Monday, December 9, 2013

The Long-Awaited UPDATE

Hello again, gentle readers, I know it has been awhile on my part!  But I can finally reveal the big news I hinted at in the last post:

I am starting my own brewery!

The reason I waited so long to make the announcement is that I wanted our website to be ready so that I had something of substance to attach to my announcement.  So, fellow gluten-freeky homebrewers, let me introduce you to Ghostfish Brewing Company!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review: Steadfast Sorghum Pale Ale

I'd like to give a warm welcome to the newest member of the gluten-free commercial brewing world: Steadfast Brewing Co.  They're here to bring some craft GF beer to the East Coast, and I think they show a lot of promise.  They made a smart move and went straight to internet distribution of their product, so I was able to order a four-pack of their flagship Sorghum Pale Ale.  My review after the jump!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Big Changes on the Horizon

Gentle readers, I know I have not been keeping up with my blogging duties, but there is a very good (and very BIG) reason for that.  It's still too early to divulge exactly what's been going on, but what I can tell you is this: I am moving to Seattle in September to begin an exciting new endeavor that will be of definite interest to the readers of this blog.  The last few months have involved a lot of preparation for this, and it has required me to do quite a lot of work and travelling.  I'll have more to say on the subject in the coming months!

That said, there is a lot of exciting stuff happening in my homebrewery.  Not least of which is the discovery of a dedicated gluten-free malthouse, Grouse Malting Company.  I have in my pantry almost 40 lbs of sample malts from them that I am going to take for a test run later this week.  Their owner/maltstress, Twila, is a gluten-free homebrewer herself, and that gives me good reason to have confidence in her product.  Expect an entry in a month or two when I taste the first beer made with her malts.  Note that they are currently in the process of expanding and may take quite a bit of time to respond to inquiries—as far as I can tell, it's practically a one-person operation at this point, but Twila says the demand has been tremendous, so I have a good feeling about their future.

In addition, I was in Portland last month, and let me tell you, that city is a gluten-free paradise.  I spent my time there subsisting mostly on paleo food from the Cultured Caveman and delicious smoothies from Kure Juice Bar.  I got my first taste of Reverend Nat's Hard Cider, in the form of the mind-blowingly delicious Hallelujah Hopricot, a dry-hopped apple/apricot cider fermented with Belgian ale yeast (!!!!).  Highly recommend—it is truly cider for craft beer drinkers, and more of a pale ale than some gluten-free pale ales I can think of.  After enjoying a gluten-free burger and a pint of a gluten-free Belgian ale at the Deschutes Brewpub, I went and picked up a case of beer from Harvester Brewing--some IPA #1 and the last of their Dubbel, for $65!  Beats paying ~$100 to have it shipped down to Cali, that's for sure.  I also got to taste some of their R&D beers: a blend of the first and third iterations of hop-monster IPA #2 (which just hit shelves), a single-hop Santiam IPA (which really floored me with its minty and herbal hop flavor), and a version of their Dark Ale brewed with different hopping and some dark candi syrup (which I found to be an improvement over the regular stuff).

Even better, Harvester's James Neumeister was kind enough to share a few drinks with me and chat about his operation and the state of gluten-free beer in general.  He told me that their production has increased 900% this fiscal year, which is awesome and not at all surprising, as they're the best GF beer in the country right now.  I was astonished to learn that he conducts his mashes with only α-amylase—I'm not sure exactly what his secret is, as my attempts at using oats (let alone chestnuts or buckwheat) in a mash with just α-amylase have been pure disaster, but there it is straight from the horses's mouth.  I was much less astonished to learn that for quite a while, prior to the launch of Harvester, he was homebrewing on a DAILY BASIS.  Here I thought I was nuts for brewing once or twice a week!  I also learned that like me, he spent quite a while exploring ideas from Stephen Harrod Buhner's Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers...go figure, eh?  Guess we out-of-the-box brewers think alike!  All in all, it was an awesome chat, and I was mightily impressed with James's craft brewer spirit.  Harvester has a bright future, which is good news for us gluten-free beer drinkers!

