Brewing High Gravity Gluten Free Beers

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I’d like to start this article off by talking about my first homebrewing experience. I had found out that a mutual friend homebrewed when I went out to a Nanobrewery in the OC area that served Mead. This Nanobrewery just so happened to also be a homebrew store, so we got to walking around, and I started to think, “Why can’t I make my own gluten free beer?” So, I started asking questions, and got invited to brew a beer at the house. However, I wanted to make sure I could drink it. Being a glutard (someone allergic or intolerant to gluten), I went in the best direction I thought possible—just grab some stuff off Amazon and see what happens, that’s what brewers do right? Every time I look back at that first grain bill, I’m on the floor laughing:
  • 4 lbs. of Steel Cut Oats
  • 1 lb. Buckwheat honey
  • 1 lb. Brown Rice Syrup
  • 1 lb. of Sorghum extract
  • 1 lb. of flaked corn
For a 5.5-gallon batch… I’m laughing as I’m typing this. I had to throw the entire batch out, not fun. At this point, I was now on a tight schedule, trying to have any beers to drink at the music festival I was scheduled to attend in three weeks. So, I threw a passable recipe together, and had a drinkable Sorghum beer. It was alright, but wasn’t higher that 3.6% ABV. So now I was out over $100, and hadn’t even gotten the homebrew I was after.


So, I decided to Go as Big as I Could.

I invested around $120, and picked up way more than I needed. This one was a Belgian Strong Ale. My friend let me use his converted keg/mash tun with a false bottom. This is before I knew about Millet. At one point during the mash, the temperature fell into the low 140s, so we turned the propane back on. Didn’t realize until we were pouring the sparge that a ton of the Millet slipped through the false bottom and left a burnt mash cake on the bottom. Luckily- these gluten free grains have very low tannins- and ended up turning the taste profile into a Belgian Stout- boy was I pleased!
Where I went crazy was during the boil. I added 6.6 lbs. of Sorghum, 2 lbs. of Rice Syrup, and 2.5 lbs. of honey. I know what you’re thinking: “That’s pretty big for 5.5 gallons,” but it came out to 9.2% ABV. I was hooked. One thing that any brewer will tell you is that it is hard to hide your mistakes between 2.7% and 5.5% ABV. I blew past all that with this brew. To this day, it’s one of the best beers I’ve drank. It was so good, I entered it in a competition. It was so good I didn’t even enter it in a Gluten Free category, and I was four points off the 3rd place brewer’s score in the entire competition. So, I had to prove to myself that this wasn’t just luck.
If you look at my past Malt and Syrup schedules, some of them are Blistering. I got a Grapefruit IPA up to 15% at one point- the very definition of a one bottle wonder. But most of these had been attained through malt extracts, syrups, and honey- I really wanted to see what I could do with incorporating more grains, and potentially doing all grain recipes. This is where your mash and sparge techniques really come into play.
From what I can tell, a lot of this comes with how well you mix your gluten-free grains and rice hulls before the mash. Buckwheat and millet especially are difficult, and even rice I recently found out. I took my malted grains down to the homebrew store since I felt like I was milling them too fine (enough stuck mashes and you start to wonder), and he couldn’t even bring his dials in far enough to mill them. But what I did learn is that I should over shoot on my rice hulls, and then make sure I stir my milled grains before pouring them into my strike water, and only stir for about the first 5 minutes. The only other stirring happens before each sparging rinse (this is an important piece of the process to have a partner help you). Even if you over shoot on the rice hulls, a stuck mash can really affect your day…

Diastatic Power in Gluten Free Brewing


This might be a good time to talk about Diastatic power. One thing that isn’t fully understood at this time is how to get those rich yeast nutrients out of your gluten free grains- primarily because there aren’t a ton just lying around. We went over this a little bit in “Getting more body in your gluten-free beers”- but you’ll need to add things to your brew if you want not only body, but to have your beer finish out, especially if you’re looking to do anything over 8%. One thing that has helped me in the past is that I tend to create an almost powder grain crush with Millet, so some of the dextrins and starches are slipping into the fermenter, but where I really get the most bang for my buck is with additions like flaked grains (corn, quinoa, oats, rice), as well as spelt in small quantities. Heck, I’ve been tempted to throw a pound of 6-row in there to help with the alpha and beta amylase rests (*Disclaimer* since I use liquid yeast, I always use Clarity Ferm anyways). The adjuncts really help your beer continue to palate like a beer while being in the mead ABV territory. A high abv can really dry out a beer and take a lot of body with it.

A Couple of Other Big Keys:

