Draff Bread – Spent Grain Bread

A fistful of spent grain, ready to be baked into breadI’ve been doing some all-grain brewing this spring.  After the mashing process the malt has given up all its caramel earthiness to the wort, and you are left with several pounds of spent grain, or draff.

There are lots of ways to use this stuff up.  Commercial breweries commonly sell or give draff to farmers as livestock feed.  It can also be composted so long as you have lots of other, greener compostable material to balance out the mixture.

Draff is also commonly baked into bread.  Realistically the home brewer will not be able to bake enough bread to use all of the spent grain – the bulk of mine still ends up in the compost heap – but it’s a tasty way to lengthen your enjoyment of the barley malt.

There are tons of recipes for spent grain bread online, often under the German name Biertreberbrot.  These recipes are all clearly made for brewers, not bakers: they use inconsistent volumetric measures, and forgo flavour- and texture-enhancing pre-ferments. Below is my first attempt at a serious recipe for draff bread.  Basically I’ve replaced the soaker from my favourite whole-grain bread recipe (from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice) with the spent grain.

Vocabulary Break: soaker.  Many bread recipes that use whole or mostly-whole grains like rolled oats or cracked rye will have you soak the grains in a bit of water overnight.  This way when the grains are mixed with the flour and water that make up the bulk of the dough, they won’t suck up all the water and prevent proper hydration, gelation, and gluten development.

Draff is already well-steeped: during mashing it sits in very hot water for about ninety minutes.  For this reason we are able to simply substitute the draff for the grain soaker in a conventional whole-grain bread recipe.  Spent grain is more woody that most whole grains, so I slightly decreased the weight of draff from the conventional soaker.

This is a tasty bread when made right.  The malt flavour of the grain is very faint (hopefully all the malt flavour is in the wort!) but the hulls give the bread an interesting, subtle prickliness.  A new brewing tradition in my home.


Spent grain dough

Draff Bread


  • 6.75 oz high-protein whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 6 oz water


  • 8 oz spent grains, well-drained


  • 10 oz high-protein whole-wheat flour
  • 0.33 oz kosher salt
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 1.5 oz honey
  • 0.5 oz vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten


  1. The day before making the bread, combine the ingredients for the pre-ferment.  Stir until just combined.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature to ferment 2 to 4 hours.  Transfer to the fridge and store overnight.
  2. Combine the flour, salt, and yeast for the dough.  Add the pre-ferment, the spent grain, as well as the honey, oil, and egg.  Stir to combine.  Knead by hand until a firm, tacky dough forms, roughly 15 minutes.
  3. Lightly oil the inside of a bowl.  Add the dough.  Cover and ferment at room temperature until the dough has doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
  4. Divide the dough in two and shape as desired.  This makes a good Pullman-style loaf, or it can be shaped into a free-standing bâtard.  Proof at room temperature until the dough has nearly doubled, roughly 90 minutes.  (See this post for suggestions on proofing bread at home.)
  5. Heat oven to 350°F.
  6. Bake bread for 30 minutes.  Rotate 180° and bake until done, roughly another 20 minutes.  The loaf should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.  If you’ve used pans, remove the bread immediately and cool on a wire rack.

The finished draff bread, with butter

Homebrew: Fermentation

During Advent I started writing about brewing beer at home, but I got distracted and didn’t finish all the posts. So far we’ve discussed mashing and boiling, so now we move on to fermenting.

Rocky head formed during fermentationThis post is about fermenting homebrewed wort to make beer.  I wrote it on a Tuesday afternoon.  Earlier that day I had gone to Sherbrooke Liquor and found that they had bottles of Muskoka Spring Oddity (750 mL, 8% ABV) on sale for $6.99.  I first tried this beer in the summer of 2012, and thought it was pretty good: broadly in the witbier style, malty, cloudy, aromatic, laced with spices.  While I would never turn down a glass of Oddity, the truth is I’ve been buying and consuming it in large quantities to get the bottles that it comes in, which are shaped a bit like a Burgundian wine bottle, but with those wire swing caps that are so coveted by homebrewers.  The short version of the story is that I got pretty drunk while writing this post.  It begins with a lengthy digression on the language we use to describe and classify beer.  There are a few comments on yeast, and then the article ends with a completely inappropriate condemnation of the Anchor Brewing Company.  The tone could only be described as belligerent.  Enjoy!

About Yeast.  Yeast is a fungus.  If anyone ever tells you it’s an algae, punch their mouth.  That’s not true.  Besides converting sugars to alcohol, yeast makes very important contributions to beer aroma and flavour.  The banana and clove aromas found in most Bavarian Weissbier are created by the unique strain of yeast, Torulaspora delbrueckii.  Try saying that five times fast.  Many breweries cultivate their own yeast strains, but smaller operations and homebrewers tend to buy yeast from companies like Wyeyeast.  There are different strains designed for different styles of beer.

Many folks will tell you that the difference between lager and ale is the type of yeast used.  I want to take a few hundred words to discuss this.

Beer Language: Beer v. Ale v. Lager

Despite what the modern beer geek tells you, the words beer, ale, and lager are commonly and correctly used in different ways by different groups of people.

