Smoking Wort on Grill for Smoked Beer

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mrdavebeer

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I want to make a smoked beer by doing the wort boil on a charcoal grill and putting wood chips on the charcoal to make the smoke. I cook my turkey every Thanksgiving this way, and it makes for a nice, lightly smoked turkey. Yum. I think a beer might work nicely like that…or it might taste way too smokey. You know, it’s an experiment.

I do partial grains, so LME (perhaps hopped) will be the base. I’m seeking opinions on what grains or hops to use in the “mini mash” as well as yeasts:

  • What grains might complement, enhance or reduce the smokey flavor (reducing might be the right idea if it’s too smokey)?
  • What hops might complement enhance or reduce the smokey flavor?
  • What yeasts might complement enhance or reduce the smokey flavor?

DETAILS OF MY IDEA
  • Do a mini-mash on the stove.
  • Separate the wort from the mash.
  • Boil the wort on the grill for an hour.
    This is pretty simple. I use a charcoal grill with a lid. The wort (around 1.5 gallons) would go in a big, low baking pan. The pan is put in the grill over the charcoal with the lid to the grill closed. The heat is controlled a little by moving the charcoal, closing vents, etc. Every 10-15 minutes I’d through some wood chips on the charcoal and close the lid. Of course, if there’s a hops schedule, I’d add hops to the wort at the right times.
  • Once smoked, the wort goes on the stove in a big stock pot. The extract is added as well as final hops. The wort is chilled, put in the fermentors and topped up with clean water, aerated, etc. And otherwise handled as any other beer.
BTW: I can split the batch into two 2.25 gallon fermentors and try a different yeast in each.

I’d really appreciate any ideas on grains, hops or yeasts to try.

Thanks.
 
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mrdavebeer

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For sure. I could buy smoked grains and save me the trouble. Just thought I'd experiment to see what kind of smoked beer might come from this method. Would it be a "fresher" smokiness? Stronger smoke? It's just a way to play in the process of making beer. That's all.
 

Airborneguy

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Worth a shot, but I'm going to guess that you wouldn't get much, if any, smoke flavor from that method.

Anything I have ever read about historical beer making always mentioned the kilning of the grains whenever the topic of smoke flavor came up. Some historians believe that all beers had some measure of smoke flavor due to the grains being kilned over direct wood-fired heat sources. But I have never read anything which mentioned smokiness coming from the boiling of the wort.
 
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mrdavebeer

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Yeah, some smoke salmon...there's an idea.

When I smoke a turkey, the water in the bottom of the pan becomes smokey, so it comes through in the gravy. Now, a turkey takes 4 hours, and I'd boil wart for 1 hour, so who knows.

I might get to this in a few weeks. I'll post results.
 
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The obvious problem is temperature. When you smoke meat you smoke somewhere between 100-200, right? To boil wort you've got to get up to 212F. Assuming your smoker can handle and produce that much heat for an hour, you'll lose a lot of the effects of smoking, which occurs at lower temperatures over time. Otherwise the wood won't smolder to give a smoky flavor, it will just burn quickly.
 

goodwood

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For sure. I could buy smoked grains and save me the trouble. Just thought I'd experiment to see what kind of smoked beer might come from this method. Would it be a "fresher" smokiness? Stronger smoke? It's just a way to play in the process of making beer. That's all.
Yea. Figured you weretrying to think of other ways. Unless you are hooking up a smoking-boil-aerator blowing smoke into the boil, I would say it's a waste of good smoking wood.

I thought of another way to smoke maybe. Use smoking chips that are a little spent and throw them in the fermentor. Maybe a few oak chips soaked in whiskey?

I remember seeing a YouTube video on dogfish head's sahtea beer. They used hot rocks to heat up and add a bit of caramelization. I bet if you heated up a bunch of rocks over some wood, that might be a smokey earthy flavor
 

LexusChris

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Interesting idea, but I would probably focus on smoking some grain, and using that in your mash. You can choose whatever kind of wood chips to smoke with, to get your flavor. Soak a pound of 2-row malt in water for an hour, then dry it in your BBQ over the wood chips for an hour at low heat. It should pick up a lot of smoked flavor, and when you mash it ... make a nice smoky beer.


