Pastafarian Brewday: The Super Sekrit Wheat Beer Experiment

ORIGINAL POST (Written 14 Nov. 2011):

So, a few weeks ago, my friend Rowan and I got together at my place and brewed up an “experimental beer” — in the weizen style — using a very unusual ingredient. This post is coming so much later because we decided to keep it a secret till other people tried it, and then bust out the surprise.

The secret ingredient of the beer is…


And no, we’re far from the first people to try it. In fact, it was a thread at Homebrewtalk that got us considering the idea. Dry pasta, after all, is just a cooked mixture of wheat and water, and in Korea, at least, it is pound-for-pound much cheaper than wheat for brewing in any form — malted, torrefied, crystal wheat, or any of the other kinds that you might think of.

So we decided to brew with wheat… pasta.

The recipe is here, though you should note: where it says wheat? We used spaghetti.

I was sure we took pictures of the process, but we also shared a lot of beer that day, and I can’t find the pictures anymore, so here’s a simple explanation of the process we followed:

  • boil the crap out of the pasta — we used spaghetti
  • mash the pasta with base malt (we used pilsner) and some alpha amylase enyzme
  • pull out the bag and let it drain
  • pour hot water over the bag to “rinse” the mash, and then let it drain
  • boil up like a regular beer

It was our first time working with pasta, and a few problems happened that we’re considering “learning curve” issues. The main one was that we didn’t sufficiently mix the grains among the spaghetti, so that even though we did a long mash — I’d say it was a couple of hours — we got very low efficiency from the pasta, and poor conversion. (The iodine test came up negative even after the long mash, and after the boil, prompting me to add more amylase enzyme formula to the brew in the carboy.)

When we emptied out the bag, we discovered the long, stringy pasta had all clumped together, which probably accounts for a lot of the efficiency and conversion problems, too. Another lesson: mixing the grains while the pasta is still warm enough not to clump up will help, and, we suspect, working with smaller shapes of pasta is probably a good idea too.

For the vital statistics, we missed our target gravity (which, with the volume we ended up with, would be 1.043 — we were shooting for higher, but ended up with a higher volume than planned) by 13 points… which means we ended up with a 1.030 beer. I don’t know whether the starch converting to sugars in the carboy accounts for any of that, but the wheat beer in fact fermented all the way down to 1.010… meaning our beer is about 2.7% ABV. This is not horrible, and it tastes okay for such a low gravity.

In fact, it’s sweeter than I expect in a 1.010 FG beer — so much so that I can’t help but wonder whether there’s some leftover starches in there, which I’m perceiving as sugars because the enzymes in my saliva are converting them. I doubt it, but another iodine test couldn’t hurt.

However, I’ve decided to try hit our target gravity by racking 2 gallons off the beer (to which I’m likely to add some fruit juice or fruit, once I hear back from Rowan), and then mashing and boiling up a 1-gallon addition for the batch.

Now it’s time to show off a little brewing math. I have 4 gallons of wort at 1.030 OG. I want to end up with 5 gallons of wort at 1.050 OG. How high does the OG of my extra gallon need to be?

The trick is to simply consider how many gravity points per gallon we’re working with, both in terms of target total points and total points already achieved.

4 gallons at 1.030 OG (4 gallons x 30 points) = 120 points total in our 5 gallons.

5 gallons of 1.050 OG (5 gallons x 50 points) = 250 points total in our 5 gallons.

250-120=130. This means we need the final gallon I’ll be adding to be approximately 1.130 in gravity, in order to bring the total OG for the whole batch to an effective 1.050.

As for bittering, as long as I bitter this wort approximately as much as I bittered the original wort, it should work out to the same. (I don’t have the same hops on hand, but that shouldn’t be a big deal, as long as I’m only using bittering hops.)

As it turns out, a kilogram of pasta and a kilogram of Pilsner malt together work out to approximately 1.134 OG in a final volume of a gallon of wort. I’m not sure whether I can effectively mash all that in a gallon, though, so I’ll probably end up mashing in a bigger volume and then boiling it down at a gentle boil. (Since I want to avoid kettle caramelization: we used Vienna in our Wheat beer, so it’s an orangey hue already, and that’s as colorful as I want to go. The recipe I’m using for the fixer — subject to change, as I’ll mention below — is here.

Also worth noting: after Rowan had left, I pitched some of my old Weihanstephen yeast onto it, only to conclude after a few days with no activity that the yeast was all dead. I was worried about pitching the Bavarian Weizen I had on hand, since the last beer I made with it was a disaster… or, at least, was a disaster when it was young — but I figure now the main problem was temperature control. I kept our spaghetti beer at a low temperature when fermenting, and it’s miles ahead of where that earlier wheat beer ended up.

Depending on our results, I’m thinking I may try using pasta in a Belgian Wit next. Raw wheat is traditionally part of the grist for a Belgian wheat, and the Wit I fermented with the Forbidden Fruit yeast turned out to be just outstanding at six months, and after a couple of months’ conditioning in a bottle. I’m definitely looking for another chance to make a Wit along those lines, and pasta offers me another way of getting raw wheat in, especially when the source I had for raw wheat in Seoul is less than fully reliable.

However, my advice for anyone else trying this experiment is to avoid being all “experimental” about it and just make a good wheat beer, with pasta instead of wheat. We bandied about using oats, or doing a wit with other additions, but finally ended up just using pasta and some pilsner and vienna malt. (More Vienna than we should have, because I had some crushed Vienna on hand.) No oats, because we wanted to see what the pasta would add. Well, I think next time, oats are a must. Hell, I’m tempted to add oats to the small batch, just for the heck of it.

It was a bizarre experiment with my friend Rowan, but a worthwhile one, as well as a chance to hang out and spend time with a brewer friend. I like meeting up at bars and sharing our brews, but there’s something cool about spending a brewday together with another brewer… even if, well: note to self, it’s better not to share TOO many brews during a brewday. Charlie Papazian suggested that we “Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Home Brew” — not, “Relax, Don’t Worry, Get Hammered.”

UPDATE (16 Nov. 2011):

Today I made the fixer for this beer. Having racked 2 gallons out into a different container, the plan was to boil up a gallon of very high-gravity wort to add to the carboy. So I boiled up 500 grams of rotini for about an hour, then transferred it to a 2-gallon cooler and added about a gallon more of water along with the remnants of the boiling water and all of the pasta. The water was cooler, so I was able to bring the temperature of the pasta-mash to 65°C. Then I added some amylase enzyme formula, and closed up the cooler.

Eight or nine hours later, when I got home, I found the temperature had dropped signifiicantly, but as soon as I stirred the mash, I found the pasta was very different from the result when Rowan and I had attempted to mash our pasta. It was very soft, and not at all sticky, which was my first clue that conversion had really, truly happened. So I prepared my pilsner malt (1 kilogram) and 500 grams of quick oats, and then slid my grain bag over the cooler.

I was able to get all of the pasta into the grain bag, and to get all of the mash liquid into my 5-gallon boil pot. I dumped the grains into the grain bag, and then mixed them up all up very completely. The pasta was so malleable this was not at all difficult, though at the same time it wasn’t so reduced to mush that I had to struggle. It was pretty weird, to he honest.

Finally, after a 90 minute mash (I got busy) I found conversion had indeed completed — an iodine test confirmed it — and I removed the grain bag. I decided to go with no-sparge, mostly for simplicity’s sake, but also so I wouldn’t have to do an even longer boil. I ended up with what looked like about 2.5 gallons of wort. Once it had been boiled for 90 minutes or 2 hours, it was be closer to the 1-gallon target volume, and I’m assuming the OG was in line, since I have no way to take a reading on a wort that strong.

Then I poured it into the wort through a funnel, and left it be. We’ll see how fermentation proceeds. I was meaning to take pictures this time, but I forgot. Damn.

UPDATE (19 Nov. 2011): The fermentation is going really slowly, but it is going. No krausen, just some airlock activity to signal what’s going on. I am hoping to keg this at the end of next month, which should be possible if (a) the students at the Department party next Friday drink up properly, and (b) I manage to finish off my keg of Belgian Brown (which is what I’m calling the blend of a couple of Belgian-styled beers I made a few weeks ago.  I am hoping that the stressed yeast and the elevated temperature will produce some of the more weizen-like characters of the yeast in the beer, as the sample I had from the main batch was nice, but not very weizen-like. (I probably kept it too cool too long.)

In any case, we’ll see. I’m talking with Rob, the proprietor of Homebrew Korea and the guy who sets up the brewing contests, to see if we can make this a “guess the secret ingredient” contest for attendees of our next big brewfest.

UPDATE (25 Nov. 2011): This beer has a slightly wheat-beerier character than I sensed originally, at least when warm — I just ran a little off the keg and got a distinct banana character, though it was very mild. I’m hoping it gets more noticeable with a little conditioning.

UPDATE (18 Feb. 2012): The banana didn’t get more noticeable: it faded, in fact, so I dry-hopped the beer with a mix of American hops, though I cannot remember which ones. The batch is long gone, but my verdict is: making beer with pasta is not a bad idea, if wheat malt (or torrefied wheat) happens to be unavailable. Just don’t expect a lot of clove/banana precursors from the pasta.

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