Ancient brewing traditions were very insular.  Brewing in England, for instance, had nothing to do with brewing in Belgium or Germany until maybe the sixteenth century.  Before the modern era, British brewers didn’t even use the word beer: they called their drink “ale,” which is derived from an old Saxon word, “alu.”  Traditional British ale was a malty, low-alcohol brew.  It wasn’t bittered with hops like modern beer.

On the other side of the channel the Belgians and Germans and others had their own, distinct ways of making a drink they called “bier” or “bière” depending on the region.

In the modern era, a couple of Bavarian beer inventions forever changed how beer would be made. First of all they started using hops to bitter beer instead of the traditional gruit mixture.  They found that hops preserved the beer much better than any other herb or spice, and this caught on in such a big way that beer is now bittered exclusively with hops all around the world.

This concept was entirely new to the British.  They were slower to adopt it, and even once they did, they used much less hops than their continental friends.  Most traditional English ales (pale ale, mild, bitter, et c.) are very lightly hopped.  India pale ale is a notable exception.

The second important Bavarian invention was lagering.  From the German word meaning “to store,” lagering is simply keeping beer at near-zero temperatures for several weeks to let it clear.  Lagers are now the rulers of the beer world: all of the hugely popular flavourless beers – Bud, Coors, Molson, Corona, Miller, Tsang Tao, Stella, and so on – are lagers.

What the words beer, ale, and lager, mean to a Briton.  Many British folks still make the distinction between British ale (even though it is now lightly bittered with hops), and beer (the continental drink aggressively bittered with hops).  The British language makes the distinction between these two ancient brewing traditions that in modern history have merged, or at least greatly influenced each other.

What the words beer, ale, and lager mean to a North American.  For North Americans, “beer” is any alcoholic drink made from grain, and every beer is either an ale or a lager.  Laymen think that lagers are gold and clear, and ales are dark and cloudy.  Beer geeks think the distinction is in what species of yeast is used to ferment the drink, lagers using Saccharomyces pastorianus, “bottom-fermenting yeast,” and ales using Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or “top-fermenting yeast.”  To me, both of these distinctions are inaccurate and completely useless.

First: not all lagered beer is gold.  There are about one zillion examples of classic styles of beer that are lagered but dark in colour.  Bocs, for instance, including maiboc, festboc, heller boc, dunkelboc, doppelboc and all the other various incarnations.  Closer to home, Creemore Springs is an example of a lager that is chestnut in colour.  The Alley Kat fall seasonal this year was an Oktoberfest beer with an amber colour.  It was  lagered.

On the other side of the coin, there are countless ales that are pale in colour.  Kölsch, for instance.

As one more little monkey wrench to throw into this complex machinery, what if I were to use “lager yeast,” but otherwise treat the beer as if it were an ale, ie. ferment it at warm temperatures?  Is the resulting beer a lager or an ale?  (There is a style of beer that does this.  It was first made in California in the nineteenth century, and at that time it was called steam beer.  The Anchor Brewery of San Francisco now holds a trademark on that term, so the style is called (groan) California common.[1])

Anyways.  Any useful classification of beer has to include process-oriented information, like what type of yeast is used, but also consider the tradition from which the beer comes.  What is the point of grouping English pale ales and Trappist beer together because they both use “ale yeast”?

Let’s get back to fermenting homebrew wort…

Wort Aeration.  Before yeast starts metabolizing sugar, it reproduces, a process for which it requires oxygen.  It’s helpful to the yeast if you aerate your wort.  This can be done in a number of ways.  I just cascade the wort between two large tubs are few times.

Primary and Secondary Ferments.  I think these terms might be falling out of favour, but I still distinguish between primary and secondary fermentations.  Within twenty four hours of pitching the yeast, a frothy head should form on top of the wort.  You can hear the wort hissing and bubbling.  This is the primary fermentation.  After maybe five to seven days, this head will disappear, and the fermentation will slow down considerably.  I rack the beer at this point, that is, syphon it into a different container.  I call this secondary fermentation, it takes another week or so.

As the yeast consumes the sugars in the wort, the density, or gravity, of the liquid drops.  The sugars in fruit juice are simple, and yeast has no problem metabolizing all of them.  This means that if cider or wine fermentation is left to its own devices, there will be no residual sugar, and the final drink will be “dry.”  The sugars in wort, however, are a good deal more complex than those in fruit juice, and depending on the style of beer, there may be a lot of sugars that the yeast is unable to metabolize.  This concept is called attenuation.  Highly attenuated beers are dry and crisp.  Low-attenuated beers still have unfermented sugars, and typically have a richer mouthfeel, maybe even an impression of sweetness on the tongue.  Examples of highly attenuated beers: most commercial lagers, Pilsner, et c.  An extreme examples of a low-attenuation beer would be the Trappists, like Westmalle and Chimay.  Our first batch of beer, an English pale ale, finished fermentation at 1.015 specific gravity.

Brewers can adjust the texture and flavour of their beer by adding sugar to the wort, or by using adjunct grains like corn and rice that naturally contain simple sugars.  Budweiser adds corn to their malted barley.  Many British brewers will add sugar to their wort to slightly thin out the mouthfeel of a pale ale.

