Brewing a Beer with Only Grocery Store Ingredients

One day you’re in a grocery store…you are perusing around and see grains in containers. You’ve been home brewing for a while, so naturally you are curious. You know you can use some of these grains to boost body and add some dextrins to beer, but what what if…what if you just used them for 100% of the grist? Can it be done? What if you bittered it with the spices and herbs on the next isle? That would be interesting…oh look at that…baker’s yeast…what if…

And just like that, a grocery store beer is born.

The only goal: use ingredients ONLY found at the grocery store, along with equipment ONLY found at the grocery store. The challenges you ask? Many.

The first challenge: I needed enzymes in the mash. Raw grains have not been germinated. During that process enzymes are produced which are needed to convert the starches into smaller sugar chains for the yeast later to consume. The workaround was to add wheat germ, which has been germinated, which SHOULD have enzymes to help convert the rest of the grain. The other issue is that some raw grains have starches that become soluble at higher temps. Raw wheat isn’t too far off from regular mash temps (136-147 F), where as corn grits and whole rice need to be boiled. Though reading further on this after the fact, raw wheat still may need to be boiled (raw wheat is sometimes boiled in traditional Belgian lambic brewing).

The second challenge: Hops aren’t available at the store. The workaround is to do some sort of gruit beer, where herbs are used in place of hops (common practice in the middle ages before hops took over). The choice was bay leaves at bittering due to them having a myrcene oil content (a lot of hops are high in myrcene, which is citrus and resinous). Then finish with black tea and coriander, which are both high in the oil linalool and to some extent, geraniol. Geraniol in the presence of an excess of linalool during fermentation, the geraniol can be transformed into the compound beta-citronellol, which contributes to citrus and fruity flavor. Some science for some sort of win?

The third challenge: Yeast. You won’t find brewers yeast at the store, so I had to opt for baker’s yeast. It is in the same family as brewers yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae), but a different strain. It is not meant for beer fermentation. I didn’t have a choice here, though I suppose I could have used probiotics or yogurt and made a sour beer…but then we are getting into slightly sketchy areas introducing potential unwanted bacteria, but I suppose the same risk can be said for using only baker’s yeast.

The fourth challenge: Trying to not use brewing equipment, but only what one might find at the store. I am very used to having a mash tun, siphoning tubes, wort chillers, air locks, Star-San, and all the rest of the goodies. I had to throw away conventional brewing at times for this, even if it meant risking contamination and off flavors (like splashing around the beer too much post fermentation). I HAD to use my brew equipment at various stages, but I’ll give recommendations in this post as to what one could use if they wanted to use ONLY grocery ingredients.

The recipe:

1 lb soft white wheat
1 lb spelt
4 oz wheat germ
7.5 oz Raw Agave
3 bay leaves boiled for 15 minutes
1/2 teaspoon coriander boiled for 5 minutes
.25 oz black tea boiled for 5 minutes
Red star baker’s yeast

The malt amount is about what I use for my one gallon batches, and figured I would get about 1/2 gallon of beer all set and done. The agave was needed due to malt sugar extraction issues. The bay leaves I guessed on as there isn’t much on that, and the tea was fairly random on the amount, and the coriander was chosen based off witbier amounts.

The process:

1. Make sure you have an empty 1 gallon apple juice jug, or some other 1 gallon jug.
2. Grind the grain or crack it open. I used a coffee grinder, but I burnt the motor out doing this. You can use a rolling pin as well, but try and get the malt ground pretty fine.
3. Heat 1 gallon of water to 160F, then add the grain to the water and hold temp for 45 minutes between 140F – 160F.
5. Strain out the grain after 45 minutes into another container.
7. Add 7.5 oz raw agave, or honey, or table sugar. The grain didn’t convert very well as expected with the raw wheat. The gravity was only 1.010. So agave was needed. You can add honey (or of course DME if you are a home brewer, though not authentic grocery store beer at that point).
8. Once the boil has started, add the bay leaves and start timer for 15 minutes.
9. Bring another half gallon of water to 170F at this time. You will need this for sanitation. You can also use a tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water (4 ml per liter) and use that for sanitation as well. Use a meat thermometer (or any kitchen thermometer) and soak the probe in your sanitizer.
9. Five minutes left in the boil, add the tea leaves and coriander.
10. Rinse everything the pre-beer (wort) touches with 170F water or the bleach sanitizer.
11. Cool the main wort to 70F-80F using a sink with ice in it.
12. Rehydrate the yeast in sterile cool water and pitch into the beer (You can use a portion of the water that was heated to 170F, but cool it down by putting the container in cold water).
13. Put tin foil over the jug and keep it at room temperature to ferment.
14. Wait 2 weeks. If you see mold, throw it out. If it smells weird (cheesy, smelly feet), throw it out.
15. Save the bottles from a six pack of your favorite beer, preferably with a screw top (this might work, or this. Of course, save the caps). Make sure to rinse them out throughly before saving them for later.
16. After two weeks, sanitize 6 bottles with warm water or the bleach solution. Pour a little agave (or use priming sugar for those home brewers) into the bottles. If you don’t have the bottles, you can try using a thermos or very last resort, a water bottle. It’s not a bad idea to add some rehydrated bakers yeast into the bottles as well.
17. Wait 2 weeks and enjoy.

My attempt at making this:

Tasting my attempt at this:

6 Comment

  1. John says: Reply

    Been looking into doing some off the grid type brewing and have been doing homework and came by your site here. Was wondering if you had tried this again, or was this just a one shot deal? I really enjoyed the read, and your video’s, and it really is exciting stuff, combined with what I have been reading over on… yeah, they have a conversation on there, started a few years back, on this subject. Anyway, thanks.

    1. Jason says: Reply

      It is a one shot deal at the moment, but I’m thinking of trying it again and changing things up a bit. Thanks for reading and watching!

  2. Matthew Herrold says: Reply

    We do a club competition of grocery beer. We were allowed 50% of the grist to be a malt for the enzymes. I use organic shredded wheat as the rest of the grainbill (talk about stuck sparge!). it was rough but it converted and I got wort. No hops were used. I kettle soured with Fage. I used dregs from a bunch of SNPA to ferment the rest of the way. The beer actually turned out ok!

  3. Stan Snijder says: Reply

    I’m not sure about availability at grocery stores (here in mainland Europe the selection of available beer is quite different) but couldn’t you use the active yeast left for bottle conditioning some beers (such as the Belgian Duvel)?

    1. Jason says: Reply

      Yes you can!

  4. Ziad says: Reply

    grocery beer or what i called alternative beer was the first thing i tried several years ago when making beer and getting into home brewing because i wanted something i can make that is made from readily available materials,,the main issue was not the starch to sugar conversion because i simply used corn sugar,dark corn syrup,molases ,honey,etc (easily found at any bulk store)and the same for any variety of grains or a 7 grain mix pack you can find at most groceries,,the main thing was how to substitute for the hops and the first thing that came to mind that reminded me of the bitterness and the citrus flavor was,wait for it,,,,drum roll,,,,,, grapefruit skins,,tadaaaa,,,,you need quite a bit of the white fleshy stuff under the skin which contains the bitterness and then some of the zest of the skin for the aroma,,in turned out quite a good result, a bit on the dry body side like a champagne (most likely the bad use of whatever sugar was instead of malt) but all in all not a bad thing,,one problem was the head foamy retention challenge most likley because of oils in the skins that do not help for this but if you use a good amount of oatmeal(at the risk of a cloudier beer) it produces nice results. thank you for this publication,too bad it was not around when i started

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