Gluten-Free Homebrew with Sorghum Extract

buy on Flickr”>Anheuser-Busch EagleI just read an article about Anheuser-Busch telling a new microbrewery in London to change its name. AB apparently though the Belleville Brewery’s name was too similar to their own Belle-Vue beer because it starts with “Bell” and ends in an “e.” Pretty weak argument, in my book. Belleville Brewery, which has since changed its name to Northcote Brewery, is run by some fathers who met because their children all attend Belleville Primary School, and distributes its brew locally in south London.

Come on, AB. Just admit that you don’t want to share the sandbox with anyone else. A small start-up with a similar name that probably produces far superior beer is not your real competition. Squashing small-scale competition like this is ultimately bad for the industry. Granted, AB did not put the microbrewery out of business but it did cause a disruption, to be sure.

One theory of business growth is that a rising tide lifts all ships. That is, the more the industry grows, the better off everyone is. Perhaps Anheuser-Busch is not interested in seeing the industry grow. However, it is true. The more people buy beer and try new things, the more beer gets sold. Those of us who are into homebrewing and mircobrews do this because we find brands like Budweiser to be ultimately unsatisfactory, but the American light lager is a legitimate style of beer. What makes it undersirable is its prevalence in the market, not that it is inherently bad. Thus, some people who get turned on to beer really like that style and will buy it. Microbrews can be that gateway drink that helps people learn that beer can be good and eventually lead them to buying Budweiser and similar products. It is not the normal order of things, but it does happen occasionally.

Anheuser-Busch Eagle by Steve Snodgrass, on Flickr
on Flickr” target=”_blank”>Ears of SorghumThe trick to making good gluten-free homebrew beers with sorghum syrup is to add something that will give the brew some body. Sorghum extract ferments very well, which is great when it comes to alcohol production, but it makes a brew that is very light on flavor. Apparently it lacks the stuff that gives a solid body to traditional barley-based beers. The good news is that sorghum is rich in nutrients for the yeast, as well as enzymes that can help in head retention. Adding adjunct flavors to the brew will improve the overall experience.

Annapolis Homebrew sells two styles of sorghum extract: 45DE and 60DE. DE refers to the dextrose equivalency. I am not a scientist, but maybe you are. I understand this concept to refer to how much fermentable sugar is in the syrup, versus other stuff. The other stuff is what might give the beer more body, so 45DE sorghum syrup will make a more flavorful beer than 60DE syrup will. This is not really what it means, but it is how feeble-minded English majors might think about it.

However, adding some other body-enhancing products, such as corn or other flavoring might be good. Annapolis Homebrew recommends adding maltodextrin to increase the body. This does not sit right with me because some maltodextrin is made from wheat. The process of turning the wheat into maltodextrin supposedly removes the gluten, but I still would not trust it. Seems hinky. Other types of the products are made from corn. If you could tell what it is made from, that might be different. Brewers making gluten-free beer with sorghum need to watch their bitterness because these syrups do not impart a sweet counternote to the hoppy bitterness. Go easy on the hops, or add something to balance the flavor.

Something nice is that, in terms of fermentability, you can substitute these syrups for regular light liquid malt extracts in a 1:1 ratio. This means that if your recipe calls for six pounds of LME, just substitute in six pounds of sorghum syrup.

Have you tried these syrups? What has your experience been?

Ears of Sorghum by Global Crop Diversity Trust, on Flickr.

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