Start with a Starter- It almost goes without saying. I typically will either buy two White labs vials, a Wyeast starter pack, or just make my own starter at home. This can many times be the most important piece of your achieving the target final gravity and over all high-octane status.
Amylase Enzyme- it can make such a big difference. It has really helped me get off my extract dependency, and overall helps make this cost effective by being more efficient with resources. I’ve been getting upwards of 75-80% efficiency consistently. The best pre-boil gravity I’ve achieved is 1.07- so my goal is to phase out extracts entirely from my recipes soon.
Always use yeast nutrient! It’s worth the money every time. Try this, brew your gluten free beer at the same time as a non-gluten free friend brews there’s. Add yeast nutrient to yours toward the end of the boil, and don’t tell your friend. Then let the beers ferment together. Use a nice alcohol tolerant yeasts like WLP 001 (Wyeast 1056) or WLP 565 (Wyeast 3787), and then come back in two days, and watch your friend not be able to pick their jaw off the floor because yours is blowing off like crazy. If you give the yeast the food it wants, it’s happy. Wheat, barley, and rye have relatively high levels of Vitamin B, which is what helps you create that epic blow off that I’m referring to—but gluten free grains don’t have the same benefits. As anyone will tell you though, blow off doesn’t always mean your beer will finish out- sometimes there won’t be a krausen, but the yeast is bubbling away. Be wary about this, track gravity, and give it more time than you think. Even with WLP 001, it can take a while to eat all the wort sugar. I’ve had WLP 001 still bubbling away at day 18 so you can never be too sure.
Hops are your friend! Let’s just say this, it’s harder to get a beer to be that bitter when your ABV is 12%- hops will help you balance out all that sweet maltose. Just pick the right flavor profile for what you’re going for- i.e. “does it really need a piney note?”. I’ve bittered with Perle and Magnum on Belgian Strongs, and it’s worked incredibly well. I’m a man who loves his Belgians, but there is a point where you start to feel like you are drinking Coca-Cola due to all that sweetness.
Add your extracts late! As in the last 5-10 minutes late. If they’re already pasteurized, why add them to the boil in the first place? For My grapefruit IPA, I added 3 pounds of grapefruit puree to the bottom of the fermenter before I added the chilled wort. It adds an easy 1.03 PPG to your overall OG, and in many cases, can act as a fail safe in case you don’t reach target OG through mashing and extracts. It’s also really brings out those hop flavors that you’re looking for, and without having to use flavor additives that might not palate as well as you would hope. It also took a lot of the science out of using peels and rinds- which is great for someone that wants to experience the flavor without having to go the sometimes-painful learning curve that peels and rinds can have (think contamination or over bittering (acrid tastes… ew).

The Grapefruit IPA or “One Bottle Wonder” / “The Imperial Destroyer”

Partial Mash
  • 3 lbs. grapefruit puree (added to fermenter before adding chilled wort)
  • 2.5 lbs. Orange Blossom Honey (flame out)
  • 2 lb. D-45 Amber Candi Syrup (5-10 minutes)
  • 2 lbs. Brown Rice Syrup (5-10 minutes)
  • 6.6 lbs. Sorghum Syrup (1/2 added at 30 minutes, half at 5-10 minutes)
  • 5 lbs. Amber Rice Malt (1/2 teaspoon of Amylase Enzyme added during Strike) (You can add 2 tsp of gypsum too before adding grains)
  • 1 oz. Apollo Hops (60 minutes)
  • .5 oz. Cascade + .5 Apollo (10 minutes)
  • .5 oz. Cascade + .5 Apollo (Whirlpool)
  • .5 lb. Maltodextrin (10 minutes)
  • 8 tsp Yeast Nutrient (5-10 Minutes)
  • 1 oz. Apollo – Dry no bag 3 days before transferring
  • WLP 001 – 1-2-liter starter pitched with Clarity Ferm
Single Infusion mash at 154⁰F. Mash out to 168⁰F, sparge at 170⁰F. Add hops based on schedule. Only a 60 minute boil, but if you have a yeast that can get up past 16%, do a 90 minute boil and continue the same hop schedule. You might want to add the syrups in a progression, as adding all those at once might bring your temperature too far down. Start at 15 minutes if you are worried about being exact, the times are suggestions as the amount of time they are boiled doesn't change their characteristics aside from scorching. Target post boil gravity should be around 1.098 or 1.110, or higher if you boiled for longer. Add your puree, then add chilled wort. I let this ferment at a consistent 68⁰F for about 3 weeks. Most of the action happened in the first 5 days, and let me tell you it was out of control. Give yourself a ton of head space (up to a gallon- 1.5 gallons of space). FG should be around 1.012-1.025.
Happy Brewing- very excited to hear about more Millet and Buckwheat Wines hitting the market soon! Glutenberg just released an aged Saison so stay tuned!
Lead Photo By Ross Catrow
Your first grain bill: add milk and you have pancakes! But very educational, thank you. We (my colleagues and I) call our glutard "Glutacus". Always funny when we're out for dinner, for when the waiter arrives with the glutenfree plate, and asks: "Who's Glutacus?"
Spelt is not gluten free and the clarity ferm is not safe for real celiacs. Please edit this post as it could honestly harm people.
Miraculix is correct,y something with wheat/barley/spelt and ClarifyFerm/Clarex would need to have a "gluten reduced" or "processed to remove (?reduce?) gluten" product label. There would still be a very low level of gluten in it.
That said, I still use it in my beers in general so that the "trendy gluten avoiders who aren't actually celiacs" can feel good about drinking it.
Those links present a rather unreflected picture of the topic.
I found this one more detailed and and more relevant for the whole picture:
Wyeast 3724 is Belgian Saison... It could go either way- I prefer 3787
Similar experiences here. I have phased out all extracts (including sorghum, rice, honey) as of now and focus only on millet, buckwheat and possibly oats or rice malts in the future. Some of us are using unmalted millet to save on malt cost with 2 types of amylase enzyme, one at high temps Termamyl and another at a lower mash temp using SEBAmyl. We've gotten into this in a lot of detail on the GF forums:
>I added 3 pounds of grapefruit puree to the bottom of the fermenter before I added the chilled wort. It adds an easy 1.03 PPG to your overall OG, and in many cases, can act as a fail safe in case you don’t reach target OG through mashing and extracts.
This is a common misconception. When you add fruit or juice, you're adding a lot of sugar, but you're also adding a lot of liquid. According to the link below, grapefruit juice is 1.04 grams per cubic centimeter. (Conveniently, water is exactly 1g/cm2, so you can substitute g/cm2 for specific gravity.) So, for example, if you add 1 gallon of 1.040 juice to 2 gallons of 1.060 wort, the result will be 3 gallons of 1.053 wort. The overall OG was actually reduced(!), which is the opposite of what many expect.

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