Every now & then, we get a hankering to try something out of the ordinary. Sometimes it turns out pretty good.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start back at the beginning.
The Chief Marketing Officer at MFBC is gluten sensitive, and so doesn’t get to try any of our “real” beers. So I promised him — oh, it has to be a year or two ago now — that we’d explore making a gluten-free beer, once we got into the swing of things. Then we got The Swing and sort of forgot. Then I couldn’t find any recipes that sounded promising. Then I found one I liked, but the malts were outrageously expensive (on the order of 20x the price of normal brewing grains!)
Finally, I got the idea to use flaked grain instead of malts, as the gluten free ones are about the same price as “normal” malted barley. Experienced flaked-grain brewers will already see where this is headed. For the rest of you…
When you brew with regular malted grains — barley, rye, wheat or whatever (usually mostly barley, but not always) — after the mash, you drain wort (unfermented beer — “steeped-malt water”) and are left with a bunch of “spent grain” — like regular grain, but with most of the starches & sugars removed. Either way, it looks & feels pretty much like a giant bucket of soggy granola.
With flaked grains — corn, rice, or what have you — they’ve been pre-processed and have more the consistency of oatmeal flakes, like the kind you use to make breakfast. So, when you put them in your mash pot and cover with hot (but not simmering) water, they tend to get a bit doughy. Basically, we ended up making a very large pot of porridge, then did our best to squeeze the porridge-water (wort) out of it. If you’ve never tried to squeeze the water out of too-wet oatmeal, try it, sometime. Let me know if you find a technique the works. 🙂 Anyway…
So we got as much starchy-sweet water out of the pot as we could and, as an aside, we had a nice ball of “grits” when it was done — which Mrs. ManyFriends made into delicious gluten-free-beer grit-cakes, the next morning, so that was nice — but then we were left with the cloudiest batch of wort I’ve ever seen. I’m not just talking about a little “haze”; this stuff was thick!
“Oh, I’m sure it’ll settle out during fermentation”, I lied to myself. It didn’t. “Well, perhaps during the cold crash”, I continued (once one begins lying to one’s self, it’s important to go “all in” for appearance’s sake. Otherwise, self-trust can be lost!) I didn’t.
After a few more days in the chiller, I decided to clarify with a heavy dose of pectin. “That’ll do it”, I calmly reassured myself, “at least if it’s not clear, it’ll get to the ‘just like a normal haze beer’ stage.”
“Fool me three times…”
Ok, in fairness, at this point, the top 2/3 of the batch was kind of like a normal “double haze” beer (whatever that is!) But, on preparing to siphon into a keg for carbonation, I mistook the now incredibly-dense beer on the bottom 1/3 of the batch for yeast-cake, and naively thought “wow, not only does this stuff cost a fortune to brew, but you lose 1/3 of the batch to yeast?!?!”
No no no… during cleanup, I learned that there was actually relatively small amounts of yeast & trub — about as expected, but very nicely flocculated into easy-to-cleanup clumps. What that bottom 1/3 was was amazingly-cloudy beer. Beer so cloudy that it looked like yeast cake.
No matter, I thought, at least we’ll have a nice gluten-free ale that we can try, and it’ll be fun to make something I can share with Mike (CMO). So we carbonated & bottled. It was during bottling that we learned that we would not be sharing this with Mike. Well, except in the “eeeew! Here, try this!” sense.
Actually, the stuff we have isn’t so horrible to drink. It’s just that you can’t put it to your lips thinking “I’m about to drink some beer”, or your brain will go into cognitive dissonance lock. While it’s technically beer, it tastes a bit like fermented lemonade. Again, not so horrible — it might even be kind of fun on a hot Summer night! But it’s not what one might think of as “beer”. I wonder if there’s a market for “gluten-free saurbeer”. I’m not a huge fan of sours, so inadvertently making one was a bit of a surprise. But, again, it’s pretty ok as an adult “citrus spritzer” or something. I don’t think I’d ever put it up for sale to customers, though. Or, I don’t know — I suppose I should let a dozen people try it and find out if people-not-me like it.
Aside: Part of the MFBC thing — after the Friends part — is that we make Premium Craft Beer where every step of the operation is carefully watched with a focused eye and crafted with loving hands. My hesitation in offering this to others (again, other than friends close enough to hand them a glass of “eeew! Here, try this!” 😀 ) is that it is enough not-as-intended that I’m not sure I can keep it as an “on brand” product. Then again, a lot of people tell me that I need to be more relaxed about mistakes and imperfections. And I’m all for making lots of mistakes and learning from them, I’m just not sure I want selling my mistakes to be part of our business model. We’ll see. If The Public likes it and I’m able to reproduce it, then maybe. Anyway…
So now I’ve ordered the [incredibly expensive] malted gluten-free grains and will try again with my original thought of a recipe. Hopefully, it’ll be more ale-y tasting. Either way, “weird science” will continue, regardless of the outcome. There’s no better way to learn!
Stay friendly, my thirsts!
~Ted, adjunct brewer at large.