Brewing Potato Beer


By Carey Jensen – Foam Rangers Homebrew Club – Houston, Texas (4/1987)

Often I am accused of being just a little mad when I introduce a beer like Meister Potato Brau.  Comments like “What possessed you to ruin good beer by making it with potatoes?” are reliable when I talk with the uninitiated.  However, these detractors are typically silenced with one (sometimes two) quaffs of this ‘Nectar of Idaho.’

I know, I know, comedian Chevy Chase once extolled the virtues of beer made from this unglamorous tuber by proclaiming “I drink Spud, and I pour it on my suit”.  Remember though, the drink “for people who can’t taste the difference” only lived in the imaginations of drug addled comedy writers for that particularly novel late night television program.

Charlie Papazian writes in the The Complete Joy of Home Brewing that “Fermentables produced from potato starch do not contribute significantly to the character or flavor of beer, other than providing fermentables to be converted to alcohol” [pp. 226].  He further writes that ‘[the] use [of potatoes as an adjunct] is discouraged by beer drinkers justifiable of unjustifiably prejudiced against “potato beer”’.

Well, it’s just this kind of negative thinking which gets me started.  All I need is for one person to say “yuck! What a disgusting idea” and there I go, getting out the ol’ brewing pot and grating up some potatoes.

As you may have guessed, if your still with me, is that potato beer is not for novices or the weak of heart.  It does require that you prepare a mash.  On the lighter side, though, the starch in potatoes is easily gelatinized, so working with this unusual adjunct is less hassle than you might imagine.

When I prepare a 5 gallon batch of potato beer, I usually only use between 2 and 3 pounds of potatoes.  These I prepare by slicing thin like potato chips, or grating, using either a food processor or a cheese grater.  I have not peeled these potatoes in practice, but only because I am terminally lazy.  You may want to try peeling your potatoes and see if there is any noticeable difference in taste.

The grains I prepare by submitting them to a protein rest at about 122o for 45 minutes.  During this time I boil the shredded potatoes in a second pot.  This boiling serves to gelatinize the starches in the potatoes, making them easily converted to sugars by the active enzymes in the barley grains.  As I noted above, potato starch is easily gelatinized.  It is not necessary to boil the potatoes prior to adding them to then mash.  However, by adding the boiling potato soup (this is what your kitchen will smell like at first) to the mash, you will conveniently raise the temperature of your mash to 155o, an ideal temperature for converting the starches to sugars.

Maintain the temperature of the mash using whatever methods you currently used until all of the starches have been converted to sugars.  Lately, this has taken me between 30 and 45 minutes.  Use the iodine test to determine when this conversion is complete.

Sparge as you would do with any other all grain beer, discarding he spent potatoes, no matter how strong an urge for cooked, shredded potato you developed during this mashing procedure.

The recipe I have included below, for those who are ready to take the plunge, requires the use of malt extract in addition to grains.  If you wish to make ‘Spud’ from scratch, replace the 3 pounds of extract with 4 ½ pounds of additional pale malted grains.

Meister Potato Brau

Ingredients for 5 gallons:
5 pounds domestic 6-row pale malted barley (cracked)
2 ½ pounds grade A Idaho potatoes (grated)
3 pounds Munton & Fison pale unhopped malt extract
1/3 oz. Burton water salts
1 tsp. Irish moss
1 ¼ oz. Hallertauer hops (loose)
1 oz. Cascade hops (loose)
1 pkg. Munton’s Ale yeast
Sugar, or whatever, for priming

Mash the grains and potatoes as described above, adding the Burton water salts to the grains in the first step of the two-step mash.  Sparge with hot, (170o) water.  Bring the collected liquor to a boil and remove from heat.  Add extract (if used), then return to the stove.  Once boiling resumes, add the Hallertauer hops.  Boil for a half hour then add half of the Cascades hops and the Irish moss.  Boil for an additional half hour, add the remaining Cascades hops, and remove from heat.  Let the wort set for a couple minutes to let the finishing hops steep.

If you have the means, achieve cold break (quick reduction of wort temperature) with your favorite method.  This is fairly important for a clear potato beer since a good deal of protein is present in the wort.

Pitch your yeast when the wort is brought down below 90o.  I suggest a two-stage fermentation since the aforementioned proteins will produce a sizable amount of sediment at the bottom of your primary fermenter.  Rack into a secondary fermenter after three days or when the active fermentation subsides.  Bottle after another 4 to 12 days, adding your priming material at this time.  Wait a couple of weeks, then enjoy!

One or two caveats are in order there.  First, contrary to Charlie Papazian’s descriptions, beer made from potatoes does have a unique character.  Although this may derive from the fact that I do not peel the little spuds before I shred them, I seriously doubt it.  After having made 3 batches of the stuff over a several year period, I have come to notice a distinctly “potato” aroma and taste.  I’m not implying that this sensation is unpleasant, just that it exists.

Secondly, when serving your end results to the unsuspecting, do not, I repeat, DO NOT tell them what is in it until they say “Gosh, this is great!”  Only then is it safe to reveal your dark secret.

If they say “@%&, what is this shi-“, tell them that you found the recipe in Uncle Bubba’s old work jeans after he passed away and that you promise never to make it again.  Tell then anything but the truth.  Average people tend to fly into a violent rage if they think that you have given them ‘spoiled’ potato beer.

In fact, though, I think that you will be pleasantly surprised by your beers made with potatoes.  I have, and so have others.  My first potato beer, Meister potato Brau, was awarded a bronze certificate in the AHA Nationals in the Pilsner category in 1985 and a 3rd place in the 1986 Dixie Cup in the Novelty Beer Category (even though it was, gulp, 18 months old).  My most recent attempt, Spud, took 2nd place in the Specialty Beer Category of the Foam Rangers 1987 Club Competition.

So try it, you’ll like it.  In fact, take it one step further and make a Potato Stout or a Sweet Potato Stout for that matter.  Try a Green Potato Beer for St. Patrick’s Day (use green food coloring; not green potatoes).  Why not try adding dried potato flakes to your already steeping mash. I have indeed considered this interesting twist.  Obviously, though you would not add 2 pounds of flakes since that would be enough to make mashed potatoes for the entire Houston Astros Baseball team – including seconds.  Try a couple cups and see where that gets you.  Be aware, though some consider this suggestion blasphemy, you’re already treading on thin ice using fresh potatoes.

But most of all, remember, potato beer is good for whatever ales you.

%d bloggers like this: