Spent Grain Sourdough

With a little planning ahead a brewing day can also be a baking day.   I  am doing extract brewing and the spent specialty grains are perfect for baking.   The cooked grains are rich in fiber, have lower carbs and add great texture (yes, even with the husks present).

Given that many of my beers are high gravity I need to make a starter for the beer. The sourdough also requires a starter. So why not do both in parallel?

Spent grain sourdough bread

Day T-2   Pull your sourdough starter from the fridge and mix with 1 cup all purpose flour and 3/4 c water.   Mix well, cover and allow to rise at room temp.

Day T-1  Make the starter for the beer. I typically use 1.5 l water and 3/4 c DME. Bring to a boil in an erlenmeyer flask, including the stir bar, with a foil cover .   Remove from heat and quickly cool in a snowbank or ice water (brewing in the winter does have some advantages for cooling). Rehydrate the yeast per the mfr instructions if using dry yeast, add to the flask and then put on the stir plate.

Add to the sourdough starter. Add another 1 1/4 c flour and 3/4-1 c water to have  a heavy sticky dough.  Cover and let rise at room temp.    Make sure you keep the sourdough work well away from the beer starter or you will risk contamination. Doing the additions in 2 stages, seems to yield more consistent results.

Sourdough starter a few hours after 2nd addition


Brew and baking day

Steep the specialty grains per the beer recipe drain well and cool.   For the bread pictured above,  this was Caramunich III.       By the time you are done brewing,  the grains will be cool enough for baking.


Place the sourdough starter in the mixer bowl reserving 2/3 cup to save for the next batch.

Add 2.5 cups of the spent grains – they should be just damp at this point. Wring out if too moist

Add 2 c bread flour (King Arthur)

1 tsp dry yeast (SAF Instant)

Mix lightly and then rest for 10-15 min.

Continue mixing for 3 min. This should be a very sticky ball, mostly pulling away from the sides of the mixer .  You may have to adjust with more flour or water but do not be tempted to make it too firm.

Add 1tsp fine sea salt. Mix for another 2 min.   The salt firms up the dough, so don’t add too early or the texture will not be as nice.

Cover the bowl with a very damp warm kitchen towel and place in the oven to proof. Ours has a bread proofing (100F) setting.  Let rise for 1.5 hours.

Take the dough our and place on a floured counter. Pull and fold 5-8 times.  It will still be very sticky but this evens out the texture.

Place in a large pan or dutch oven and oil the inside well (olive oil or butter).  Cover and rise again for another 1-1.5 hours at 100F. The dough should have risen about 2.5 times.

Preheat oven to 425 F

Place bread covered in the oven for 15-20 min.

Remove the lid, set for convection baking. Insert temperature probe and bake until the internal temp is 195F (15-30 min).   Itis best to go by temp rather than time.   The Thermoworks Chefalarm with the Pro Series Needle Probe is perfect. I also use this for brewing as the probe is waterproof.

Remove and turn onto a rack to cool and serve (unless your spouse beats you to it for the first slice (as mine did in the photo above).  Serve with a glass from a previous batch of your beer.

While you may be tempted to interleave the baking and brewing work during the boil, I would recommend against it. The sourdough has a variety of yeasts and bacteria in it that would definitely not be beneficial to your beer.   I have learned the hard way not to taste the raw sourdough!

Note that previously I had tried adding brewing grains (dry) as part of the flour for the bread and the texture was not that good. The steeping of the grains for brewing makes a huge difference in the bread. I will also try increasing the proportion of spent grain in the future as well as mixing with other flours.  I am really intrigued with trying rye and oats as the spent grains.  There is much room for experimentation, based on this successful base recipe.

Home Made Pastrami

Why settle for pre-packaged pastrami when you can easily make your own with superior flavor, lower sodium and no strange preservatives?   This is another slow food recipe. Elapsed time is 4-10 days, but the actual applied time is quite short, at 1-2 hours including packaging and clean up.

Small chunk of the pastrami


This recipe is based on the one in Charcuterie 

The meat is brined for a week, smoked overnight and the finished in the oven.   For cured meats I prefer to use metric measurements and work by weight rather than volume .   I use a full size “packer” brisket (12-14 lbs)  I cut the flat in half and remove the heavy surface fat as well as that between the flat and point.  So now you have 3 approximately equal sized pieces that will now fit in a refrigerator crisper drawer with the brine as well as on the smoker.


1 gallon  / 4l water
300 g kosher salt (Mortons)
225 g sugar
35 g pink salt  (Cure #1)
1 tbsp / 8 grams Pickling spice (make your own or get Penzey’s)
90 g dark brown sugar
1/4 c 60 ml honey
5-8 garlic cloves – thinly sliced

Mix the brine making sure the salt and sugar are dissolved.   Place the brine and the meat in a crisper drawer or suitable container in the fridge. If you have room, place a heavy plate on top to keep the meat submerged.   Turn the meat every 1-2 days.   After a week remove and rinse well.

