A few months ago, I tried my hand at beer. Theoretically, brewing beer should be easy. After all, how did we first discover the very processes of fermenting grains to produce a bubbly liquid that is the most-widely consumed alcoholic beverage today? Sure, after a few thousand years, the recipe has improved, but still. Since it should be relatively easy, you would think there would be a recipe for grains found in a grocery store. But, I’ve searched long and hard for a recipe using kamut (also known as khorasan) berries, but there’s no such person that has written about using kamut berries and one type of hop, also known as a SMaSH (single malt, single hop) beer. Thus, I’ve decided to write this post. Since these grains aren’t well-known, I’ve decided to introduce them in this next paragraph, and my recipe for beer follows.
Kamut is the brand name for khorasan wheat, and most likely originated in Mesopotamia. It is a notable grain because it has even more protein and delicious compounds compared to it’s trendy sister grain, Quinoa. And, it is grown organically in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Montana. If you’d like to read more, click here: http://www.kamut.com. I’m not sure why the foodies in Portland haven’t caught on to this supergrain–although maybe they have and I’m just oblivious.
For my very first beer I decided to sprout and malt my own grains. Although I didn’t grow my own hops (that would take much more time, and I couldn’t wait that long), the hops I used were most likely produced in the Yakima Valley, which is where I’ve been spending this summer. I purchased the hops from a homebrew store in Oregon. I used Saaz hops which are generally used in pilsners and have earthy, herbal and floral overtones (ychhops.com). Now that I know more about hops and the various varieties, I probably would have chosen to use Mosaic or Simcoe for a more flavorful hop flavor in my beer.
Here’s the recipe; it’s a long time coming. As usual, the recipe makes 1 gallon. Enjoy!
2.5 lb malted kamut berries
0.5 oz Saaz hops
1/2 package of 11g Danstar Nottingham Ale Dry Yeast
1.5 tbsp honey (for bottling)
2 cups kamut berries, soaked, sprouted, dehydrated, and roasted
4 cups kamut berries, soaked, sprouted, and roasted
First, I soaked 2 cups of kamut berries for 8 hours and sprouted them for three days in a mason jar with a screen on top. I rinsed them twice a day and kept a cloth over the jar to reduce light exposure and slow the formation of green leaves. This part is crucial to brewing because the sprouting process produces the enzymes that will convert the carbohydrates into sugars. Additionally, I could have done this part more scientifically by measuring how long the roots and shoots were but I only realized that after the fact. After they were sprouted, I dried these berries in a dehydrator. I decided this part of the process was not worth all the work for the next batch of sprouted berries but I do believe that in the long run, it did contribute to the overall flavor of the beer. I also noticed that when I ground up these berries, they were a lighter color inside and had less of a roasted caramel flavor. Once they were dried, I roasted them for 30 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees F. This added to the flavor and color of the finished beer.
For the 4 cups of kamut berries, I soaked and sprouted them for the same amount of time. Then, I roasted them for 1 hour at 350 degrees F to ensure they were fully dried, stirring approximately every 15 minutes. After they cooled, I combined both of the kamut grains. Then, I took off all the roots and shoots of the sprouts by agitating them in a mesh strainer and stirring them around. This method was very effective and I was only left with the grains: in total, 2.5 lbs malted kamut berries.
Then, I waited about a week. This was both because I didn’t have time to brew my beer that week and also because I read somewhere that you should let them sit for a bit after malting to release any undesirable flavors. The morning of my brew day, I crushed the malted grains in my Ninja food processor–nothing fancy for the job. I made an effort to track down a grain mill and other possible methods to crush the grains but I ultimately ended up using my food processor. I made sure most of them were cracked so that there was more surface area for the sugars to be extracted. All in all, this was a very loud process and should be done during the day if you live in an apartment complex.
Time to brew! This next step was quite intimidating to me, and it didn’t help that the book I had was pretending to be oh so laid back about brewing beer and claimed it would all fall into place. Which, looking back on this day, was true but I could have used more guidance and reassurance from him. Many homebrewers have used this book (The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian), and I understand why he approaches brewing in that way but I would appreciate at least a little concern for the beer I’m about to make. I later realized I needed to just learn the basics of brewing and go from there, not getting caught up in the little details. The Kitchn has a great “Brew School” blog that helped me understand the basics, and ultimately I took most of my methodology from their posts. Here it is for reference. There are some great tips in there for first time homebrewers and their ingredients are commonly-found at homebrew stores.
Alright, no excuses–time to brew the beer!
