Getting started by Grant Cadwallander
Like a small but growing group of individuals around the world I started to brew my own beers. So that I could, at the least, enjoy a pint at home or take a few travellers to a party, friend’s house, etc. It wasn’t easy. There wasn’t that much information out there, it is getting better and to be honest I can still make a bad beer, although the good ones are getting more and more frequent. There are some subtle differences in the flavour profiles but most of my beers would be undetectable as a gluten free beer to the average punter. So instead of waiting for brewers to help you out of your predicament, it’s time you took the bull by the horns so to speak. It’s time you started crafting your own gluten free beer. It’s not that hard and it’s not that expensive, and it can become a great hobby. In this article I will give you some tips on how to brew your own gluten free beer so that at least you can enjoy a pint at home.
Firstly you’ll need a home brew kit. It’s the easiest way to start and every home brew shop sells them. The kit includes everything you need to get started including instructions on how to brew beer.
Secondly you’ll need bottles or a kegging system. Some homebrew kits come with bottles and good home brew shops sell them (both PET and glass) but I found the cheapest way to get started is by collecting soft drink bottles. I use 1.25 litre PET bottles as well as 330ml glass bottles. The glass bottles need caps and a capper whereas the PET bottles already come with lids. They’re free and can handle the pressure of carbonating beer. They just need rinsing and sterilising before you use them. A kegging system will set you back a pretty penny but is much easier and less time consuming.
Thirdly you will need a pot to boil your wort (the liquid mixture of water, sorghum syrup and the liquid from the steeped grains). The wort needs to be boiled along with the added hops to extract the bitterness, flavour and aroma of the hops. I use a 17 litre pot to make my 23 litre batches of beer but if you can get your hands on a 25 to 30 litre pot that would be the best.
Fourthly you’ll need to find yourself a dark place in your home that has a constant temperature. Fermentation of your beer needs a constant temperature to produce the best beer. If you like ales you’ll need a constant temperature of between 18 & 21°C. If you are fermenting a lager you will need a constant temperature of between 11 & 16°C. Beer and sunlight don’t mix either so keep the fermenter in a dark place. Temperature movement of 1 or 2° is okay.
And lastly you will need a supplier of sorghum syrup, gluten free yeast and if you’re going down the malted grain path a supplier of grains. If you can’t find the sorghum syrup on the shelves ask the store owner. Most are happy to help. If they already stock Briess’ other lines then it shouldn’t be too hard. Hops are naturally gluten free and Safale and Lallemand/Danstar make gluten free dried yeasts.
Your first beer. The basics.
Before you start brewing your first gluten free beer there are a four basic things that you will need to know to eliminate any chance of making bad beer.
- Cleanliness IS next to Godliness. Everything has to be cleaned, sanitised and sterilised. Any bacteria other than the yeast in your beer will create off flavours and smells and can (possibly but rarely) cause illness. So clean and sterilise your equipment and bottles before use. I normally spray my equipment in a sterilising solution, wait ten minutes then wash it off with boiling water from the kettle. Note: Do not use boiling water on the PET bottles as it will ruin them. Tap water is fine.
- Don’t go down the road of making a super strong beer with the cheapest ingredients such as white sugar. I’ve seen it happen a lot, I’ve done it myself. Your beer will just taste rubbish. In fact try to steer clear of white sugar altogether unless you are caramelising it or using it to carbonate your bottled beer. Balance is the key to good beer. If you get a recipe off the net, follow it word for word. Once you’ve tasted the finished beer then decide on how to change it to your tastes. And let it finish fermenting before bottling. Glass bottle bombs are incredibly dangerous. That’s why I always recommend using PET bottles until you have mastered the fermentation process.
- Hydrate your yeast, oxygenate your beer and try to ferment at a constant temperature. Hydrating your yeast is as simple as mixing the dry yeast in with some sterilised tepid water. This activates the yeast and allows it to get working as soon as possible. Helping to stop any contamination of other bugs. Yeast need oxygen to survive and do their job fermenting the sugars in your beer. This is as simple as stirring your beer and splashing it around your fermenter for a little while. Fermenting at constant temperatures helps create a cleaner flavour without producing off flavours. But once it has fermented minimal oxygen contact is required.
- Ask questions, either at your homebrew shop, online or of other home brewers that you know or meet. They are a valuable source of information and most are willing to help.