CAT | Beer
I’ve been working on this post for a while. A quickly expanding discussion on Twitter inspired me to take it live, even though there will need to be several revisions in the near future. Written from the perspective of a passionate craft beer fan who appreciates every style of beer, I hope this post can be a comprehensive resource for gluten-free beer seekers. This list is not in order by favorites, although I do call out beers that I am especially fond of. Feel free to recommend your favorites in the comments section and I’ll do my best to check them all out and add them to this post in the future. I’ll try to break things up into a few loose categories; starting with American releases, moving on to European gluten-free beer available in America and closing things out with a discussion of the “gluten-reduced” beers that are beginning to flood the market.
Anheuser-Busch Redbridge Beer
Easily the most ubiquitous gluten-free beer in America, this beer is also a go-to for many Celiacs. Due to maximum distribution and affordability, many restaurants and stores choose to sell Redbridge. There’s no denying that the good folks who produce this beer are masters of quality.
While it may not feature the most exciting flavors and isn’t brewed by a craft beer company, it is the most consistent. On a hot day, a cold Redbridge is an easy call. Brewed with sorghum, this is one of the few gluten-free beers that has a malt flavor, although I can’t tell you what gives it that grain flavor. There is a slight hint of sweet fruits as well. Overall, this is a well-balanced beer that delivers exactly what it promises.
Lakefront Brewing New Grist
Lakefront Brewing’s offering to the gluten-free world was actually the first beer to be certified gluten-free by the US government. It may not be as widespread, but folks in the Midwest are likely to find this Wisconsin-made beer without too much trouble. My first experience with New Grist was a few years ago now, but it quickly became a front-runner in my gluten-free beer quest.
Brewed with sorghum and rice, this beer has a nice amount of bitterness, which is something you don’t always find in gluten-free beer. Many of the complaints one hears about gluten-free beer are directly related to the sweetness of sorghum. When paired with the right hops and ingredients, savvy brewers know how to accentuate the sorghum without trying to cover it up. This is one of the beers that lets the sorghum and rice shine while creating a session beer that works for most any occasion. I noticed that this beer received a new label and is now being described as a “Pilsner style beer.” I may have to seek this one out in the near future and report back on any noticeable changes.
Bard’s Tale Beer Bard’s Gold
One of the early gluten-free beer contenders on the market, Bard’s has been a good friend to the Celiac community for what seems like forever. Brewed with sorghum, this is what I would identify as a malt-balanced beer, which again, is rare for gluten-free beers. Bard’s pours a dark gold or copper color with a nice, white head. This beer is unusually sweet, which likely gives it that malt-balanced backbone and caramel flavor. If you’ve had a Bard’s, you know what you’re getting and you’re likely pretty happy about it. The malty flavor of this beer pairs nicely with lighter fare. Finally, there are few beers on this list that are stand-out companions for a night spent with friends. For versatility, Bard’s receives very high marks.
New Planet Beer
New Planet recently started distributing on a much larger scale and I’m finding it more regularly in Chicago these days. The next three beers are all produced by New Planet.
Tread Lightly Ale
My absolute favorite of the New Planet offerings, this pale ale is everything it promises to be: mildly hopped, incredibly clear and a gluten-free session beer if there ever was one. Tread Lightly Ale is made from sorghum and corn extract. This combination tends to keep the beer from getting too sweet. A touch of orange peel enhances the sorghum flavor without trying to smother it.
This beer is brewed in Colorado and the owner is passionate about the environment. A portion of proceeds goes to environmental programs supported by New Planet. Like you needed another reason to drink some pale ale. Get this beer. Feel good about yourself.
Off-Grid Pale Ale
In New Planet’s own words:
“Off Grid Pale Ale is a wonderful interpretation of the classic pale ale style. It has a distinctly deep amber color and great character and body. Three varieties of hops provide a wonderful aroma and a citrus and spicy hop flavor. This smooth gluten-free ale is made from sorghum and brown rice extract, molasses, tapioca maltodextrin, caramel color, hops, and yeast.”
