Gluten-free Craft Malt

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents: April/may 2015 -

Grouse Malt­ing and Roast­ing Com­pany is one of a small num­ber of malt­ing com­pa­nies de­voted ex­clu­sively to gluten-free malts. Twila Hen­ley’s en­tire op­er­a­tion is cer­ti­fied gluten-free, from the malt­ing floor where seeds are sprouted to the re­pur­posed cof­fee roaster where spe­cialty malts are roasted.

In­side an old, blue-gray grain el­e­va­tor next to the Burling­ton North­ern Santa Fe rail­road tracks in Welling­ton, Colorado, Twila Hen­ley is craft­ing some­thing spe­cial. A stain­less steel, 30-bar­rel tank holds grain and wa­ter in spe­cific pro­por­tions. The open­ing en­zy­matic vol­leys of brew­ing are tak­ing place. But Twila isn’t brew­ing beer: She’s mak­ing gluten-free malt. By Dave Car­pen­ter


Com­pany is one of just a few craft-malt­ing com­pa­nies in the United States. And it’s one of an even smaller num­ber of malt­ing com­pa­nies de­voted ex­clu­sively to gluten-free malts. Twila Hen­ley’s en­tire op­er­a­tion is cer­ti­fied gluten-free, from the malt­ing floor where seeds are sprouted to the re­pur­posed cof­fee roaster where spe­cialty malts are roasted. In a world where celiac suf­fer­ers have to ex­er­cise con­stant vig­i­lance, this is a sanc­tu­ary of gluten-free splen­dor.

Like so many sim­i­lar en­ter­prises, Hen­ley’s start-up was in­spired by a med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis. But Grouse Malt­ing and Roast­ing Com­pany has grown into some­thing much more com­pre­hen­sive. It’s not just about mak­ing beer avail­able to those who pre­vi­ously couldn’t en­joy it. It’s about sup­ply­ing brew­ers of all sizes with fla­vor­ful malts from long-ne­glected grain va­ri­eties that just hap­pen to be gluten-free.

Nat­u­rally Gluten-free

Wheat, bar­ley, and rye con­tain gluten, and any beer brewed with th­ese grains will have, at some point along the way, con­tained a great deal of the stuff. Although craft brew­ers are de­vel­op­ing en­zy­matic ap­proaches that vir­tu­ally elim­i­nate gluten from tra­di­tion­ally brewed beers (See “Free Your Beer,” page 64), th­ese gluten-re­duced prod­ucts can’t carry the gluten-free la­bel at present.

But not all grain is gluti­nous, and start­ing with a nat­u­rally gluten-free grain en­sures that the end prod­uct is it­self safe for celi­acs. Write down all of the grains you can think of, and more of them are prob­a­bly gluten-free than not: oats, maize (corn), rice, mil­let, buck­wheat, sorghum, teff, trit­i­cale, quinoa, and amaranth con­tain no gluten what­so­ever. And yet, for cen­turies, brew­ers have re­lied al­most ex­clu­sively on bar­ley, wheat, and rye for beer. But there’s no rea­son this need be the case.

In malt­ing, a seed—any kind of seed—is en­cour­aged to ger­mi­nate but de­nied the op­por­tu­nity to grow into a full-fledged plant. As it sprouts, the seed de­vel­ops the en­zymes that it needs to ac­cess the starchy, nu­tri­ent-rich en­dosperm. Once the wouldbe seedling has reached a cer­tain level of ma­tu­rity, the malt­ster heats the grain, stop­ping it in its tracks, thus mak­ing those starches and en­zymes avail­able to a brewer, who will turn it into beer.

Gluten-free malts are just like tra­di­tional bar­ley, wheat, and rye malts—they just hap­pen to be made from other grains. But un­like tra­di­tional brew­ing grains, mil­let, buck­wheat, rice, and sorghum haven’t been se­lec­tively bred over the cen­turies for per­for­mance in the malthouse and brew­house (though Hen­ley and oth­ers are work­ing on this). So mak­ing malt from them re­quires a shift in per­spec­tive.

