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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Teff Beer Attempt - Step 4

The story so far... In Step 1, we decided on an idea for a beer and in Step 2, we looked for a recipe. In Step 3, we went shopping for equipment and ingredients.
For next few hundred words, we will take you on a journey through time and space (BTW, all of our journeys are through time and space) to a placed called the Malting.

I've been reading and re-reading beer books lately. I feel as if there are no new ways to approach the topic of beer. Malting is the sprouting, drying and maybe the toasting/roasting of the grain being used to make the beer.

I bought teff. The smallest grain in the world because I wanted to make a gluten free ale from the cradle of civilization, Ethiopia. It happens to be one of the quickest sprouting grains. There were a bunch of ways to sprout grain on the internet that just didn't apply because the batch was so small. Most recipes are scaled to 5 gallons and above. Remembering my school days and having recently revisited the whole sprouting stuff on a window sill thing with the kids, this process was still fresh in my head. Recommendations are to put the grains in a bucket or some tray where water can be removed or in a clear jar or... Some of these methods were not usable due to the size of the grain but it was wide open. The only requirement was that the grain had germinated.

So, first I soaked the grain for about 3 hours and then laid it on an unused, as in new, dampened hand towel set in 9x13 pan. I took a second towel, also dew dampened by the mists from Toronto tap water and placed it over the grains and waited.

Most of the literature talked about optimal length of the sprout, some calling it acrospire and timings  for germination were all for the more common grains. There was talk about being 80-100% of the grain. Germination time for teff is two to three days. I was contemplating raiding the kids' toys to see if I could find a magnifying glass. These grains are so small that it felt like beach sand when I was soaking them. I had to rely on something other than sight, so I popped one in my mouth. Dry, vague cereal taste. Flavourful dirt.

After 24 hours, when I lifted the cloth, it seemed as if I was looking at an out of focus picture. The sprouts had started a lot quicker than I expected. I tasted it. It was slightly green tasting and less crunchy than the day before. I didn't have time to set up for drying so I didn't have time to make a decision. I think that was for the best. When I came home from work that night, there were visible sprouts at least 6 times the length while others were still in that starting stage. It was time unless I wanted the whole pan to become filler to sandwiches. I couldn't worry about the inconsistency of the sprouts.

The grain was dumped out onto cookie sheets. More cookie sheets than I expected. You need a lot of room to dry these suckers. This is probably why brewers get malt from malters. I turned on the stove at a low temp briefly and let the pans rest inside once I was sure that it would dry without starting to cook the seeds. After the initial time, I left the pans around the house to air dry. They were dry within days. Several blogs and books had recommended an optimal after drying weight but there was no way I was going to transfer these suckers back and forth. Already there were grains everywhere. Did I say that they remind me of beach sand? Same problem.

With the slight toasting they received in the oven when I put them in too early one time, they would be a very light colour. This appeals to me since I love lighter beer such as wit, weiss, and wheat beers. It will go well with the other ingredients mentioned in the previous post. Put the grains away in a cool spot and in a sealed container.

Okay, so some stuff happened. Firstly, don't use a cloth with teff. I now have a wonderful cloth that is ready to be planted. The seeds grew into the cloth.

Drying can be anxiety ridden, so if you have never dried anything, don't start with grain.

Taste the grain. I have an appreciation for the differences during the sprouting process and you are trying to get the most sugar out of the grain. We have an amazing ability to taste sugar. The larger sprouts were not as sweet as the smaller ones. While we can get all scientific about the process and remove grains that are too big or two small, the nature of handmade goods is that they are complex or sometimes muddy rather than clean and perfect. Think of the difference between a meal at home and a meal at a fancy schmancy restaurant.

Let's go at that point that I just made another way. After spending a few days worrying that the sugar would not be optimized, I took to twitter to ask about what to do. "Test during the boiling process and add amylase." That will come up in the next chapter but what I took out was that there was a possible solution. I had a more brillianter idea. I asked a few friends who spent time in Ethiopia, okay grew up there... Okay, I asked a few Ethiopian friends. You may ask why I didn't do this before but I had. The difference is that this time I described the process and got back a whole whack of information that I couldn't get from the internet. Go ahead, look. That is what I would do to. We'll wait.



