Gluten Free Brewing - Malting Sorghum

Gluten Free Brewing - Malting Sorghum

For the brewer, diving into the world of gluten free beer is one of the most exciting segments of the beer community today. Those who decide to embark on this journey are adventurers, unsure of grain profiles, the results of malting, how much grain to use, what grain combinations will yield good beer, and what procedures and times are necessary for good results. The brewer is sure of a few things: He/she is on the edge of a frontier in which flavors and styles have not yet been determined; the choices of grains and adjuncts are infinite; old world traditions in countries unfamiliar to us may lead to new discoveries; making gluten free beer puts the brewer in the class with those most respected hand-crafters who fashion new traditions – they are the leaders, the ones others will imitate. Using new grains and procedures makes you an inventor – the creator of a new beer that is unique to the United States, much like Fritz Maytag and Steam beer.

If you are brewing Gluten Free Beer, you must keep it safe for Celiacs, those who have intolerance for the various proteins, or glutens, found in the grains of barley, wheat, rye, spelt, oats (through cross-contamination), Kamut (Khorasan wheat), triticale, and their related family derivatives. You may decide to brew a beer using sorghum or rice syrup from Briess; then branch out to malting your own grain, expanding into the realm of organic grain from one of the many certified growers in the Midwest.

White Sorghum Syrup can be used as a 1:1 substitute for barley. Many brewers begin here, then add corn flakes, rice syrup, or experiment with some portion of malted grains. If you enjoy any of the 7-Grain, 9-Grain, or 12-Grain Breads on the market, you have already been exposed to some of the delicious grains available: flax, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, chestnuts, and millet. These are the easiest to find as whole grains/seeds, although some can present challenges with sparging or may need additional starches for a good fermentation. Finding malted sorghum is nearly impossible.  Bards has their own malting facility, but does not sell to the public.  There is also the Aba Malting Plant, the largest Sorghum malting plant in the world, in Abia State in Africa - but that is of little help to brewers in the U.S.

If you are using your own grain, you will want to malt it in order to produce enough fermentables for your yeast. In the malting process, sorghum produces trace amounts of cyanide in the acrospire and rootlets, and these must be removed before brewing. The many creative brewers who have experience with sorghum recommend the following: Using the same basic procedure as with barley, soak the grain in water, rinsing, draining and stirring through the grain often to keep any molds from growing and to keep the rootlets separated. After the acrospires have grown to the size of ¾-1 length of the grain itself, it is ready to be dried. The acrospire is the little leaf part - not the rootlets.  The rootlets will be much longer.  Spread the grain out on several drying screens and dry at about 80 degrees C.

Sorghum malting temperatures need to be kept constant. When the grains are dry, place about 5-6 pounds of grain in each of two pillow cases or grain bags that have been securely closed, and agitate both pillowcases in a clothes dryer with no heat for a cycle of about 25 minutes. This will knock the rootlets and acrospires off the malted grain. You may wish to lightly roast the grain in the oven prior to this procedure to make the rootlets a bit more brittle and easier to knock off. After this agitation, spread the grain out on your screens and allow the tiny pieces of acrospires and rootlets to fall through, leaving you with clean grain. Some brewers use a fan box that will hold a stack of screens. The fan is at the bottom, and blows heated air upward, drying the grain effectively, and blowing any residue that gets trapped away from the grain. If you start with about 12 pounds of grain, you will end up with about 10 pounds after malting. You will allow the malt to rest for a few weeks after malting before jumping into mashing

A decoction mash is recommended, with an added gelatinization steep after the mash. You may want to add some corn for additional sugars in the mash.

Try malting buckwheat, quinoa, or other Gluten Free Grains, as well. Amaranth is very tiny, so you will want to wait with this one until you have ample experience, and feel a surge of creativity.

Buckwheat can be malted with the hull on, or with the hull off. The proper word for buckwheat that has had the hull remove is “hulled.” Some believe the buckwheat needs to have the hull on in order to malt. Not true. Either will work. Keep in mind that brewing beer using only buckwheat is not recommended. The one-dimensional flavor profile doesn’t work well, so get your creative juices running before you decide to go this route.

You may be able to purchase some of these grains at your local Whole Foods market or Homebrew Supply Store. Other places to purchase grain for malting:

Hesco Dakota Organic Products, Watertown, South Dakota -
Great River Organic Milling, Fountain City, Wisconsin –
Homegrown Harvest, Kennesaw, Georgia –
Barry Farm Foods – online at
True Foods Market – online at
Bulk Foods – online at
My Favorite Things – online at
Something Better Natural Foods – online at
Bulk Nuts 4 You – online at
Pleasant Hill Grain, Nebraska – online at

You Should Also Read:
Celiacs Guide to Gluten Free Beer
Bards Beer at Gluten Free Cooking Spree
Malting Sorghum for Bards Tale Gluten-Free Beer

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