If desired, cover with 1 tbsp /8 g crushed coriander seed and 1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper.   I usually halve this or skip it as Teal does not like the heat of the pepper.


Place the meat on a rack, pat it dry  and allow to come up to close to room temperature. The reason for this is to form a pellicle on the surface – a tacky coating that better absorbs the smoke. By warming it up you will also avoid having the smoke condense and make a sooty mess on the surface of the meat.

Smoke at 220- 225F for 14-16 hours over hardwood charcoal and cherry wood chunks (branch slices 3-4 ” diameter and 2-3″ thick are perfect).  I start in the late afternoon or evening and then can pull it off the next day.  This is where the Heatermeter comes in handy which provides perfect hands free temperature control.    You are looking for an internal temp of 160-165F . There should be a nice bark on the surface.   It will taste great but still be too tough.

Now moved to a covered  dutch oven with 1/2″ of water in the bottom and place in the oven at 275F for 3 hours. Final  internal temp should be about 200-205F.  At this point it will be nice and tender but firm and dark pink throughout.

If you have any brown or light pink areas in the middle it was not brined quite long enough or froze while in the brine (this last batch froze as the fridge is in the garage and temps dipped to well under freezing too early in the season).

Serve and enjoy.  We vacuum pack chunks and freeze for later (and raiding by our kids).


Down the rabbit hole of sour beer

Over time I have had a few sour beers,  but I had not done much exploration of the genre. After the success of the Backyard Berry Sour a.k.a. Pink Beer, I wanted to explore them more broadly. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is seemingly  not on the sour beer  distribution web  (if one exists). A few trips out East and careful scrounging for sour beers locally additionally piqued my interest.   However, the prices ($13-23 / 4 pack) were at the upper end of my price range.

I did however decide that based on my tastings that I wanted to try my hand at “brett beers”. That is, those that are fermented with the aid of Brettanomyces cultures rather than just sticking with the safer kettle soured (Lactobacillus culture) beers.  To most brewers and vintners, having Brett in the brew is a sign of contamination and when not intentionally added, leads to off flavors, gushers (beers that spray forth when opened) and bottle bombs (don’t wait for a human to open them).

More research was in order, so I could make my own. Hopefully with some controls so I could brew conventional beers and keep the brett monster in its place.  The first purchase was  “American Sour Beers” which provides a great overview of the processes, methods and recipes.   The second was “Yeast” which covers the use of yeast in brewing as well as the necessary scientific methods (proper culturing / propagation, cell counting, viability testing, etc). Both of these appealed to my inner engineer.  I was especially impressed with the writing style in Yeast, where one of the authors (Chris White of White Labs ) does not make this a pedestal to promote his own products but rather uses them as infrequent examples – great restraint.

Next was the need for a bit more equipment.  There is the fear and potential problem of accidental cross contamination.  So it is best to keep all plastic parts separate between the regular and Brett beers. That means fermenters, hoses, stoppers, siphon, wine thief, lids, Tilt hydrometer, etc.   I also purchased a microscope and hemocytometer to do some cell counting (OK this was just for the inner geek but fun anyway).   I do also practice double sanitization (once after washing everything after brewing and once before brewing) both as a good general practice and to avoid accidental cross contamination.

So more or less prepared, I ordered the ingredients along with both kinds of yeast needed.   I am not yet ready to jump into brett only fermentations so I followed the recommendations and stated with a Belgian style ale yeast – SafAle BE-134 for primary fermentation and Omega Yeast – All the Bretts  for the brett culture. I have used BE-134 in a number of beers and like it but the All the Bretts was the only Brett yeast in stock locally in late summer.

Next- on to the brewing.

Backyard Berry Sour a.k.a Pink Beer

My first experiment with sour beers was a kettle soured beer with fruit. It proved to be very popular and resulted in another 2 batches being made this past summer.

Kettle souring is a “safe” technique in that it uses cultured lactic acid bacteria in the wort before the boil. The boil  kills the bacteria and there is no worry about them running away (making an excessively sour beer) or contaminating the rest of your brewing gear.

This beer is based on the Northern Brewer Funktional Fruit Sour.   Without repeating the recipe, here are the highlights from Batch 1

Day 1  (friday night) Boil the malt only wort for 5 min and then cool to 80-85F.   Leave it in the brew kettle.  Add the lactobacillus culture and cover.  Heat must be applied. My Spike 10 gal Brew Kettle can be set up with a side mount thermo well into which the thermo probe is inserted and the heater wrapped around.  Initial pH was 6.5

Day 2 make up the starter.  1.3 l water, 3/4 DME boil and cover the flask with aluminum foil. Chill to 68f. Add the yeast. So far,  there have been 3 batches  T-58, BE-134 and EC1138   I like the T58 the best for this one.