Once you have reached your target gravity and fermentation has stopped, you have beer.  It’s time to get it into a bottle, or maybe a keg.


1.  You know how lots of brand names and trademarks become so popular that they become the common noun?  I’m thinking of Kleenex (a “tissue”), Google (“search engine”), and Xerox (“photocopy”  I probably just dated myself…)  Sometimes these companies pay for ad campaigns that discourage people from using the trademark when it doesn’t apply to their products.  If you don’t know what I mean, read this page from the Popsicle® website, which had me on the floor laughing.  (Oops: just dated myself again.  I mean it had me rofl…)  A disciplinary grammar page on a website for frozen confections:  hilarious!  I’m definitely going to make some Evans cherry “ice pops” next summer.

So, there used to be a style of beer called steam beer.  It was developed in California during the gold rush.  Brewers used lager yeast, but otherwise treated the beer like an ale.  Like so many great historical styles, steam beer fell out of favour and basically went extinct.  In 1971 the Anchor Brewing Co. made a beer in this style, then took out a trademark on the term “steam beer,” so that other beers made in this style can’t use the term.  Granted, Anchor Brewing deserves credit for reviving a unique species of beer, but honestly I wish the beer geek establishment would just take back the term steam beer.

Consider an analogous situation.  In nineteenth century Belgium, on the border between the French region of Wallonia and the Flemish Flanders, there was a region in which a style of beer called wit, or white, was popular.  Over the course of the twentieth century it too fell from favour, and in the 1950s the last witbier brewery closed.  About a decade later, a dude named Pierre Celis made a beer in that style and called it Hoegaarden.

Of course, brewers can still make steam beers, so what’s the big deal if they have to call it “California Common”?  At the risk of sounding like Britta on Community, I have to say that I am a huge believer in the relation between politics and the English language.  “Steam beer” is the drink that they consumed in the muddy squalor of the gold rush.  “California common” is a sanitized euphemism for a beer that should be considered one of America’s great contributions to the pantheon of classic beer styles.


Homebrew: Boiling

Having completed our mash, we are ready to boil.  What I call “the boil” actually includes a number of steps:

  • bringing the wort to a boil,
  • adding hops,
  • removing coagulated proteins and other impurities, and
  • rapidly chilling the wort to fermentation temperatures.

There are several reasons the wort must be boiled:

  • The bitterness, flavour, and aroma of the hops are best extracted at a rolling boil.
  • Boiling deactivates malt enzymes, setting the gravity of the wort.
  • Boiling sterilizes the wort.
  • Boiling coagulates proteins and protein-tannin combinations, helping clarify the wort.
  • Boiling drives off water, concentrating sugars and allowing the brewer some control over the gravity of the wort.
  • Boiling over an open flame can lightly caramelize the wort, adding colour and flavour if desired.
  • Boiling creates and then dissipates dimethyl sulfide, or DMS, which gives beer a distinct, undesirable green apple aroma.  DMS precursors are naturally formed in the wort during the mash.  They are able to become DMS at any temperature above about 140°F.  However, a vigorous boil will actually drive the DMS away.

Bringing the wort to a vigorous boil

So, once we have separated the wort from the spent grain, the wort is brought to a fierce boil.  A stove-top may not be able to sustain five or six gallons at such an excited state, so we bought a higher BTU turkey fryer from Bass Pro Shop.  The kit included a 5 or 6 gallon stainless steel pot, a stand, a burner element, and a hose to connect to a propane tank.

The burner is actually connected to a timer box that kills the flame every 30 minutes.  Apparently this is a safety precaution.  The timer is easier cut out of the circuit.  There’s a painful but informative video on how to do it here.

There were a couple other reasons we opted for the turkey fryer instead of the stove top.  We figured it would be best to boil outdoors.  The massive amounts of heat and steam generated during the boil will likely overwhelm your kitchen vent hood.  I don’t even have a vent hood, so indoor boiling was definitely out of the question.  The boiling wort also has a very strong, very peculiar grassy odour.

Since we have extracted proteins and amino acids from the grains, there is risk of a frothy head developing, and the pot will boil over if not carefully controlled.  This will most likely happen as the wort first reaches the boil, when the heat is cranked.


About Hops.  In Europe, beer has always been flavoured with herbs and spices, but before hops became the norm, a mixture called gruit, which might include rosemary, bogmyrtle, yarrow, coriander, and juniper, was used. Hops was first used in Bavaria, and the practice spread throughout Europe because it preserved the beer better than other bittering agents.  It is now by far the most common way to bitter beer, though some craft breweries are toying with the old gruit mixtures.

Hops is a climbing vine in the hemp family.  It’s a common ornamental plant, and can grow like a weed.  In fact, there’s a hops plant down the street from me that has taken over a caragana bush and a lilac tree.  Hops vines produce papery cones that are colloquially referred to as flowers or catkins, but are botanically properly called strobiles, whatever that means.  At the centre of the catkin is a stem called a strig that is covered in an oil called lupulin.  Lupulin contains the resins that give beer its bitterness, as well as some of its aroma and flavour.  There are two types of acid in lupulin, called alpha and beta.  The alpha acids are much more important, and in fact are used to measure the bitterness of each hops plant.

