How to brew beer in a coffee maker, using only materials commonly found on a modestly sized oceanographic research vessel.

The Flip - One research vessel you may a drink on

The Flip - one research vessel that mandates a drink

Originally published on April 26, 2009 How to brew beer in a coffee maker, using only materials commonly found on a modestly sized oceanographic research vessel has been one of our most popular posts. Over the past year, through experimentation and advice from fellow scientists and brewers, I’ve modified the recipe. The biggest criticism was that in order to make good beer, you needed to smuggle hops aboard. “Well, if you can bring hops aboard” they ask, “what’s to stop you from bringing any other brew supplies aboard?” The answer is nothing. So we went back to the brew pot, experimented with new reagents, and bring you now the definitive guide to brewing beer in a coffee maker, using only materials commonly found on a modestly sized oceanographic research vessel.

Introduction

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.

Screw that.

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.

Materials

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.

ugh...

ugh...

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.

Methods

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.

  1. Grind up your ‘grains’ (but not so much that it becomes powder).
  2. Place your ‘grains’ in coffee pot (not the filter basket, the carafe).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Run the wort through the coffee maker 5 times, each time adding 1 cup of water.
  6. Pour the wort into the saucepan and boil for 45 minutes. Two minutes before boiling is done, add the hops.
  7. Carefully pour the wort into the canning jars.
  8. 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.
  9. Seal jar with a handkerchief and rubber band over the mouth, and let sit for 3 to 5 days.
  10. And table spoon of sugar to the jar and seal with the lids, making sure they’re air tight.
  11. Store in a cool, dark place where it will not be disturbed for a week.

Results

Southern Fried Brewmaster

Southern Fried Brewmaster

A cool, smooth brew, flavored with whatever you found. It may be very bad, it may be good. It will be beer.

Conclusion

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 Scientist

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.

  1. Of course, being under the age of 21, I have NEVER had a sip of alcohol…BUT I must say I can’t wait to start this project…in 2 years of course. It’s so simple! And fortunately, my friends..I mean parents..are completely unconcerned with the taste of the beverage. Thanks for the post!

  2. Absolutely amazing. I now have hope when the money appears to be running low. About how long did it take you to get the recipe just right?

  3. HAHA

    Its amazing how sophisticated our brains are and to see how its devoted sometimes. I wonder how many trials it took to get the recipe just right.

    Unfortunately I’m gonna have to wait a couple more years to try this one out!

    cool article

  4. Awesome! This would definitely pass time. Sounds like something worth trying. You guys should patent it, and make a kit for other people to buy. I am sure it would be a big hit. As time goes on, you guys will probably all come up with other flavors adding variation. Good Luck..cheers!

  5. There is a lot of devotion here to make someting from nothing. We as humans have made so many ways to make the same product. This is just one case. I personally would not try it, nor could it. For the sake of science, this is still a cool idea with a lot of uses.

  6. I believe that this is a very creative way to “enjoy” time away at sea. Since everything can be found on board, this is a great experiment for those who are away and enjoy beer!

  7. Unfortunately, I am not 21 yet, so this experiment is not technically legal for me to try.
    I must admit though that it’s amazing what people can come up with these days! This seems well thought-out and it will definitely be a passing time for me one day soon.
    I think the ingredients used are so interesting and I love how it all comes together in the end. Hopefully, by the time I’m 21, I’ll enjoy this experiment!
    And who knows, maybe it will be modified a little more and taste even better!
    I enjoyed this post a lot. :)

  8. Man, all I want is to know how to turn a jar of vegemite, a kg of sugar, 28 litres of water and whatever else wont go foul into alcohol – everything needs something.

    What’s a bum like me sposed to do…

    Even Pruno goes too far out of it’s way to make nice with the limits of an urban hobo…

  9. I have known of homebrewers who tried out “prison hooch” methods, so this is actually a step up. I have also pondered a method for a truly limited batch beer: “One Beer, One Bottle.” Said bottle to be artfully decorated so I could truly claim the value of the beer is in its bottle, and that I won’t claim the contents are drinkable, so it could be sold on the E-bay.

    Just one question for the author: How do you gather and prepare the seaweed?

  10. Unfortunately, I am not 21 yet, so this experiment is not technically legal for me to try.
    I must admit though that it’s amazing what people can come up with these days! This seems well thought-out and it will definitely be a passing time for me one day soon.
    I think the ingredients used are so interesting and I love how it all comes together in the end. Hopefully, by the time I’m 21, I’ll enjoy this experiment!
    And who knows, maybe it will be modified a little more and taste even better!
    I enjoyed this post a lot. :)

  11. Great article! Really want to give it a shot…Any kind of rough estimates on how much of each ingredient to use?

  12. Ugh? Vegemite is delicious! You just need a thinner layer; then make it even thinner. And use butter.

    Until then, you’re missing out.