Okay, for those know-it-alls, glad to see you are joining us again. Here is the recipe I got back.
My mom puts a bunch of teff in a bucket with water and lets it sprout. In another bucket she combines injera, water and sometimes spices. She also adds this green leafy thing, dried. Don't know what the English name is but we call it Gesho and here is the Amharic symbols. There is probably some on the Danforth. So, she chops it up and adds them together when the first bucket is ready. After a week or so, it is ready to drink.
There are so many great things about the recipe and how I got it, I'm not sure I can do it justice. Firstly, beer making is still the domain of women in Ethiopia and that harkens back to earlier days of brewing in Western societies. These women were known as brewsters or ale wives. A good friend of my wife is named Brewster and like the Millers, were a big part of regular life.

Second point, is the recipe itself. Read a post by Mirella Amato about losing sight of the craft. While she came to a slightly different conclusion and direction, there is definitely a sense that scientific geekery might be losing sight of a fundamental bit about brewing. It is more like making homemade bread than molecular gastronomy. Both have there places but don't worry if you mess up a little bit because there is some Ethiopian grandmother making this stuff in a bucket without heating it up to get all the sugar out. Food wants to rot. This is just controlled rotting.

And last one I'll make here. Gesho is a bittering agent. It is used like hops. Everyone makes a bitter fermented beverage. I'm wondering if there are all types of beer out there in the non European world that have so much for us. I have heard of Indian traditions and wonder about Asia. A world map of traditional beer other than the small one I have in my head that is centered around central Europe would be cool.

The next post for this topic will be on the boiling process. I just have to get some iodine and amylase.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Book Review: The Complete Beer Course

Another month, another beer book. This is one of those books that make the must read lists for beer readers. At some point, reading another book is a series of diminishing returns on knowledge. Each book only adds a bit more information while it takes more hours of investment. When a book is a classic or a must read, it often covers territory that a reader has read more than a few times. It has to bring something different.

In the case of The Complete Beer Course, there is a coverage of styles with a short history along with a few beer to try for every style wrapped in the idea of beer class. In twelve classes, Bernstein will take you through enough beer to call yourself an expert. The conceit of the tasting class works well with the first class taking up the standard information given to all of us trying to become beer nerds.  There is the usual stuff around history of beer, beer process and some information on the ingredients. Of course, how to taste and serve beer are in there as well. How is it different?

What this book does well, is in the tone. There are a lot of puns and groans that make material that would otherwise be dry and boring into a bearable reading experience. Some of us will find this approach amusing and entertaining and others will not care for the less 'technical' approach. Beer is democratic and education was intended to democratic. To teach a class is to take an approach that will work best for the greatest number of students. I feel the balance struck here is quite good.

From a Canadian perspective, I was surprised to see how many breweries and brews were here hailing from my land when this book is definitely aimed at educating Americans. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised given what I know is true about the Canadian brewing experience and drinking as a Canadian. McAuslan, Dieu du ciel, Charlevoix, Hopfenstark, Central City, Russell, Mill Street and Spearhead all make an appearance. There are a few others but these are the ones in the International beer style section.

The style sections are fine. I'm having a hard time assessing these sections due to overexposure of this information. His humour is what kept me going through these sections. The bonus sections that are not part of the standard curriculum of nerdification are the brewery profiles, a deeper discussion on topics normally skimmed (water, increasing bitterness techniques and inventions, Belgian light beers and how old styles are revived for example) and the whole section on cellaring and pairing beers. Some of the information will not age well but for someone taking the plunge right now, this would give them enough to talk the and walk the walk and sound intelligent. I have only had about 1/3 of the named beers but had a beer in every style except for two (Kentucky Common, American Style Barley Wine) but I would consider myself well versed in styles. Only one of them is actually a named style but I'm putting down the Kentucky Common so that I don't forget it.

After the review, here is what bits and pieces turned my crank and got me thinking.

p.98 mentions a grodziskie which I had only heard in passing. It is an oak-smoked wheat low alcohol beer with a lot of hops but little aroma. It is an historic Polish beer. Think of a smoky wheat beer with a possible little bit of sour from the wheat depending on whom you talk to. I would love to try it either as a home brew or pro interpretation.

Two beer alterations include adding milk to stout porter (p.188) and adding an espresso shot to Guinness Draught (Dry Irish Stout) (p.183). Of course, after reading this, I saw a post on Alan McLeod's blog on mixing beers. These two recipes got me to thinking. While I like the idea of beer cocktails, there is always a bit of chagrin due to my reliance on intentionality of the brewer when judging a beer. In other words, the brewers didn't intend it this way. In a weird postmodern way, Alan's puts it that 'the experience of the drinker is the only experience in relation to any given glass of zymergistic goodness that matters. Brewer's intentions be damned'. The drinker determines the beer and by extension how it tastes best and not the brewer.