Fresh hops cones can be used to bitter beer, but the more common form is compressed pellets, available at homebrew shops.  When you buy a little baggy of hops it will have the percent alpha acid written on the bag.

Different varieties of hops have very different bittering power, flavour, and aroma.  The percent alpha acid gives you an indication of bittering power only.  Flavour and aroma are determined by the variety of hops and where it was grown.  There are countless varieties, but they are grouped largely into four styles that give some idea of flavour and aroma: British, German, Czech, and American.  American hops, for instance, are known for the muscular scent of pine and exotic fruits like grapefruit, passionfruit, and sometimes even lychee.


The bittering, flavour, and aroma hops portioned into cupsAdding Hops.  The flavourful compounds in hops are much more volatile than the bittering compounds, and the aroma compounds are even more volatile than these.  If you were to add the aroma hops at the beginning of a two hour boil, the delicate, volatile aromatics would be destroyed.  For this reason there are typically at least three hops additions during the boil.  The first, done at the beginning of the boil, extracts bitterness.  The next, done about fifteens minutes before the end of the boil, is for the more delicate flavours of the hops.  And for the last minute of the boil, aroma-hops are added.


Removing Trub.  After the boil is complete, there will be a lot of sludge in the pot.  These are the various proteins and tannin-protein combos that were coagulated by the boiling.  It looks disgusting, but is called trub.  There are a few traditional ways of dealing with trub, but the reality is that it will settle to the bottom, and you can simply syphon the clean wort off of it.


Chilling Wort.  Though the aggressive boil has driven off a lot of DMS, there are still some precursors in the wort.  As long as the wort is held above 140°F (60°C), these precursors will slowly turn to DMS.  We therefore want to chill the wort very quickly.

There are many ways to do this.  At this time of year you could easily cover the boiling pot and set it in a snow bank, but serious homebrewers use some form of heat-exchanger.  There are two main styles used in homebrewing: submersible and counterflow.  Submersible heat exchangers are coils of copper tubing, submerged in the hot wort, that have cold water running through them.  Many people brew great beer with this style of chiller, but from a heat exchange standpoint it isn’t ideal.  You have a relatively small amount of cold water chilling a very large amount of hot wort.  And since you are cooling the entire batch at once, the temperature drop is slow, and you spend more time in the DMS and pathogenic danger zones.


A counter-flow wort chiller made from rubber garden hose and soft copper tubing

A Counterflow Wort Chiller.  In a counterflow wort chiller, the hot wort is gravity drained through thirty feet of copper tubing.  The copper tubing is fed through a wider rubber hose, through which cold water is pumped in the opposite direction of the wort.  In the time is takes the wort to travel through the coil, less than five seconds, it goes from about 200°F to 50°F.  I guess it actually works a little too well, because you have to wait for the wort to come up to room temperature to take accurate gravity readings and pitch the yeast.

I could explain how I built my chiller, but I’d just be rehashing the sites that taught me:  this one and this one.  The only special skill required is soldering some copper joints.  I had never done this before.  I watched a YouTube video and fifteen minutes later I was soldering.  It felt like I was in the Matrix and someone back in the real world had uploaded a lifetime of kung fu into my brain.  Yay for the information age.  Anyways, if you already have soldering equipment (a blowtorch, flux, and solder) you can build this chiller for less than $100 bucks.  All you need is:

  • $60 of copper tubing from a plumbing supply shop
  • $20 of rubber hose from a hardware store
  • $15 worth of copper connections, tie wraps, hose clamps, et c. from a hardware store

The biggest problem is keeping the chiller clean and rust-free.

Running sterilant through the wort chiller



The old saying is, “Brewers make wort.  Yeast makes beer.”  At this point, we have completed the formulation of wort, and therefore our responsibilities as brewers are largely done; the yeast is going to take over for a week or two.

Next up: Fermentation.

Homebrew: Mashing

As mentioned in the Intro, the primary job of a brewer is to create a fermentable liquid called wort.  This involves converting some of the complex starches found in grain to simple sugars, then extracting those sugars into a solution so that yeast can metabolize them and create alcohol, carbon dioxide, and a number of other aromatic and flavourful compounds.

This post is about making wort.  It includes info on water, barley, malt, grinding, mashing, lautering, and sparging.


Water.  Water is important.  Beer is, after all, mostly water.  So are we.  Historically the water source at a brewery informed the style of beer that they made.  Places with alkaline water found that using acidic, heavily roasted malts balanced out the subtle bitterness of their water.  This was the case in much of London (think: porter), Dublin (where they make Irish stouts like Guinness), and Munich (home to bocs and dark wheat beers).  By comparison, the relatively soft, neutral waters of Pilsen were able to take on a large amount of hops, and became famous for the crisp, bitter lagers they produced.  With our modern understanding of water composition, and the advent of regulated, municipal water sources, few brewers actually let their water composition dictate the style of beer they make.  More likely they filter water from a municipal source, then add compounds to tailor the liquid to the beer they want to brew.  Many homebrewers will buy jugs of spring water to use in brewing.  Frankly, water chemistry is very complex, and for my first brew I just used tap water.  Seems to have worked okay…


Grains.  Many grains can be used in brewing, but barley is by far the most common because it contains a large amount of starch, as well as the right set of enzymes to convert that starch into sugar.  Within each grain is a tiny germ, which is the embryo of the plant.  Next to the germ is a large mass of starch called the endosperm that will act as food for the growing seedling.  The outermost layer of the grain is a tough, fibrous shield called the husk.