That’s a great description and there is very little I would add to it. I would like to comment on that one little ingredient that they slipped in there: caramel color. I’ve enjoyed this beer on many occasions. I’ve never had any noticeable physical problems associated with this beer. But I do wonder about the necessity to use a questionable ingredient like caramel color in a product that seems like it could stand without it. While the US government toxicology reports basically agree that it probably isn’t the best thing to ingest, there are no rules against using it; there are merely guidelines for how much a person should take in on a regular basis. There are also questions about caramel coloring and food allergies. I’m not saying that New Planet is doing anything wrong here. In fact, I salute them for being very clear about the ingredients in their products. They’re a great company and I’m a big fan. I just feel that this quality beer would still be delicious and successful without this additional ingredient.
3R Raspberry Ale
I’ll be as objective as possible. This beer was not produced with me or my palate in mind. New Planet has crafted a beer here that is aimed directly at the population of Celiacs without a Y chromosome. That’s not the point though. This is clearly a quality beer. It won the gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2010. I know several people who drink it regularly.
In my mind, I’m generally turned off by any gluten-free beer made with fruit. It’s already a common occurrence to walk into a bar and ask for a gluten-free beer only to be told that I should order a cider. There are enough fruit-induced concoctions lying in wait for gluten-free consumers. As a craft beer drinker, I long for an American IPA, a Milk Stout, a Robust Porter or a German Helles. I’m just waiting for proper versions of my favorite beers, I suppose. Again, New Planet isn’t doing anything wrong here. I love this brewery and I love what they stand for. There is a large market for what they’re offering with this beer. I’m just being selfish.
Dogfish Head Tweason’ale
Well, speaking of fruit-induced concoctions… I love Sam Calagione, the owner of Dogfish Head, for all the reasons that most craft beer fans love him. He is deeply committed to his craft and genuinely cares about the future of his brewery and the future of the craft beer world in general. Dogfish Head beers are revered the world over for their quality and incredible flavor profiles. Unfortunately, when Sam offered a beer to the gluten-free Dogfish Head fans who were clamoring for something new, I think he missed the mark. Brewed with strawberries and honey, this beer is yet another example of what gluten-free beer drinkers are missing the most: legitimate beer styles for the gluten-free drinker. It pains me to say it, but this beer (sold in 4-packs for the price of most craft 6-packs) tastes like a rusty coin to me. Thinking I just received an out-of-date batch, I tried this beer multiple times in several locations. The result, to my chagrin, was always a coppery and irony beer-ish fermented beverage. Sam, I love you. This is not for me.
Fox Tail Gluten Free Ale
Presenting the world’s first gluten free beer in a can. This might not seem like a big deal, but I’m thrilled by this development. I like drinking on a beach. I like the idea of somebody tossing me a cold one across the porch on a hot day that I can immediately slide into a coozie. You get the idea. Many things don’t seem like something you’ll miss until you can’t have them. Drinking from a can was something I really missed. Now, onto the beer:
This beer is slightly bitter and well-hopped. If you open this beer expecting something relatively malty or sweet, like many of the other beers on this list, you’ll be confused and disappointed. This is a proper easy-drinking, slightly bitter beer meant for drinking directly from a can. Some studies suggest that canning beer in aluminum may reduce hop flavor by up to 10%. I suspect that Fox Tail receives additional hops in an attempt to keep that hop-forward flavor working for them. I’m a big fan of this beer and I’m hoping to see it more widespread in the future. It’s not real easy to find in Chicago, but I did locate it randomly in a Seattle bar. If you can get it special ordered, do yourself a favor and acquire some.
I will provide an update at a later date discussing all the delicious beers this Portland, Oregon brewery has to offer. They malt chestnuts and brew with sorghum for an unbelievable flavor. Nutty, delicious, and groundbreaking: try the Pale Ale, IPA and more. They’re always brewing something seasonal. Check out their tasting room on Thursday afternoons to try everything they have to offer.
Green’s is produced in Belgium and is distributed widely. The next three beers are all produced by Green’s. Green’s says their beers are “Gluten-Free Belgian Ales made from millet, sorghum, buckwheat, and rice – as well as hops, water, and yeast. ” Green’s also sells additional gluten-free beers in Europe that they claim are made from de-glutinised barley malt. I have no idea what that means, but I will try to find out more about that process in a future update.
My favorite of the lot, Green’s Amber Ale is exactly what it claims to be: a proper representation of a Belgian Amber Ale featuring nutty, fruity flavors and plenty of warming alcohol. At 6.0% ABV, this is the lowest alcohol member of the American contingent of Green’s beers. The owner of Greens was diagnosed with Celiac disease years ago and that led to his passionate recreation of very specific styles of Belgian beer. The fruit and candi sugar flavors you’ll find in Green’s beers are indicative of traditional Belgian beers.