I've long wanted to write about postmodernism, philosophy and food. The book is pushing me towards getting that down. Anyways, this is a good book to learn about styles and the North American contribution to stretching them. If you like the tone, then this is definitely a good book.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Cider Reviews for Ontario Cider Week

Serendipitously, I received a cider for review this week. It's from South Africa. I was looking for some kind of hook and realized that it was Ontario Cider Week. So, I'm going to do an omnibus review. Hopefully it will show the variety and quality of Ontario and help situate the South African cider within a context to understand it.

The highly unscientific testing method to determine the best cider was to have my wife and I to drink a bunch of ciders, mostly from Ontario, with a few from other regions like Quebec, UK and USA. We would note our reactions and try lemon juice to determine if it makes a difference. The lemon juice would be added after tasting the cider as a nod to one of the recommendations from a producer who declared that their cider tastes better with a lemon in the neck of the bottle.

So, I went to my local LCBO to purchase supplies. I didn't realize how many ciders were from Ontario. Sure, there is the Grower's Cider from BC which was one of the first that I remember seeing in the LCBO but now there is a whole lot more. With sixteen members in the Ontario Craft Cider Association, this could be the next craft beer craze. Even with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I do have to admit that cider in the last few years has often been a good way to round out a night of drinking and with its distinct lack of bitterness can provide a mellow respite from summer beer.

The Ontario list: Spirit Tree, Pommies, Thornbury, County Cider, and Waupoos. Both Waupoos and County Cider are from the same company.

The Other list: Savanna Dry (South Africa),  Woodchuck (USA) and Cremant Cidrerie St-Nicolas (QC).

And one not cider: Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner.

When I started the tasting, my suspicion was that the ciders were going to clump around two polar opposites of sugariness. I hesitate to use the word sweet because in cider talk, sweet means the apple juice product where hard means the fermented drink. Dry cider means using champagne yeast or less sweet tasting or alcohol content removing the sugars from the fruit. In reality, dry has regional meanings. There are whole categories in Quebec based on the carbonation levels and then there is the ice ciders, a Canadian innovation that is big in Japan. Since I am not going to be the one to develop new coinages for the whole cider industry or further add to the confusion factors, I will use sweet and dry like wine terms. But this paragraph on sweetness is just a long way of saying that I was wrong. There is more of a range than I expected.

First of all, some overall impressions on the ciders. Almost all used sulfites. It is necessary. Most had a hints of sulfur in the smell or in the first few mouthfuls that dissipated if you left the glass for a few minutes. The smell/taste thing is particular to the bottles as I rarely find it in cider on tap. Haven't talked to a cider maker yet, but believe it is probably just a natural compound in rotting apples. When I used to live near apple trees in the country, you would notice that downed apples in late fall have a particular smell.

Let's get to the particular impressions, I do a mean Pikachu impression. Sorry, been watching a lot of Pokemon with my kids.

Ontario Ciders

Spirit Tree: Drier and bouncy on the tongue. Light colour and clocks at around 6%. More of a mid range apple flavour. I've had it on tap and this is one of my go to ciders. My wife hates this one due to mustiness. Due to my love of barnyard tastes, this one just registers as slightly funky for me.

Pommies: Clocking in at 5%, this has a lot of apple and sugar taste in another light coloured cider. It tasted juicy when tasted alongside any of the finer carbonated and drier tasting ciders. Although classified as a dry cider due to the alcohol content, I wouldn't call in dry. My wife likes this one. It is close to cooler territory for me. Lemon seemed to accent the sweetness and made this one veer into candy territory.

Thornbury: This one was the fizziest of the ciders poured on this night. It was the most like apple juice, maybe an Allen's apple juice that fades into a crisp finish. This one smelled like the pleasant version of downed apples. My wife liked this one and commented in particular that this one smelled appley. It is around 5% alcohol. The lemon juice brings out the latent tartness and gives the cider a cooler like quality that reminds me of mass market beer.