A two-row base malt called Golden PromiseMalting.  After harvest kernels of barley destined to become beer are malted.  Malting is simply germinating.  If you’ve ever sprouted wheat, you’ve made malt.  The process is identical: the barley is moistened, and after a few days the kernels grow little sprouts.  Malting prompts the germ to produce enzymes that break down the cell walls of the grain and convert some of the starches to sugars.  The degree to which the grain is malted is called the modification.  It’s measured by the length of the sprout relative to the length of the grain, 100% modification meaning that the sprout is as long as the grain.


Kilning.  Next the germinated grain is roasted in a kiln.  This serves a few purposes: it kills the germ, arresting the production of enzymes and fixing the sugar content; it generates colour and flavour by caramelizing some of the sugars; and it preserves the grain, which after kilning can be stored for months before being used in brewing.

Grains can be kilned to a wide array of colours and flavours.  There are several scales by which malt colour is measured, but most homebrewers use degrees Lovibond.  Malt on the light end of the spectrum, from say 1 to 15 degrees Lovibond, is called base malt because it is neutral and serves as the main malt in most styles of beer.  Darker malts from 15 to 200 degrees Lovibond are called colour malts and are typically used in smaller quantities to add colour and aroma.  The far dark end of the spectrum, from 350 to 600 Lovibond includes heavily roasted grain that gives the beer a chocolatey flavour and blackish colour.

Malting and kilning are performed by maltsters.  Most homebrewers purchase malt.  There is a guy who lives down the street from me that grows barley in his front yard, then malts and kilns it himself.  This is the dream.  For now I buy malt from the brewshop.


Grinding the malt into grist using an old-timey grain millGrinding.  Once the various malts have been combined according to the brewer’s recipe, the mixture is ground to maximize the extraction of starch, sugar, and protein.  In most styles of brewing, the husk of the grain will later act as a filter.  The goal of grinding is therefore to pulverize the endosperm to a very fine grist, while keeping the husks relatively in tact.

I used a hand-driven grain mill that Lisa bought at a garage sale.  It actually works great.  It takes maybe fifteen minutes to grind the requisite 10 lbs of grain for a 5 gallon batch of beer.  Once the malt is ground, it’s called grist.


Mashing at 154°FMashing is the word for steeping grist in hot liquor, which is what brewers call water.  Basically the malt slurry is held at a set temperature for a couple hours.  The temperature is chosen to maximize enzymatic activity.  There are many, many ways to mash, ranging from the very simple, to the very complex.  Most homebrewers use what is called single infusion mashing.  This means that you bring the liquor to a desired temperature, called the strike temperature, then stir in the grain.   Our desired mashing temperature was 154°F.  Accounting for the fact that the grist will drop the temperature of the liquor, we heated the water to 169°F, then added our malt, which after a couple minutes of stirring, came down to 154°F.


Removing the grain bag from the potLautering and Sparging.  Lautering is separating the grist from the wort.  In traditional brewing the husks in the grist settle to the bottom of a tank and form a natural filter through which the wort can be drained.  This grain bed can be rinsed with more hot water to wash a bit more starchy sugary goodness from the grist.  This process is known as sparging.


Brewing in a bag.  There is a modern homebrew method that actually combines mashing and lautering into a single pot.  After grinding the malt, we loaded the grist into a jelly bag.  For the mashing process, we simply lowered the grain bag into the hot liquor.  After mashing, we pulled the bag from the pot, negating the need for traditional lautering.  We sparged by pouring hot water over the grist.


At this point we have extracted everything that we need from the grain: it’s “spent,” and can be discarded, or possibly added to your compost, but don’t quote me on that.  The next step is to boil the hell out of the wort, and bitter it with hops.

Introduction to Homebrewing

Neil supervising the sterilization of the wort chillerI consider apple cider to be a generous gift from nature: with a small amount of work you can secure enough alcohol to last a year.  There are thousands of well-established apple trees in Edmonton.  At this point in time most of the owners can’t or don’t want to use all the fruit, and by volunteering with OFRE or just knocking on doors you have easy access.  Once you have secured apples, if you crush and press them, they will, of their own accord, turn into cider.  No need to add sugar, or acid, or yeast, or anything.  It’s amazing.