Endeavour Dubbel Ale
A proper representation of the Dubbel style, this beer is dark, fruity and strong. At 7.0% ABV, you’ll definitely taste and feel the alcohol in this beer. That’s not a bad thing, but since these beers are 16.9 oz, it can be easy to forget that you’re really drinking the same amount as 1.5 American beers, but at a heightened alcohol level. Great for splitting before or during a meal, this beer is truly decadent and has a velvety mouthfeel and rich finish.
Quest Tripel Ale
Spice, herbs, candied fruit and, of course, alcohol. This beer is a great reminder for novice craft beer drinkers that darker does not indicate stronger. This beer is paler in color than the Dubbel, but all of 8.5% ABV. This is another deceptively strong offering that is a great representative of the Tripel style.
Belgian through and through, do yourself a favor and split this beer with a friend. Enjoy the aroma, sip it slowly and let it wash over your tongue, enveloping the entire palate. This beer pairs nicely with strong-smelling vegetables, such as asparagus. I treat this beer a bit like a rich red wine, enjoying it with grilled meat or lamb dishes.
St. Peter’s G-Free
One of my all-time favorite gluten-free beers, this beer reminds me of a Heineken. The beer is generally skunked from light shining through the green bottle and the time it takes to import this beer from the UK, but it is a memory of years and beers gone by. I was never a huge fan of Heineken, but the flavors bring me back to a different time, when I could have a skunked out Euro-lager, if I so chose. If I see this beer on a menu, I’m choosing it every time. Bitter, pale and delicious. If you enjoy bitter UK ales, this beer may be for you.
And now, we should probably discuss the trend of gluten-reduced beers that is creeping into beer coolers across the world…
I could (and probably will) write a post dedicated entirely to this topic. I want to be sure to call out the beers that are practicing using enzymes to break down gluten in their beers. These enzymes were originally used to improve clarity and reduce chill haze. Brewers soon discovered an interesting side-effect: this enzyme also broke down gluten to acceptable levels, by government standards anyhow. I am not saying that these brewers are breaking any rules. There are new labeling laws in effect that will require that these beers are labeled as “brewed to remove gluten” instead of “gluten-free.” In the interest of consumer knowledge, I also want to share the beers that are using “de-glutenised barley,” which is a designation I have only seen in European beers, but I think it’s equally important to share this information. If you visit the websites of these brewers, you will see that I’m sharing the same information that they are. None of them are hiding what they put in their beers or the processes. Everything they are doing is totally legal and I have enjoyed many of these beers without any health hiccups. Without further ado:
Two Brothers Prairie Path, Omission Lager, Omission Pale Ale, Omission IPA
Mongozo Premium Pilsener, Estrella Damm Daura, Brunehaut Ales
I’m sure there are many others out there and I will be adding to this list as I have time. I am really curious to hear what other gluten intolerant folks, like myself, think about the gluten-reduce or de-glutenised barley beers out there. Has anybody had any adverse effects from these beers? If you have thoughts on any of these beers or any that I’m missing, please let me know and I’ll get drinking! Be sure to let me know on Twitter if you locate any new GF beers as well. Cheers!
Generally, I avoid getting into political discussions, but I can’t help but draw a comparison between what’s happening on Wall Street right now and what is happening across America at breweries who are letting down gluten-free beer drinkers like you and me. Please follow along as I make an impassioned attempt at tying my own (admittedly minor) personal disappointments to those (serious issues) of the world.
To the best of my knowledge, the Occupy Wall Street movement is a plea by people who have been excluded from the democratic process and have been forced to sit on the sidelines while big business pulls the strings of the American political system. Gluten-free ladies and gentleman, I feel I hardly have to begin drawing comparisons to our gastronomic plight, but I’m going to spell it out anyway.
We are the outsiders
But you knew that already. While the Occupy Wall Street folks are the unofficial representatives of the 99%, we have the responsibility to represent the 1% of people out there forced to live in gluten-free abandonment, courtesy of the brewing industry.
