Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve brew day: White Riot gluten-free Belgian wit

A beery meery Christmas to everybody in cyberspace! Traditions change over time, and due to some changes in our usual Christmas routine, we found ourselves with nothing to do on Christmas Eve until 7pm. The solution? Brew!

My good buddy Pete turned 30 earlier this month, and for his birthday I told him I would brew up a special beer. The catch? He was diagnosed with celiac disease some time after college, so this would be a gluten-free brew. The big three gluten-free beers out there are all relatively light lagers, where pretty much all the flavor comes from malt. Personally this doesn't make sense to me, since sorghum has a unique flavor that's different from barley. My thought was to pick a style where the predominant flavor ISN'T malt, so I went with a Belgian wit. Plus sorghum has a slight sour taste to it which is appropriate for the style. So today I brewed my first gluten-free beer: White Riot Belgian wit.

I'm not about to malt and mash sorghum, but fortunately most major brewing suppliers now manufacture sorghum extract. This made for a very quick brew day. I don't normally publish my recipes (God knows there are already enough recipes on the Internet), but since gluten-free brewing is relatively new, I'm going to provide all details here.

Since I can't use any wheat, barley or oats, I decided to go with just extract for my first gluten-free brew (I might experiment with toasting corn or rice in the future, but not yet). Due to the experimental nature of the brew, I'm only making 2 1/2 gallon batches, but here's the recipe scaled to a standard 5-gallon batch:

7 lb. white sorghum extract
.9 oz. Polish Marynka hops (60 min.)
.25 oz. bitter (curacao) orange peel (2o min.)
.25 oz. sweet orange peel (20 min.)
.3 oz. Polish Marynka hops (5 min.)
.25 oz. coriander (at flame-out)
8 oz. malto-dextrin
Safbrew T-58 dried yeast (rehydrated)

The brewing went as planned (not really much to screw up with a simple extract brew). The only quasi-issue was I forgot to take a gravity reading. The only wildcards here are: 1.) it's the first time I've used dried yeast (liquid yeast is propagated with malt extract, which is a no-no for gluten-free beer, while dried yeast is propagated with beet sugar); 2.) it's the first time I've used the Polish Marynka hops (due to the hop shortage; it smelled pretty much like your typical noble hop); 3.) it's the first time I've used malto-dextrin for body (sorghum is typically very light-bodied).

As you can see from the accompanying picture, the wort had an odd tan/slightly-green color to it (it actually looked very similar to the color of a typical liquid yeast). Nonetheless, I'm very excited to see how this turns out. Obviously my buddy Pete is even more excited, as he understandably misses being able to drink a "normal" beer. (On a side note, I had one poster on BeerAdvocate note that sorghum flavor doesn't need to be masked, it's just different... I understand this, but when you've had malt-based beer your whole life and suddenly can't have it any more, you kind of want to have a beer that tastes like a beer.)

I'll let you know how this turns out, and I would guess this won't be my last gluten-free beer. Actually, I'm really hoping to take a stab at a gluten-free Belgian strong ale. Stay tuned for updates...

Before I go, as a special Christmas treat, here's my all-time favorite Christmas carol (as you might expect from a guy who named his red ale "Road House Red"):

Safe and happy holidays to all!

UPDATE: When I got back from my Grandma's (around midnight) the carboy was already bubbling away. The weird thing, though, is there's no kraeusen. I don't know if this is common with sorghum, but it kind of makes sense since sorghum has a much thinner body (though I did add malto-dextrin, so I hope I added enough!).


Blogger Adam said...

Cool! I hope it turns out...for both his sake and yours :-)

I didn't know that liquid yeast is propagated with malted barley. Hmmm...learn something new every day. I guess even a little bit of it would not be good if your allergic.

8:48 AM, December 26, 2007  
Blogger Russ said...

Thanks for the comment, Adam. While I'm no expert on celiac disease, my understanding is different people have different levels of intolerance to gluten. As such, it's generally not a problem to use liquid yeast. However, if you want to go the "better safe than sorry" route, you go with dried yeast. Of course, this is all culled from various online sources, so don't quote me on it!

10:32 AM, December 26, 2007  
Blogger Ted Danyluk said...

Hi Russ,

Likewise, I hope it turns out good.

I have an interest in using various types of non-malt fermentables. I'm very interested in the results. I wonder if the orange and spice will be strong or balanced.

Perhaps you may be interested in including this in a January tasting I'm hosting. It will primarily focus on our 4 herbal beers, and I think this one may fit in very nicely.

12:25 PM, December 28, 2007  
Blogger Russ said...

Hey Ted-
Let me know when the tasting is. If I can make it up north and the beer is ready, I'll be there...

11:18 PM, January 01, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Russ, Thanks for posting your g/f recipe online. It's a boon to everyone who brews g/f. We find it interesting that you are doing a Belgian style Witbier. People sometimes taste our New Grist gluten-free and comment that they're getting Belgian Wit notes- I think you're right about the sorghum having a particular "tang". That would be the ferulic acid from the sorghum. We use yeast grown on non-wheat-gluten media (grown on molasses). We think it adds a measure of safety to the process if you're brewing g/f. Please bring some beer up to Lakefront Brewery for us to taste. You can even get a decent G/F meal up here in Milwuakee.

12:08 PM, January 08, 2008  

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