Beer is quite the opposite.  Brewing is so complicated, and relies so heavily on human intervention, it’s difficult to imagine that ancient civilizations were able to stumble upon its invention.  The crux is this: while there is abundant natural sugar in apples and grapes, and abundant natural yeast waiting to metabolize that sugar, the sugars in grains are very complex and completely indigestible to yeast in their natural state.  The grains must go through lengthy processing before there is accessible, useful sugars.  Those processes include: forced germination, roasting, grinding, extraction into liquid, induced enzymatic activity to convert complex starches into simpler sugars, boiling, bittering, and chilling.

Just as you can go to a homebrew shop and buy a bag of concentrated grape juice and a packet of yeast, you can also find concentrated wort, a syrupy liquid to which all these processes have already been applied.  All you need to do is dilute the mixture slightly and add yeast.  But that wouldn’t be very fun, would it?

This fall saw my first attempt at homebrewing from scratch, that is, starting with malted barley, hops, and water, and finishing with beer.  Homebrewers call this “all grain brewing” to distinguish it from other methods that make use of commercially produced wort or malt extract.  It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, partly because I drink so much beer, and partly because of Alberta’s historic association with grain-growing.

Ingredients for brewing are available at homebrew shops around town, notably Winning Wines Plus in Lendrum.  Equipment is a little trickier.  In fact the bulk of the start-up cost and effort went into procuring or fabricating special equipment like gas burners and counterflow heat exchangers.

This fall we made two 5 gallon batches of an English pale ale.  Since the process is a lengthy one, I’ve broken it into five posts:

  • Introduction to Homebrewing (this post…)
  • Mashing
  • Boiling
  • Fermentation
  • Bottling and Kegging

Tomorrow we discuss malt and mashing!

Yard of Flannel (a het pint…)

Yard of flannel is hot ale, laced with rum and spices, and thickened with egg.

Though there’s a surprising number of beer and cocktail blogs that have tried out old recipes of yard of flannel, there’s very little information on the history of this drink available online.

I’ve found no documented link between these two drinks, but yard of flannel is nearly identical in recipe and preparation to an old Scots cocktail called het pint (literally “hot pint”).  The only difference is that the Scots version typically uses whiskey instead of rum.

Het pint was once an important part of Scottish celebrations, especially Hogmanay, the Scots New Year.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, public houses made het pint on New Year’s eve, and villagers would buy a copper-kettle’s-worth to take home for the festivities.

Kettles of het pint would also be carried through the streets by “first-footers.”  The first person to enter a house on New Year’s day was said to be a foretoken of the prosperity of the coming year.  The first-foot was ideally “a man, tall with dark hair… carrying gifts, including whisky, tea, coal, or salt, symbols of good health, good fortune, good luck, a warm home, and a full larder.”[1]  In some traditions the first person to cross the threshold is a more or less random event.  In others young men would travel from house to house with gifts.  These first-footers often carried pots of het pint with them as they walked through the town, offering the drink to passers-by.

Het pint was consumed at many other celebrations, notably rural weddings on Orkney.[2]

A frothy yard of flannelNot only are recipes for het pint and yard of flannel consistenty nearly identical, they both use the same technique to develop a tall foamy head on the drink.  When agitated, the egg proteins develop a head that is much more stable than that of beer alone (think: meringue).  The head on het pint and yard of flannel is traditionally produced by pouring the drink back and forth between two mugs in a tall cascade.

Ale makes up the bulk of the drink, so the choice of ale to be used is the most important decision made by the cook.  Nowadays “ale” refers to a beverage that undergoes a warm fermentation with a top-fermenting strain of yeast, typically producing an aromatic, fruity, floral beer.  It’s counterpart, “lager,” goes through a colder, longer fermentation with a bottom-fermenting strain of yeast, resulting in a cleaner, crisper drink.

Until atleast the nineteenth century, in Great Britain the word “beer” referred exclusively to hopped beers (a Bavarian invention), while “ale” was reserved for the traditional, unhopped, British drink.  Therefore the “ale” called for in old het pint recipes refers to this ancient style of British beer.  Many contemporary beers made in the UK are reminiscent of these older styles, though they do contain some hops.  Here’s a description of modern Scottish ale:

Scottish Ales traditionally go through a long boil in the kettle for a caramelization of the wort. This produces a deep copper to brown… brew and a higher level of unfermentable sugars which create a rich mouthfeel and malty flavors and aromas. Overall hop character is low, light floral or herbal, allowing its signature malt profile to be the highlight.[3]

This style of beer makes perfect sense for het pint, as the malt and caramel flavours compliment the rum or whisky.  The pronounced hops flavour of most contemporary beers would probably be out of place.

I’ve hear that the “yard” in yard of flannel refers to the yard-long glasses in which the drink was once served, and the “flannel” refers to the rich, soft mouthfeel developed by the heated eggs.  I can’t find a reliable source for that information.

I don’t imagine this drink will be everyone’s cup of tea, as the modern man doesn’t like the thought of drinking hot eggs, but I have to say it’s a well-balanced cocktail with a fantastic mouthfeel.