    Great article, though; can’t wait for the next Bering Sea cruise.

  13. Such a cool idea!!! Can we get some rough estimates on how much of each ingredient to use? Because I’d hate to use two cups vegemite when all I need is 2 tablespoons haha :)

  14. Why bother with the coffee maker if you have a stove. Just heat up water and add the “grains” and let it sit for 20 min @ somewhere below 165 and above 140. I am sure someone on a ship has a thermometer no? If not, then forget about it and stick your finger in it, if it burns right away it is too hot, if it takes a second or two it is perfect. Oh and spit in the “mash” to add some enzymes to it, saliva is full of amylase to make up for not having proper grains. After that is done, rinse the grains out with boiling water, boil, bitter, cool, and ferment, after that who cares about carbonation, drink the stuff and be grateful you can catch a buzz.

  15. So you’re stuck at sea, you don’t necessarily have the right ingredients or the right equipment but you have a thermometer?

    First, water need time AT THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE to “release all the good chemicals from the grain”, being roughly 149-159. Most coffee makers boil water and adding boiling water to grain will do nothing but denature the enzymes that produce these “good chemicals”.

    Secondly, most ships aren’t going to have brewers yeast. Or bakers yeast. And if they do have bakers yeast, it’s probably not going to be pure. More than likely (sanitation notwithstanding) you’ll end up with a slick, foamy mess of Lactobacillus, Acetobacter, Pediococcus, and wild yeast.

    You need to stress that this is a crapshoot and you’d be lucky to get anything drinkable that could pass as “beer”. Doing the experiment at home in your kitchen with ingredients you bought from the homebrew store isn’t a basis for your article.

  16. Doing the experiment at home in your kitchen with ingredients you bought from the homebrew store isn’t a basis for your article.

    Good thing that’s not the basis for this article then.

    My personal favorite is how shocked you are that an oceanographic research vessel would have a thermometer.

    Is you coffee actually boiling when it’s sitting in the carafe? If so, you may be doing it wrong.

    • My research vessel doesn’t have a thermometer, but it isn’t really “modestly sized”. It’s 16 feet long, and it also doesn’t have a bathroom. Or shade.

  17. Clarification request – I see two possibly different paths:
    “3. Run 2 cups of clean water through coffee maker”
    “5. Run the wort through the coffee maker 5 times”

    In step 3, it’s clear that you run the water through the boiler, but do you (really) re-boil the wort in steps 4 and 5? Doesn’t that gunk up the boiler and scorch the sugars in the wort?

  18. A very interesting article. I find it funny that people want to try this at home though. You can buy REAL homebrewing ingredients and make REAL beer at home, for not much money. The technique in the article is for times when you don’t have those conveniences.

    As for coffeemaker temps, the water usually comes out (and is held) at around 180-190, not boiling, but not ideal for mashing either. But hey, if it works …

    Dave’s suggestion of spitting in the mash is a good one, many primitive cultures have made beer by chewing grains and spitting them into pots. Kinda gross, but you will be boiling it later to kill off all the cooties.

  19. I made alcohol from soda, bread and sugar.
    It was something tasty considering the conditions available.
    Couldn’t find a name for it.

  20. As the Master of a small U.S. research vessel, I of course am horrified with the notion of sci-types drinking on my ship…on the other hand, all in for the sake of science on the sea, where’s my “coffee mug”?!

  21. I have bad dreams about Veggiemite. There is was an Aussie exchange student in my high school class that sat by me and ate it everyday.

    Anyways, I love the effort. I did something similar when I tried to make moonshine with my buddies. We were scared to try it. haha.

  22. Hm.

    Coming from the UK I’m quite astounded at all these comments about being under 21. (I guess I’m a bit of an off-topic guest really as I live in England although at a push I could say that my town is just about the Southern half of my country – East Midlands Fried Science doesn’t quite have the same ring to it!)

    In the UK the alcohol laws determine that it is illegal to buy a drink unless accompanied by food and a responsible adult under the age of 18. You can drink a pint of beer or similar if accompanied by a meal and an adult. Home consumption, as far as I know, is the responsibility of parents.

    Am I to understand that the rules in some Southern states are THAT much stricter that a teenager can’t drink in their own home?

    It’s interesting how different parts of the world deal with this. In France and most of the rest of the continent (as us Brits like to call Europe) children are introduced to alcohol in small quantities at quite a young age and so the whole ‘drinking makes you a man’ thing that contributes to the growing UK binge drinking culture isn’t so much of a problem over there.