First, I preheated the oven for at 200 F and turned the oven off after 5 minutes of it being at 200 F. Then, I heated 3 quarts of water up to 160 F and added the 2.5lbs of crushed malted kamut grains, stirring to ensure all the grains were submerged. I took the temperature immediately after and placed it in the oven to keep it at a steady temperature of 150 F. Every 15 minutes, I made sure it was at approximately 150 F. If it was too low, I put it on the stove for a bit to warm it up and then returned it to the oven. I did this for an hour, making sure the temperature was between 148-152 F to be sure the enzymes convert all the starches into sugars, which will help feed the yeasts in a bit. After 1 hour and 15 minutes, I strained the wort out (sugar water extracted from the kamut berries, on right in picture below) and ran water over the spent grains (on left) to get all the sugars off.
Next, I put the wort back on the stove and brought it to a rolling boil. After 10 minutes, the “hot break” was supposed to happen. This means that big bubbles of boiling wort start breaking through the foam layer. The hot break happened much too soon for me, so I prolonged it by spraying water on the foam so it didn’t overflow. Partly because I was trying to follow the recipe and partly because I figured it was important. Then, I added 0.5 ounces of Saaz hops, in flower form, and boiled it for 30 minutes. Most breweries have a much longer boil, but for some reason I decided to have a 30-minute boil. Saaz hops aren’t particularly bitter, so it made sense to have a shorter boil. To get more flavor out of the hops, I should have ground up the hops in my food processor (next time I will). Finally, I strained the hops out and cooled the wort down within 20 minutes by placing the pot in an ice bath in my sink. This step is critical to some people, and other brewers don’t care as much. I cooled it down so I could add the yeast sooner, and to reduce the possibility of undesirable bacteria finding its way into my beer.
After the wort was cooled, I added the yeast. I bought Danstar Nottingham Ale Dry Yeast (11g) on Amazon and activated it by adding half the packet to about a 1/2 cup of water, stirred it, and waited 5 minutes. After that, I added the cooled wort and yeast solution to a gallon carboy (fermenter) and filled it up the rest of the way with water. I shouldn’t have filled it up with water (nonetheless NOT sterile water…), but I was wanting more beer than I had wort. So, I ended up with a lower ABV (alcohol by volume). So, learn from my mistakes: if you ever make beer….don’t add water to the carboy to top it off!
Next, I put the airlock on and waited two weeks. It stayed in my apartment which was an almost constant 68 degree F.
Right before I ended up bottling it, I took a peek and this is what I saw:
For the untrained eye, that may look like a wonderful safehaven for some migroorganisms. For me, I thought my beer was ruined and figured it would probably kill me if I drank it (or maybe something less extreme, but still). After doing research, I concluded that it had been contaminated by me not being extremely careful not to introduce any bad bacteria or yeasts through not properly sanitized equipment or wort. I do remember a few instances which could have led to this, so the moral is to strive to be more sanitary. The good news is that this contamination won’t kill the drinkers of this fine beverage and the bacteria and yeasts may have imparted some undesirable flavors into the beer. Since noone has ever made kamut beer to my knowledge, I am going with the thought that the flavors I taste are not from these microorganisms and were meant to be there, whether it was contaminated or not. I should note though, that 99% of the time these contaminated beers don’t taste good to the average person.
*Side note…this is partly how breweries make sour beer. If you live in the Pacific Northwest or are a sour aficionado, you may have heard of de Garde Brewing, a brewery that specializes in wild fermented-sour beers at the Oregon Coast in Tillamook, OR. Similar concept, but they actually want the off, sour flavors in their beer.
After 2 weeks, the beer was ready to be bottled. So, what better way to celebrate the end of the first fermentation of my beer than with a bottling party? I invited friends over to see my setup and to help make labels for all the bottles of beer I was about to have, and to name it. I decided on Sassy Saaz which was fitting because there was a lot of sass and Saaz hops packed into this beer.
I took the airlock off and siphoned it from the carboy to a pan, making sure to keep the spent yeast separate. Then, I added 1.5 tbsp honey to the mixture, mixing thoroughly (with a clean spoon). Next, I sterilized bottles with hot water and let them cool. Last, I siphoned the beer into the bottles. Bottling is easy and fun, especially with friends that help make the labels.
After the bottling party, I had to wait another two weeks. This secondary fermentation allows the yeast to continue digesting sugar (in the form of honey) and instead of releasing the CO2, it is forced to turn into bubbles, which results in natural carbonation. After the beer was done, we got to taste it!
Sassy Saaz: a toasted caramel amber ale with subtle hints of honey.
At the time that I drank it, I didn’t know how to describe beers very well. Sure, I still don’t but I do have more experience with various types of beer and I’m working on identifying the aromas. I still have one bottle that I’ll open in the near future and I am hoping the flavors evolve more. Specifically, I tasted a metallic undertone and I’m not sure if that was from the malt, wild bacteria or yeast, or the metal pan I used to incorporate the honey before bottling. Nevertheless, I made beer from scratch, and that’s a damn gratifying thing to do.