Yard of Flannel (a het pint…)
adapted from Back to Basics


  • 1 large egg
  • 1/6 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • fresh grated nutmeg to taste
  • 341 mL your favourite English pale ale, Scottish ale, or possibly brown ale
  • 1/6 cup golden rum


  1. Whisk together egg, sugar, and salt.>
  2. Gently heat ale and nutmeg in a heavy-bottomed pot.  Do not let the ale boil.
  3. Once the ale mixture is starting to steam, slowly pour it into the egg while whisking.  Adding the ale too quickly may curdle the egg, which would be bad.
  4. If you’re a stickler for tradition, you can develop the head by pouring the mixture back and forth between two mugs.  As you can probably imagine, this quickly cools down the drink.  You can get just as good a head by whisking vigorously while the flannel is still in the bowl.


1. Duncan, Dorothy. Feasting and Fasting: Canada’s Heritage Celebrations. ©2010 Dorothy Duncan. Dundurn Press, Toronto, ON. Page 313.
2.  McNeill, F. Marian.  The Scots Kitchen.  ©2010 The Estate of F. Marian McNeill.  Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Page 309.
3.  Beer Advocate.com


A plate of rarebit, hot cheese and beer on toastThis dish is most commonly called either “Welsh rarebit” or “Welsh rabbit.” “Rabbit” is the original name, though no one knows the origin of the term. Some say it was originally derogatory, suggesting that if a Welshman went out to hunt rabbit, he would end up eating cheese for dinner.  The dish is currently experiencing a revival, and modern authors and cooks prefer to use the corruption “rarebit,” as it avoids the obvious confusion with the hopping mammal.

At its heart, rabbit is hot cheese on toast. The best versions also include beer.  I borrowed a technique from Fergus Henderson’s book The Whole Beast. He makes a roux, then whisks his beer into it, creating what is essentially a beer velouté. The cheese is then melted into this sauce.

I made a Scots version using Pumphouse Scotch Ale.

A Scots Rabbit – hot cheese on toast


  • one tablespoon butter
  • one tablespoon white flour
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • one cup Pumphouse Scotch Ale
  • one pound cheddar, grated


  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour, and cook until starting to colour.
  2. Whisk in the beer and bring to a simmer. Add the cheese. Stir the mixture until the cheese is thoroughly melted and a uniform sauce forms. Pour into a shallow dish and allow to set. This can be done the day before the meal.
  3. To serve, spread onto pieces of toast and broil until the cheese browns.

The rabbit goes very well with a glass of the beer you used to prepare it. Actually it goes well with alcohol of any kind.

Alberta Beer: A Thought Experiment

What makes beer “local”? Is it simply that it’s brewed in Edmonton? Do the grains and hops have to be from Alberta? Do the water and yeast? Could it be that the origin of the ingredients is only one part of the equation? What about how we brew and bitter our grains?

In modern practice, beer is made of grains that are malted, roasted, mashed, bittered with hops, fermented, and carbonated. Which of these processes are necessary, and which are a matter of cultural preference?

Strictly speaking, malting isn’t required, though something must be done to break down the cell walls of the grains, and to convert some of the starches to sugars. Malting prompts the germ of the grain to produce enzymes that accomplish these tasks. However, there are also enzymes in our saliva that Incan women once used to break down cornmeal so that it could be fermented. Certain types of mold produce similar enzymes that the Chinese have used for thousands of years to produce rice wine.

The roasting, or kilning, of the malted grain serves a few purposes. It kills the germ, arresting the production of enzymes and fixing the sugar content. It also generates colour and flavour by caramelizing some of those sugars. Finally, roasting also preserves the grains; kilned malt can be kept for months before being used in brewing.

Mashing, that is, mixing the roasted malt with hot water, draws the starches, sugars, and proteins out of the grains and into solution. It also reactivates the enzymes that convert starch to sugar and proteins to amino acids.

The next step uses hops to imbue bitterness and aroma to the mixture. In Europe, beer has always been flavoured with herbs, but before hops became the norm, a mixture called gruit, which might include rosemary, bogmyrtle, yarrow, coriander, and juniper, was used. Hops was first used in Bavaria, and it spread throughout Europe because it preserved the beer better than other bittering agents.

This is a point in the brewing process that could define an Albertan beer. While hops can definitely be grown in Alberta (actually it grows like a weed…), I don’t think it’s harvested commercially, and I’m certain that local brewers don’t use local hops. Why not add the aroma and flavour of something else?

A pint of homebrewThe first thing that comes to my mind is juniper, which is similar to hops, with sweet pine and citrus notes, though it lacks the pronounced bitterness.

I experimented with these flavours when brewing a Christmas beer. Actually that statement gives me more credit than I deserve. What really happened is I botched a batch of beer that I was making from a store-bought wort concentrate.

For some reason the ale finished extremely bright and fruity, with almost no hints of caramel or hops or really any balancing flavours. I was seriously considering throwing out the entire 20 L batch. I wondered if there was a way to bitter the beer at this stage. Could I make a juniper infusion to mix into the beer? I boiled juniper berries for an hour before realizing that I already had the very essence of juniper in my cupboard. I poured gin into my beer.

The taste of pineneedle and fruit, along with the high alcohol content, make this a fantastic Christmas beer.

While I’m happy to stir some gin into my beer simply so that it doesn’t go to waste, I now know that the flavours of roasted malt and juniper berry work well together, and my goal this spring is to brew a beer from scratch that incorporates juniper in the traditional boiling method.