Now that I'm back in Cali and back to brewing, I hope I can update this more frequently.  I've got a TON of posts lined up, it's just a matter of typing 'em.  Check back soon, or better yet, become a follower!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Recipe and Evaluation: Black IPA

I'm back with a vengeance!  I know I haven't been updating this blog very frequently, but that's because I've been too busy brewing and going through some major life transitions (finishing grad school, ending a long-term relationship, moving, and preparing for "phase II" of my plan to dominate the world of gluten-free brewing).  I'll be sharing some of my general observations later this summer on my now-considerable experience in brewing with gluten-free grains (both malted and unmalted), but since it's been a while since I posted a recipe and discussed a finished beer, I thought I'd share my black IPA. It was a good first draft for this style, and for once I feel like the malt base is more solid than the hop schedule.  Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How-To: Brewing Better Extract Beers

There isn't a whole lot of info out there on how to make good extract-based gluten-free beers, and let me tell you that just boiling up six pounds of sorghum extract and calling it good will NOT make a great beer.  With over 30 brews under my belt, all of which have been recipes of my own devising, I thought I'd share a bit of my experience in how to make good extract beers (since not everyone wants to fuss with enzymes, decoction mashes, self-malted grains, etc.).  It is perfectly possible to make extract-based gluten-free beers that rival and even exceed the commercially-available stuff!  Check out these tips after the jump.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reader Requests

Well, I've been keeping this blog up for almost nine months now, and Google analytics tells me I've gotten over 3000 views, which means people outside my immediate social circle are finding this blog.  That's great!  So, I'd like to open the floor to my new readers—how do you like the blog?  Please comment on this post and tell me what you like best about it, what's not working for you, and what would you like to see more or less of.  I have a lot of material in the pipeline, but it's always hard for me to make the executive decision about what deserves a blog post and what doesn't, so I'd love to know what my readers think.  Be honest, brutally honest even!  No criticism is so harsh that a nice cold pint can't take the sting off it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review: Harvester Brewing, Once Again!

So, back in July of 2012, I finally got my hands on a sampler pack of Harvester's gluten-free beers, after many months of following their progress online and drooling over what I imagined must be the best gluten-free beers in the world.  As my long-time readers will remember, I was less than impressed.  I had wanted so badly to like their beers, but the ones I received were starchy, lacking hop aroma flavor, and shot through with all kinds of ashy/tobacco/burnt-plastic flavors that rendered them undrinkable.  I ordered 12 beers and poured nearly every single one down the drain, and lamented the future of gluten-free commercial-scale brewing in the U.S.A.  

But I am a strong believer in second chances, especially when I could tell that at least philosophically, Harvester had the right idea about how to approach gluten-free brewing.  They have a true craft-beer ethos: they use unusual locally-grown hops, as well as local chestnuts, and they seem to be constantly experimenting with new ingredients and adding new beers to their portfolio (something no other dedicated GF brewery seems to be doing—take the hint, guys!).  They are clearly passionate about their craft and relentless in their quest.  Writing them such a bad review made my heart hurt, so six months later, in Janurary of 2013, I ordered another shipment of their beers from  This one again included the Pale, Red, and Dark Ales, but instead of Raspberry, it included their IPA.

Well, boy howdy am I glad I gave them another chance, because the beers I received this time are completely different.  I don't know if the first batch I got was old or just a bad batch or what...but this second batch of beers completely lacked the starchy feel and ashy/tobacco/plastic flavors of the first batch.  The Red and the Dark were still a little short of perfection, but the Pale and the IPA actually blew me away with their flavors, and are officially my favorite commercial GF beers at the moment.  I'm adding "proximity to Harvester" to my growing list of reasons to move to Portland!

Detailed reviews of each beer after the jump, this time with some unsolicited constructive criticism (when possible).

Friday, February 8, 2013

Beyond Barley at DIYine in Santa Cruz, Chamomile IPA Recipe

Last weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a fundraiser for the Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project, an event called DIYine.  The basic idea behind the event was to get together a bunch of homebrewers to donate their brews, and offer tasting tickets to the guests for a minimum donation.  It was a smashing success, the event was very well-attended, and very well-supplied with amazing concoctions like walnut wine, pear port, earl grey soda, absinthe, and other beverages made from locally-grown fruit.  I shared the beer table with a regular homebrewer, who was offering up a sour red ale and a honey pale ale.  I tried a sip of each of his concotions, and he was definitely on his game!  The sour in particular was wonderful, made me wish I could drink more than a sip of it without feeling ill!

