It’s not everyday one decides to drop everything and learn how to home-brew. Not that you can even really just start home brewing, one google search will change everything about the confidence a person has when entering the daunting world of brewing your own. But, hang on, and THROW ALL THAT AWAY. Because you can homebrew! And while your first ever batch of beer may not be the nectar of the gods you were striving for, each batch provides a springboard from which you can jump off from for each new brew! Just think of it as… a learning experience, where failure can be just as valuable (if not, more so) as success to the homebrewer, Although not nearly as tasty!
This is exactly where we found ourselves at the end of our first ever (successful!) Gluten Free brew. Mistakes were made, observations were noted (and recorded!), and pockets of knowledge were gained and stored away in our brewer’s minds. It always helps to have another (knowledgeable) head involved in the process, and my better-half, Andrew, was exactly that. Together we joined forces: his knowledge of conventional brewing and my celiac awareness/research into Gluten Free brewing came together to provide for a smooth, successful partnership - as we would find out about three weeks later when we finally tasted our first collaborative creation: Batch No. 1.
It was bold. It was bitter. It would put hair on the chest of a 12 year old boy. No sour pucker power as is common in the first attempts at creating a gluten free beer - just a wholesome bitterness, a good medium body, with a golden-hued and the distinct cloudiness of a non-filtered, un-lagered beer. It desperately needed conditioning. Dry-hopping had added some piney notes to the aromatics, however, the 2 lbs of roasted buckwheat groats added another interesting layer: a dark, cocoa nib espresso note that gave the beer a depth of profile I did not personally expect to create in a pale ale. It was Frankenstein, so to speak. A monstrous creation birthed out of the desperation of a celiac beer lover. It was monstrous, but we fell in love with Batch No. 1 right away. One sip had my hand reaching out for another. A pint felt like a meal, the most satisfying meal for a brewer - until we broke out the pizza later, that is ;).
We had lightly carb’ed the keg for about 48-72 hours, allowing for a light effervescence to temper the weight of the ale. Temperature is a critical aspect to carbonation; too warm (above 37F) and carbonation will cause a ton of foam. The colder the better, preferably at the sweet spot of 37F. We have a kegerator set up in our homebrew cave (AKA the garage), with a stubborn mini-fridge that basically refuses to get any colder than 40F, so what we’ve done is lengthen the line from the keg to tap in order to help diffuse the foam as it travels along its way into the glass. A tiny bit of foam is still inevitable, but this setup has saved us countless ounces of precious homebrewed beer in the end. I personally hate over-carb’ed beer, the stinging sensation on the tip of the tongue that gets in the way of experiencing the full profile of the brew. Everyone has a preference, but I always feel that a heavily carbonated beer is trying to make up for something lacking.
Of course, with every first attempt at anything, there were a few things we would do differently next batch. One incredibly silly mistake we made was not adding the beta-amylase enzyme in the last minutes of the mash - we mistakenly added it to the last stages of the boil instead, as the (vague) instructions on the bottle simply read “add at knockout” (knockout usually being a term applied to the end of the boil in our experience). Lessons abound! With Batch No. 2, we allowed the mash to cool off to at least 140F (for about 30 minutes) after adding the beta-amalyse to allow for optimal effectiveness of the conversion process before beginning the sparging process. Another aspect we (almost) completely overlooked was the Whirlfloc, a clarifying agent that is usually added in close to the end of the boil (about 5 minutes before flame out). We almost forgot all about it and had the wort cooling off before we realized our mistake. Even though we added it in anyway, the liquid was already at a standstill, so the tablet most likely settled instantly on the bottom of the wort. Honestly, I wasn’t too perturbed - clarity is a preference that I don’t value too highly (*unless attempting a lager), as I find cloudiness enhances the hue of the beer as it sits in the glass, and always reminds me of fresh-squeezed juice (never a bad thing).
Another aspect of the brew I would approach differently next time would be the hop program. Our beer needed less bittering and more aromatics; meaning less time in the boil and more time (and quantities) dry-hopping. We learned a lot post-brewday about the differences between bittering hops, flavor hops and aromatic hops, and how they can be utilized to create a balanced hop profile. Some hops contain all three properties and can be used in the boil or post-ferment to dry-hop, adding layers of interesting natural oils and flavour terpenes to the beer with minimal bittering effects, such as the versatile Willamette. Others are exclusively either-or, such as the classic west-coast Chinook, used almost exclusively to add a piney-bitterness with a distinctive spice.
Let’s get into some more fundamentals. Let’s talk Racking.