County Cider: Like the other cider, Waupoos, that we tasted from the same company, this is a 6.5% beverage. The body feels light to me with a milder apple flavour possibly due to a different varietal. Tasting these two side by side allows you to appreciate the difference the varietal can bring because you can assume similar production methods. Lemon brings out apples and a citrus taste in a way that other it didn't with the other ciders. It was a really pleasant addition.

Waupoos: The other of the two ciders that we tasted from County Cider. There is similar carbonation levels to the Spirit Tree. Light sour apple taste fading to a drier finish. A 6.5% alcohol beverage. There was a slight funkiness in the middle that my beer hating wife perceived as tasting like light beer. It was drinkable for her but I think she used the words 'Coors Light'. Adding the lemon enhanced the sour apple but made the slight unpleasant flavour obvious.

Other Regions

Savanna Dry (South Africa): The excuse that I used to round up a bunch of ciders was this sample sent for tasting. It's marketing is around being dryly humourous with a lemon in the neck of the bottle as a tasting gimmick. Think Corona and lime. South Africa is the 16th largest apple producing nation where Canada is 29th. We import a lot of apples from South Africa, they are the 5th largest by volume of countries that we import apples from. Anyways, enough background information and back to tasting notes. There was a slight smell that was hard to place but it was almost cheesy. It is at 6% alcohol content which contributes to a drier taste. It was the darkest cider we tasted and may have created the buttery tasting connection in our heads. It was more on the fizzy side. Their claim of lemon enhancing the flavour was true as it accented the carbonation, brought a distinct apple flavour to the front and pushed away the butteriness. This makes the drink more lively. My wife liked it with lemon but without the lemon, it tasted beery to her. 

Description of this image follows.

Woodchuck (USA):
An American cider that I always associate with Britain. It's partly the packaging and partially the taste. Its another dark cider that smells of socks initially before quickly fading to mellow apples. The flavour reminds me of sugary apples and while this would classify as a semi-sweet, it drinks closer to the sweet side. Lemon brings a tartness that plays with the carbonation in a way that makes it taste fake. Once again, this one heads close to cooler territory and appealed to my wife. Skip the lemon on this one.

Crémant St. Nicolas (QC): The lowest alcohol of the tasting at around 3%. It had the tiniest little bubbles with pronounced apple taste. Well rounded mild apple taste with hints of acid. Lemon juice turns the mildness into an aggressive "apple" taste like splashing citric acid onto a fresh cut Mac. This is where my wife's and my tastes come together. Without compromising what a cider is, this manages to please both the funky, beer like dry ciders with the cooler type sugary and apple forward ciders. This may be due to the champagne yeast. This was the most distinct flavoured of the ciders but remember, Quebec is the site of many innovation such as ice ciders.

Not a Cider

Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner: Easily recognized as a beer by the wife. Tastes like a flavoured beer. I like a lot of Nickel Brook products but this one always tastes fake to me. Lemon did nothing to improve it.

Overall Impressions: I've drank a lot of ciders in the last few years but by focusing on Ontario craft ciders at one time, it made me realize the breadth of products available. I'm not sure if there are any remaining drinkers out that gender cider by putting it into a corner with coolers that are best left to womenfolk. If so, they are missing out. None of the ciders tasted were bad. One or two crawled towards a more bland flavour profile but none screamed mass market.

The cider market may have been given a gift when the juice canning factories closed down in Southern Ontario. This left many orchards with few choices. Alcohol sells. There are more innovations that are happening in the Ontario market such as using different yeasts, dry hopping ciders, and barrel aging. Cideries are applying both brewing and vinous methods. West Avenue Cider is one to watch.

The cider industry in Ontario has many stories to be told. Craft cider is fast approaching craft beer territory, in terms of innovation and excellence. This week was the inaugural Cider Week. Now, all we need is the craft version of Sessions. Get out there and find a cider you like. The search is well worth it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ideas #1: Re Imagining Carrot Cake

I'm blatantly stealing this concept from one of my favourite blogs, Ideas in Food. Smaller posts about possible experiments that will fill the gaps in blogging days and at the same time provide a repository for ideas for recipes or techniques. This will, hopefully, replace the scrawly bits of paper that end up in tiny paper mache balls in my pants on laundry days.

Been messing around with drying stuff and creating dusts for a while, mostly fruits. Wonder what would happen if you dried carrots and then rehydrated them using different flavoured liquids. The approach would have to be weigh before drying then rehydrate to the same level if you don't want to change the recipe.

