How to Make Gluten-free Beer Part 1

My introduction to making beer was with a five gallon bucket and a copy of The Alaskan Bootleggers Bible. Like any true Alaskan, Mr. Kania has a lot of instructions on how to use what you might have on hand in the kitchen, which works well for me. I tend toward the frugal side, and figure mankind has made beer for thousands of years without things like hydrometers and fancy fermentation locks. I have moved to glass carboys since my primitive beginnings, but the rest has remained the same. The only thing I am adamant about is that if you use plastic, make sure it is FOOD GRADE plastic that has not been used for non-food items. We don’t want any icky toxins infiltrating our good, healthy beer!

Equipment List:

  • Large stainless steel stockpot
  • Large funnel
  • Long spoon
  • Grain bags for the malted grains (3 or 4)
  • Hops bags (2)
  • Candy thermometer
  • 5 or 6 gallon glass carboy
  • Food grade, 5 gallon bucket
  • Blow-off hose to fit into mouth of carboy
  • Another 2 quart container to act as a catch-pot for the open end of the hose.
  • Siphon hose, racking cane, bottle filler, wing-capper, plus bottles and caps for bottling

The first thing I want to emphasize is sanitation. Everything that touches the beer after it is boiled must be sterile. You can buy commercial sanitizing agents for this (I use OneStep because I don’t have to be fanatic about rinsing) or you can use plain old unscented chlorine bleach at a ratio of 1 Tablespoon in a food-grade 5 gallon bucket with water. Immerse all the equipment to be used in the solution and let it sit for a few minutes, then remove and rinse everything well in hot water. Do not leave your clear plastic siphoning hoses in bleach solution for more than a few minutes, or they will turn permanently cloudy.

Gluten-free Beer Ingredients:Beer Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb flaked rice
  • 1/2 lb millet seed (unmalted)
  • 1/2 lb teff (unmalted)
  • 1/2 lb malted buckwheat (instructions on malting here)
  • 7 lbs sorghum malt syrup
  • 1 oz Czeck Saaz pellet hops
  • 1 oz UK Kent Golding pellet hops (feel free to substitute your preferred hops for either variety)
  • 1 package of gluten free beer yeast (I used Windsor brewing yeast)

Why so many grains? To make a beer out of just one of these malted grains would, indeed, produce an alcoholic beverage, however, it would taste nothing like beer. The combination of flavors brings this concoction as close to beer as I could make it. Feel free to play around with different gluten free grains – you can find a large selection in many health food stores. Just be aware that unmalted grains are mostly starch, which the yeast cannot digest. I found buckwheat is by far the easiest grain to acquire and malt at home. Millet takes too long to sprout, and ends up turning sour every time I try to malt it. And teff is too fine. I add grains in small amount for flavor, and the rice flakes give it a nice, creamy quality. The sorghum malt syrup provides the bulk of the sugar for the yeast to digest.

Instructions:

Place the grain in grain bags, tie them loosely, and add to your stockpot along with about one and a half to two gallons of fresh water. (If using teff, place it in a hops bag rather than a grain bag, since it is fine like sand.) Using your candy thermometer, bring the temperature up to 170 to 180 degrees F and keep it there for about half an hour – do not boil.

Remove the grain bags and discard the grain (if you can think of a use for the spent grain, let me know. So far, I have not had luck baking with it. My chickens love it, though!) To the warm grain “tea” slowly add the sorghum malt, stirring constantly while you bring it to a boil. Malt extract is very sticky and burns easily, so try not to make a mess or let it burn to the bottom of the pan. Cleanup is like removing epoxy.

Tie half the pellet hops into a hops bag and add it to the kettle. Watch carefully so the liquid does not boil over. (As soon as you turn away, it will, so make sure you are there to stir it down.) Keep it boiling for about an hour. Put the other half of the hops in a second hops bag and add it to the boiling mixture during the last 5 minutes of boiling. This step allows some of the more fragile flavors in the hops to infuse the beer without being cooked out.

Remove stock pot from heat and take out both hops bags. Put a lid on the pot. Allow it to sit for half an hour to settle and cool. The goal is to chill the wort as quickly as possible to get sediment to settle out before transferring it to the carboy. During winter, I set the covered pot on the back porch to speed cooling.

Using your sterile funnel, pour two gallons of fresh, cold water into your sterile glass carboy or plastic bucket. Dissolve the yeast packet in 1 cup of warm (110) water. Once the wort in the stock pot has fallen to room temperature (85), pour it into the carboy and add the yeast mixture. Add fresh water until the wort level reaches five gallons.

Normally, this mixes the wort with the yeast enough to begin fermentation, but if you feel it needs mixing, use a sterile, long handled spoon to further combine the ingredients.

The carboy must now be stored in a dark, out of the way place for two to three weeks where it won’t be too hard to clean up the mess if it bubbles over during primary fermentation. I used to quarantine one bathtub before I got a pantry. I only had overflow once, but I was glad I had planned for the mess. The area should stay at constant room temperature. I also wrap a thick, dark towel around the carboy to make sure as little light gets to it as possible.

Once the carboy is in its resting place, insert the blow off hose into the neck of the carboy. Put the other end into the catch pot container filled about halfway with clean water. This acts as an airlock to keep foreign yeast and bacteria from getting to that delicious wort and turning it sour.

Fermentation should begin within a couple of hours – certainly within 24 hours. If it does not, add another fresh packet of yeast and with a sterile spoon, stir it in (I keep an extra yeast packet on hand for just this type of emergency.) The first day or two, the wort will bubble furiously. This is when I had my mess, when the wort actually traveled up the blow off hose and drained into my catch pot. If that happens, sterilize another catch pot, fill with water, and quickly swap them out until the fermentation process is over. Do not leave the hose open to air for too long, and don’t worry about cleaning the hose yet.

If you want to get fancy, you can buy an airlock to replace the blow off hose after the initial burst of fermentation is over. I sterilize the stopper and the airlock, then fill the airlock with water, pull the blow hose and insert the stopper into the mouth of the carboy.

Check the wort every three or four days and count time between bubbles. Once the bubbles are 60 to 90 seconds apart (two to three weeks after fermentation began) the beer is ready to bottle. Do not bottle it sooner, or you may end up with grenades instead of beverages. Don’t wait too much past that, or the yeast won’t be strong enough to carbonate the bottled beer.

Next time: bottling your beer!

© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.

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11 thoughts on “How to Make Gluten-free Beer Part 1

  1. Beth F

    I’ve never tried to make beer or wine — I’m so impressed! And I love that one is able to make GF beer. I have a good friend who will be very, very interested in this.

    Reply
  2. Dan

    Did you take gravity readings for your beer at all? I am wondering how the alcohol yield of the gluten free grains comes out. If you have beginning and final specific gravity readings, I’d be really interested to find out what they are!

    Reply
  3. Tam Linsey Post author

    Ouch. No, I didn’t. I need to invest in a hydrometer. And here I claim to be into science. Next batch, I will see what I can do. Thanks for asking, Dan. And if you do it, I’d love to know your answers, too!

    Reply

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