Gluten-free (GF) is a little bit of a hot button issue these days. The actual people who suffer from issues like Crohn’s and Celiac’s are most certainly lamentable casualties left behind in the beer scene, but the “fad dieters” and holistic eaters are adept at both making strides in making options more widely available and simultaneously loathed, much like vegans and crossfitters.
The beer industry, however, is relatively less stalwart on the matter. Sure, there have been a few (often terrible) options for years, such as Dogfish’s Tweason and Green’s, along with the slew of sorghum-based abominations that taste like terrible winegums. More recently, however, there’s been a surge of new breweries that are brewing beers, that actually taste like real beer, but without barley (and rye, wheat, etc.), that still pack in the flavor.
My first exposure to this was Groundbreaker out of Portland, OR (figures, right?). I had their IPA No. 5, which if you hadn’t told me was GF, I’d never have guessed than in an instant. Certainly, some of their beers contain sorghum, but a short, and incomplete, list of other possible ingredients include:
- Corn (Often gluten free, not 100%)
- Oats (depending on where they are produced, though)
Bonus points, hops are totally GF too. So, with these new types of paint, it’s high time to start painting with the new palate.
There are, however, a lot of issues to address right off the bat.
Brewing with these ingredients is fucking expensive. For the 5.5 gallon batch of beer I brewed, I spent about $120. That’s literally double the cost of what I spend on a typical, not gratuitously hopped DIPA. Granted, I’m not buying in bulk, but just looking at the coast of pale millet malt from GF Hombrewing, you can see that your base grain, a substitute for Pale 2-Row, is almost three times the cost! And that’s a base malt. Do you know how much chestnuts cost? To save you some googling, a) fucking expensive and b) also seasonal. I mean, if you live in an area where you can harvest fresh and for cheap, awesome, but otherwise… got. dayum. I spent $24 ($12/lb), not including shipping, for two pounds of dried chestnuts. That’s also not counting the cost of destroying my coffee grinder trying to actually break them down for use, but that was also a really shitty, old grinder.
However, there is actually another avenue if you so desire to explore GF stuff – “sprouted” grains. Again, a product of the health food craze sweeping the globe, sprouted grains are kept at specific temperatures and moisture levels so that they start germination and begin to sprout. From there, they can be dried or made into a puree for making baked good. Doesn’t that sound oddly familiar? It should, because that’s literally the malting process. So, now you can expand your grain bill to include things that you might already have in the pantry, without even having to worry about calculating out that annoying diastatic power (DP) equation to make sure you’ll have enough enzymes to convert your starches!
Ever up for the challenge, as usual, I started to dig through information to make this happen. I managed to stumble upon Gluten-Free Homebrewing, which seems to be the only place I’ve been able to find a broad array of differently kilned, fully malted grains. Prices are rough, but unless you are buying in bulk, they most likely will be (for those of you who’d like to, or mayhap own a LHBS, I’d suggest you contact Grouse Malt House. They were super pleasant to deal with over the phone and, though they could not ultimately help me with this scenario, they are the supplier for GF Hombrewing).
The other challenge I then came to face was building the recipe and then checking the math. Luckily, GF Homebrew lists most of the data (Lovibond, Potential Gravity, etc.) that you need to plug into calculators like BeerSmith or Brewer’s Friend. Easily enough, lots of things can just sub for others – millet for 2-row, buckwheat for, well, wheat, but other like corn, rice, and oats most brewers are already familiar with. Tricks come into play with things like, lentils, quinoa, chestnuts, and amaranth that have different flavors and also might require a little bit of extra work to reap the benefits, such as a cereal mash or a partial boiling before mashing to get maximum extraction. On top of that, if you opt to also use chestnuts or unmalted grains, understand that they will lack Amylase, the enzyme that converts the starches into sugars that the yeasties like so much. But, that’s a relatively easy fix, as you can typically just buy straight up amylase and toss it into the mash and then keep on trucking like normal.
After all this research, including just how much fermentable sugars 1# of chestnuts would get me, extrapolating off this recipe from the HBA (save you some time – .81 PPG and roughly 2L), that I honed in on doing a low ABV grisette (picking up that vibe that I like saisons, yet?)
Batch Size: 5.5 gallons
Mash Temp: 150F for 60 min.
Boil Time: 60 min.
Batch Efficiency: 60%
Original Gravity: 1.030 // 7.6 P
Final Gravity: 1.002 // 0.5 P
SRM: 19.7 EBC // 10 SRM
- 5# Pale Malted Millet | 41%
- 2# French Roast Malted Millet | 16%
- 2# Malted Buckwheat | 16%
- 2# Dried Chestnut (crushed to my best ability) | 16%
- 1# Sprouted Quinoa | 8%
- .25# Honey | 2%
- .25# Flaked Oats | 2%
- 1 oz Saaz @ 60 min.
- 1 oz Saaz @ 40 min.
- 1 oz Perle @ 20 min.
- 1 oz Perle @ 10 min.
