All-grain home brewing may be the ultimate umami experience when it comes to beer, but sometimes it’s just too hard to find the six to eight hours it takes to homebrew from scratch. Sometimes 20 minutes for a kit beer is all there is time for. The brewer who is able to put in an extra hour though, can change a mediocre canned kit into a very nice session beer.
The base for this beer is Thomas Coopers Selection Pilsener liquid extract, prehopped with Saaz hops. The Coopers Selection series are marketed as premium products, although they are typically priced the same as all the other Coopers extracts. Coopers recommends the kit be made with 500 grams of dry malt extract and 300 grams of corn sugar. The instructions for making a batch say that the ingredients should be merely stirred into six gallons of hot water, which I have found results in a weakly-flavored beer of perhaps 4% ABV.
The key to the hack is a mini-mash of Munich and Victory malts, flaked barley and sea salt. Munich malt is typically used in Bock-style beers, and contains enough enzymes to convert its starches to sugar. It’s a bit darker than pale malt; the type in this recipe is about 10 Lovibond in color and adds a smooth malty sweetness to the beer. Victory malt is a Breiss Malt specialty roast that adds a clean nutty, baked bread flavor. Both of these are used only in small amounts to add roundness and complexity to the flavor of the standard kit brew. The flaked barley adds mouthfeel and enhances head retention. Sea salt reacts with the umami-producing components of the malted grains to increase the roundness of flavor.
To hack the kit I extracted about a gallon of wort from my mini-mash, added two more gallons of filtered water, brought this to a boil and poured in a half-kilo of light dry malt extract. This was simmered for a half hour, with 20 grams of fresh Willamette hops added continuously during the boil: five grams every seven minutes.
The Cooper Pilsener extract was added with five minutes left to the boil. A half-kilo of corn sugar was added at the last minute. The wort was cooled and topped up to make 20 liters. Starting gravity was 12.5 Plato.
I have found that the Coopers premium Pilsener yeast supplied with the kit actually works pretty well, delivering a crisp dry taste when the brew is fermented and lagered at cellar temperature (about 60F or less.) I speculate that Coopers has worked on developing a strain that will produce good results without the average home brewer needing to invest in a special lager brewing set-up that will maintain colder temperatures.
This turned out to be a very nice golden lager that I was able to make, with the kit on sale, for about $20. With a firm white head and an aroma of malt and hop spiciness, it is full-bodied, with a good malty flavor finished with considerable hop bitterness. The ABV is about 5.3% making it a decent tipple. Its nonetheless moderate alcoholic strength makes it a beer that is fine for a couple of pints after a hard day hacking bits down on the cube farm.