It’s Cocktail Week over at Deep Sea News. In honor of this most auspicious event we’ve dredged up the post that put Southern Fried Science on the chart, nearly five years ago. Enjoy this blast from our southern fried past.
Beer brewing is the delicate and dedicated blending of art and science. Finding the perfect balance of grains, hops, malt, adding just the right flavoring agents, boiling for exactly enough time to release the tannins, starches, humic acids from you wort, activating enzymes to break down those starches, forging the perfect mash from the ether of sobriety to give birth to that most glorious pint, these are skills that take a lifetime to master. Perfect beer is meticulously planned and carefully crafted.
You’re six days into a 2 month expedition, and if you were lucky enough to not be on a dry ship, it’s de facto dry by now anyway. You’re eying the ethanol stores, the crew is eying each other, and all hell will break loose if y’all don’t get some sweet water soon. This is no time for artistry.
This is not, as a rule, a terribly good beer (though, with a good brewmaster on board, it can be). This is a beer to pass the time and ease the pain of life at sea. I can guarantee that if you are careful, it will be at least as good as the cheapest commercial alternative.
The tools you need are simple: an electric drip coffee maker with hot plate, a coffee filter, 2 1-liter glass sample jars with air-tight lids, 2 handkerchiefs, 2 rubber bands, and a source of clean (preferably R/O) water.
You’ll have to be more creative with your ingredients. Your need grains, malt, hops, and something for flavor. Simple grains such as those found in common cereals – Raisin Bran, Cracked Wheat, Kashi, whatever you can find – are decent sources of starches and usually contain enough enzymes to break the most complex proteins down. Fruit and nuts will add flavor, but are not important. The grains should be ground as fine as possible, rolled under a rolling pin or crushed in a mortar and pestle. The smaller the grains the greater the reactive surface area.
Malt is tricky. It is possible to create an all grain beer, but with the inferior products you’re brewing with, you want to give the yeast more to eat. In my experience, the best you can hope for is vegemite, marmite, or some other yeast extract. These products are extracted from brewer’s yeast to begin with, so they already contain ideal food for yeast to thrive on. The problem is that they also tend to be very salty. Fortunately, you’re in luck, because the process involved in brewing this at-sea hooch will leave the salt happily stuck to the inside of your coffee maker and not in your mash.
Originally, I promoted smuggling hops on board, since they would be the hardest to find. Over the last year I have received advice from brewers and scientists alike assuring me that there are most certainly alternatives to hops that you can find on board a modestly sized oceanographic research vessel. Everything from orange peels to sage leaf are effective, keeping in mind they they may add a very different flavor to your beer. One home-brewer even recommended a completely different weed altogether. However, in keeping with the maritime theme of this recipe, seaweed should be your bittering agent of choice. Both bladderwort and sargassum have been used effectively to make very tasty beer.
Finally, you’ll need to find some yeast. Most ships will have bakers’ yeast. If you’re very lucky they might have brewers’ yeast.
Sanitation is key. If you have an autoclave, sterilize your tools ahead of time. Otherwise, wash everything with an iodine solution or, if there are no other options, ethanol. Contamination is your enemy. Everything must be clean. Boil the handkerchiefs, rubber bands, sample jars, and lids.
- Grind up your ‘grains’ (but not so much that it becomes powder).
- Place your ‘grains’ in coffee pot (not the filter basket, the carafe).
- Run 2 cups of clean water through coffee maker and let it sit on the hot plate for an hour. This releases all the good chemicals from you ‘grains’ and creates a fluid called wort.
- Strain the wort through the coffee filter and place the filter full of ‘grain’ into the filter basket. Add the ‘malt’ to the filter basket. Pour the strained liquid back into coffee maker and add 1 cup of water.
- Run the wort through the coffee maker 5 times, each time adding 1 cup of water.
- Pour the wort into the saucepan and boil for 45 minutes. Two minutes before boiling is done, add the hops.
- Carefully pour the wort into the canning jars.
- Let the wort cool to between 60 and 70 F. Once it is cool enough to touch the outside of the jars without burning, pitched the Bakers’ Yeast into the mixture.
- Seal jar with a handkerchief and rubber band over the mouth, and let sit for 3 to 5 days.
- And table spoon of sugar to the jar and seal with the lids, making sure they’re air tight.
- Store in a cool, dark place where it will not be disturbed for a week.
A cool, smooth brew, flavored with whatever you found. It may be very bad, it may be good. It will be beer.
You are now the most popular person on the boat. Enjoy.
Please note – these methods can be adapted to any lab or field work that demands it. The modestly sized oceanographic research vessel is not mandatory.
I’d like to thank everyone who has tested and experimented with this method. Please report back with your successes and failures.
Southern Fried Science in no way endorses the consumption or manufacture of alcoholic beverages on dry or alcohol free research vessels, nor do we condone the manufacture of beer by the underage. Drink responsibly or don’t drink at all.