The Beer! The Beer!

When you see the word “fermented,” you probably don’t first think of pickled eggs, preserved lemons, or kimchi. Odds are good that your very first thought is, “Beer!”

This post is for you.

Home brewing is probably the coolest intersection of art and science that I’ve come across yet. Beer, by definition, is fermented grain sugars (wine is fermented grape sugars, mead is fermented honey, etc.), with hops or other herbs added as preservatives. Hops are actually a recent addition to the brewer’s mix. In the past, any number of bittering agents were used, including yarrow, rosemary, heather, nettles, or pine, and beer made with these ingredients is technically called “gruit.”

To make beer:

  • Boil grain sugars with bittering agents for about an hour
  • Quickly cool the kettle
  • Transfer into a (sanitized) brewing bucket or carboy
  • Top off with cold water (if needed)
  • Add yeast
  • Pop an airlock on.

That’s the short version. The long version can include anything from “soak 25 pounds of malted and cracked wheat in 160 degree water in a modified cooler for one hour” to “monitor the kettle carefully as you add your sugars because it will try to boil over,” and a ton of tips in between. A lot of people brew using the burner from a turkey fryer. Some make or purchase immersion chillers to cool the wort down (wort is beer that has not yet had yeast added to it). I use a four gallon stock pot I found at Ross for $20 and cool it in a sink of cold tapwater and ice packs. But I’m frugal like that.

I also brew primarily from extracts, which means that I purchase containers of either powdered grain sugars (malts) or liquid malt extracts. Yesterday, I brewed a gluten free beer, which is a beer that doesn’t use glutinous grains like wheat or barley. These are new-ish in commercial production, but as more and more people identify wheat as a problem food, the popularity of gluten-free beers is growing. This was my second gluten-free attempt. The first was all sorghum syrup and while I’ve gotten used to it, it’s nowhere close to being my favorite beer. So for this one, I used a hefty amount of sorghum but also mixed in brown rice sugars and beet sugar in the form of Belgian candi sugar, as well as a partial-mash with a pound of buckwheat I malted, kilned, toasted, and cracked.

The sugar breakdown was:

  • Six pounds sorghum syrup
  • Two pounds brown rice solids
  • One pound Belgian candi sugar
  • One pound malted buckwheat (to steep).

The procedure was this:

  • Steep malted buckwheat in ~160ish water for 20 minutes (this was arbitrary, but I’d toasted it nicely and it had a lovely peanut butter aroma)
  • Bring kettle to boil and stir in sorghum syrup.
  • Stir in brown rice solids.
  • Stir in Belgian candy sugar.

Monitor for boil over until the sugar’s foaming stops, then add:

  • Styrian Golding hops. Boil for 50 minutes
  • Cascade hops. Boil for five minutes.

The truth is, I have no idea what this will taste like at the far end. I’ve never used brown rice solids before, but I have found that too much sorghum is just… not right. It’s also recently occurred to me that I brew much more slowly than others do. Most brew sites and kits will warn you about hops causing boil-over, but hops alone won’t. The culprit in boil-over is the sugars, and if you let them finish foaming (this can take a while) then add the bittering hops, you’ll have no reaction. But maybe boiling this long affects the beer’s color.

In any case, here’s five gallons of young, gluten-free beer for your Monday morning. GF beers have a pretty sedate fermentation, which means my ceilings might stop being speckled in hops bits from cap blow-offs. As you can see, there are lots of solids still floating about as the yeasts do their work, but over the next few weeks those will settle out, leaving a pretty clear liquid. I’ll let you know what happens with this one.


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One Response to The Beer! The Beer!

  1. Jessica Lancia says:

    Cool! I hope it turns out delicious!

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