Breweries are our oppressors
I can already hear the cries of “Blasphemy!” Allow me to explain. It is true that many within our digestive minority are satisfied with the handouts, the bits of crumb, the substandard alcoholic swill that has been doled out in the hopes of silencing our meddling voices. I am not one of those folks, and I’m guessing that you are not either. I can count the number of nationally-available gluten-free brews on one hand. I can count the ones worth drinking on less than one finger. And while it is true that an occasional micro-brewery or brewpub will throw us a bone once in a while and make us feel loved, the majority of the time, these brewers are laughing with the bar crowd about how little they give us and how much we are willing to pay.
We have no voice
False. Inspired by the events happening across the country, I present to you the Occupy Breweries Movement, OBM for the sake of brevity. The idea is that each weekend, a group of like-minded gluten-free folks (and those who would support our movement) will stand outside of a brewery with signs and sandwich boards, demanding that a gluten-free beer be developed, brewed, packaged and sold at a fair price. After all, the national brews that are available don’t match craft beer in taste or quality. Why the heck are they so expensive? You’re thinking, “How about an example of a sign, friend?” Well, how about this? “We came here, We want beer, We refuse to drink in fear!” My lack of skills in marketing and propaganda not withstanding, it’s a start and I’m sure more creative wordsmiths than I will succeed where I might fail.
Our taste buds work just fine
We know good gluten-free beer exists. Talk to all those who have taken gluten-free brewing into their own homes and produced such libations that would rival gluten-filled beers from major breweries. What is currently available more closely resembles the miserable beers all of America was forced to drink before the craft brewery explosion. The most popular gluten-free beer nationally simply calls itself ‘beer.’ So uninterested are they in this bottle of suds that even the website purportedly advertising this product was never updated to show off the new six-pack packaging. Sure, you can find an ale here and there, but the great majority of gluten-free beer is some sort of fruit and spice experiment that never should make it to mass production. At what point do we stop torturing our taste buds and demand something better? When do we get a hop-blasted India Pale Ale or a legitimate stout? Several of the beers taking home medals from the Great American Beer Festival the last few years have been fruit experiments soaked with lemon or raspberry. I can accept that these beers taste good and may be plenty flavorful, but we have enough limitations put on our palates. I’m sensing a dangerous precedent is being set where the brewing industry will continue to throw alcoholic fruit juice at us. Friends, I can no longer sit quietly and grimace in disgust. My previous proclivity to beer-snobbery will simply not allow me to.
But, seriously, what are we going to do? Obviously, there are too few of us spread around in too many places to have a great impact on this issue in the conventional sit-in, stand-out, protest sort of fashion. So my thought is to inundate the biggest craft brewers, the people who really make the brewing industry tick, with emails, phone calls, twitter messages, letters delivered by homing pigeons, whatever, describing our plight and gently suggesting that they do something nice for us. After all, most of us were good enough to them before we knew we were gluten-free, how about a little reciprocity? Perhaps a request for a gluten free ale, lager, stout, porter or another fine traditional beer style to pacify our weary palates? My thought is that if a craft brewer with a high enough profile heeds our suggestion and creates something wonderful for us, that others will follow and soon we’ll have legitimate gluten-free craft beer choices. I’ve listed several top notch craft beer pioneers of our time who have the knowledge, means and influence to make our craft beer dreams come true. Reach out to these people in every conventional mode of communication. Be gentle, but firm. We deserve this.
Craft Brew Contacts:
Baseball. The very word conjures up memories of glories on the field, family moments in the living room watching the games, standing under the Wrigley Field sign for the obligatory tourist picture. For me personally, there are innumerable memories that I still carry with me. I’ll never forget Harry Caray phonetically spelling player names backwards. I’ll never forget going to Wrigley Field as a young man and catching a baseball thrown by Damon Berryhill (look him up, kids). And most recently, I’ll never forget my first gluten-free meal at Wrigley Field.
I knew that Wrigley offered Redbridge gluten-free beer at select beer stands throughout the stadium. I also knew you might find some sort of pumpkin seed and dried fruit mixture if you looked really hard. What I didn’t realize was the incredible offerings you can find nestled in the right field corner of the stadium at the Sheffield Grill.
I found myself wandering into Sheffield Grill for two reasons. I knew they had gluten free beer and I knew it was air-conditioned. When I walked in and ordered a Redbridge, the lovely young lady behind the register inquired whether I was aware that they also had gluten-free hot dog and hamburgers. I was not.
