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Gluten Free Home Brewing Blog
Catching Up with Andrew Lavery
This is a blog collaboration with the Zero Tolerance Gluten-Free Home Brew Club of Portland Oregon. Thank you Joe Morris from Zero Tolerance for reaching out to the worldwide gluten free brewing community and coming up with the great questions in this epic blog!
Most GFHBers have read Andrew Lavery’s 2006 Gluten Free Brewing and Gluten Free Malting tutorials. These tutorials have been referenced heavily for years where they are the starting point for many gluten-free brewers. Andrew has graciously allowed us to catch up with him, update us on what he has doing in the years since his tutorials were written, and pick his brain with some technical questions of our own:
● Andrew, first of all, thank you for taking the time to catch up with you. Most of our readers know you from your 2006 tutorials on gluten-free malting and gluten-free brewing. However, people outside Australia may not know what you have been doing in the years since. Can you bring us up to speed on how your brewing career has progressed?
Hi Brian and thank you for the invite, it’s a pleasure to be able to chat gluten free beer as it’s been a catalyst for change in my life over the last 15 years. After getting the diagnosis in 2003 and venturing into the unknown territory of gluten free home brewing it opened up some doors. It was the early days of commercial gluten free beer and I took the opportunity to become the second largest shareholder in O’Brien Beer (Australia’s first and largest GFB producer) and take on the role of Head Brewer in 2007. There were a lot of challenges in commercializing the processes but we grew from nothing to now being a successful brewery and business, winning a silver at the World Beer Cup and 2 gold medals at the Australian International Beer Awards along the way. I moved on from O’Briens last year (though still have my shareholding) and am now working for Little Creatures / White Rabbit Brewery in Geelong (part of the Lion/Kirin group) and making beer that is definitely not gluten free, but still using the skills I learnt along the way. Getting a lot of experience in larger, automated brewing as well as open top fermentation and sour barrel aging so enjoying the challenge.
● Can you tell us what the audience was when you first wrote your tutorials? And did you have any idea that a dozen years later, those instructions would still be heavily referenced and circulated in what has become a growing gluten-free brewing community?
At the time there was very little factual information available on how to make GFB, particularly how to do it with malted grains naturally. I was getting asked a lot of questions on home brew forums so decided to put together some “how to guides” that were visual, descriptive and not excessively technical, to help out those that were new to gluten free and/or brewing and help get them through that difficult experimental phase.
Honestly I didn’t think that what I shared would still be doing the rounds now but it does put a smile on my face to see that it has helped out so many fellow brewers as a starting point for their own journey and experimentation with gluten free brewing. It’s particularly pleasing to see that some that I have communicated with over the years have gone on to establish successful craft gluten free maltings and breweries in the USA. Getting a good quality beer in the hands of more fellow coeliacs that can’t brew their own at home.
● Obviously, a lot has changed with gluten-free brewing both commercially and in homebrewing over the years. Can you give us your thoughts on where we have come from, where we are now, and where we are going as gluten-free beer gains acceptance?
When I first started out there were only a few gluten free beers available in the world, rarer that unicorn poop and unfortunately just as tasty lol. Those early days were predominantly focused on making a gluten free beer that tasted acceptable, just so we coeliacs had a beer to drink. Styles were pretty basic to appeal to the majority of drinkers (mainstream lager / ale), particularly in commercial brewing as you had make something that was like what the majority of people would drink if they weren’t coeliacs. Quality and flavor were also lower priorities and it was common to get a beer that had no head retention, watery mouthfeel and an unusual taste but still sold well as there were no alternatives.
Currently it’s a very different picture as there is a lot more awareness and diagnosis of coeliac disease as well as many people choosing a gluten free diet for health reasons. Both of these factors have driven demand for gluten free beer and that has had the effect of attracting a lot more players to the market including the multinationals. The end result has been higher quality, greater availability and more variety, all good outcomes for the end consumer. For us beer lovers it has also birthed craft gluten free maltings which in turn has allowed craft gluten free breweries to spring up as well as provide supplies for all grain home brewers. This to me is the most exciting development as it is really showing how good gluten free beer can be. The biggest problem I see with the current situation is the ambiguity over “gluten removed” vs naturally gluten free and the differing standards around the world.