The liquids could be anything:

  • Carrot juice - to magnify the carrot flavours
  • Spice infused liquid - wonder if adding it to the fibers would make a difference
  • Apple Cider - apples and carrots
  • Fruit Juice mixture - my wife makes a carrot salad with mango, apple, and raisins. Could some type of this mixture be used to boost the flavour?
  • Vegetable Stock - Could subtle flavoured stocks lend a savoury element that would be set off by the traditional cream cheese icing.

This simple idea of coming up with a carrot cake but starting from dried carrots presents some interesting opportunities.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Teff Beer Attempt - Step 3

The story so far... In Step 1, we decided on an idea for a beer and in Step 2, we looked for a recipe.
Now that we have a recipe of sorts, it is time to go shopping. The question for me was what ingredients and equipment did I need.

Ingredients 

The ingredients were the easier of the two to contemplate. I needed yeast, hops, malt, and water.

Yeast was easy to find and the only real choice was between dry or liquid. I chose liquid yeast as I trusted the brand name after hearing great things about it. Hops, I had already figured that I would use English hops and a number of different shops had them. No biggie.

Then I thought, let's get the liquid malt and save some time. I don't need to go all alpha beer nerd and make my own malt. A quick search through the beer suppliers of Toronto yielded no teff malt. Okay, let's see about the states. Oh, Colorado Malting will do it custom. With the customs and excise tax and the waiting and everything, I decided to ask a few brewing supply stores in Toronto with little luck. I'm sure someone does it out there but I wasn't able to find it easy by a search or a tweet.

Now comes the pseudo confession time. I'm writing this breezily and as if I am doing everything off the cuff. This is largely because I'm feeling ducky. I want this to look easy like a duck swimming but underneath the water, I'm paddling like hell. To put it another way, I've been talking about trying to home brew for two years. I have read two years of subscription to Brew Your Own, own more than six books on fermentation and brewing, read forums, follow twitter folk, ask questions of beer guys and strengthened my google fu in this glorious quest. While I AM talking out of my arse, I have a fair idea of what is going on. Most home brewers do NOT malt their own grain. Here I was with only a handful of articles, some tutorials on YouTube with no information of teff malting. So, of course, I decided rather than wait that I would malt my own. I bought teff at a local grocery store. It was easy to find as it is a common grain for celiacs and people who want to go gluten free. More on the malting process and outcome in the next step. I still have to finish buying everything.

This realization made me curse my choice of grain for a few seconds until it dawned that I was going to one up all those home brewers who look down on those that used liquid malt rather than brewing for grain, I was malting my own. Just as a background for those uber new into brewing, one of the first questions you get asked when saying you are home brewing is whether you have ever brewed from grain. Brewing from grain is just about whether or not you make the porridge and then add the yeast.
Quick review of the standard home brewing process - make the porridge and add hops, cool it down and add yeast, let the yeast do its job and bottle. Some brewers don't make their own porridge but rely on buying ready made malt. No shame. Not too many people make their own ketchup either. 
Okay, that only leaves water. I've got water in my tap and that should be okay. There are huge discussions on forums about whether treated water affects yeast and how differences in water accentuates bitterness and so much more. Water is very important but its not worth the amateur worrying about. Leave some water from your tap overnight if it is treated with chlorine. Other than that, whatever you use as drinking water will be fine for most beer purposes.

Equipment

Yeast, hops, water, and grain. All taken care of in a trip to Toronto Brewing. What about the equipment? My original thought was to just use stuff from my kitchen. I had given the question of volume some thought. Standard recipes are 1 gallon, 5 gallon or 10 gallon. I've decided that given my space, I would do 1 gallon test batches and 5 gallon batches for now. The reasons are that I can only drink one kind of beer for so long. One gallon yields about 3.8 l, that's about 11x33cl glasses, the standard metric 'pint'. More of one beer than I normally drink. Also, if a batch has gone wrong then I don't want to throw out more than a gallon. Five gallons is probably the limit of what can be done in our second kitchen due to the size. This batch from unmalted grain would be a one gallon batch.

I had most of the standard equipment - something to make the porridge in and something to ferment in and even some bottles from the U-Brew-It. Yes, a lot of books make a huge deal about the equipment but the disagreement is so wide. I ended up buying a one gallon kit.