What amazed me the most was that people were actually interested in my beers.  The last time I did a public tasting, at the 2012 Tour De Ferment, I made the mistake of telling everyone up-front that I was serving "gluten-free beer"--no one would touch it with a 10-foot pole!  At DIYine, my lovely girlfriend made me a nice sign that read "Beyond Barley: Beer Made From Exotic Grains"; I only used the words "gluten-free" on my business cards and the menus I was handing out, and even then it was in fine print.  What a difference!  I couldn't pour the beer fast enough, and many people came back for seconds (and a few for thirds and fourths...not bad, considering they only get 10 tastings per $10 ticket!).

All told, I went through about 2.5 gallons of five different styles of beer.  The first one to go--and the one that people were raving about even after the event--was my "Emerald Beyond Chamomile-Lime IPA" (see below for the recipe).  Of course, I only had 48 oz of the stuff on offer, as I brewed that beer back in July of 2012.  Only slightly less popular were my Hidden Star Cherry-Oatmeal Stout (No-Nonsense Stout with added cherry syrup from Hidden Star Orchards) and my Imperial Maple-Pecan-Wild Rice Amber Ale (which will get its own blog post in the near future).  The Heritage Rice beer was also a crowd-pleaser (though it obviously lacked the sex appeal of the first three), and bringing up the rear was my Molasses Mild--a beer that taught me the need to handle molasses with extreme restraint.  I really couldn't believe how much beer I went through, considering each patron was only allotted maybe a 3-oz pour...if my math is correct, I poured around 107 servings over about a two-hour period, so almost a glass every minute!

I was also amazed at how many people were curious about the beers, as well as my methods and ingredients.  I'm really glad I printed out enough menus for people to take them home, so that I could just show people the ingredient list instead of having to rattle them off from memory.  There were even a few gluten-free people who were amazed to discover my existence.  I got several inquiries about where they could buy my beer, to which I could only laughingly reply "In my kitchen!"  All in all, a very encouraging response to my beer, which lifted my spirits to heights I hadn't dared dream of.  I left that evening with a cooler full of empty bottles, a belly full of some of the tastiest booze I've had the good fortune to sample (if the maker of that pear port is reading this, I'd DIE to swap some bottles with you!), and a heart full of joy and gratitude for the chance to share my beer with so many wonderful people (and alongside so many talented brewers).

And without further ado, the recipe for my (now-extinct) Chamomile-Lime IPA:

3-Gallon Extract Batch:

Sugar Bill:
2 lbs, 8 oz Liquid Sorghum Extract, at flame-out
10 oz Star-Thistle Honey, at flame-out
10 oz organic Palm Sugar, at 60 min
8 oz Rice Solids, at 60 min
3 oz Maltodextrin, at 60 min

Hop & Herb Schedule:
0.5 oz Millenium Hops, 17.4% AA, at 60 min
2 oz Chamomile flowers, at 30 min
1 oz Motueka, 6.7% AA, at 5 min
1 oz Sorachi Ace, 11.6% AA, at 5 min
Zest of 1.5 limes, at 5 min
1 oz Motueka, dry-hop, 7 days
1 oz Sorachi Ace, dry-hop, 7 days

Yeast and Additives:
Fermentis Safale US-05 American Ale Yeast
1 Whirlfloc tablet, as directed

Vital Stats:
OG: 1.056
FG: 1.010
Est. ABV: 6.1%
Est. IBU: 92.3 (Tinseth)

Notes: A very unique beer.  I don't believe the IBU calculations, the bitterness was very soft, and well-balanced by a very tropical-tasting sweetness.  Strong notes of lime and coconut from the chamomile and star-thistle honey, complimented by some resiny character from the hops.  Refreshing and tropical, the ultimate summer beer.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tasting: Heritage Rice American Pale Ale

Okay, I didn't quite make it through all of January without a drink; what can I say, I'm a brewer, I love my craft, and sometimes my curiousity about my latest beer gets the better of me.  So I broke my sobriety a few days early, to bring you this (much-anticipated?) post about what my first Promalt "almost all-grain" beer tastes like.

Appearance: Bright copper, almost red, with a large eggshell-colored head that shrinks quickly to a persistent off-white lacing.  Slightly hazy.