Looking into the future I think the two most important issues will be flavor parity and a global gluten free standard for beer. My two most awarded GF beers, a brown ale and a Belgian ale, both started off as home brew recipes many years ago. One thing they have in common is that beer judges and consumers would usually say “You wouldn’t pick it for gluten free if you didn’t know”. I think once we brewers get good flavor parity with regular beer then the narrative changes from us producing gluten free beer for coeliacs to producing good quality beer that happens to be gluten free, it opens a lot more doors. As for the differing standards around the world for what constitutes gluten free, I really feel that governments need to look at the science and put the health of coeliacs before the commercial interests of some brewers. There is undeniable proof that the “gluten reduced” technique does not work, all it does is fool a testing method that even the suppliers of the test agree is not accurate for barley or hydrolyzed proteins. Even in Australia which has a very strict gluten free definition for beer (no detectable gluten and no ingredients from gluten containing grains/malts), I can still go to my local bottle shop (liquor store) and find gluten reduced beers on the shelf labelled gluten free – Omission, Estrella, Peroni etc. Regulations really need to tighten up.
● Those original pieces were written over 12 years ago, has your approach changed much? Are there any specifics you would revise today?
As with anything, things have changed and evolved. I’ve dropped the 40 degree C rest from my mash as malt quality improved to simplify things a bit. I’ve done away with rice hulls mostly but it’s always good to have some on hand just in case. In a commercial environment it was beneficial to add a beta amylase to the conversion rest just to get consistent attenuation when you’re trying to hit alcohol contents to 1 decimal point, the malt was still capable of converting itself but batch to batch variation is greater than what you find with barley malt. Over time I became a bit more creative with ingredients rather than trying to create the flavor by roasting malt - cacao powder, coffee bean, treacle, honey, belgian candi sugar to name a few. I’ll admit I was a bit quick to judge the usefulness of rice malt but I was focused more on millet most of the time and still think it has the best flavor profile though rice is good in support.
Finally, the group at Zero Tolerance Gluten-Free Homebrew Club crowdsourced some technical questions for you:
From Ed Golden (California)
● Have you refined your process, since documented in your malting and brewing tutorial? Have you started to add industrial enzymes?
● Some (myself and others, e.g. on Homebrewtalk) have observed that the "decantation" mash regime, as described in your tutorial without additional industrial enzymes, seems to produce a wort that tends to under-attenuate. This is true in my [Ed's] own experience, following dozens of batches. The wort tastes good and cleanly passes an iodine test - so we could assume that it is fully converted and rich in complex sugars and dextrins. Why is this? (Several of my own recent batches, performed without the initial B.G. and protein rests, finished around 1.020 from 1.050. These beers could be dried-out only with the addition of some industrial amylase enzyme - that is, pitching additional yeast made no impact)
I tend to find it is variable depending on the malt quality and the accuracy of the mash temperature and seen the apparent attenuation vary between 50-90%. On a commercial scale (30-120 barrel / 35-140 hL batches) the variation was much less but still evident. The natural beta amylase in gluten free malts is lower in quantity and heat sensitive so can easily be killed off in malt drying or brewing, so the addition of extra enzymes is sometimes required coupled with accurate temperature control of the mash.
● I find the worst part of a decantation mash is the heating of the grist toward 85degC. Over direct heat, this requires 30 minutes of active stirring to avoid scorching, often in the hot sun... then I need to transfer all that hot wort into my mash tun, which is a hot and messy process. Have you figured out a better way?
I always use an immersion heater and yes it is tiring stirring that for 20-30 minutes. I look at it as a work out and just keep changing hands.
● It seems difficult to control the final gravity of all-grain gluten free beer - either under-attenuated as described above or over-attenuated following addition of industrial enzyme. What have you found works best to tame this?
● What other GF grains would you recommend mixing with millet, and for what reason? E.g. perhaps buckwheat contributes to head retention and contributes some alpha amylase. Can you recommend a standard "base malt" mix of millet and other adjuncts?
I have no standard mix as such as it depends on the beer you’re making. 10-20% buckwheat is good for head retention and I would do the rest with millet unless trying to lighten the flavor with some rice or maize. Keep it as simple as possible is always a good start.
● How would you design an acceptable stout? That is, a dark, roasty beer without uncharacteristic flavors from candi sugar, and without any acrid/burned quality. I [Ed] have found this to be a particular challenge in my own GF brewing.
For dark beers (schwartzbier / stout) I have used roasted sorghum malt which gives the coffee and chocolate tones. It’s a matter of roasting it to the point where it darkens and smokes a bit without going over the edge to charcoal. A very fine line unfortunately.
● How do you respond to concerns over fungus growth during home malting? Mycotoxins produced by fungus can cause serious health problems. Lye can be added to the steep to kill fungus initially on the grain, but it can return during germination if the environment isn't carefully managed. Have you found a reasonable way to test home-malted grains? Home malting seems reasonably straight-forward, although I [Ed] was ultimately deterred by this concern - especially given the recent availability of commercial millet malts. Is this a serious concern for you?
