Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Brewing Beer With Preps

For years I've stored grain. I've had at least a couple of bags of rice and a few bags of wheat lying around longer than I've been brewing beer. Ever since I started brewing I've been looking for ways to "cut" my beer with my preps. The big boys do it all the time and they produce drinkable beer. Purists will, of course, poo poo you all day but if you haven't figured it out by now I give a crap what the purists say. I prefer to figure it out for myself. It's amazing what I learn when I do something on my own rather than reading about the almost certain results from a book.

Anyway, I've been reading Bug Out by Scott Williams (buy this book...my review is coming soon and it will be glowing) and Radical Brewing: Recipes, Tales and World-Altering Meditations in a Glass by Randy Mosher. If you understand the basic concepts of brewing (up to the point of understanding how to brew a decent all grain beer) then you can follow Randy's book and get a lot out of it. He explains in detail several recipes and techniques that are way out of the modern day norm that he takes from old world styles and recipes.

One of those techniques is brewing with unmalted wheat. I'll just assume that if you're reading this blog that you have plenty of wheat lying around. If you don't then you need to get some. After reading Randy's description of the process I did some research online. Wheat beers used to be extremely popular. They're light, refreshing and easy to drink. Brewing with it can be quite a challenge if you're not using malted wheat, though. What brewers of old would do was use a cereal mash. I tried to do this over the weekend. My efficiency was lower than expected but it was still sufficient to make a decent beer so I went ahead and pitched my yeast (a strain that I cultured from the dregs of a bottle conditioned saison), popped on the airlock and will now forget about it for at least two weeks.

So what is a cereal mash? Start with your crushed, unmalted grain. Keep it separate from the rest of your grain bill until you're ready to mash. If you're using corn keep it at 10-20% of your total grain bill. If you're using wheat keep it under 30-40% of your total grain bill. If you're using some other off the wall grain you're just going to have to experiment till you figure out the proper ratios for yourself. Once you figure out how much unmalted grain you want to use then you can start setting up your mash.

Start with your unmalted grain. Some websites recommend adding 3 quarts of water per lb of grain. I think that 2 quarts per lb was sufficient. Mix your crushed, unmalted grain with the water in your boiling vessel and get it up to 120 degrees F. Once you get it there turn the heat off and let it rest for 15 minutes. Then do it again at 154 degrees F. After both rests are finished then bring the mash to a boil for 20 - 30 minutes. The wheat/corn/whatever will start to congeal and gelatinize. Pour it into your mash tun with the rest of your grain bill. Once you get the temperature of your grain then calculate your strike water temperature. Add the water and mash for an hour.

If all goes well then you'll end up with phenomenal efficiency. Your finished beer will be loaded with alcohol and everyone will be coming to you for your secrets. More realistically you'll end up with horrible efficiency and a beer that's much weaker than you anticipated and without much body to back it up. Next time I try a cereal mash I'll use a much higher percentage of unmalted grain.

I'm one of those weirdos that uses arcane formulas to calculate the final temperature in my outdated cooler mash tun. It does the job as long as you do your part and hit your temps. One thing to keep in mind is that if you want a stronger beer but your wort doesn't finish as high as you wanted it to you can always boil it a little longer to bring up the gravity. While brewing with preps might be a bit of a pain it can be done but you'll still need some malted barley to round it out.

This post is definitely geared more towards the experienced homebrewers. Don't let that stop you from asking any questions if you're not one, though. I've done a few posts that detail brewing from extract and all grain but if you don't do it you'll never really get it. This is one of those skills that could prove to be very very lucrative if things get really ugly. Even if the world doesn't end you can still always make good, cheap beer.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. It's been years since i've brewed, but I like to experiment. Maybe I'll start up again. There's a lot more to beer then Miller. Your primitive method reminds me of those tribes that make beer and drink it out of a gourd.

The Urban Survivalist said...

Just wait till I start heating up rocks and boiling my wort with that... I even have some friends who are interested in doing it around the campfire, burying the fermenter for a few months then bottling and burying those until the next camping season. I just have to figure out what the frost level is where we camp.