Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A better way to brew with raw wheat berries

I love witbier. I hate milling raw wheat. Sure, I could use flaked wheat from my local homebrew store, but I can buy raw wheat berries for less than half the price. If you decide to grind them with a two-roller malt mill, you will regret every step in your life leading to that decision. If you use a Corona-style mill, you will be able to crush the raw wheat, but not without a lot of elbow grease, and a poor-quality grind. Mine tends to pulverize part of the wheat to flour, but leave some berries intact. This is likely because the Corona mill was not made for barley/wheat/rye, it was made to grind corn into grits or masa.

Masa is made by boiling raw corn in water with calcium hydroxide, then grinding. You then make tamales or tacos with it. On an industrial scale, they dry it and sell it as the instant masa mix (just add water) you may be familiar with.

How does this help us? If we can boil corn to soften it, then use our Corona to get a nice uniform paste, maybe we can boil our wheat berries to soften them, making them much easier to grind evenly.

Step 1) Place wheat berries into a pot (size of which depends on how much wheat you're using)
Step 2) Add enough water to cover, with 2-3" of standing water above the submerged berries.
Step 3) Bring to a boil while stirring.
Step 4) Reduce to a simmer. Simmer for exactly 15 minutes.
Step 5) Strain off liquid.
Step 6) Crush the softened berries in your Corona-type mill.


Left: Wheat berries that were boiled before milling.
Right: Un-boiled, milled wheat berries.
Both bags contain the same total amount of wheat berries.

The boiled and ground wheat berries. You can see that the pericarp is mostly intact.


A close up of the boiled and ground wheat berries. The pericarp is intact. The endosperm has been ground to flour.


A close-up of the unboiled, ground wheat berries. Notice the poor, irregular grind.


[Imaginary FAQ]

Why boil for exactly 15 minutes? 

5 minutes is too short. The berries will still be hard and a pain to grind. 10 minutes is better, but you'll shred most of the pericarp. 15 minutes gave the best results.

Wait, what's a pericarp? 

"Pericarp" is the name for the outer covering of a fruit.

But isn't wheat a grain, not a fruit?

A wheat berry is the fruit of a wheat plant, in the broadest sense of a "fruit." Barley and rye have husks covering their pericarp. Wheat lacks a husk. This is one reason why barley and rye are easier to brew with; the husk forms a natural filter bed for sediment during lautering.

Why should I care if I shred the pericarp?

Because wheat doesn't have a husk, using large amounts of wheat in a mash can lead to a slow or stuck lauter. If we can keep the pericarp of the wheat mostly intact, the pericarp will act like a husk, and help us filter the wort.

If the grain is wet, won't that clog up my mill?

If you're using a two-roller mill, that is possible, but it may not. If you use a Corona-type mill, it won't. Be sure to strain as much liquid as possible, but don't worry if the grain is still damp.

Ok, so the wheat looks prettier, but does it brew better? 

When I use this method, I see a faster lauter and clearer wort. The intact pericarp will make rice hulls unnecessary, even when using a large amount of raw wheat. Boiling the wheat has the secondary benefit of (partially?) pre-gelatinizing the wheat, making conversion quicker and easier, without the need for a cereal mash.



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