I've never tried that ... but it sounds more like the tradition behind smoked beers...

Good luck!
--LexusChris
 

Revvy

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Well if I were going to do something like this, i wouldn't do the whole wort, just a gallon or so, and I would do it prior to my main boil, just so I would be sure that my wort was sterile at yeast pitch.

For all grain batch I would do a decoction, I would take 1-2 gallons grain and all, right out of the mashtun and transfer it to a container and smoke/boil it for awhile, then add it back to my mashtun at mashout.

A smaller voulme would proabaly be easier to handle, and it would probably take on more smoke quicker, and since it would boil quicker it might concentrate the smoke as the wort concentrates and carmalizes.

Now with extract w/ grains or PM, I porbably would just pull off a gallon of my boil water, steep my grains in that, add a couple pounds of my extract, and boil/smoke that for an hour, then transfer that to the rest boil, then do a normal 60 minute boil with all my hop additions and everything else.

That way ther is no worry about sanitization since you are still boiling your wort afterwords.

Seems to me you are re-inventing the wheel here, when smoked grains are easier and we know they work.....But experimentation is a big part of what this hobby is about so more power too you.
 

Bobby_M

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The only way this is going to work is if you have a way of condensing the smoke into the wort (aka, making liquid smoke). Just smoke some malt and steep it. If you want to try something different, cold smoke some whole hops. However, cold smoking requires a remote heat box.
 
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mrdavebeer

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Thanks for all the tips, warnings, ideas and speculations.

This might be more work than other options. I never made a smoked beer with smoked grains, so I don't have a baseline to compare it too. It makes sense to do it with smoke grains...

...but I don't intend to make sense with this. :) If I have time, I'll smoke some wort on the grill next time. And only the wort from the grains will be smoked and added into the pot with the extract on the stove after the smoking.

BTW: It's not a smoker. It's a charcoal grill with wood chips thrown on the charcoal and the grill lid closed. It can get a hard boil going. When smoking a turkey like this, the turkey sort of boils from the bottom. It sits in 1-4 inches of water, and more water has to be added every 30-60 minutes. It will be a full boil...though a boil on the stove afterward makes sense for a final sanitation of the final wort.

And this method makes for a smokey turkey and smokey gravy from the drippings...it's a light smoky flavor, but I'm thinking light smoke is about right for a beer.

Anyway, this is on my mind now that I'm planning my Thanksgiving turkey. If I have time during my next batch, I might do this. Here's to not making sense. :) And I can do a smoked brew with smoked grains after that to compare.

Thanks again for all the ruminations and ideas.
 

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I'd try boiling 6 gallons of water on the grill before trying it with wort. I just can't imagine my Webber boiling 6 gallons of wort, even though I make plenty of turkeys on it.
 

parabellum

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Screw it, do it! There is no reason not to try. I know it's possible to boil water over coals. I keep a pizza oven [roughly the shape of a webber grill top... with a chimney to let out smoke, which lets out heat] at 550 degrees all day long with a modest [about what you'd burn for a 4 person campfire] oak fire. I cook roasting pans of bacon off regularly... 40 pounds at a time, and the bacon is bubbling away in its own fat for as long as I want to leave it in there just by being in the same insulated "room" as the fire. I know you can smoke with a fire hot enough to boil water... just leave airspace between the smoke logs and the coal bed. I know that applying flavor at different times during a cooking process will generally effect the flavor of the end product. Maybe smoking the wort as opposed to the grains will lend a truly unique aspect to the flavor. Since when has conventionality been the most important factor in recipe formulation.
 

parabellum

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airborne guy, hes talking about smoking his specialty grain steep water while boiling [1.5 gallons] with hops and then adding it to boiled ebxtract + water, and topping up like any other partial boil extract method.
 

goodwood

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Well if I were going to do something like this, i wouldn't do the whole wort, just a gallon or so, and I would do it prior to my main boil, just so I would be sure that my wort was sterile at yeast pitch.