“Mil­let and buck­wheat gen­er­ally need warmer ger­mi­na­tion tem­per­a­tures and less time,” says Hen­ley. Mil­let seeds are also much smaller than bar­ley ker­nels, so equip­ment of­ten has to be mod­i­fied or cus­tom built. And un­like bar­ley and wheat, which are avail­able in both win­ter and spring va­ri­eties, mil­let grows but once a

year. This means farm­ers have to wait un­til the soil is warm enough to sup­port it.

For­tu­nately for brew­ers, malt­sters and malt­stresses such as Hen­ley take care of most of th­ese chal­lenges be­fore the grains are pack­aged, and when a sack of gluten-free malt is opened at the brew­ery, it’s ready to be used just like bar­ley.

Well, al­most.

Us­ing Gluten-free Malts

Whether we’re talk­ing bar­ley or buck­wheat, the en­zymes α-amy­lase and β-amy­lase do the heavy lift­ing. Th­ese en­zymes con­vert malt starches into the sug­ars that yeast will ul­ti­mately fer­ment into ethanol and car­bon diox­ide. But amy­lase en­zymes can do their jobs only if the starch has been prop­erly gela­tinized. Ge­la­tiniza­tion is the process by which starch gran­ules are dis­solved in wa­ter and made avail­able for en­zy­matic ac­tiv­ity.

Bar­ley’s starch ge­la­tiniza­tion tem­per­a­ture is less than 140°F (60°C). This sim­ple fact means that when one mashes in for starch con­ver­sion at 140–160°F (60–66°C), as one does in a sin­gle in­fu­sion mash, the bar­ley starches are au­to­mat­i­cally gela­tinized and made avail­able to α- and β-amy­lase.

Starches in mil­let and buck­wheat, how­ever, gela­tinize at con­sid­er­ably higher tem­per­a­tures. In fact, the starch ge­la­tiniza­tion tem­per­a­tures for buck­wheat and mil­let (see Ta­ble 1) are well above the op­ti­mal tem­per­a­tures for α- and β-amy­lase ac­tiv­ity, 150–160°F (66–71°C) and 130–150°F (54–66°C), re­spec­tively.

For­tu­nately, though, amy­lase en­zymes are not bi­nary en­ti­ties that oc­cupy on or off states. They’re smooth bell curves, more like dim­mers than light switches. When we say that α-amy­lase works best within a tem­per­a­ture range of 150–160°F (66–71°C), what we mean is that this is its sweet spot. It’s still func­tional out­side that range, just less ac­tive. What this means for brew­ers is that work­ing with a grain such as mil­let re­quires mash­ing longer and warmer.

“A 90–120 minute sin­gle in­fu­sion mash at 163°F (73°C) works well for mil­let,” says Hen­ley. “Grouse and New Bel­gium used this mash for a mil­let-based beer we show­cased at last year’s Craft Brew­ers Con­fer­ence, and we didn’t need any lau­ter­ing aids like rice hulls.”

A Bright Fu­ture for Al­ter­na­tive Grains

The mil­let- and buck­wheat-based sai­son and brown ale I sam­pled at Grouse were fla­vor­ful and com­plex (see the recipe for Banjo Brown Ale, at right). But un­like some un­der­whelm­ing syrup-based beers, th­ese fresh ex­am­ples could proudly stand on their own next to tra­di­tion­ally brewed styles. They’re part of an ex­cit­ing new fam­ily of beers made from in­no­va­tive malts that in­di­vid­u­als such as Twila Hen­ley are in­fus­ing into the craft-beer Zeit­geist.

In­deed, Hen­ley has been in­stru­men­tal in the for­ma­tion of the Craft Malt­ing Guild, an as­so­ci­a­tion of small-scale malt­ing com­pa­nies who bring per­sonal at­ten­tion and care to ev­ery batch of malt they sell. With a re­newed fo­cus on long-ne­glected grains such as buck­wheat and mil­let, brew­ers of all sizes can draw from an ever-ex­pand­ing pal­ette of malts to craft unique beers that sat­isfy ev­ery palate.

Far left & left: In con­trast to mod­ern au­to­mated malt houses, Grouse Malt­ing staff use his­tor­i­cal and highly man­ual meth­ods such as floor malt­ing to cre­ate their craft malt.

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