I was swayed by a book that had the same issues I had with the uber recipe nature of most brewing books and he explained something in simple scientific terms that reminded me of the time I spent with the guys at Fermentations. I had asked them when they knew the beer was done. I had some experience with a balloon over a one gallon old timey jug used for fermenting mead and wondered how they did. A hydrometer. This handy dandy thing lets you know when all the sugar is fermented. I had to have one because Beer Making For All said so. I've also bottled and it is nice to have tubes and stuff to make it easy. Oh, and I didn't want to have to worry what was last cooked in my stock pot. Maybe there would be a need to make stock and beer at the same time.  If I brew more often, I can't take my stock pot out of circulation. Anyways, I bought a kit for some of the reasons listed above.

The trip to the brewing supplies store was fun. I proudly stated my first time status, as if they hadn't heard it before, and got all the help I needed. It was fun. I also walked away with ingredients for a backup batch for my second beer but that is another story. Did I say that it was fun?

With all the ingredients together and shopping done, it was time to start brewing. But first, I guess I had to malt the teff. That is where we will leave off today, kids. The next part will be on the malting. Sounds like a horror movie, doesn't it. The Malting.
Other posts in this series: See up top for the earlier posts and Part 4: Malting

Monday, June 2, 2014

Teff Beer Attempt - Step 2

In the last exciting episode, I had talked about my grain decision and promised to talk a bit about science versus art. But first, I'm looking at that title. Step 2, it says. I'm not sure how to break it to you but I'm not sure of how many steps there are or how to break it down in digestible blog post style. So, there it is. I know the end will be the drinking of the beer and the beginning the concept. Buckle up.

After picking the grain, (not literally, I picked it up at the store in the gluten free section) I wanted to see what had been done before so off to the internet we went. Yeah, that's when I started to realize something. Just like in cooking, recipes and approaches fall into some broad categories. There are the recipes followers, the scientists, the artists, and the goof offs.

The two more junior members of the homebrew band, note that I did not say artisinal or craft, are recipe followers and the goof offs. The recipe followers measure and follow the steps without any understanding, hoping for some insight to come along the way. Some are keeping decent track of what is going on so that when it fails, they can see where they deviated from the recipe. Often these failures will push the followers into more rigid following of said recipes or push them into troubleshooting mode. The second way leads to geekery. There are a lot of geeks on the internet.

The goof offs are those who want cheap, but not awful beer. These tend to be frat boys, handy men and friends of friends who had a friend who brewed this stuff one time. Good times.

Then there are the scientists, technicians and experimentalists, who measure and note take. Sometimes they have a very clear idea of what they are replicating and other times they are testing one or more parts of the brewing protocol. What happens if I overhop here or use this method for wort chilling? How can I tweak my setup to get the qualities I desire out of the beer?

Then artists. With the idea that brewing has been happening for thousands of years, the basic recipe hasn't changed. All that is left is ornamentation and experiment. Yes, you still have to understand basic techniques and science but beer is a living thing. Beer is beautiful. Brewing is art.

Look, those are quick and dirty ideas of what I found on the internet. Of course, being the internet, the scientists and goof offs are well represented. The recipe followers often show up in forums starting their questions with "I followed the recipe exactly but..." and the artists... Hmm, I found most of them writing books. Sandor Katz wrote a great book on fermentation, Wild Fermentation, that will put your mind at ease. It doesn't cover just beer, which is only a small mention, but all types of fermentation.

I am usually more on the technician side rather than the artist side but we all fall somewhere along that line. If you are a perfectionist, the problem is that there is so much information with a lot of it being bad ideas masked in technique. How do I know this as a novice? Cooking and fermenting other stuff. When I looked at the recipes, they offered little in technical matters cause it just seems so straight forward. Boil some stuff (okay not really boil), cool it down, add yeast, let them eat, bottle and add some more food for yeast to eat and then enjoy. My sons put it this way, I am drinking yeast poo.

But that process is not how beer was always made. And there is the rub. Having read historic recipes for all sorts of food including medieval bread, the technique of cooking and brewing was known to everyone so much so that the techniques were never written down. I fear that a lot of our homebrewing knowledge is of recent vintage. Sandor Katz' book and other older homebrewing books such as 'BEER Making For All' don't have the focus on styles and tight grip on process but really understand the whole idea from an historical perspective. The basic idea is that stuff rotted and people found the best way to get that rotting stuff to taste good. There is some theory that humans are scavengers and therefore like the taste of savory and sour goods because of it. That is a whole other discussion.