I address it as with any other fruit or vegetable grown at home or food prepared in the kitchen. Follow your process and check that the quality is good. If in doubt, throw it out.
From Bob Keifer (California)
● What are you thoughts on Buckwheat?
Answered above but will add that I found it slowed the lauter of the mash or made it stick completely if over done.
● Regarding random off-flavors that appear in large batch brewing vs. small batch- are there any? What techniques can avoid those.
There tends to be much less issues in large batch brewing which is most likely due to the hygiene standards and technical control in commercial breweries. If and when they occur it is a matter of looking into your records and identifying if its raw materials, hygiene, yeast health or process control.
● What do you think of the European law where gluten-reduced can be labelled Gluten-Free there?
● Any historical stories on all-millet beers, sorghum, and all rice beers?
When I was first researching how to make beer from these grains it was predominantly beers native to Africa, Asia and South America that came up as they were using what was locally available. Most of these beers were more like a fermented porridge though and nothing like our European styled beers.
From Paul Blundell (A fellow Aussie)
● Andrew, thank you for documenting your work with malting gf grains. I can now produce a number of malts for my brews as a result. I am very much a novice though. When steeping the grains are there any tell tale signs that they are ready for germination? (Apart from changes in weight)
There’s usually lots of bubbling and you can see the shoot starting form and grow.
● When is the right time to arrest germination especially for millet? The ‘twice the length of the grain’ rule doesn’t seem to leave much left in the millet grain?
It’s still the right time in my view but you will notice if it heats up and takes off it can be over done quickly with shoots up to an inch long. Twice the length of a millet grain is quite a small shoot.
● Do you do much with crystal malts? What is the crystal malt process starting with raw grain? I have only done it with malted as a start. I.e. can germination and drying be bypassed?
Crystal malts are good to add mouth feel and body. To go straight to crystal malt let it germinate but bypass the drying process and make crystal.
Peter Fold (Hungary)
● Where did you find inspiration in the early days when almost no one dealt with GF brewing?
I was a thirsty coeliac that didn’t like the taste of cider so my Engineering background took on the challenge to find a way to do it.
● For many of us malting is a bottleneck, because we don't have access to malts like the barley brewers. How does the complexity of being a maltster and a brewer effect a GF brewers life?
It certainly add a lot of time to the process and much more variability. Making the malt is something I tend to look at morning and night during the work week so it doesn’t take up too much time.
● From a professionals perspective, what do you envision for the future of gluten free beers?
● If he could say some words about how somebody decides to become a commercial brewer, and the challenges he faced with gluten free commercial brewing
The decision to become a commercial brewer was more about the opportunity to create beer that people like myself were looking for. It was also a good business opportunity as we were the first to do it in Australia. The biggest challenge was scaling up the process from 20 liters to 3500 liters and modifying equipment and processes to suit the gluten free malts. We were lucky that there were people waiting for the product and that drove the sales and marketing side of the business so we could focus on making good beer.
JB Barnes (Florida)
● What is the best way to source untreated millet for malting? My grass seed supplier (Hancock seed in Florida) said their white dove millet was not for human consumption. I worry about it being coated with something.
If it’s a grass seed it will be coated with some kind of herbicide so definitely stay away. I always sourced direct from farmers or from stock feed companies that sell grains for cattle or birds to eat. These grains are fine for malting and making beer as they are untreated.
From The Homebrewtalk GF Brewing Forum
● What is your mashing process? Temps? Enzyme amounts?
Very similar to my original guides but I can’t go into specifics of what I did commercially due to a confidentiality agreement.
● What are your malts of choice for various styles?
In Australia we are limited by what we can make ourselves so have always used white sorghum or white French millet. For more “wheat” styles I would use more sorghum as the base and for maltier styles I’d use millet. Then I’d roast small amounts of the malt bill to get nutty, coffee, chocolate flavors etc.
● Do you favor Millet vs Rice vs Buckwheat and why?
I’ve always favored millet as I find it is the maltiest and the closest to barley in flavor.
● What steps do you take to improve head retention and body? (This is a popular question)
Good quality malt, getting your protein rest temperature and time right and a dash of buckwheat helps head retention. Body is also determined by the protein rest but also a bit of crystal malt helps for sure.
● How do you avoid over attenuation in your GF beers? Seems to be common problem.
On behalf of all the worldwide gluten free brewing community, thank you, Andrew Lavery for letting us catch up with you! GFHB would also like to thank Joe Morris from Zero Tolerance for the great questions leading up to the Q&A from all the brewers Andrew has inspired for many years...and many more to come!