A couple years ago I was trolling the local Target looking for Christmas presents, I think I was on a mission from Aunt D since I normally do not shop at Target (tiny walmart is closer and 24 hours, I like to shop in the middle of the night), a couple times they have sold out of a toy in the Chicagoland area but not here so I've "saved Christmas". The local target is huge, and it isn't even a super target, so it is a decent place to go to buy
cheap crap great gifts for everyone on my list. As I was trolling (I rarely know what I am going to buy someone, I am more of a "I'll know it when I see it" gift picker outer) around and got to an end cap and it had all kinds of odd products that amused me. As I was looking at all the weird things they hoped to entice people into buying (at least some it was the as seen on tv stuff) there it was, the perfect present for Daddy, a home brewing kit! I bought him the Mr. Beer kit and a refill thing that had extra bottles and supplies.
When I was little Dad attempted to make his own beer, it was not the most successful adventure for him, not the first time he had done so either. I figured that perhaps if he had a kit that it would help him get it working and then he could branch out, I knew the kit stuff would not satisfy him, especially since the brewing tank only allowed about 2 gallon batches. He had all the equipment from when he had attempted brewing in the past, this included a 6 or so gallon bucket which I think is good for 5 gallon batches. The main thing he has done "wrong" in the past was the priming step at the end. When you brew beer you start with a certain amount of sugar in your wort, the yeast metabolize (eat/use) it and in the presence of oxygen they produce carbon dioxide and if there is no oxygen they produce ethanol and some carbon dioxide. Eventually they either use up all the sugar or they get to a point where the concentration of ethanol is too high and it inhibits further growth. When you get to the bottling step you have to "prime" the beer with some sugar so that the yeast will metabolize it and produce carbon dioxide otherwise the beer will be flat. In the past Dad had always tried to add the sugar to the bottle and quickly cap it, this was a somewhat messy and inexact method that would often produce beer that was either a bit flat or way over-carbonated and when opened the beer would shoot to the ceiling.
When I took my undergrad general microbiology course we had a lab that went with it, in that course we made pickles and beer. When we made the beer we used a kit and for the priming step a certain amount of sugar was mixed into the bucket of beer and then it was bottled. This produced a uniform carbonation that was perfect. I mentioned it to Dad but he totally brushed it off. The Mr. Beer kit instructs using the method my micro course did and he tried it and it worked. I think this was actually the main thing that held him back in the past, that and my mother complaining about it smelling (though it didn't smell that strong to me). The Mr. Beer kit got him going and he hasn't shown any signs of stopping, in fact he has gotten very into it and studies the concepts behind it all, he sounds like a food scientist/microbiologist sometimes!
Last semester I took my last of 5 seminar classes, seminar is basically a course where we meet once a week and either give a talk or listen to speakers. One of my favorite profs got conned into giving a seminar and his current research was in ethanol production and so that is what he spoke about. He gave more of a discussion talk, which was cool since I knew enough to sound intelligent while participating! As is customary part of the introduction was introducing us to the bug, in this case yeast ( Saccharomyces cerevisiae) which is a fungus. His lab was using an industrial strain that had been developed (not sure if it was genetically engineered or "bred") that had a higher tolerance to ethanol and therefore would ferment more of the sugar and produce a higher amount of ethanol. Here are some numbers, store bought beer tends to have about 4.5% ethanol (Kerr & Greenfield, 2003), beer brewed to completion I think is upwards to 14% give or take (whatever wine that has not been distilled should be about right), and if memory serves me the industrial strain can get up to 24% give or take in small scale batches (large scale tends to limit it a bit).
Since this professor was my first boss at this university and a valued member of my committee (group of 5 professors I choose who guide my journey through grad school and decide if and when I get my degree) I used that connection to obtain samples of this strain of yeast for Daddy, I mean what's the use of having a microbiologist for a daughter if she can't get you yeast to play with?! Almost didn't get it, I found out that he had accepted a position at another university not long before he left. Thankfully for me I contacted him in time and he asked one of his grad students to get it for me! I got it just in time for Daddy's birthday, he has been looking forward to playing with it since I told him about the strain. Who knows if it will work in beer making or not but it should be fun to play with and Daddy has agreed to give me updates and such about how it is going so I can blog about it (I told him about my blog). I'm hoping for pictures of the process but I am not sure if Daddy knows how to use Baby Sibling's camera and Baby Sibling is often not around for the beer making.