For all grain batch I would do a decoction, I would take 1-2 gallons grain and all, right out of the mashtun and transfer it to a container and smoke/boil it for awhile, then add it back to my mashtun at mashout.

A smaller voulme would proabaly be easier to handle, and it would probably take on more smoke quicker, and since it would boil quicker it might concentrate the smoke as the wort concentrates and carmalizes.

Now with extract w/ grains or PM, I porbably would just pull off a gallon of my boil water, steep my grains in that, add a couple pounds of my extract, and boil/smoke that for an hour, then transfer that to the rest boil, then do a normal 60 minute boil with all my hop additions and everything else.

That way ther is no worry about sanitization since you are still boiling your wort afterwords.

Seems to me you are re-inventing the wheel here, when smoked grains are easier and we know they work.....But experimentation is a big part of what this hobby is about so more power too you.
Yea. Reinventing the wheel. Haha. I'm going to bookmark this. After we have perfected a few beers, well start an experiment like this
 

Frankfurtvr4

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Um, so the smoke is going to infuse through the surface area at the top and no where else. Good luck. I think you will end up with more ash in your beer than "smoke flavor" if this works let us know.
 
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mrdavebeer

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...Since when has conventionality been the most important factor in recipe formulation.
That's what I'm talking about. It makes sense to use smoked grains...saves time, etc. I just don't intend to make sense that way with this. :ban:

The big roasting pan (without lid) sits in a grill, the grill lid is shut. The charcoal cooks, wood chips on the charcoal smokes. I'll post a picture or two when I do it.

ANYWAY...THE ORIGINAL QUESTIONS
Any suggestions on grains, hops or yeasts for this? I figure regular ole 6-row minimash or something like that. No big flavor grains.
 

Airborneguy

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I don't think any of us wee questioning your "unconventional" approach for the fact that it is not common. We just don't think it will work.

I've never seen anything that implied beer in the past was smoky because of the boil being over a wood fire. You figure that would be mentioned somewhere in the historical writings on brewing.

Best of luck, I just don't see this doing what you want it to do.
 

Toga

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The wort would pick up smoke flavor if in a smoker. Being a bit addicted tmy smoker I have found this to be true of any liquid sitting in a pan or such in my cooker. I have found the liquid picks up quite a bit of the off flavors I find to be undesirable. If you were to do this cold smoke some malt. You can easily cold smoke some malt in a webber kettle without the aid of an external box. Make a pouch out of tin foil and fill it with chips. DO NOT soak the wood chips. Poke a few holes in the pouch with a fork. Light 1 or two all natural charcoal briquettes, place it on the far side of the grill(NOT KINGSFORD) and set the foil pouch full of wood chips right on top of it. Put your grains on screen and set it on the opposite side of the grill. This works well for cheese too btw.
 

robtotten

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Have you thought about putting the wort in a large steel pan or casserole dish ? You would have more surface area to absorb the smoke. I just smoked 2 lbs of 2 row (sprayed it down not quite to the point of dripping) for use in an American Brown I'm going to brew on Thursday. Hickory for about 2 hours, starting around 175 and it had slowly died down to around 125-130 by the time I took it off the smoker.
 

goodwood

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Before you go smoking wort, I would say smoke some soup. If the soup turns out smokey, you have a winner.
 

robtotten

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You really need to smoke the ingredients for a smoked soup. I've used smoked carrots and butternut squash in a soup. It all got pureed and mixed with vegetable broth and heavy cream for a killer bisque.
 
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mrdavebeer

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I finally did it today using a mini-mash of 6-row and 2-row that I cooked/boiled on the grill. I put wood chips on the charcoal to make the smoke. I also mixed up 4 lbs of Alexander's Pale Malt LME with water and added it during the last 10 minutes.

Here are some pictures.




 

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I wonder if this is the same as boiling wort with the lid cracked. Might not be good for boiling off stuff.
Was the wort smokey?
 

Revvy

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I wonder if this is the same as boiling wort with the lid cracked. Might not be good for boiling off stuff.
Was the wort smokey?
Many folks believe the the boiling wort with the lid cracked notion is a lot of hooey anyway. But in this case I'm assuming he's still going to be adding the "smokey wort" to a larger measure of wort, and hopping and boiling as usual. Thatn would blow anything off if thre really was a need.
 
