I have tried homebrewing only once before. It was in my first year of university. And it gave everyone in the student house horrendously violent diarrhea. I can distinctly remember thinking “Never again”, and that was some 24 years ago.
And yet almost a quarter of a century later I find myself curiously examining a newly delivered MB Bottlebrew kit in our vestibule.
“What’s that? Is that beer?” asked my girlfriend.
“Errrr… not yet…. Hmmmmmmm… Would you mind if I made some beer in the basement, dear?”
I had seen this method of homebrewing only a few months previously, on the shelves of a (not so) supermarket in Nova Scotia. It looked pretty interesting: a bottle of prepared wort with a tiny flacon of custom cultured brewing yeast and a special pressure-releasing screw-on closure strapped to its neck.
It appeared to be the perfect hands-off homebrewing taken to the extreme and, not wishing to unleash the merciless manmade gastrointestinal biohazard I had created decades previously, this appealed to me a great deal.
It is a ridiculously simple process, as you can see in the pictures, and as much as I wanted our home to smell like a brewery, this was not to be as this particular macrobrewing process emits very little odour. Seriously, if this had been around when I had been a fourteen-year-old boy, I would have had a veritable brewing empire stashed away under my bed and Mum would never had known.
Twelve days later I had two types of beer ready to try out on my beerloving pals: Mexican Cerveza (5%) and Bohemian Blonde (4%), and in my typical style I served it too them completely blind, telling them that it was a craft beer (true), that both beers were made by the same brewer (true), that said beers had never been tried in Canada before (true), that I had known the brewer before I moved to Canada (true), and that I thought the brewer was a bit of an arsehole (true) but his beers were not too bad (true).
The tasting panel was comprised of Wine Agent Mark Coster, Actor Paul Amos, Kindergarten Teacher David Kruger, Baker Lesley Matinee, and Restaurateur Andres Marquez, so basically the same fellows (and lady) I normally sit around and drink beer with…
So what did my unsuspecting guinea pigs think?
The “Bohemian Blonde” (4%):
“Some sense of character and conviction… This one’s weak, really weak…I would never drink that… I swear they have this at Bar Volo already… it’s kind of malty… like a beer that my Dad used to drink on a Sunday night in front of the telly with a packet of crisps… not a bad beer at all… there’s a nice mousse on this…there’s a bit of a cloying aftertaste… should this not be served colder?… oh yeah, this is a pretty special beer, I bet that this is expensive… it’s pretty yeasty… this is my favourite, how much is this?, I could drink this allllllllllll day… It’s like the kind of beer that you would drink after a whole load of MDMA, you know, after a club at 4am… Yeah, this is the good stuff! I can tell, this is Beau’s isn’t it?, it is one of those Wild Oats ones, I’ve had this before… good enough for session drinking… can I have some to take up to my cabin this weekend please?”
The “Mexican Cerveza” (5%):
“It’s straightforward… very European… the finish is better than the initial taste… there’s a lovely bitterness on the finish… like something you’d drink in Amsterdam, you know, like an Oranjeboom, something that’s not trying too hard… loads on the finish here… thick and malty… can I have more, I’ve finished mine… well-balanced… is it a kölsch?… Drummond, are you f****** with us, what is this?… they have definitely used orange peel and coriander in this… incredibly well balanced… it’s like a cross between a Weiss and a Pale Ale, kind of like that Spearhead one, but less alcohol… this is seriously not bad… linear… nice taste of minerals, yes… it tastes very natural… okay, this one is very expensive, this is not your Molson Canadian crap”
So we basically all decided that when tasted blind it was pretty good, considering it had been made on 12 days in my basement in a pop bottle. After the reveal there were many sighs and calling of names, but almost everyone seemed happy with it… I actually gave kits to all of those who enjoyed the beer so that they could try it at home.
Curious as to the science behind the whole thing, and how on earth they make it taste not bad at all without giving everyone a dose of the scoot, I decided to ask MB Bottlebrew’s Brewmaster Mr. Stefan Riedelsheimer a few questions (which he answered in a fairly teutonic fashion):
Good Food Revolution: I would have thought that the Mexican Cerveza would have been the lighter of the two beers but this was not so. I was wondering why you chose the Bohemian to be the lighter? Also… in your press release I noted that you suggested adding the lime flavour to the Bohemian… I would have imagined that this would have sat more at home in the Mexican Cerveza?
GFR: Do you have plans to release any other beer styles? I prefer my beers just a little stronger (5.6%) and a little more flavour forward (through either malt or hops)?
SR: We will bring out other styles such as an IPA, Premium Pilsner, Brown Ale etc. within time. We must first get more distribution of our product and then follow with additional flavours.
GFR: Why is this the first time that such kits have been marketed in Ontario?
SR: We invented this unique concept of full bottle fermentation. Before we launched it, it had to be yet invented.
GFR: I really love this method of brewing beer, but a friend did voice concerns that children could be brewing up a storm (I know that I would have if I had been given half a chance!)… any comments on that?
SR: We have never heard of any minor buying our product (since we started 5 years ago). We even did a test run around the University of Guelph to see if students were interested. It turned out they were absolutely not, as they don’t want to wait up to 2 weeks to drink it. They want instant gratification. Originally we printed “Not to be sold to anyone under the legal drinking age” on our labels and cartons out of our own interest to prevent minors buying our product. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency forced us to remove the sentence as they claimed it is a false statement and may entice minors even more to buy it. So we did.
GFR: I was a little concerned whether the fermentation bottle was Bisphenol-A free or not?
SR: Our bottles are made from pure PETE. It does not contain or release BPA. The manufacturer assured us of this in writing.
GFR: May I enquire into the kind of yeasts you are using in these two labels?
SR: Our yeast selection is proprietary. It took as a long time to find the right yeast(s) that is perfect for our product (great taste, high flocculation (ability to settle and clear), fast fermentation even under pressure, etc.). Sorry we can’t give out this information to anyone.
GFR: Alright then…
I noted that the packaging mentioned that the bottles contained both domestic and imported ingredients… what’s the story there?
SR: We use Canadian 2 row Prairie malt as well as imported German specialty malt. Our hops come from the USA and Europe.
GFR: Who do you view as the target demographic in Ontario?
Our target group is middle to older aged men that appreciated the value and taste. This group is also more tolerable to wait until the product is finished.
GFR: That’ll be me then!
How long do you recommend keeping the beer for once fermented?
SR: The finished beer is good for up to 2 months non-refrigerated and 3 + months refrigerated.
GFR: Great job BTW… really enjoyed the beers… please keep them coming (see my second question)
SR: Thank you very much. Hopefully we can launch an additional flavour by Fall.
At less than half the price of regular LCBO/Beer Store beer the MB Bottlebrew is certainly an economic way of enjoying your suds, but I see it as more of a fun project than anything else.
If you are in downtown Toronto you can find it at Magnolia Fine Foods on College Street (at Euclid).
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And that was actually a lot of fun. He’ll probably do it again once they release more varieties.