- Wyeast French Saison (3711) – Fermented at Ambient Temp (Note: This would be the technical hiccup of my beer being 100% GF. White Labs and Wyeast both culture their yeast in, essentially, low-gravity wort, made from barley)
Spices and Such
- 1 oz. Amylase powder (in mash)
- 2g Grains of Paradise @ 10 min. (cracked)
If you didn’t catch the numbers, I had an absolutely shit fucking efficiency on this beer. Namely because I didn’t have a mill and GF Homebrewing won’t pre-mill your grains for you like EVERY OTHER FUCKING COMPANY DOES. I attempted to use the ol’ rolling pin technique, said fuck that real quick. Food processor was okay for the millet and the quinoa, but nothing else, since I wasn’t trying to completely reduce my grains down to a powder. But holy shit, how do crazy health nuts actually eat buckwheat? Those fuckers are like a point below diamonds on the Mohs scale. I figured out that, if you boil the chestnuts, they’re a little more manageable, but that was after the casualty of the coffee grinder. Seeing what it did to those blades before it straight up broke the axel from the torsion, I opted not to put those in the processor.
But yes, the lack of actually milled grains hurt my efficiency real bad. In the end, it’s okay, because even assuming the typical best for homebrewing, 75%, would yield another 0.008 points of gravity. These grains aren’t exactly high test premium. I can only imagine how shit it might be to try and make an imperial stout with them.
For all my griping about how shit the grains are and the that I had to figure out alternative milling practices, the beer actually turned out well. Really well, actually.
It clarified like nobody’s business with just whirlfloc, fermented almost all the way down, and still retained a solid body. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the buckwheat and the oats helped that one. It was still incredibly light and I went with the typical saison level of carbonation, so it ended up almost a little prickly on the tongue, which really opened up the palate for all the flavor. Super rocky head, mild retention, but sexy lacing all the way down the glass.
The grains themselves really are pretty unique. The pale millet was a nice sub for 2-row and just laid a sturdy foundation for the rest. I got a little of the chestnut kinda umami/savory tone in the middle of the palate, but for the grains, the two main stars were the French roast millet and the quinoa. I’m having a little bit of difficulty exactly describing what quinoa tastes like without saying “quinoa” like a dumbass, but when you use it for other purposes that making weirdly colored pseudo-cous cous, it picks up a different flavor. The reason I can pinpoint what flavor it gives is because I’ve had another alcohol the was made with quinoa, and it had the identical flavor I picked up in the grisette. I don’t know how widely available it is, but was Corsair’s Quinoa Whiskey.
Beyond that, the French roast millet imparted a beautiful chestnut color (ironic) and this really nice, low-key nutty tone that helped amplify the light ones from the chestnuts. Just a little bit of extra biscuity and toasty flavors. Truly, I think the star.
The expected flavors that I got from the hops and the Grains of Paradise just Christopher Walken’d (by which I mean world-class supporting actors, but never the lead) the whole show and kept everything entertaining. The Saaz and Perle came through crystal clear, popping them herbal and spice tones like a Fat Boy Slim track, laying down earthy and floral bouquets all over with a mild bitterness to compliment the dry bite. The Grains of Paradise, however, both complimented and contrasted this. Complimenting the spicy tones with the light peppercorn and contrasting by imparting the slight tropical jab that it’s known to possess (Note: This unique spice is also known as Alligator pepper. It’s in the pepper family, so the usual peppercon/Belgian shit is obvious, but the unique point is the odd fruitiness that the corns themselves have. Try it on steak too, just a li’l S&P seasoning. Boom.)
There are two functional discussion points left for this beer, the most important one being: how does this beer fair for people who are gluten intolerant? The good news is that it is perfectly safe to drink. I made a note earlier about White Labs and Wyeast’s culture juice, but even on a 5 gallon level, that amount of gluten is super negligible. I had two medically necessary GF people try this beer and neither reacted or had any adverse effects in the least. My main issue was honestly that I just brewed it on my regular system, so I didn’t know if I had contaminated it in any way, aside from the yeast pitch. But, both friends were really happy, especially since the one was an avid beer and whiskey fan before his body started to say no, so he was pumped to be able to have a “real beer” again.
The other is more just a note that my homebrew club was coincidentally having a session beer contest the month that I showed up with this just to get feedback (I maybe make like 3 a year, tops). The only stipulation was that it needed to be under 4% alcohol, so I tossed my hat in. Ended up missing the popular choice, which got like a flavor extract kit (eugh), but the other judges were the two gents from Wacker Brewing Co., who picked my beer as the brewers’ choice to make on the 1 bbl pilot system. Ultimately, since this beer is super goddamn expensive to make, annoying to source ingredients for, and couldn’t be guaranteed 100% gluten free due to possible cross-contamination, we opted to brew a different beer of mine instead – Kabuki Theater – Japanese Style Golden Ale – to have on draft. I’m not a competition guy typically, so it was super cool to just happen to win something neat.