I ordered a hot dog with grilled onions and the cooks countered with a pickle, potato chips and the first hot dog I’ve eaten in almost three years. Everybody behind the grill knew exactly what they were doing. The hot dog bun took a few minutes to prepare (I’m assuming it was frozen), but the cook took the time to explain to me that everything he was putting on my plate was indeed gluten-free. He even went so far as to clue me in that the gluten-free rolls they serve come from everybody’s favorite: Rose’s Wheat-Free Bakery north of Chicago in Evanston. I’ll spend some time singing the praises of Rose’s in another post.
Just like that, I’m part of the crowd. I’m enjoying an ice-cold beer at the ballpark while chowing down on the quintessential ballpark cuisine and not feeling even a bit left out. I even went back for another round. I was stuffed and couldn’t finish the second hot dog (the rolls are quite filling, but taste amazing).
So I have a new tradition to enjoy at the old ballpark. I keep hearing that more and more sports venues are adding gluten-free vendors to the mix. I’ve been adding them on Gloodies.com as I come across them, but feel free to talk up your local sports venue in the comments if they support the gluten intolerant. Cheers!
I just remembered that I wanted to post this last minute list of bars in Chicago that sell gluten free beer as a St. Patty’s Day bonus. Please add any bars that I missed in the comments area. I hope to see some of you out there today. Send me a direct message on Twitter @speakinofgluten if you are out and about in Andersonville or Edgewater. Both neighborhoods are prime for holiday pub crawls. Let’s do the list…
1. Ole St. Andrew’s Inn – Edgewater – Currently serving New Grist and Green’s Quest
2. Mary’s Rec Room – Andersonville – New Grist
3. Hopleaf – Andersonville – Green’s Quest
4. Murphy’s Bleachers – Wrigleyville – New Grist
5. Mullen’s – Wrigleyville – Redbridge
6. Sheffield’s – Wrigleyville – I hear multiple gluten free beers are sold there, but cannot confirm which ones or how many.
7. Map Room – Bucktown – New Grist and Bard’s Tale
8. Quenchers Saloon – Bucktown – New Grist
9. Mulligan’s – Roscoe Village – Redbridge
Have a great St. Patrick’s Day weekend and please remember to watch out for eachother and never ever drink and drive. Let the CTA and the cabbies navigate the massive amounts of foot traffic the city will see this weekend. Cheers!
Well, it’s finally here. The day I’ve been waiting on for more than a month. Boiling, primary fermentation, secondary fermentation and bottle conditioning have all led up to this moment. I pull out a 12 ounce bottle from the fridge,
pick up my bottle opener and…
The cap comes off with a “PSHH!” This is a great sign of what’s to come. I pour my beer sort of quickly into a tulip glass and watch a perfect foam head form at the top of the glass. The color is reddish-brown and the smell is gorgeous. Right away, it reminds me of Abbey Leffe Brun Ale from Belgium. I take one sip and I am transported back to a time when my beer had real flavor and distinction. There is body here. Although the beer is still quite cloudy and could have used another week in secondary fermentation, it is very good. As it matures in the bottle over the next month, I believe the taste will improve even more.
Almost everyone who I’ve talked to from the gluten free community within the last month has asked me what gluten free beer this home brew would be comparable to. Happily, my answer, is none of the above. It had been so long since I enjoyed a real beer, I had almost forgotten what good beer should taste like. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the efforts of gluten free beer producers. If anything, it has given me a real appreciation of the difficulties of brewing a beer this way. The one thing that I have noticed about gluten free beer, is that freshness is key. Perhaps that’s the reason that my first attempt at home brewing has been so successful. This is, perhaps, the freshest beer I’ve ever tasted. I’m beginning to get off track, however, so here’s my attempt to compare it to other gluten free beers.
It is similar in color to Redbridge, but more robust with more complex sugar and hop flavors. It is similar in sweetness to Bard’s, but, again with more flavor and personality. Before my first taste, I compared it to my go-to neighborhood beer, New Grist Ale. This is the most readily available gluten free beer at the establishments near my home. I find that a fresh New Grist Ale has the most complex, yet balanced hop and flavor combination available in a gluten free beer, but even this comparison doesn’t do the home brew justice. My brown ale has more flavor and a better mouth feel than all of them.
