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Gluten Free Home Brewing Blog

All Grain Brewing with Red Sorghum Malt

By Brian Newcomb, Gluten Free Beer Brian, owner of Gluten Free Brew Supply  -  October 30th, 2021

Shared with permission by gfbsupply.com

Most gluten free brewers and drinkers know about sorghum syrup which is an extract made from unmalted White Sorghum grain. While easy to use, Sorghum Syrup can have a “metallic twang” or a bitter aftertaste to it and has given sorghum a bad rap to some drinkers and brewers. The Red Sorghum Malt I am working with is a specific varietal of Red Sorghum, developed and owned by BARDS BEER, which has been malted (sprouted and kiln dried) for making gf beer. The sales pitch from BARDS is that this variant of Red Sorghum, when malted, offers the benefits of brewing with a gluten free grain that can fully replace barley without the potential off flavors  flavor of White Sorghum Syrup, is high in FAN and other essential yeast nutrients to promote a healthy fermentation and is easier to work with than Millet.

  • First brews and first impressions.

 To learn the flavor profile of the malt, I did a small stove top falling step mash with my usual enzyme protocol of Termamyl Ondea Pro and Ceremix Flex. This wort was strained into a 1 gal sterilized fermenter and I pitched us-05 yeast. This fermented for a week at ambient basement temperature in the low 60s. No hops or other flavorings were added. The OG was 1.060 and the FG was 1.002. Flavor wise I got subtle fruity and honey notes, no overwhelming or overpowering flavors and a clean finish with no perceptible lingering aftertaste. I can definitely say red sorghum malt has a different flavor profile than the syrup. I do not experience the “twang” that I experience with sorghum syrup. I have shared my Sorghum Malt beers with friends, beer bloggers and even some wheat eating, barley drinking BJCP judges and none have mentioned the usual sorghum syrup descriptors or any off flavors.

  • Dialing it in! With help from a friend.

 JP Bierly joined me in playing around with the Sorghum Malt and we have been comparing notes every batch. We each began by trialing differing mash regimens using Ceremix flex, Ondea Pro and Termamyl, keeping the dosing rate the same for every batch. Rising step, falling step, cereal cooking and even a “YO-YO” (low to high to low to high) mashes were all tried. I will spare you the specific results and generalize our findings and conclusions. I did try a few SMaSH beers with red sorghum malt, while they were tasty I knew I could make a better beer using the full spectrum of malts available, specifically head retention and body were not where I wanted them to be. A typical grist has been 40%-70% Red Sorghum Malt  with the rest being Millet, Rice, Buckwheat, Corn and/or Oat Malt. (note JP does not use oats in any of his beers)

  • MILLING and MASHING

 Sorghum is a bit larger than Millet (see photo comparing white proso millet and red sorghum). I have been using a Corona Mill and loosen the bolt a turn or two after running millet. The goal is no flour and each grain is broken into about 6 pieces. JP found that the mill gap setting of around 0.7 mm or roughly the same as the mill gap setting for Rice Malt worked well to crack the malt.

The husk of the sorghum is red and the interior is white, depending how the malt is milled and mashed the red color may carry over to the fermenter, and if one is impatient even to the keg. This pink color does settle out, but grists that used 60% or more sorghum malt were between 6-8 degrees lovibond in color.  A finer crush and higher mash temps, especially above 185f seem to be primary factors in the extraction of this color and I suspect mash pH may play a role. However, since the color has been dropping out before packaging, and doesn't impact flavor I have not put effort into finding the cause. If your beer looks “too red” just leave it alone for a week. Avoid mash temperatures above 190f to prevent a hazy red color. Boiling sorghum resulted in a very sticky mash and reduced extraction. A falling step mash will work and MAY result in higher efficiency. We abandoned the falling mash as the extra extraction failed to outweigh the benefits we see using a rising step mash in general on our equipment.

JP and I have run a number of different mashes and have both settled on a rising step mash. While a Yo Yo mash regime resulted in higher efficiency I/we don't feel the slight increase is worth the effort. Malt flavor and final gravity total fermentability did not seem to be significantly impacted by differing mash techniques or mash efficiencies. Using a rising step with Ondea Pro, Ceremix Flex, and Termamyl each dosed at 1ml/lb total grist with a mash temperature schedule of 125f for 25 min 145f for 45 min and a slow rise to 185f for 45-90 minutes has been delivering me a very consistent 85% efficiency (using 33ppg for the Sorghum) regardless of what other grains are in my grist. This is without optimizing mash pH and simply using my tap water.

 The biggest difference between Red Sorghum Malt and White Sorghum Syrup that we have seen is the FLAVOR. JP brewed a few beers replacing the White Sorghum Syrup with Red Sorghum Malt. The Malt versions all finished slightly drier than the syrup versions, 1.006 instead of 1.008 on a pilsner and 1.015 instead of 1.020 for a porter. The more meaningful difference was the flavor. JP remarked that while both the syrup and malt versions were great beers they were also “definitely different beers.”

I have been seeing about 0.005- 0.008 lower FG for all grain recipes compared to all millet/rice grits. With all my batches finishing below 1.010. It is important when designing a recipe to anticipate this lower FG and the higher resulting abv when designing and brewing a beer. I have made a few beers with a higher abv than I was targeting. The fun part here is you can use a higher percentage of less fermentable character malts for a more robust flavor or color impact and not have an overly sweet beer.  Dryer beers also expresses more hop and yeast character.

  • Conclusions

 While Red Sorghum Malt isn’t going to completely replace the existing GF Malts, it is a great addition to the Gluten Free Brewers palette of flavors we use to paint a pint beer. It is very easy to work with, can be plugged in for a base malt and mashed as you normally would. The larger grain size makes it easier to run through a standard mill and is less prone to getting through the false bottom. The inherent high fermentability and Sorghums' fruity notes are perfectly suited to certain styles such as Berliner Weis, Gose, Pale Ale, IPA, NEIPA, Dry Stout, Brute, Belgian Strong. So far I have made a Dry Oat Stout that was excellent. A Pale ale that has gummy bear notes yet is still bright and light with a crisp ending, a Belgian Strong Ale that was over 9%abv and a slew of juicy Hazy IPAs.

  • Recommendations for brewing with Red Sorghum Malt

Grist composition 40%-70% recommended. up to 100% can be delicious.
Mill with a 0.7 mil gap
Mash ph 5.2
Enzymes. Ondea Pro 1ml/lb Ceremix Flex 1ml/lb Termamyl 1ml/lb
Rising step mash. 125f for 25min 145f for 45min 185f for 45-90min

PPG 33 (reported by BARDS BEER)
SRM 3-4 (reported by BARDS BEER)

Most importantly, be creative, have fun and RDWHAGFHB!

Red Sorghum Malt is available on Gfbsupply.com

Brian Newcomb is a Gluten Free Beer reviewer,  Homebrewer, Blogger, owner of Gluten Free Brew Supply and is The Michigan Brand Ambassador for Ground Breaker Brewing. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram @glutenfreebeerbrian

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