GF Brewing 201 - Moving to All Grain Brewing
While you can make very good beer using gluten free "extract" syrups (sorghum and rice), brewing with grain allows brewers maximum flexibility and creativity. There is additional effort involved, but also a good return on that investment in the form of high quality beer. The terminology and steps may feel like obstacles for the uninitiated but that can be quickly overcome with a dose of enthusiasm and suspended fear of “doing it wrong”. (Relax, even if your first all grain batch doesn't go to plan, you'll likely still have a drinkable beer and a demystified understanding of the work involved).
So let's break this down into some digestible pieces of info:
A few key terms to reference as you move along:
- Mashing: At its most basic, mashing is the process of adding warm water to grain for the purpose of converting starches to sugars that are needed to make wort.
- Infusion mashing: Refers to a simple, single temperature rest for the duration of the mash process (usually 1 to 2 hours).
- Step mashing: A mash that uses multiple temperatures and durations to leverage different activities and enzymes that work best within certain temperature ranges.
- Gelatinization: Making starch crystals soluble through the application of water and heat. Necessary to more effectively convert sugar from the starches in grain by essentially unravelling these molecule chains.
- Lautering: The process of separating the wort from the grains in preparation for the next phase, the boil.
- Sparging: When mashing is complete, additional hot water may be added to rinse sugars from the grains as part of the lautering process. That addition of water may be in bulk, in smaller parcels, or as a continuous light "shower" to a maximum volume.
All grain brewing of course means you need to source gluten free grains to mash. Although it's possible to use some portion of unmalted grains, as a newcomer to all grain brewing, it's best to start with grains that have been malted. (The malting process helps prepare the grains for extraction of sugars by initiating the modification of the internal structure of cell walls, proteins and starches). Gluten free malt is generally not something you will find in your local homebrew supply store (and be cautious of attempts to sell you something they think may fit the bill). Instead, look to gluten free maltsters and distributors (see Resources page for more detail).
- See also: List of Commercial Gluten Free Malts
Grain kits are another way of purchasing ingredients with grain amounts measured out specifically for a recipe (avoiding the need to purchase larger amounts of specialty malts that you may not use right away). In North America, GlutenFreeHomebrewing.com sells all grain kits (including malt, hops, and yeast but not enzmes). In Australia, TwøBays Brewing Co. sells brew packs containing grains (without hops, yeast, or enzymes).
Not long ago, all grain homebrewing assumed multiple pieces of mashing equipment with some combination of do-it-yourself aptitude or investment in more expensive ready-made options. Though the spectrum of options has expanded, one of the most popular and economical choices is Brew In A Bag (BIAB).
For other all-grain equipment options, see All grain homebrew systems
Brew In A Bag (BIAB)
BIAB involves mashing grains in the same vessel that is used for boiling wort. With few exceptions, BIAB uses a single temperature infusion mash rather than step mashing. Instead of removing wort from the grain (lautering) at the end of the mash, the grain is removed en masse from the liquid and allowed to drain (with no sparging). BIAB requires a large, mesh bag (typically nylon), a heat source, and a kettle large enough to hold the final volume of wort PLUS the volume of wort displaced by the grain while it's being mashed. A rough rule of thumb is that the kettle should be twice the volume of the intended batch size. Thus, for a 5 gallon batch of beer, a 10 gallon pot would be recommended for BIAB.
Adapting kits and recipes for BIAB: All grain recipes may specify a single temperature or multi step mash. While the outcome may be slightly different to the recipe targets, you can adapt most if not all grain recipes to BIAB by simply using a single infusion temperature. When using malted rice you may have better results at a higher infusion temperature (i.e. 175F or 79C) than when using other grains (millet or buckwheat for example, at 165F or 74C).
BIAB mash steps:
- Measure out grains according to your recipe
- Grind the grains with a mill and place in the nylon sack
- Fill the kettle with an appropriate volume of water (based on a recipe or calculator)
- Over a heat source, bring the kettle to the appropriate temperature (again based on recipe or calculator)
- Since BIAB generally involves a larger kettle, more weight and the ability to suspend the grain bag above the kettle after mashing, kitchen stoves may not be the best choice for your heat source. Propane burners -- ranging from relatively inexpensive all purpose burners (aka "turkey fryer") to higher powered brewing burners (e.g. Anvil) -- are a good choice as long as brewing outdoors or in a well ventilated garage is an option.
