Gluten Free Brewing: Three Methods

When it comes to home brewing, gluten free or gluten oppressed, there are three different methods you can use. They are: all grain, partial grain or extract.

When home brewing, the main goal is to produce sugar. The reason you need sugar is the yeast eats the sugar and produces alcohol. In traditional brewing, the sugar comes from the barley which has been (1) malted, (2) dried, (3) roasted,  (4) crushed and then (5) steeped (also known as mash) at a certain temperature. Enzymes in the water interact with the malted barley and transform the starch into sugar.  The sugar water (wort) is then brought to a boil and hops and other adjuncts are added. The process is the same for GF grains, but much harder to achieve success.

All Grain Brewing

All Grain brewing, for the gluten free brewer, is by far the most difficult one to master. All grain brewing involves malting grains (which means you begin to sprout them). This is done so that the grains, when soaked at certain temperatures will begin to convert from starch to sugar. The extent to which these grains are able to convert from a malted grain (or non-malted in some cases) to sugar is known as diastatic power and gluten free grains usually have little to no diastatic power.

Another popular method for all grain brewing, although from what I have read the success rate is low, is to buy amylase enzymes and add those to the mash. These enzymes are supposed to allow you to use non-malted GF grains and still get a conversion from starch to sugar.

If you are going to go all grain and be gluten free, your best bet is to use malted millet. The number one supplier for that is the Colorado Malting Company. Alternatively, you can malt your own GF grains. Whether you buy malted grains or malt your own, you will probably have to use a decoction mash schedule, which is very laborious. 

One of the fun things about gluten free brewing is you get to experiment. Someone, somehow, discovered chestnut chips make excellent beer. So you can always go that route since chestnuts are supposed to create the most barley like flavors for a good, gluten free beer. But if you think the price for GF grains is expensive, just wait for the sticker shock that comes with chestnuts. If I lived in Oregon, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t homebrew GF because Harvester Brewing is supposed to be the best GF brewer around. Their base is chestnut chips.

While I have read quite extensively on the subject, I have never done an all grain brew.  My lifestyle and profession don’t allow for the time and cost involved.

Partial Grain Brewing

The next type of brewing is called partial grain brewing and involves the use of grains and extracts.  In this method you take roasted grains (usually not malted) and steep them prior to bringing the wort to a boil. The reason you do this is because grains, whether they are malted or not, can add a lot to a beer. They can add flavor and color and contribute to the mouth feel of the brew. A common grain to use for this method is wet toasted oats. Take some certified gluten free oats, soak them briefly in water and then, while still damp, put them on a baking tray and roast long and low.

When doing a partial grain you usually steep the grains for 30-45 minutes prior to the boil. The water should be warm, but this isn’t a mash so a specific temperature doesn’t really matter. You aren’t trying to convert the starches in the grain, just get some goodness out of the grains for your beer.

When it comes to gluten free brewing, if you want to make a beer that is dark and thus, more “malty” in flavor, I really recommend steeping some dark roasted grains. An extract only dark gluten free beer just doesn’t taste right.

Here is a step-by-step photo guide to partial grain brewing.

Extract Only Brewing

This is the method I prefer to use. It is cheaper and quicker and lends itself well to gluten free brewing since I probably won’t bother with all grain for years– if ever.  Extract only brewing would traditionally use a malt extract from barley, pour that into the water, bring it to a boil and add hops and adjuncts.

The only problem is there really isn’t any such thing as a malt extract for the gluten free brewer. The most common base is syrup–sorghum syrup, tapioca syrup, brown rice syrup being the main three. These three syrups provide enough nutrients and sugar for the yeast to think they are in barley and also enough body to give you a beer. Bard’s Tale Beer is the only GF beer on the market, so far as I’m aware, that uses malted sorghum syrup. You can purchase their malted sorghum syrup in a homebrew kit. Every other sorghum extract available is actually just sorghum syrup.

Perhaps there is another syrup out there (aside from the 3 listed above) that one can use, but if so, I’m unaware of it. Please feel free to let me know in the comments!

Extract gluten free brewing needs a lot of help–but it is possible! However, those details I will provide in another post devoted exclusively to extract brewing.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.~1st Corinthians 10.31

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