With all those concepts rolling around in my poor undersized head, I tried to figure out the best approach for me to get this teff brew done. I wanted to make sure I could understand what the grain would taste like. I wanted to make sure that I had yeast and hops I was familiar with. Also, the choice would have to be complementary to bring out what I thought would be the best from the grain. I chose some British hops (Williamette and Fuggles) and Belgian Golden Yeast. I'm not sure if I'll use a mix of the hops or just one. That'll be a brew day decision.

What's that? What style of beer will it be? And this is where we will part company. I'm not interested in the style. Style is a recent phenomenon to help consumers know what they are getting. It is a way to categorize beers of the world for comparison. It is a way for amateur brewers to enter into competitions and learn to make better beer. The home cook who draws from different cuisines and techniques isn't all that interested in describing their food in terms of naming the dish or determining the style of cooking. Remember, I am just a talented home cook at heart.

Thus ends part the second. In the next part, I take a trip to the store and then I wrestle and cry about the grains I chose. Hopefully there will be some real information that someone trying to brew a beer can use.
Other posts in this series: Part 1: The Big Idea, Part 3: Shopping, Part 4: Malting

Friday, May 30, 2014

Teff Beer Attempt - Step 1

I'm finally doing it and making my own beer at home. I'm making a gallon just to see how its done. The preparation to get to this point has been a lot of reading, talking to some homebrewers and doing a lot at the local U-Brew-It. (Hi Fermentations!).

I'm fairly confident of doing a brew from malt extract or even malted grains. Mead was no problem to do, and neither is cider. So, why did I think that this was a good idea. Teff. From grain.

Why?

How did this come about?

I was talking to a few buddies about what the next recipe was going to be <aside> Making a recipe at a U-Brew-It! means choosing a style, choosing hops and some adjuncts -- except when it doesn't. Sometimes you can mix and match what they have at the shop and not worry about it too much. It's more like making a meal out of leftovers than cooking from scratch. It doesn't make it any less tasty or creative just a little less DIY. </aside> and he brought up the fact that he was having problems with gluten intolerance.

Wait, wait, I know that some of you are now going to point out a hypocrisy, especially if you read me regularly. You'll talk about how gluten allergies have been debunked or roll your eyes or whatever. Here is the truth about that. People eat a bunch of stuff and feel crappy afterwards. Eating a gluten free diet, has up until now, meant eating less processed food. The kid feels better not eating things with gluten like eating more veggies and stuff. It could be that veggies are better for you than processed food. As big business gets into the market, we will see what happens. There is no denying the GI problems that someone who is eating a diet that happens to have gluten along for the ride causes.

It could be that processed food and additives pile up and you don't feel well. It could be that when they eat all the carb rich foods, they ignore the other good for you stuff that may regulate their lovely stomach critters. If my friend believes it is the gluten then so be it. As long as he is willing to try my older wheat type of breads and less processed food then we can keep the scientific door open. Not everyone wants to go on some elimination diet to figure out what is really causing the problem.

I haven't tasted a really good gluten free beer. I know there are a lot stateside but I'm not setting out to make a gluten free beer. I am setting out to make a beer that hails from the cradle of civilization and one of the earliest grains. Teff is the smallest and one of the quickest germinating (36 hours) grains so that if I mess it up, it will be easy to do another batch. There are two Ethiopian drinks that are sometimes made with teff but those would qualify as a mead like substance and I make take a try at those later.

A lot of attention has been paid to hops over the past few years. Grain bills, the stuff that the malt is made out of, has been changing a little too but it is still largely barley due to have readily available sugars and proteins. Wheat is particular to a few styles and corn and rice are still (unjustly) four letter words for craft beer. Older grains that are less likely to be GMO and processed are still forgotten. If I'm going to make a beer at home from scratch then it has to be something quick, simple, historic and not solely steeped in scientific homebrew geekery. I'll get into that as I go along. I'm simply trying to make a good beer from a grain that is not a common grain that has a quick germination so that I don't feel like some hippie growing sprouts.

So, I've sprouted the grain and am now drying it. It unevenly germinated but I'm not going to fuss. What I hope to understand is the process of making beer and I am not so worried about being perfect this time out. If the resulting liquid even tastes remotely like a beer that I would like to drink, then I will do this again. I'll try to blog this process as I move along. So ends the first part of the program. I think the next part will be on Science versus Art.

Other posts in this series: Part 2: Recipe Selection, Part 3: Shopping, Part 4: Malting