Monday, June 17, 2024

Double Brew Day & Tasting Notes: Muntons American Light Lager and Sullivan & Buckley Irish Stout

April arrived and I only had one brew day in the books for 2024; a mediocre one at that. With summer approaching that was not going to cut it. Starting in May, my schedule opened back up a lot, but before that became clear I came up with a plan to get a couple of batches quickly fermenting.

The best way to quickly make a batch is a canned beer kit. I've had great success making quality beer with beer kits when I worked for Muntons and since. Brewing at least one beer kit made a lot of sense if the goal was to make a batch quickly.

Beer kits and Hopped Extract. Homebew cheat codes

As a dark beer lover, I always want to have at least one dark beer on tap even in the summer. Originally I wanted to re-brew Spring Training Stout and have a double brew day when I brewed my Amber Lager. I just didn't have the time for a double brew day. Looking for something a little lighter than an Irish Extra Stout, I decided to re-brew my Murphy's and Beamish-inspired Irish Stout Sullivan & Buckley. That was an all-grain batch I brewed in the summer of 2020 and enjoyed thoroughly. Looking to save time my first thought was to convert the recipe to extract. From there I took the conversion one step further in the interest of saving time.

One product Muntons produces that I never got around to using was their pre-hopped malt extracts. Available in Light, Amber and Dark, one can of the hopped LME is sufficient to bitter a 5 galloon/19 litre batch. Now, the label and Muntons website don't exactly make clear how much hop bitterness to expect. I actually messaged a former colleague to suggest making that information available somewhere. My educated guess is that the bitterness is moderate.

Steeped specialty malts for color and flavor

Using hopped extract eliminates any need for a long boil to isomerize alpha acids to extract bitterness from hops. The hop bitterness was already in the extract! All I needed to do was dissolve the extract in water like I would a beer kit, and ferment as normal. 

Compared to the quintessential Dublin stout Guinness, the stouts brewed in Cork: Murphy's and Beamish are a little less roasty and more like English porters. Typically in an Irish Stout I'd go heavy on Roasted Barley, but this recipe is all malt. For specialty malt I used mostly Chocolate Malt, a bit of Crystal, and some Black Malt for color. After steeping I added 0.5 oz of East Kent Goldings for flavor and aroma, and then added the malt extract. I fermented the beer with my house yeast, Hugh Hill. 

The American Light Lager kit should be perfect for the summer. I did not want to tweak the kit extensively, but I did want to use a true lager yeast as opposed to the ale yeast the kit came with. After the Lallemand NovaLager chewed threw everything in my Oktoberfest last year, I thought it would be great to try the strain in a dryer style. A crispy American-style lager should be perfect. Even if NovaLager is a little estery compared to other lager strains, it's not like American macro-lager is known for its clean fermentation profile.

To add a bit of fresh malt character, and especially to help with head retention I steeped 8 oz/227 g of Carapils. That would be roughly 5% of the grist if I convert the recipe to all-grain. That is the maximum inclusion Briess suggests using. I was very disappointed in the head on my NovaLager Marzen. I am hoping this will help. 

Carapils to help with head retention and
maybe add a fresh grain character.

Supplementing the kit with mostly DME, 
but a little corn sugar too. 

I am supplementing the kit with mostly Muntons Extra Light DME. I played around with ratios of DME and dextrose to get the ABV, starting and final gravity where I wanted. Being pedantic about styles, this might be closer to a Standard American Lager than a Light American Lager according to the BJCP guidelines. When I am crushing this beer while grilling or working in the yard, that won't really matter. 

On brew day I used my Mash and Boil as a hot liquor tank and brought four gallons of water to a boil. I pulled off a gallon of hot liquor to steep the specialty malt for each batch. After removing the steeped specialty malts, I added the malt extract to the still hot wort and stirred until dissolved. I used the extra hot water to rinse my cans of malt extract and get as much of it into the fermenter as possible. Then I topped off with cold water until I reached 5.25 gallons.

Both batches were done in less than two hours. The beauty of this process was I was able to skip:

  • Adjusting water chemistry - Extract brews only need clean, fresh water. The extract has minerals and salts in it already.
  • 60 minute mash - I only steeped my specialty malt for 20 mins
  • 60 minute fly sparge in my typical all grain batch
  • No mash tun to clean
  • Only 1.5lbs/0.68kg of spent grain from two batches to dispose of
  • 30-ish minutes to bring the batch up to a boil after the mash and sparge
  • 60 minute boil itself
  • 15-30 minutes of cooling batch to pitching temp, and no discharge from immersion chiller
This type of brewing should appeal to homebrewers that are pressed for time. I know so many brewers who left the hobby after having children. I made time for this brew day while working a full time job, consulting full time, and supplementing that income driving for Uber. 

Over the past year or so I have been going out a lot less than I used to. When I do go out, I am always surprised by how much everything costs. Even going to buy beer at a store is more expensive than it should be in my head. The 12-pack of Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada that was $15-$16 not that long ago is now $19.99. A four-pack of tallboy cans from a local brewery is at least $16, with $20 not out of the question for some hazy IPAs.

