Lastly, as promised, a lentil beer update! I have consumed now consumed…lentil beer, sort of. And lived! Let me explain.
As I have discussed many times, the seemingly ultimate challenge to test the versatility of lentils I decided to try was lentil beer. Rather than an individual hurdle like many of the other recipes contained, lentil beer required utilizing multiple novel techniques as well as detailed planning. The steps:
1) Traditionally, beer is made from wheat or barley malt, hops, yeast and water (adjunct grains, like rice, are used in mass-quantity, domestic beers as filler). The alcohol comes from the fermentation of sugars in the malt by the yeast. Therefore, in order to make lentil beer, I would need to discover how to make lentil malt.
2) Research regarding malts led to lots of cool tidbits on the only part of brewing I had yet to try (I have always used canned malt extract when making batches of beer). The most helpful realization: the barley or wheat must first be sprouted in order to cause the grains to release amylase, which breaks the long starch molecules in the plants down into smaller components that the yeast can ferment. (Tangential fun fact: another source of amylase is saliva, so technically I could chew the lentils and spit them into a container to provide the amylase, which is the traditional technique for the Latin American, corn-based drink, Chicha
.) So now the questions is: can I sprout lentils?
3) Anyone who has read the sprouted lentil stir fry knows that I found out the answer is yes. And that it is done quite commonly. So I decided that in theory if I were to mash the sprouted lentils and heat them in a pot of water at around 170F and a pH of 5.5, activating the amylase, then I should be able to get a sugary wort
from the lentils to use in fermentation. So that is what I tried. Unfortunately, my specific gravity did not go up. In brewing, the amount of sugar is usually measured by specific gravity (which is the density of the liquid with respect to water). Larger specific gravities mean more sugar in the solution. When the beer ferments, the sugars turn into alcohol, which is lighter than water, so the density goes down. Measuring specific gravity allows you to both calculate the fermented sugars (and thus alcohol percentage) as well as verify that the fermentation process is completed so that it does not start up again after bottling, resulting in exploding bottles. Since my specific gravity didn’t go up, it meant that I didn’t have significant amounts of sugars in the wort to facilitate brewing. At this point I had consumed a few beers and began to get frustrated, so I started grabbing handfuls of brown sugar and throwing them into the wort. And this is where the recipe begins to deviate from ideal. With the sugar added, there was now fermentable material, so what I needed was yeast.
4) For yeast I had planned on using Chimay Belgium Trappist Ale yeast. This is one of my favorite tricks in brewing. Anytime you buy a bottle-conditioned beer (Belgian trappists, German hefeweizens, etc. are popular options), the yeast used to brew the beer are still in the bottle. Since there aren’t sugars left for them to digest, they lay dormant; however, if you decant most of the beer and then add the last yeast-rich slurry to a little sugar, voila!, they awaken and begin fermenting anew. Thus if you ever want to brew a beer closely in the style of a Belgian trappist, what better way than to use the exact same yeast strain? So I decanted most of my bottle into a glass and then added the rest to my one quart of wort, hoping it would ferment. I put it in a mason jar and added an airlock
to the top.
5) Sure enough, the beer fermented and after I measured the specific gravity, I was able to determine that I had made 6.4% alcohol beer! I added a little bit of sugar to be fermented for carbonation and bottled the mixture into two bottles: one 12oz. and one 22oz. After waiting a week, I chilled it in the fridge and gave it a try. It is….interesting. It is very bright with heavy apple and citrus notes. Having had the Chimay, I know that most of these tastes were produced by the yeast itself as it fermented the brown sugar; however, there is an underlying body and almost earthy taste that comes from the lentils. It may not be a beer that I would want to drink in endless glasses but it was good enough to make me want to try to make it again for real.
6) Which brings me to my last point. Lentil Beer: Part Deux. I’m still not sure exactly how I will fix the wort-making process, but I am currently sprouting two batches of lentils that hopefully I will be able to turn into sugary goodness. I will keep you posted on the status, but the fact that the first batch was more-than-palatable makes me excited that I might be able to create an enjoyable lentil beer. And that would be a feat for this project.