Aroma: citrusy--white grapefruit, slightly metallic.  A very thin and slight sweetness.

Flavor: mellow white grapefruit and a hint of scallion up front, with a clean assertive bitterness.  There is a slight woody dankness as well.  The malt profile is crisp and dry, and very subdued--almost generic.  There is a hint of sourness throughout.  Not picking up much flavor from the exotic rices--the hops seem to overwhelm.  Finishes with a spicy and slightly metallic note, a very weak sweetness, and again a hint of scallion and prominent white grapefruit, with a mild lingering bitterness.

Mouthfeel: good carbonation, smooth but a bit thin on the tongue; significant linger.

Conclusion: this isn't my best beer, but the biggest flaw comes from the hops.  The scallion flavor is a definite detractor, and the hops are more prominent than they ought to be, given the lack of assertive malt character.  This is especially bad because the hops are not terribly flavorful; a smoother, brighter, fruitier hop would do better here, like Amarillo or Galaxy, or perhaps even something soft and floral, like Palisades or Opal.  The malt base is not bad by any means, just too weak for these hops.

Were I to do this again, I would add some honey, and go whole-hog with a single variety of rice--a full 5 lbs of either the black rice or the wehani rice, to really get the flavor of the grain to come through.  I would hop it with more subtlety, using tried-and-true hops of a known AA%, and reduce the late additions to keep the hops from overwhelming the rice.

Maybe even try fermenting with saké yeast?  Some fruity/melon character could be nice....

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How-To: Mashing and Brewing with Unmalted Grains and Promalt

Finally, a post worthy of the name of this blog!

A while back, I don't remember precisely when but sometime in October I think, I successfully made a beer using unmalted gluten-free grains mashed with promalt enzyme cocktail, a product not available to homebrewers but which was generously provided to me by a nanobrewer friend from  I wanted to try using some heritage varieties of rice that I enjoy cooking with, so I came up with what I figured would be a decent red ale recipe:

Heritage Rice Pale Ale:

Grain Bill:
2 lbs wehani red rice, lightly roasted
2 lbs "forbidden" black rice, lightly roasted
1 lb sprouted quinoa, untoasted
8 oz brown rice syrup
8 oz D45 Candi syrup
4 oz maltodextrin

Hop Schedule:
1 oz cascade hops, whole-leaf @ 60 min
0.5 oz cascade hops, whole-leaf @ 15 min
1.5 oz cascade hops, whole-leaf @ 5min
(hops were purchased at the San Rafael farmer's market and have an unknown AA%)

Extra Additions:
1 tsp yeast nutrient
1 whirlfloc tablet

Yeast: Safale S-04 Dry British Ale Yeast

Measured OG: 1.054
Measured FG: 1.012
Calculated IBU: ??? (~47 @ 5% AA)

I'll post tasting notes in early February, I'm taking the month of January off from drinking.  I've tried a few since bottling, though, and they were quite good (with the exception of the hops...the hops added an "oniony" flavor, due I believe to over-fertilization).  The more interesting part of this, though, is the process I used, which I will describe below!

First, I ground all the grains to a coarse grits consistency in my hand-operated Victoria mill:

The grist
Then, I performed a cereal mash, basically boiling the grains for about 10 minutes and then letting them sit for about an hour in the hot water to ensure the starches in the grains were thoroughly gelatinized.

Post-cereal mash
At this point, I let the mash cool down to 120°F, the temperature necessary for a beta-glucanase rest, which took a while (I could have dunked the kettle in a sinkful of cold water, or used my wort chiller, if I was in a rush to get the wort down in temperature).  Once I hit 120°F, I added about a teaspoon of promalt, and stirred vigorously!  The trick with using exogenous enzymes is that you must stir the mash often, it's the only way to get a good efficiency.  If this was to be done in a commercial setting, the mash tun would need to be outfitted with an agitator of some sort.  After about 15 minutes, I turned on the heat and raised the temps to 135°F for a protein rest, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.  At this point, the previously-stiff mash was liquefying nicely.

Post-protein rest
Then I heated to 150°F for a long saccharification rest.  I also added some additional amylase enzyme (not promalt, just pure amylase) to hedge my bets a little.  I stirred often, and occasionally had to apply more heat to keep the temp where I wanted it.  It did drop down to 145°F for a bit.  After about 2 hours,  the wort was thin and sweet.

