Gluten Tag…

(get it? It’s a pun on  “Guten Tag”)

So I just got back from British Columbia, where I got to 1) sample many excellent beers and brewpubs 2) do a lot of research and collect a lot of data and 3) visit my sister.  That list is not in a specific order of importance, because depending upon your perspective, the priorities change.  But by far my favourite part was visiting my sister, even though I did get a lot of research done.

One thing I learned, and should have known, is that my sister has a gluten intolerance.  She is a sommalier, and so her alcoholic beverage of choice/by profession, is wine.  But she also has to try beer, even though it sort of turns her stomach.  And her partner is a beer lover–and there’s lots of great beer to love in BC.  A number of times we were out to restaurants and she’d try the beer we ordered.  It is an important occupational necessity for her (and me, but this is about her, not me).

Now this is the second person I know who is both gluten intolerant and in some ways fond of (or at least wouldn’t mind being able to drink) beer.  A while ago I looked up the basics of gluten-free brewing, and I quickly learned that there are many ingredients that make it possible, but also that it can be tricky to get something good together.

The problem, of course, is that the main form of both fermentables and flavour and colour characteristics is barley.  And barley is a big gluten no-no. (I also learned from my sister that whisky/ey, also often made mostly from barley, is fine, because distilled spirits apparently leave the gluten behind).

So before I left BC, I began in earnest to figure out gluten-free brewing yet again.  I knew that a big fallback for the basic brewing is Sorghum extract, which can be substituted 1:1 for malt extract.  This is good for recipe formulation.  However, I also knew that Sorghum had different flavour characteristics–I’d read it’s a little spicy, like rye.  Figuring I’d work that out along the way, I ordered 12 Lbs of Sorghum extract from my dodgy online source.

It arrived Friday morning (yesterday) so I had to get this together.  I was in a bit of a hurry to do my first experimental batch, b/c my sister will be visiting in about a month and that gives me just enough time to get something young but passable into bottles and conditioned.

As I poked around the online sources for recipes, I learned that Sorghum tends towards the sour taste   While I know you can cut some bitterness with salt, sour and bitter are not the same flavour characteristics, so salt wouldn’t work.  I was and am a little baffled.  I decided instead to add some sweetness, and hop the shit out of it.  It is after all an experiment: why not load up the cacophony of flavours, and then strategically remove them and add other stuff until I get what I need?

I also needed to balance the basic light-coloured Sorghum with some colour and flavour, so I picked up two types of Quinoa, a white and a black quinoa, having learned that it can add some nuttiness, which is nice in, say, a well-balanced ESB.

So here is the recipe I put together.  NOTE: I have not tried this yet.  If you are looking for good gluten free recipes, this may not be the one for you. I’ll add another post when I try it.

  1. 1/4lb white quinoa; 1/4lb black quinoa.  Rinsed under hot water until the water runs clear, and then toasted at 350F until it smells like oatmeal cookies (about 1/2 hour).  Pulverized slightly in the Magic Bullet.  Put in a grain bag, and submerged in 3 1/2 gallons of distilled water.
  2. Bring water up to heat. Let it sit around 155 for 1 hour.  (In retrospect I could have brought it up higher, but it did get a lot of the good smells and flavours out of it–though minimal colour).
  3. Add 3 lb Sorghum extract; 4 oz light candi sugar; 2 oz lactose.  The candi for some head retention and fermentability; the lactose for mouth feel and sweetness.  Lactose is unfermentable by yeast, so it will add a bit of thickness to the mouthfeel, which is good.  Sorghum is highly fermentable, so it would result in a very dry and thin on the palate beer.
  4. When it begins to boil, added 1 oz northern brewer and 1/2 oz Sterling pellets.  Heavy bitterness to counteract some of the sweetness of the lactose.
  5. After about 45 minutes, added 3/4oz Citra hop pellets, 1/2 tsp Gypsum (which is alkaline and may counteract some of the sour of the sorghum, but will also brighten the hoppiness).
  6. After another 18 minutes, throw in the other 1/4 oz Citra pellets and a 1/2 oz plug of Cascade hops.  Stir for 2 minutes, until the plug breaks up, and then remove from heat, chill and strain into fermenter.

I rehydrated a package of Safale US 05 dry yeast.  For gluten free brewing, liquid yeast is not an option (there are rumoured to be a few gluten free liquid yeasts, but I don’t have em).  Pitched it when it had hydrated.  Now I wait.

I tried the unfermented wort.  It was incredibly bitter, sweet (as expected, given the unfermented sugars) and also kind of sour.  I don’t have a lot of confidence in this first batch, but I’m going to keep working on it.

This morning, about 12 hours after pitching, it is still not fermenting.  That’s okay.  I brought it up to the main floor, covered it to keep it from getting skunky in any residual UV light we have hanging around, and am now waiting… patiently.


About danmalleck

Medical historian and jack-of-all-trades curmudgeon. I tend to ramble about politics, social incivility, and our self-centred culture more interested in buying the next cool ringtone or LED TV than actively engaging in the sorts of discussions and issues that matter. The more opportunity we have to buy more stuff, the less concern there is, it seems, in politics, social justice and let's face it, basic human decency, unless those things actually can save us money or get us more things to show how awesome we are through displaying our material wealth. And I like to brew beer, make cheese, and put food in jars.
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