I have to call this first brew a huge success. I’m thrilled with the smell, color and flavor. I’ve learned several good lessons that will carry forward into my next batch. Most importantly, I’ve learned that patience is key. I read several articles online throughout the past couple months that encouraged shorter fermentation times or no secondary fermentation at all for gluten free beers. I know now that patience with these steps is critical to producing the best beer possible. Yesterday, a new batch of brew supplies showed up for my next batch. I’m working on my own recipe in order to brew something I’ve never seen or tasted before: a wheat-free wheat beer. I’m convinced I can brew up something similar to a hefe weiss. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying my brown ale and participating in a tasting party or two with my brewmaking friends. Happy home brewing!
This update is a long time coming, but I wanted to make sure to get as much information as possible into this post. Let’s get started.
When we last looked in on batch #1, we were in primary fermentation, hoping we were on the right track. All signs indicate that we did everything right so far. It took a full 36 hours in the bucket for primary fermentation to begin, but sure enough, she started bubbling away right on cue. I waited a full 7 days beyond that point before taking the plunge and moving the brew to secondary fermentation. I wanted to make sure that the gravity readings stayed the same for 2 days in a row, which they did. I want to put this beer through secondary fermentation in the hopes of adding some clarity to it.
I begin this process by sanitizing everything. The siphon tube and beer line, airlock and the carboy all get treated to this process.
At this point, it’s as easy as popping the lid on the primary fermentation bucket, putting in the auto-siphon and giving it a crank.
This beer will stay in secondary fermentation for 10 days.
10 Days Later… Today, I’m fortunate to have my wife helping me out. This is not a simple job. The sanitizing of the bottles and tools, pouring of the beer and capping all have to be done quickly to prevent outside air from negatively impacting the beer.
Once everything has been sanitized, I boil some water with my priming sugar. Once it has mixed sufficiently, I pour that into my bottling bucket. Next, I use the auto-siphon to move my beer from the secondary fermenter to the bottling bucket.
After a quick stir with my spoon, we’re ready to begin bottling. I was going to use the spigot of the bottling bucket for this step, but I found it to be a bit haphazard and difficult to control. Instead, we opted to use the siphon tube again with a bottling wand. This was definitely the way to go. It kept the mess to a minimum and made controlling the amount of brew in each bottle simple.
At this point, we got into a rhythm of me sanitizing the bottles and passing them off to be filled. Each time I dropped off 2 bottles to be filled, I would bring back 2 bottles and cap them.
I tried a variety of bottle sizes to see if there would be any difference in the way they conditioned over the next 3 weeks. This batch produced 24 – 12 oz bottles, 10 – 22 oz bottles and 1 growler. I’m planning on storing the bottles for 2 weeks of bottle conditioning, followed by 1 week in the refrigerator.
At this point, I expect my tasting party to fall on the 2nd Saturday in February. I’ll probably crack one open the night before so I’ll have time to call the whole thing off if the beer turns out terrible. Judging from the smell of it during the bottling process, it should be delicious, but smell isn’t generally the best indicator of taste at that stage. Look for the final post from this batch sometime in mid-February. I’m going to be starting on a hefeweizen during that time. I’m feeling sort of daring, so I’ll be using my own recipe. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the progress of batch #2 as it comes along.
UPDATE: Tasting Day!
I have always been a beer lover. In fact, I am a beer snob. My tastes have changed over the years, but I’ve always recognized and enjoyed finely crafted beers. Belgian blondes, German hefeweizens, micro-brewed American porters – you name it, I love it. But one year ago, everything changed for me. When I removed gluten from my diet, I removed beer. All of it. Sure, there are gluten free beers out there. Some of them are very good. But there are a couple of problems. Locating them can be difficult. When you do find them, they are rather expensive for what they are. Finally, there isn’t much in the way of an assortment of styles. Sure, you can find an American-style lager. If you look hard, you may even find a Belgian Tripel. But to be able to walk into a liquor store on a whim and purchase the beer that you’re in a specific mood for? In a gluten free world, it isn’t likely.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that manufacturers are creating and selling gluten free beers. But sometimes I’m in the mood for something different. Something better. And so, it is with great excitement, that I have started down the road of homebrewing. It might take me a while to get where I want to be as a brewer, but I refuse to limit my taste buds any longer.