Part of the appeal of beer kits in other countries is that anyone can easily brew beer at home for less than it costs to buy beer at a store or pub. With these two batches here, my ingredient cost is around $55 each. If I end up with exactly 5 gallons in my keg, that is the equivalent of fifty-five 12oz beers. There aren't many dollar drafts out there any more. While dive bars may have $2-$3 macro lagers, you wont find an Irish stout like Guinness for less than $6-$8 a pint. 

The Irish Stout came out just okay. I stepped up my house yeast after six months and fermentation was a bit sluggish. The resulting beer under-attenuated, and has a just enough worty-flavor to distract from the roasted malt flavor you want in a stout. This is a beer that will satisfy any urges I have for a dark beer, but I won't shed a tear if I dump half of the keg to make room for another batch.

On the other hand, I am quite happy with the American Lager. I did a side-by-side of the Muntons American Light Lager and one of my S-Tier American lagers: Coors Banquet. 

L: Coors Banquet, R: Muntons American Light Lager

Head retention on both beers fairly similar.


Coors Banquet (B) - Corn & straw
Muntons American Light Lager (M) - Italian bread, very low aroma overall.


B - Straw, brilliant clarity. Moderate foamy white head with fair retention
M - Maybe a shade darker than Banquet. Ok clarity, some haze. Moderate foamy head with fair retention. 


B - Very nice grain flavor, bread and bread crust as opposed to raw grain flavor. Med low hop bitterness and low hop flavor - floral and hint of citrus. Fermentation exceptionally clean. Maybe a touch of acetaldehyde if you look for it.
M - More of an Italian bread and vanilla grain flavor. Tiny bit of umami “beer kit” flavor that’s more noticeable in the side-by-side. Getting the red apple note Lallemand describes NovaLager producing, a bit like apple skin. Fermentation is otherwise clean. 


B - Med light body with medium high carbonation. Slightly creamy but carbonation cuts through. Finish very clean if a touch sweet.
M - Med body and carbonation, one notch heavier than Banquet. Slightly heavier on the palate but finishes more dry. 


For a one hour brew day, I am quite happy. Maybe fermenting the NovaLager a bit cooler will make it cleaner, but the beer is still crisp and lager-like. Not bad for something that went from can to glass in three weeks. While Coors Banquet might be more refined, I’ve had plenty of cheap lagers that aren’t as clean as this beer kit beer. A side-by-side with Busch Light or Rolling Rock could be instructive. 

I think the NovaLager works really well here. I’d be curious to try this again with a traditional lager strain, especially an American Lager strain like Wyeast 2105, 2007, 2035 or East Coast Yeast ECY12. I could also potentially replace part of the DME with rice syrup solids or corn syrup (not high-fructose corn syrup). The CaraPils addition appeared to help with head retention.

I am tempted to enter this into competition just to see how it would score. I think it should be in the mid-30s at minimum. 

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Recipe: Muntons American Light Lager 
Style: American Lager
TYPE: Extract

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 1.25 gal
Post Boil Volume: 1.25 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal   
Bottling Volume: 5.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.042 SG
Estimated Color: 4.3 SRM
Estimated IBU: 15.1 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 0.0 %
Boil Time: 0 Minutes

Amt              Name                                             Type          #          %/IBU         Volume        
8.0 oz           Carapils (Briess) [Steep] (1.5 SRM)              Grain         1          8.3 %         0.04 gal      
2 lbs            Spraymalt Extra Light (Muntons) [Boil] (3.6 SRM) Dry Extract   2          33.1 %        0.15 gal      
3 lbs 4.8 oz     American Style Light Beer (Muntons) [Boil] (5.0  Extract       3          54.5 %        0.28 gal      
4.0 oz           Corn Sugar (Dextrose) [Boil] (0.0 SRM)           Sugar         4          4.1 %         0.02 gal      
1.0 pkg          Lalbrew Novalager (Lallemand #)                  Yeast         5          -             -             
0.50 tsp         Gelatin (Primary 3.0 days)                       Fining        6          -             -             

Recipe: Sullivan & Buckley
Style: Irish Stout
TYPE: Extract

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 1.25 gal
Post Boil Volume: 1.25 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal   
Bottling Volume: 5.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.047 SG
Estimated Color: 38.8 SRM
Estimated IBU: 32.0 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 0.0 %
Boil Time: 0 Minutes

Amt              Name                                             Type          #          %/IBU         Volume        
12.0 oz          Chocolate Malt (Muntons) [Steep] (520.3 SRM)     Grain         1          9.4 %         0.06 gal      
6.0 oz           Crystal 150 (60L) (Muntons) [Steep] (76.1 SRM)   Grain         2          4.7 %         0.03 gal      
4.0 oz           Black Malt (Muntons) [Steep] (634.5 SRM)         Grain         3          3.1 %         0.02 gal      
3 lbs 4.8 oz     Hopped Light Malt Extract (Muntons) [Boil] (4.6  Extract       4          41.4 %        0.28 gal      
3 lbs 4.8 oz     Light Malt Extract (Muntons) [Boil] (4.6 SRM)    Extract       5          41.4 %        0.28 gal      
0.50 oz          East Kent Goldings (EKG) [5.00 %] - Steep/Whirlp Hop           6          0.6 IBUs      -             
1.0 pkg          Hugh Hill II                                     Yeast         7          -             -             

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