Day 3 (Monday eve) The pH has dropped to 3.53 – nice and tart.  Now We continue with the brew. Do this per the recipe  including primary fermentation.  2/3 tsp Fermax was added per batch .

10-14 days later transfer to secondary  SG 1.017

Add the fruit. All of the fruit had been frozen, then heated to a boil, and mashed with a “motor boat” style stick mixer to break it up. Each 5 gal batch required :

  • 2lbs frozen Blueberries,
  • 1lb mixed frozen fruit (Raspberries, strawberries and blackberries),
  • 12 oz frozen blackberries
  •  1lb frozen cranberries

The blueberries all came from my garden. While I grow the others, including high bush cranberries, I do not get enough for brewing so I have to resort to store bought frozen.

I still do not have the perfect technique for managing the berry pulp in the fermenter. The first batch I just dumped it in.  This required twice filtering to keep the keg from plugging with bits of pulp.  The second and 3rd batches I placed in fine mesh bags and then in the fermenter but they were too “floaty” trapping the C02. I tried venting them with 1/2″ pvc pipe but this was not great either. They still floated.   I shook the fermenter daily to attempt to keep things mixed up and prevent mold growth (if the fruit on top dries out it is susceptible to mold).

Batch 1  5 days primary, 14 days secondary  OG 1.054, FG1.02

Batches 2&3  Additional 1.5 lbs golden light DME per batch above the kit fermentables.

10 days primary, 35 days secondary     Added EC1118 yeast i batch 3 in secondary    Batch 2 OG 1.070 FG 1.007, Batch 3 OG1.073  FG 1.009

Transferring the first batch to the keg. 2 more filtering passes were required.

As you can see the beer is a brilliant PINK.

The FG ranged form 1.007 to 1.009  across the batches.   This is a family favorite. All of the ladies love it, especially those that don’t care for the IPAs and Imperial Stouts that I do otherwise.  The girls have requested that I keep it on hand for all family gatherings and summer boating.

Note that some articles suggest removing the precipitate from the kettle souring step. The lactobacillus layer on the bottom of the kettle can scorch and create a burnt rubber flavor.  Tip for my next batch.



Pliny Plus IIPA

Like many of my brews this started with a kit – Northern Brewer Plinian Legacy. This is a “clone” of the impossible to find in Wisconsin, Russian River Pliny The Elder .

I wanted a very strong Imperial IPA so I also added to the kit an additional pound of golden DME at the start of the 90 minute boil.

Prior to brewing, I made a starter with 1.5 liters of water, 1 cup DME this was brought to a boil in the erlenmeyer flask with an aluminum foil cap and then chilled in an ice water bath. Once it was cool enough – 68F I added the BE134 yeast.  This went on the stir plate for 24 hours. This is a highly attenuating Belgian style yeast that also withstands high alcohol content.

Prior to chilling I added 2 tsp of Fermax yeast nutrient.

The cooled wort was oxygenated for 3 minute.

As I have learned in subsequent brews,  you need a cool start (63-65F) to prevent this yeast from getting going too vigorously and the temperature rocketing up. In this case, I started at 68-69F which was the same as the basement temp and it rose after a few days to 74F.  This batch also required a large blow off tube.

Initially, I had a  1/2″ ID blow off tube  and the lid blew off the Big Mouth Bubbler making a bit of a mess.  I have latches to prevent the lids from simply walking out the top.  So I switched to the big blow off tube (1″ ID).  Another option I discovered later, is to add the yeast nutrient at day 3  to level the fermentation rate out a bit.   In the photo above, besides the Pliny Plus with the top blown off,  you can see also 2 batches of the “Pink Beer” in secondary fermentation and the “Brett Ringer” in primary (another post yet to come).


date SG temp
09/01/19 1.084 69
09/02/19 1.067 71
09/03/19 1.0344 74
09/04/19 1.0267 72
09/05/19 1.0233 73
09/06/19 1.02 73
09/20/19 1.01 75
10/02/19 1.078 68

As you can see, imperfect temperature control , both in starting a bit warm and then when it hit peak, not holding that temp.    I do not have anything to cool the fermenting beer other than the cement floor and ambient air temp (no chiller – yet).  I did ramp the temp back up after the first week a bit to help keep the fermentation going. The fermenter was vigorously shaken 1-2 times per day to help keep the yeast from settling out too early

This beer has a high amount of hops and hop extract in it.  The fermenter was sticky with hop extractives when I transferred to the secondary .

Calculated ABV was 9.7%.

When transferring from primary to secondary (9/19/19) when the first of the dry hop additions was done it had a harsh flavor and a “burn” in the throat. This greatly smoothed out later.

Taste was great when kegged and served.