- Turn off the heat and place the bag of grains in the hot water to mash. Stir to make sure there are no clumps
- Add enzymes to help convert starches to sugar
- After a prescribed amount of time (generally 1 to 2 hours), check that the starches have successfully converted
- Remove the bag of grains from the kettle and allow to drain into the kettle (depending on the amount of grain, a rope with a simple pulley system is recommended given the weight and heat of the bag filled with grain and hot wort)
- As the bag is draining into the kettle, turn the heat back on and bring to a boil
- Continue your brew day (adding hops, etc) as you would with an extract-based beer
- Brulosophy BIAB made very easy
- AHA BIAB tutorial
- BIAB Calculator
- BIAB Brewing
- The Brew Bag - Nylon bags to fit various kettle and cooler sizes
Enzymes are special types of proteins that perform much of the conversion "magic" involved during mashing. They are catalysts that help break down protein and starch structures, making sugar and other raw materials needed for the fermentation process. Whether you try to leverage the naturally occurring enzymes in your grains or add commercially processed ones, you need enzymes if you are working with raw or malted grains that require saccharification. (Brewers can utilize crystal malts and some roasted grains without using enzymes). To keep things relatively simple for this intro to all grain brewing, we will assume you will use exogenous (commercial) enzymes rather than relying on endogenous ones (from the grains).
Gluten free brewers are continuing to explore newly available enzymes and enzyme combinations. Generally you want something that will break down the more complicated starch structures without turning everything into the most simple of sugar molecules, glucose. (Worts made mostly of glucose can actually have a negative effect on yeast health, lack body, and have poor head formation and retention). To handle the relatively higher gelatinization temperatures of gluten free grains, it's useful to employ a high temperature stable alpha amylase enzyme and one that promotes the creation of maltose (two glucose molecules). For a single temperature, infusion mash using the BIAB method, consider one of the following:
- Using primarily millet malt, Ceremix Flex at a target mash temperature of 165 F (74 C)
- Using primarily rice malt, Ceremix Flex at a target mash temperature of 175 F (79 C)
- Using either combination of grains, an initial dosage of Termamyl L at at starting mash temperature of 175F and a dosage of SEBAmyl L after the mash temperature naturally drops a few degrees.
More information can be found on the Enzymes page, however may be more detail than you need at this stage.
A useful enzyme dosage calculator is available from Aaron Gervais of Otherwise Brewing.
Mash alternatives and conversion testing
There are quite a few different mash routines that have been explored for gluten free brewing. As mentioned above, a single temperature infusion mash is a solid choice for BIAB brewing, and an excellent place to start for those just getting into all grain brewing. 90 minutes may be sufficient to convert the starches in your grain to fermentable sugars. Here are three ways to check if this is the case:
- Perform an iodine starch test (see YouTube reference)
- Take a very small sample of wort from your kettle and put it on a non-absorbent white surface (i.e. a white plate or dish)
- Place a few drops of iodine tincture or iodophor into the wort sample
- If the iodine drops remain brown or tan, this is a good indicator that there is no longer starch present in the wort. If it turns black or purple, there is starch remaining.
- Dispose of the sample (don't put wort with iodine back into the mash)
- Take a gravity measurement and adjust for temperature -- you should be in the neighborhood of your recipe's OG target (it will be somewhat lower before concentrating the wort through the boiling process)
- Taste a sample of the wort. It should be sweet!
Where to go from here
If you use the BIAB method and your grains have successfully (or even mostly) converted, congratulations! You can move on to the boil phase, which is now identical to what you would do if you were extract brewing: Add hops at the appropriate intervals, cool the wort, and transfer to a fermenter.
If for some reason your grains do not convert to the degree you expected (or perhaps barely at all), don't fear. You have a couple of options:
- Even after removing the grains from your kettle, you likely have some unconverted enzymes remaining in your wort. You may want to consider adding more enzymes to see if they can reclaim some of that sugar potential. (Take note, enzymes can expire and they do denature if used outside of their recommended temperature range).
- If reclaiming that sugar potential seems like a lost cause, you can add another sugar source (e.g. sorghum syrup, rice syrup, dextrose). You’re still going to get some of the flavour benefits of the grains, if not their full sugar potential.