“Racking is a gentle art that, done correctly, can help ensure that the quality put into the beer in the brewery stays intact until the beer reaches its destination in the glass.”
- Keith Thomas (Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine)
Racking is a simple process of transferring from one vessel to another. Most typically this occurs post-ferment, when the beer is transferred into a keg or bottles. Like everything in brewing, sanitation is your number one key to success. Improperly cleaned lines or a dirty receiving vessel can lead to devastating micro-bacterial infections. Similarly, potential contact points with oxygen during the racking process can also ruin all the hard work you’ve put into brewing. The less time and less lines used to transfer your liquid gold, the better.
A third potential spoiler can come from the roughness with which the liquid is transferred. Calm and steady is key, as the more you disturb the liquid the more you increase your chances of ruining your beer’s head potential. This can occur either during the transfer or upon receival into the new vessel. The usual culprit is too rapid of a flow rate during the transfer, which can be easily avoided by slowing down your pump speed or by ensuring your line extends to the bottom of the receiving vessel. For our size and setup, a pump was unnecessary. We removed the fermentation carboy from its nook and placed it on an elevated surface high enough to place the keg underneath, being careful not to disturb any sediment accumulated on the bottom. Using a siphon, we slowly transferred the liquid - ensuring that the keg, equipment, connections and lines had been cleaned (inside and out) that were in contact with the beer as it travelled into its new home, a 5 gallon torpedo keg.
Just last night we racked our new batch, a coconut milk stout, adding a healthy dose of toasted coconut (about 20 oz.) to the keg. It will take another 7-10 days of dry-hopping before we carb, but along the way it will be important to test the beer to see how the coconut is imparted into the profile. It’s all new, all experimental for us so we are itching to see what the results taste like.
Batch No. 1 needed conditioning at first glance, but honestly we enjoyed this beer right through to the (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend, giving this beer a lifespan of about 5-6 weeks. Over the course of that month and a half, we saw some pretty stark changes occur in the overall profile of the beer, it really mellowed out and, in my mind, exhibited citrus, pine with hints of cocoa nib aromatics while the taste brought out even more cocoa, mixed with a malty sweetness that was surprisingly not overpowered by the Simcoe bittering hops. Conversely, my brew partner and better half Andrew did not pick up on the cocoa nib note that my palate simply could not ignore. I love how the sensations of taste and smell are as unique as a fingerprint - subject to context, memory, and personal associations.
We kept coming back to the same conclusion: same base malts, different hop program. As I write this my mind is drifting to the brewhouse (garage, lol) fridge where the malts for our next batch lay in wait. I went to go take stock of the situation and became instantly inspired to start planning another brew day ASAP. We are thinking of going down the lager road, however nothing is settled as of now. Just last night, Andrew’s father brought down a Great Notion IPA simply called Passionate that literally blew my socks off. And that was just the aromatics, as unfortunately it was not a gluten free beer. It was everything I dreamed of when I kept repeating “juice bomb” “fresh squeezed” “mango smoothie” as my mantra of what I wanted to create out of a pale ale (well, originally the dream was applied to cider, now I’ve switched gears onto the beer train - choo choo!). And, apparently it tasted just as good as it smelled.
Passionate IPA is a tart IPA brewed with sea salt, fermented with passion fruit puree, and aged on vanilla bean. This is a new beer for us, and another which pushes the boundaries of the IPA style.
This brewday provided a hugely important first step to spring from as Babbling Bottles continues the journey into the world of homebrewing. Until next time,
Cheers and Happy Halloween!
- Babbling Bottles
BATCH NO. 1 INGREDIENT LIST
1 tsp each Alpha-Amylase + Beta-Amylase Enzymes
5 lbs Pale Rice Malt
2 lbs Crystal Millet Malt
2 lbs Roasted Buckwheat Groats
2 lbs Amber Rice Malt
500 g Flaked Gluten Free Oats (bob’s red mill)
Simplicity Candied Sugar syrup (12 oz)
Dark Belgian Candi Sugar (chunks; a handful thrown in)
Rice Syrup Solids (I lb) - adds body, lightens beer profile, could be used in similar ways to corn sugar
2 oz Simcoe Hop Pellets
1 oz Chinook Hop Pellets
2 oz Citra Hop Pellets (dry hopping)
American Ale Yeast (dry, 1 packet)
1 tsp DAP (yeast nutrient - add in with the yeast pitch)
1 Whirlfloc tablet
ALL ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHY © AMBER RAE BOUCHARD