- by Mount Saint Mary College

A cold beer on a hot summer day is great, says Evan Merkhofer, assistant professor of Biology at Mount Saint Mary College. But it’s ever better if you’ve brewed it yourself. 

 Merkhofer gave a crash course on brewing a good beer at home – and the science behind it – during his recent Beer Making 101 online workshop for Mount alumni. For those who missed it, the presentation video can be viewed here: 

A dedicated Mount professor for more than six years, 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 estimates that he has brewed about 200 beers since 2006.

Merkhofer noted that “Man has been making beer since the dawn of civilization.” Evidence of the first alcoholic drink in China dates back to about 7,000 B.C., he said. The oldest beer recipes from Sumeria date back to 6000 B.C. In the United States, beer dregs have been discovered from as early as 1200 A.D.

Four ingredients are necessary for brewing beer: water, hops, grain, and yeast. The ingredients used, from the type of grains to the type of yeast, influence what kind of beer is produced. 

“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.” 

Most new home brewers start with “extract” brewing, he said. Beer kits in this category start at about $90.

In this kind of brewing, one boils malt extract in about seven gallons of water for 6o 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, Merkhofer explained.

For all beers, actual fermentation is finished within three weeks, but higher alcohol by volume (ABV) and more complex beers require aging.

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.
  • A large kettle and burner is a worthwhile investment. A boil over on the stove is difficult to clean.
  • Kegging is an investment, but it’s worth it. There’s nothing like pulling a pint of your own homebrew from your kegerator.
  • 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!”

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