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mrdavebeer

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The wort tasted a little smokey, maybe woody. I usually can't tell as much the first day when I cook a turkey this way...I hang around the smoke, so my senses get used to it, and my clothes, skin, hair all get really smokey. Hell, the whole neighborhood smells like smoke. The next day I can taste the smoked turkey better. The wort was predominantly sweet, of course. Some hops and I think some smoke/woody flavor. I'll know better in a few weeks.

On the grill, the wort is uncovered, the grill is vented, and there's plenty of uncovered boil time on and off the grill.

I hopped in the smoking batch. I speculate that boiling too much after smoking might boil some of the smoke flavor away. So once I got it all mixed together, I did a short boil on the stove to sanitize.

That mostly speaks to method. The real test is in the tasting oh, 6-10 weeks from today. I'll keep you posted on the taste when I bottle.
 
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mrdavebeer

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Ugh....way too smokey. REALLY, REALLY smokey. It's even a little dirty smokey. It has mellowed over the last week or so, but it's still pretty smokey. Perhaps in 6 months it work.

Do smokey beers by the tradition method start out really smokey?

Since I started with a rather light flavor beer, I'm thinking of dry hopping to add some flavor and aroma to mix with the smokey more.

If I do this again I will:
  • make a heavier flavor beer
  • smoke for 15 minutes instead of 60
  • use only wood chunks (no charcoal)
 
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mrdavebeer

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I smoked part of it. It's way, way smokey. It might mellow in 6 months. But there's no mistaking it for smokey now. :)
 

Toga

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A large part of your problem with the "dirty smokey" taste is due to the fire. If you are producing thick white smoke your fire is not burning hot enough causing the wood to just smolder producing a dirty white smoke. The smoke coming off the grill or smoker should be thin blue smoke.
 
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mrdavebeer

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Good to know, Toga. Thanks. I don't know if I can control it this way or not. In any case, the word is that the smokiness should diminish over time. I'll let it age many months and see how it cleans up. I'll post updates.
 

parabellum

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that is some serious smoke in those pictures... I smoke jerky at 150 degrees for 8 - 12 hours [very cool coal bed] with chips resting on the coal bed on a pizza pan. this produces a mild smoke, much lighter in density than what is in the pictures. this works great and imparts a gentle smoke flavor. if I smoke at with dense smoke @ 200 - 250 degrees the jerky is bitter with smoke and dry. I think low and slow is the key. I may try this for fun in a smoked porter with some mods. [wouldn't happen until spring though].
 

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in the barbecue world this method of smoking is actually used to make smoked sauces. I imagine it would give a different (read stronger) flavor and aroma to the wort than a smoked grain.

I use it quite often to smoke almost all the sauces I make, primarily because I love smoke flavor/aroma. And I hate 'liquid smoke' because it just doesn't taste/smell the same.

Love to cook, and I see brewing as simply an extension of cooking, open to much experimentation.

and Toga is 100% correct in the smoke density, a nice thin blue smoke. White billowy clouds of smoke just tastes like ash/charcoal

Doing it this way you could also experiment with different types of wood or herbs and spices for different flavors and aromas, just like sauces. Where using 'pre-smoked' grain is sort of limiting.. unless of course you're smoking that yourself too.
 
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mrdavebeer

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So here's the 7-month verdict: it's too strong and it's ashy

I tasted it at
  • 3 months: bleh...too strong and ashy
  • 5 months: mellowed some, so it's more tolerable, but still strong and ashy
  • 7 months (today): mellowed even more and is more drinkable. More aging may bring it around. But it's still a little strong in smoke with ashy taste.

It's mellowed enough to think more time might bring it around. I'll let it age more, perhaps up to a year. I'll post updates if it gets better.

Conclusions:
  • My smoke was white, so it's ashy. Next time, I'll smoke with blue, wispy smoke.
  • It's too strong, so next time, I'll smoke for 15 minutes or so.

I'll keep you posted.
 
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