Choosing Grain in a Prohibition Country

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Jan 11, 2020
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Hello all,

I'm a bit overwhelmed trying to source some grains in Saudi Arabia. I am a first time brewer, and I understand that this will be an uphill battle given my location and lack of experience, but I have had fair luck with sourcing brewing supplies so far. Everything is sorted except for local sourcing of grains and hops, both of which I've located but am unsure of quality. (Let's only talk about grains here.)

I've searched the forum a little bit, and it seems like everybody has known "brands" or "styles" of grains that they purchase, and many people follow pretty set recipes. Over here I've got a shop made out of cinder blocks on a crowded street, it's about 15 feet wide by 25 feet deep, it's a fire hazard, and everyone in there smells, but it has character! They sell ~6 different varieties of wheat (though they can't tell me much about the wheat other than the country of origin), and 1 variety of barley.

These are what I'm struggling with:
1) How can I identify barley that is viable to be malted? (I've purchased a pound and have got it soaking presently - I guess I'll find out.)
2) How can I identify, by sight, what wheat will make a satisfactory beer? I prefer light beers and hefeweizens, but I will probably be brewing for parties with people who have varied taste.
3) I understand that "general purpose" barley needs to be malted and milled before being used in the mash. Is this correct?
4) Is there any special preparation for "general purpose" wheat prior to using it in the mash (except for milling of course)?
5) I'm assuming that the wheat I can get will be protein-y. I intend to use whirlfloc to help. Anything else I need to concerned of?
6) If wheat doesn't need to be malted prior to brewing, would a 100% wheat beer be the easy option to avoid the process of malting barley?



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First question, have you considered moving to a less restrictive country where alcoholic beverages are not prohibited?

Any barley that will sprout can be malted. The only reasons that barley won't sprout is that it has been spoiled by being stored with too much moisture or it has been heated to over ~140F. Take 20 or more barley seeds and place them on a wet paper towel. Place that in a plastic bag that can be tightly closed and set it in a warm place (room temp is fine). Look for sprouts in about a week or so. If it sprouts it can be malted.

Once malted, barley needs to be milled so the water can gelatinize the starches in the mash. if the water and milled grain mix is the right temperature the starches will be (mostly) converted to sugars. Malted barley will have sufficient enzymes to convert its own starches if not kilned too hot and it may have excess that can convert the starches of unmalted grain, not just barley. Wheat can be the same but it either needs to be mashed with barley with excess enzymes or it needs to have been malted itself. 100% unmalted wheat will just get you starches and yeast will not eat those starches.
It looks like both the barley and wheat are pearled, that is the inner and outer husks has been removed. See the images of unhulled barley and wheat attached, you can see the rough outer husk still wrapping the kernel. Also attached is a comparison between pearled and hulled (in which only outer husk is removed)

This means it has been processed quite significantly compared to the unhulled barley and wheat used in malting. It might well not be able to germinate and become malt anymore and if it does, the lack of husk material means once it is milled and mashed, you will end up with a gloopy mess (think overboiled rice) that won't mix or drain properly unless you add some form of husk back into the grain during milling. That is often done with rice hulls if you can get those. It is basically adding rough material that will space out the crushed kernels to allow water to flow and drain.

Follow that RM-MN suggests above, see if the seeds can germinate in the first place. If not, then you have a pound of barley that you can use in a stew or soup recipe. If you can't locate barley that can be malted, then maybe consider making ciders from local fruit juices. You'd have to find fresh or concentrated natural juices without certain preservatives (look at the cider section of the forum for what to avoid) and ferment that instead.

Unhulled barley
Unhulled wheat
Pearled and partially hulled barley
Rice hulls
Hey Prohibition Brewer. I live in the less crazy but equally complicated country to your north. I have yet to find a barley I can may here. Can find pearled and pot barley but nothing that will germinate. I can oddly find flaked the, which is nice, but I resort to bringing in all of my fermentables. I have done both all grain and extract. The real pain is that is significantly limits my output. I can bring it in white me when I fly in with no issue, not sure if that will work for you, or if you could order it in by mail.

Good luck
Without the germination process, there wouldn’t be any starches to convert. Even with enzymes.
Without the germination process, there wouldn’t be any starches to convert. Even with enzymes.
And during malting the starch comes in on a spaceship or how exactly do you think this works? :confused:

Barley is mostly starch, the only thing missing (or needing activation) is the enzymes. It would be perfectly possible to brew 100% with unmalted grains and synthetic enzymes. As a matter of fact this is how some gluten-free beers are brewed.

Besides the beer having major quality issues I think it will be even more difficult in a prohibition country to source enzymes that are basically only used in the production of alcohol than sourcing suitable grains already was.
Could one use amylase enzyme and brew with unmalted grains?