Lautering time.  It's worth noting here that my brewing setup is a bit "ad hoc"; I don't have a mash tun or a lautering tun, but I do have two 20-quart brew kettles, a bottling bucket, a colander, and some large nylon grain bags.  So what I do is sort of a hybrid between BIAB ("Brew In A Bag") brewing and traditional 3-tier brewing: I mash with the full volume of water needed for the boil, directly in my kettle, and then lauter by pouring the mash through a grain bag that's lining my bottling bucket, which has a colander at the bottom:

Makeshift lauter tun
Lautering in progress
The resulting wort
I ran the wort back through the grain bed a couple times and added a wee bit of extra water to meet my final boil volume.  I took a gravity reading at this point, and I was shocked to discover I had achieved 75% efficiency!  This has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that all-grain gluten-free beers can be made without malting your own grain!

Next, the boil.  Fairly straightforward 60 min boil, with a little bit of extra sugars added in the form of D45 and rice syrup to meet my desired final gravity, as well as some maltodextrin for body and some yeast nutrient (since rice is supposed to be low in necessary FAN).

The boil
Following the boil, I cooled to 70°F, strained into the fermenter, and pitched the rehydrated yeast.

In the fermenter!
I fermented in primary for about a month, then bottled.  It carbed nicely.  All things considered, this experiment was a success!  I have since brewed a few more mostly-all-grain beers: a wild-rice, corn, and pecan amber ale with maple syrup, and a multi-grain wit with flaked amaranth, buckwheat, and millet.  I will post about these in the coming weeks as well, and have plans to do many more in the future!  I'll also be posting tasting notes on several of my most recent brews in early February, as well as reviews of Harvester's IPA (spoiler: it's awesome, they redeemed themselves big-time!) and the rest of the commercially-available GF brews I haven't gotten around to reviewing yet.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review: Green's Endeavor Dubbel Dark Ale

There are only two dark gluten-free beers available on the commercial market: Harvester Brewing's Dark Ale, and Green's Endeavor.  Both are neither stout nor porter nor brown ale, unfortunately (stouts and porters were my favorite when I could drink glutenous beer), but Green's Endeavor is at least a recognizable Belgian dubbel.  It's not cheap, selling about $7 for a 16.9 oz bottle at my local Whole Foods, but it does make a nice treat when I'm all out of my own dark beers and lighter stuff just won't do.

Vital Statistics:
ABV: 7.0%
OG: 1.064
IBU: 24
Country of Origin: Belgium

Appearance: color is deep red-brown, just slightly darker than a brown ale; it is not nearly as dark as it appears in these pictures, though even here a close inspection shows some reddish translucence around the edges of the glass.  I'd say it's semi-translucent with red highlights, and a full effervescent light-tan head that quickly gives way to persistent egg-shell lacing.

Aroma: nutty and bread-like, reminiscent of whole-grain walnut bread fresh from the toaster, with some butter-toffee accents and a slight solvent sharpness.

Flavor: if you're expecting something like a stout or a porter, this beer will disappoint.  The Belgian dark dubbel, though dark, is a much different animal--high in alcohol, thirst-quenching, and having very little roast or burnt character.  Green's Endeavor is true to style, an impressive feat to say the least.  The flavor is sweet, thin, and a little sour, with notes of toffee and milk chocolate somewhat buried under peppery esters from the belgian yeast.  No bready flavors, despite the aroma.  A notable alcoholic warmth and slight solvent-like flavor is evident.  No roast character to speak of, more like molasses or dark sugar than coffee or dark chocolate.  There is a noticeable sour twang common to most gluten-free beers, but it is well-balanced by the yeast flavors.  Carbonation is quite high, leading to a light effervescent mouth-feel that is somewhat surprising given the color, aroma, and ABV.  All in all, it's a pretty good beer, true to style, but a little bit lackluster in the malt profile.

Rating: 4 out of 5.  Not what I'm generally looking for in a dark beer, but if I was into Belgian dubbels this would definitely satisfy me.  Now if only someone somewhere would put out a GF's really not that hard, I've brewed three excellent ones so far in my tiny apartment kitchen!  In fact, I'd say it's the least-challenging of all the styles I've attempted, probably because one kind of roasted grain tastes a lot like any other kind of roasted grain.