
* the plate you rest your utensils on (yes, Mr. Beer suggested that. Again, not a bad idea - you do need a sterile surface and the countertop ain't gonna cut it)
* measuring cups and spoons (a cup measure for during the brewing process, and a tablespoon, half tablespoon, teaspoon and half teaspoon for the bottling process)
* if using a cloth mesh bag for, say, boiling this wild rice, sterilize that too - it can't hurt
* mesh strainer, which I found very useful when pouring the wort into the fermenter, in order to keep all the extra hop mush from entering too)
* canning funnel, which makes it a lot easier to pour the wort into the Mr. Beer fermenter
* small funnel for bottling, specifically for more easily putting sugar into the bottles
And now my first ever attempt at home brewing. Ahem.
According to Mr. Beer's directions, screw in the tap into your fermenter and situate it over the sink.
Pour water - this time from a tap will do - into your fermenter. They recommend filling it up to around the 2 quart line.
Add your sanitizer to the water.
Stir the sanitizer around, or not, depending on the directions that came with it.
Put the lid on the Mr. Beer fermenter, and slosh it all around, over the sink of course, to make sure the whole interior of the fermenter is sanitized.
Throw in anything else you plan to sanitize that will fit (anything that won't fit should be sanitized in some sort of vessel with a larger opening).
Also sanitize a plate or other surface to lay your now-sanitized utensils on.
Here's where we deviate from the Mr. Beer kit. Boil a cup of wild rice until pulpy, about 45 minutes. You will add this later in a disposable mesh sock, available for about a dollar at any homebrewing store.
Run your extract under hot water to loosen it up before opening.
Now boil a few quarts of water (exact measurements in the Mr. Beer kit directions).
Add your booster...
...and stir until dissolved.
As it begins to boil, add the extract. Boil about half an hour. If made from scratch, this would be what brewers refer to as the mash (so no extract, no mash?). The mash, according to Beer Craft, is where the grains steep in water for an hour - like a "big grain tea - a kind of proto-beer" [Bostwick and Rymill 2011:33], typically in a mesh bag that you rinse off and dump into your wort when done (this is the "sparge" step).
Another deviation: after an hour of boiling, I added the hop pellets and continued to boil for about half an hour. I made the mistake of only adding them at one point: the beginning. Beer Craft and homebrewers suggest adding hops at three different points during the boiling process: at the beginning, for bittering, about 40 minutes into the boil, for flavoring, and at the end as you turn off the heat, for aroma [Bostwick and Rymill 2011:37]. This very likely explains why my beer turned out not terribly hoppy (I was so excited about this I didn't read this step, okay? Don't judge me!). I will be doing this the next time I homebrew.
You will put the wild rice in your mesh sock once it starts looking like this.
Place the sock in your boiling wort - I added it about the same time as the hops.
Total boiling wort time: about an hour.
While your wort is on the stove, empty the bottled water into your fermenter until it reaches about the 8.5 quart mark.
Position your funnel and strainer.
Oh yeah, you can dispose of the wild rice now. Make sure your wort cools down a bit before adding to your fermenter, and for God's sake do not add your yeast to hot wort. All you'll do is get beer-flavored tea with dead yeast in it. And nobody wants that.
Using only sterilized utensils, strain the wort into the fermenter.
Stir the wort and water wigorously, er, vigorously for a few minutes.
Next, add the brewing yeast...
...and again, stir vigorously for a few minutes, with your sterilized non-wooden spoon. Most fermenters don't come shaped like this one, but look like a jug, and you will need a special airlock for letting carbon dioxide out - again, available through your local homebrewer.
Screw on the notched lid and don't open the damn fermenter.
What all you just read was the hard part. Now leave your beer sitting for about two weeks - I left mine for exactly three weeks.
Once you are ready to bottle away, gather your bottles and caps (and capper if you're using actual glass bottles).
Wash out your bottles.
Next take your santizer - this time the Iodophor...