I hope you are being well compensated for whatever keeps you in that location.

Yes is the answer to that question.
One could also use amyloglucosidase. Hydrolysis is needed.
It's just a fancy word for mixing with water at proper temperature to promote the breakdown of starches into simpler sugars. You're not going to get all the nice flavor variations you'd expect with grains that have been kilned - like Munichs, aromatics, crystal, biscuit, etc. - but you can make beer wort with it.
I wonder how easy it would be to source agricultural feed barley in Saudi Arabia. A lot of the homemade malt starts with feed barley as that isn't processed. Saudi Arabia definitely imports it, but it might be regulated. Maybe tell the supplier you have an emotional support lamb that needs feeding if they need a reason to sell it to you.
You could try cider. All you need is apple juice and yeast. You can probably use bread yeast even.
Could you just mail order the grains? It's just a food product at that point.
Holy crap, guys! Thank you for all the (18!) responses, some of them with paragraphs (much appreciated).

RM-MN, thank you for the breakdown on getting barley to malt. I was using a "soaking" method, but I'll try the plastic bag you're suggesting. I'll look into steps for malting wheat.

Bruce, I definitely found pearled barley. Thank you for the sample photographs of unhulled barley/wheat. I don't know why I had so much trouble finding that on the internet. I can't imagine that feed barley is regulated here; the amount of home-brew is staggering, and most of it is grape juice anyway.

Cookies, we have a few neighbors to the north. One is crazier, one allows alcohol, and the last one matches your description. ;) Let me know if you see any more drones headed my way. I'll look into importing grain, but definitely a last resort.

Zambezi, we'll see if it germinates first.

BKBoiler, I'll look into that book. Kindle edition, won't get caught with it at customs.

Dland & Vail71, I'll look into the enzymes. You'd be surprised what you can get into the country if the customs agents don't know what it is. (Also, homebrew alcohol is rampant here as it is.)

kh52s10 & shetc, There are risks - you can read up on what happened to that British fellow a few years ago. The trick is not distributing or transporting it. I still don't know how he got caught.

A few people mentioned ciders & wines, I'm definitely going to try a batch of that, but beer would be impressive; lots of people make ciders and wine, but I can't find anyone with beer to share.

MadScientist451 - I'll look into "fixing" the nonalcoholic stuff. :cool: You sound like you have experience doing this?


Action Items:
1) Find grain
1A) Look for more retailers, possibly feed stores, with unhulled barley/wheat
1B) Look for mail orders of grain (this sounds like trouble, I'm going to have to practice saying "I really like fresh bread" with a straight face)
1C) Give up and mail order malt extract
1D) Obtain enzymes and use non-germinating grain + rice hulls or BIAB

2) Look into high strength ciders/mead as an alternative

Thanks again guys! I'll let you know if there is an update, but I'll be on travel soon so I'll probably get quiet for a little bit.
RM-MN, thank you for the breakdown on getting barley to malt. I was using a "soaking" method, but I'll try the plastic bag you're suggesting. I'll look into steps for malting wheat.

That is the pseudo-scientific way I determine viability of the seeds I want to plant on my farm. Count out 100 seeds, put them on a damp paper towel and slip that into a sealed plastic bag. Check on them and at the end of the week or so, count how many have sprouted. You then know the percentage of viable seeds. It would be better if done with 1000 seeds and done 3 or more times but if I see 97 sprouted the first time, I know the seed is good to plant.
i use chicken feed whole barley, wheat usually doesn't have a husk, and wouldn't be able to be sparged...

they eat chickens in Saudi Arabia don't they? check a feed store, and ask if they can order a sack of whole barley....soaking gets me bacterial funk on my kernels, just a quick soak of 23lb's in my bath tub for a couple hours, then drain, and a quick 10 minutes a day for 5 days will get me malted barley.

i'll post some pics of my system, if you can get whole barley from a feed store.....

edit: plastic bag is foolish, it needs to breath.....
edit: plastic bag is foolish, it needs to breath.....

Nope, there is plenty of air in the bag to sprout the seeds. This isn't to do the malting, just to prove the seeds can sprout. Biggest worry is the grains dry out between starting to sprout and showing that sprouting has occurred as that kills them. They need to stay moist the whole time.
Nope, there is plenty of air in the bag to sprout the seeds. This isn't to do the malting, just to prove the seeds can sprout. Biggest worry is the grains dry out between starting to sprout and showing that sprouting has occurred as that kills them. They need to stay moist the whole time.

acknowledged, i'd just probably rather use a mason jar, with a sprouting lid, give em a rinse every day....