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.

So, the next step is here at Step 5.

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