With a brand new brewing kit and sorghum beer kit from Homebrewer’s Outpost, I feel ready. To start, I’ll be trying my hand at a kit or two before trying to come up with my own recipes. My current kit should produce a brown ale. Nothing too ambitious here. Just sorghum extract, hops, Belgian candy sugar and the promise of good brew. I’m lucky to have my friends Levi and Grant helping me today. Levi has been homebrewing for a couple of years now and will show me the ropes. Grant likes hanging out and drinking beer. So it’s a solid team.
We begin by laying out all of our equipment and ingredients. We sanitize every tool and pot before we begin. The importance of keeping everything sanitized throughout this process cannot be overstated. We also keep a boiling pot of water on the stove at all times in case we need to quickly sanitize a spoon or something. Since the starter brewing kit didn’t include a brewpot (which makes no sense, considering it’s a crucial item), Levi has brought his along. We fill the brewpot with 2.5 gallons of water and turn on the heat. As the water is heating up, we slowly stir in the sorghum extract. The idea is to bring this mixture up to a boil, stirring occasionally. I recommend leaving the lid off just a touch and checking the mix periodically to avoid a boil-over.
While the mixture is heating, we fill a muslin bag with bittering hops and tie the bag off. We carefully follow the instructions not to compress the hops into a tight ball. Once the mixture in the brewpot begins to boil, we carefully set the bag of hops into the mixture.
This mixture has to boil for the next 45 minutes. We periodically stir the pot and continually keep an eye on it to prevent boil-over. This is important because if this hot, gooey mixture gets on your appliances/floor/cat/friends/whatever, it is very difficult to clean off.
After 45 minutes, we turn off the heat and squeeze the gelatinous Belgian candy sugar syrup into the mixture. We stir it briskly to prevent it from settling on the bottom and scorching. At this point, we begin bringing the mixture back to a boil. It must boil for 15 minutes. We fill another muslin bag while the mixture returns to a boil. Again, we are careful not to compress the hops into a tight ball as we tie off the open end of the bag. With 5 minutes remaining in the boil, we carefully place the finishing hops into the mixture.
After a full 60 minutes of overall boil time, we turn off the heat and remove both hop bags from the mixture. We won’t need them anymore. During the final minutes of the boil, we have filled a large sink with ice. We place our brewpot in the ice bath and fill any open holes around it with remaining ice. Purchasing a bag of ice from the store worked best for us because this took a lot of ice. After about 20 minutes, we feel that the mixture has cooled down enough to begin moving it to the primary fermenter which we sanitized during the cool down.
We use the auto-siphon tube that came with the brewing kit and begin filling the primary fermenter. Within minutes, the wort is completely moved over to the bucket. We add about 2.5 gallons of water, just enough to reach our goal original gravity of 1.051. We get that reading from the hydrometer. The brew kit tells us the original gravity we are looking for, so we know we’re on the right track.
At this point, we add the dry packet of yeast to the mixture. In an effort to aerate the mixture, I vigorously stir the mix with a spoon for a full minute.
Next, we seal the bucket with a special lid that has a place for our sanitized airlock, which we fill with vodka and water. This will prevent any air from getting in, but will allow oxygen from the fermenting process to escape.
I place the final mixture in a dark closet that keeps a pretty consistent temperature around 70 degrees. They say that ales should be stored between 60 and 70 degrees, so I’m hoping that this is ideal. The liquid crystal thermometer on the side of the bucket indicates that we’re in a good place.
The instructions tell me that fermentation typically begins in 12 to 36 hours and will continue for 3 to 5 days. The airlock on the lid of the primary fermenter didn’t start bubbling for a full 36 hours. I was worried at first that it would never begin fermentation. It has been a full week since my mixture went into the bucket for primary fermentation and I’ll be taking my first hydrometer reading today. If that reading stays the same for 2 straight days, I’ll be moving my mixture into the secondary fermenter: a sanitized carboy that will help to provide better clarity for the beer. Some say that this step is not necessary for sorghum beer due to the lack of specialty grains in the mixture, but I want to make sure I’m getting the most out of this beer, and a longer fermentation period won’t hurt.
So that does it for the first post in this series. Upcoming posts will include the move to the secondary fermenter, bottling and conditioning and, of course, everbody’s favorite part: the tasting. It sounds like one of Levi’s homebrews will be ready around the same time as mine, so a tasting party is definitely in order. I’ll keep you posted and you can always see my mini-updates and follow me on Twitter. Happy homebrewing!
UPDATE: see the next steps for this batch here.