The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and the beer was brewing at Mount Saint Mary College on Wednesday, July 27.
With his brewing gear ready to go around 11 a.m., Evan Merkhofer, assistant professor of Biology and chair of Natural Sciences, gave a crash course on making a good beer on one’s own.
Over the course of about four hours, Merkhofer demonstrated the process and discussed the science behind it. Curious passersby returned at various points in the process to learn about the next steps.
A dedicated Mount professor for nearly a decade, Merkhofer’s research uses yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to study gene expression. Likewise, a dedicated home brewer, Merkhofer uses the same yeast to make beer. He began the hobby in 2006.
Four ingredients are necessary for brewing beer: water, hops, grain, and yeast. Like any recipe, the ingredients used influence the final outcome.
“Barley is the primary grain that is used for brewing beer,” said Merkhofer. “However, other grains such as wheat, corn, rice and others can be used as well. These can add flavor, cloudiness, and/or fermentable sugars.”
In the brewing technique Merkhofer demonstrated, one boils malt extract in about seven gallons of water for 60 minutes. The other ingredients are added at this time. While this process can be done on a normal stove, it can be made easier with upgrades such as a propane powered burner, he explained.
Fermentation is generally finished within three weeks, but higher alcohol by volume (ABV) and more complex beers require aging. Lower ABV beers can be ready sooner, some within as little as seven days. The batch Merkhofer made on Wednesday will be ready to drink in about eight weeks, he noted.
Merkhofer offered some advice for those who wish to try brewing their own beers:
- Sanitation is key. Microorganisms other than your yeast would love to live in your beer. Be sure that anything that touches your beer after the boil is properly sanitized.
- Temperature is important. The temperature at which you ferment your beer has a huge effect on the final product.
- Take copious notes. Being able to replicate a good beer is a great thing.
- Start with a simple style of beer.
And perhaps Merkhofer’s best advice is the simplest: “Give it a try! People have been brewing for thousands of years, you can do it too!”