Introduction: Mangel Wurzel Ale ~ Sugar Beet Root Beer

Twelve months after starting this project and I have finally managed to produce something that tastes nice. It's been a real labour of love.

To start with, nobody grows the necessary vegetables near where I live so I initially had to ask my ex girl friend's boy friend's dad to post me some sugar beet from over 300 miles away. By the time they arrived, they had started to go mouldy and the resulting brew tasted quite disgusting.

Rather than give up, I then decided to grow my own sugar beet. Eventually, I found some seeds on Ebay and then had to wait 6 months whilst the seeds germinated and the plants grew to a good size for harvesting.

It is now December and the sugar beet is ready and, very strangely, the previous mouldy batch seems to taste a lot better after maturing for 12 months!

Step 1: Background Information

Firstly, I'll start with a bit of history about this recipe and the sugar beet it is made from. The earliest known recipe for 'Mangel Wurzel Ale' is from 1829 and is based on the idea of making the malted barley go further rather than being a distinct thing in itself. The basis of the brew was 1/3 malted barley and 2/3 Mangel Wurzel and maybe the idea was that the enzymes in the fresh malted barley would help break down starches in the beet to sugars, I don't know!

Sugar beet itself is a modern cultivar of Beta Vulgaris which includes other well known vegetables such as beetroot and chard but also various other fodder crops including 'Mangel Wurzel'. Sugar beet was bred by professional plant breeders from Mangel Wurzels to increase the sugar content from about 5% to nearly 20% for the express purpose of refining into sugar itself. Sadly, nobody in the UK seems to make beer from beets anymore although they are used in more exotic places such as the Czech Republic e.g. Tuzemák

We are going to make 100% Mangel Wurzel Ale from home grown sugar beets with nothing more added than water, yeast, hops and sugar. As a last resort, if it all goes wrong, it will be distilled into my own version of Tuzemák.

Step 2: Growing Sugar Beet

Sugar beet is certainly a very easy crop to grow. I started mine off in cells in the glasshouse in March and transplanted them into the ground to 24" apart in April. All they required was a little bit of weeding every month or so.

Step 3: Harvesting

The beets can be dug up with a garden fork and then need to be cleaned so that they are free of soil and small stones. This is especially important if a juicer is to be used to process the roots.

Step 4: Equipment and Ingredients

  • Equipment:
  • Auger type juicer (never use a centrifugal one)
  • Hydrometer
  • Cooking pot
  • Steamer pot (optional)
  • Scales
  • Demijohn
  • Airlock
  • Swing top bottles
  • Funnel
  • Large fine mesh filter bag

  • Ingredients:

  • Brewer's yeast (5g)
  • Sugar beet roots (7.5kg for 4 litres)
  • Sugar (32g)
  • Hops (13.5g)
  • Water

Step 5: Chopping the Roots

Whichever method that is used, the roots must be chopped or sliced into small chunks or sections. After chopping, the chunks should be washed once more to get rid of any more soil hiding in between roots.

Step 6: Cooking

There are now two or three different ways to go now:

  1. If using an auger type juicer, add the chunks to boiling water and cook for exactly 10 minutes taking care that the chunks do not become too soft. The juicer needs the tough fibres to work properly.
  2. The second option is to steam the roots for about 3 hours. The steam condensing on the roots will draw out the sugars which will then drop into the pan below.
  3. The third option is to cook the roots until they are completely soft and then progressively wash out the sugars with water.

The sugar concentration in the initial juice will be quite high, but whatever method is used, there will still be quite a lot of sugar left in the pulp. The idea of progressively washing is to wash out the remaining sugars in batches, so by the time we get to the last wash, there is hardly any more sugar to wash out. This progressive washing is much more efficient than trying to wash out all the sugars in one go in one large tub of water. A more elaborate washing technique would be to use the 'sparging' technique, which relies on the pulp being rinsed out with a constant spray of water.

We are now left with the pulp, which could be pressed out in a cider making press or put in a fine mesh bag and squeezed out by hand as shown in the photo.

Step 7: Testing the Sugar Content of the Wort

The sugar content after the first stage should be quite high, at least 1060, and the colour of the liquid (wort) will be a fairly nasty looking dark grey. As washing continues, the specific gravity (SG) will progressively reduce until there is no more benefit seen. I stopped washing after the SG had reached 1020. The wort will also become more of an amber colour.

Step 8: Adding Hops

I used 'Target' hops which have a high bitterness value of 12.5 IBUs and dosed the brew at 3.3g per litre. This should give a modern 'craft beer' type flavour with lots of bitterness.

The brew is heated to boiling point, the hops thrown in and boiled vigorously, allowing the steam to escape until the desired SG is achieved. For me, this was at 1050. NB. the SG needs to be measured when the brew is at room temperature to get an accurate value.

Step 9: Pitching in the Yeast

The brew is now allowed to cool. The demijohn is sterilised with boiling water by pouring the water very carefully down the sides of the jar and not straight into the bottom, or the jar WILL crack!

The brew is added into the demijohn, straining out the hops as we go and about 1g of brewer's yeast is added. Never use baking yeast!

We have now got about 1 gallon of very foul looking sugar beet wort which will slowly, but surely, turn into nice tasting beer after about one whole year.

If we try to drink the beer too early it will have quite unpleasant flavours resembling very rough cider with a vinegary, soily taste that slowly disappears with time.

Step 10: Bottling

One year down the line and the beer can now be bottled. By this time, quite miraculously, it has turned from that horrible dark grey colour to a nice clear and bright amber colour.

The beer can be bottled in sterilised swing top bottles that will resist the pressure generated by the fermenting sugar. The whole batch can be poured into a large saucepan and sugar added at 8g per litre for a very fizzy beer or 4g per little for a normal fizz. The sugar is dissolved by stirring and 1/2g of brewer's yeast added before bottling. The bottles are then left in a reasonably warm place for at least a month before drinking.

If we wanted to be a bit more purist, we could create our own sugar syrup from the beet wort and use this in the bottling stage instead. The syrup would be made by boiling off the water from about 1/2 a little of wort until the consistency is that of black treacle, taking care not to burn it during the latter stages.

So, there we have it - how to make Mangel Wurzel Ale, which will now be offered to people visiting here during the festive period.

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