...which I used about two capfuls to a gallon of water. This is seemingly, again, a small enough amount that you don't need to rinse off your materials afterward.
Sanitize each bottle with the solution.
And sanitize whatever utensils you will use in the bottling process.
Now comes the time to bottle. If using the Mr. Beer kit, set up your fermenter for easy bottling.
You will need to add a teaspoon plus a half tablespoon - that is, 2 1/2 teaspoons - of priming sugar to each bottle. I tried to just add it directly to the bottle at first.
After getting the floor, the bottle and my hands covered in sugar, I sanitized a regular kitchen funnel and used that. It was much easier.
Dispense enough beer to fill each bottle about 2/3 of the way.
Cap (duh) and turn up and down several times to mix the sugar into the beer.
Again, let sit for at least a week, preferably two.
After a week, I got this.
How did my first attempt at homebrewing go? Well, the beer wasn't as strongly hoppy as I had hoped (again, the mistake of hopping the beer only once instead of thrice), but my guess is that it was still hoppier than it would've been. I haven't tried non-zhuzh'd up Mr. Beer pale ale so I have nothing to compare it to. I can say that I hardly tasted the wild rice, even though I was indeed searching for it. By itself it is a pleasant beer, one that I won't mind drinking more of. In the future, however, I plan to make good work out of my Beer Craft book. As for future beer recipes: one thing I wanted to do was to dry hop this beer. The folks at the homebrew store recommended that I not do so with the Mr. Beer kit, but with future attempts with more complex brewing systems I indeed plan to attempt this.
Beer Institute. "State Per Capita Consumption 2003 to 2011" (PDF available). Copyright 2012, All rights reserved.
Bostwick, William & Jessi Rymill. Beer Craft: A Simple Guide to Making Great Beer. Rodale: New York, 2011.
Bratwurst Pages. "Classic Wisconsin Beer Brats". Bratwurst Pages, 2003. Copyright 2002, 2003 Bratwurst Pages, All rights reserved.
Croswell, Jonathan. "How to Cook a Bratwurst in the Oven". Livestrong, 2011. Copyright 2011, 2012, All rights reserved.
Door County Today (YouTube channel: DoorCounty Today). "History of the Door County Fish Boil". Posted March 15, 2012.
Fisher, Joe and Dennis. "Wild, Wild Rice!" Brew Your Own, October 2000.
Fulton, April. "Will Beer And Brats Break Through Wisconsin's Partisan Divide?" The Salt: What's on Your Plate. Posted June 12, 2012. Copyright 2012 National Public Radio, All rights reserved.
Midwest Living. "Wisconsin Fish Boil". Midwest Living, 2012. Copyright 2012 Meredith Corporation, All rights reserved.
Mr. Beer. "Instructions, Premium/Deluxe Editions". Copyright 2011 Catalina Products LLC, All rights reserved.
Spencer, James, and Steve Wilkes (YouTube channel: basicbrewing). "Basic Brewing Video - Doctoring Mr. Beer - January 7, 2012". Posted January 7, 2012.
Splendid Table. "Episode 487: The Japanese Grill", July 30, 2011, Segment 21:46 – 28:35 (William Bostwick talks home brewing). Copyright 2011, 2012 American Public Media, All rights reserved.
Vics, Drew (YouTube channel: Cryptobrewology). "Brewing Mr. Beer American Devil IPA". Posted January 25, 2010.
Wisconsin Brewer's Guild. "Wisconsin Brewer's Guild". Copyright 2009-2012, All rights reserved.
Wisconsin Historical Society. "Dictionary of Wisconsin History: Pabst Blue Ribbon beer advertisement, 1940 (WHi-56371)". Copyright 1996-2012, All rights reserved.
Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. "Cookin' Up Wisconsin Curds". Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, 2012. Copyright 2012, All rights reserved.
Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. "History of Wisconsin Cheese". Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, 2012. Copyright 2012, All rights reserved.
Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Wisconsin" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Wisconsin".