Anyways. Continuing with the list of beer processes, obviously fermentation is necessary. I define beer as a drink made from fermented grains.

Finally is the issue of carbonation. Before modern bottling techniques were developed in the 1600s, no beer was carbonated. Once bottled, if fermentation persisted, carbon dioxide was trapped in the solution, and the beer became fizzy when opened. After many years, this effect is now expected by beer-drinkers the world over. Conventional modern commercial brewers are careful to ensure fermentaion has stopped before they bottle their beer. They inject carbon dioxide into the mix at bottling.

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t like being served flat beer when I know it’s supposed to be carbonated, but carbonation is definitely something I’ll be playing with this spring.

Applejack – Concentration by Freezing

A glass of homemade applejackWhile reading the maple syrup section of On Food and Cooking, I came across a shocking bit of information.

Even though North American Indians didn’t have metal pots until the Europeans came, they had an ingenious method for reducing maple sap to make syrup. They would leave the sap in the cold air overnight. In the morning there would be ice on top. That ice would be mostly (but not exclusively) water, so in discarding the ice they were left with a higher concentration of sugar in the sap.

After reading this, I immediately turned to the section of the book on distilled spirits, to see if there was any mention of whether this method works to concentrate alcoholic solutions. Sure enough, there was a boxed sidenote titled, “Concentration by Freezing,” with references to all kinds of liquors that are made in the frosty outdoors and never see the inside of a still.

On the internet, notably Wikipedia, this process goes by the name “freeze distillation.” My dad, a process engineer, takes exception to the term, as distillation separates solutes based on their different boiling points. There is a process called freeze crystallization that separates solutes based on their different freezing points, but that doesn’t apply here, either. The large difference between the freezing points of water (0°C) and ethanol (-114°C) is not what makes this process work, as evidenced by the fact that the process can concentrate maple syrup, which has no ethanol. I’m going to use the accurate though somewhat anemic word “concentration.”


Put your drink in a bowl and put it in a freezing environment like, say, your freezer. Or maybe your backyard.

When I first read about freeze-concentration, I imagined that there would be a clear, easily separated layer of pure ice on top, and a liquor beneath. This is not what happens. Instead you end up with a strange, delicate-but-solid crystalline block.

Freezing cider: the first step in making applejack

If you turn this block of ice into another container, you can easily mash it up into a slushy mixture.

The frozen apple cider is broken up to make this slushy mixtureNext you can strain the liquid off the ice crystals.

Straining the liquid off the slushAnd to maximize extract, you can transfer the remaining ice to a salad spinner to squeeze out a bit more applejack.

Spinning the remaining ice to extract more liquid


I started with 10 L of cider, and finished with between 2.25 and 2.50 L of applejack for a volume yield of about 23%.

  • Appearance -The applejack is slightly darker than the cider, with a bronze hue compared to the cider’s gold (image below).
  • Nose –
  • Taste – The difference in taste is pretty substantial. Sharply acidic, with warming alcohol.
  • Mouthfeel – The applejack had a subtly richer mouthfeel.  I was using still cider, but note that if you use bubbly stuff the apple jack will not be carbonated…

A glass of applejack beside a glass of cider: note the darker, bronze colour of the applejack

I also tried this concentration method with beer. I had never heard of beer being freeze-concentrated, but I thought I should try it, since the AGLC has banned strong beer from stores. [Editor’s Note:  There is a classic German beer that is freeze-concentrated: it’s called an Eisbock.]  I used Big Rock Traditional Ale, which is based on (ahem) traditional English ales. It has a dark caramel colour with a hint of red, and is very clear. It has a slightly fruity nose and tastes of caramel and roasted malt. It’s one of my favourite Albertan beers.

I froze 700 g of beer and pressed 215 g of liquor from the ice, meaning roughly two thirds of the beer was wasted.

  • Appearance -The liquor was ever so slightly darker than the original beer.
  • Taste – The difference in taste was noticeable, but subtle. The sweetness and the roasted, caramel notes were definitely enhanced, though it didn’t taste any more boozy than the original.
  • Mouthfeel – The beer lost its carbonation.
  • Overall assessment – The results were pleasing, but not nearly good enough to justify wasting two thirds of a beer.

Future Experiments

In terms of percent of alcohol captured from the original drink, freeze-concentrating is not as effective as distillation, but it definitely has its advantages. It preserves the flavour of the original drink much, much better than distillation, which doesn’t capture any sugars or acidity.

Freeze-concentrating also has advantages over heat-concentrating (ie. reducing over heat). Aggressive concentration by heat introduces dark caramel flavours to the liquid. If you had a chance to taste Indian Head birch syrup when the River Valley Syrup Company was selling at the Old Strathcona market, you know that it is a lot darker in colour and taste than most maple syrup. I think this was because birch sap has a lower sugar concentration than maple, and was therefore reduced more in order to produce a comparably sweet product. The prolonged reduction resulted in lots of deeply caramelized sugars. That darkness of flavour was certainly one of the appeals of the product, but it would be interesting to try freeze-concentrating sap.