Monday, 27 July 2015

Bread and Beer: Buckwheat

As I've mentioned before on this blog, one reason I like using unmalted grains in my beer is that I can find other uses for them around the kitchen, particularly when it comes to baking bread.  I've been using buckwheat a lot recently, both in baking and brewing, so I thought I'd follow up on my earlier post on spelt and combine some tasting notes for a couple of buckwheat saisons with pictures of how I use buckwheat groats in baking.

Buckwheat seems to have at least some history in brewing.  G. Lacambre mentions it in his 1851 book on brewing in Europe. (Yvan de Baets cites this book in his essay on the history of saison, but its contains very little about historical farmhouse beers, as Lacambre was more interested in the 'fancy' beers brewed by commercial brewers.  There are some interesting sections on Lambic though.)  Anyway Lacambre doesn't seem to think much of buckwheat as a source of fermentables.  He says its used rarely (occasionally in some parts of Germany, less commonly in Belgium), though it does contain a decent amount of starchy matter and is often fairly cheap.  He even describes his own experience with it: a small amount gave the beer a distinctive and disagreeable bitter flavour, prevented the beer from clarifying, converted poorly and caused problems because it became gummy in the mash.  Hardly a glowing recommendation!

Some contemporary brewers might be interested in using buckwheat because it doesn't contain gluten, but I was first drawn to it because I was curious about whether brettanomyces would convert its relatively high levels of caprylic acid into the ester ethyl caprylate.  Caprylic acid is not something you want much of in beer (it apparently tastes 'goaty'), but ethy caprylate is described in Wild Brews as "Waxy, Wine, Floral, Fruity, Pineapple, Apricot, Banana, Pear, Brandy".   Perhaps using larger amounts of buckwheat in a mixed fermentation might encourage the formation of these esters?

I've described how I use buckwheat in brewing in earlier posts: I crush the groats in my mill, boil them into a thick and goopy porridge, then add them into the main mash for the saccharification rest.  One thing I haven't stressed enough in earlier posts is that buckwheat is an absolute nightmare to lauter (as Lacambre warned us!).  I'm doing Brew in a Bag, which usually means I can get away with very gummy mashes using rye or wheat without too much difficulty, but buckwheat is a complete nuisance.  It forms a sort of gummy layer on the bottom of the bag, which means it just won't drain when you lift it out (or at any rate, drains very slowly).  This makes the bag difficult to maneuver (since it extra heavy with all the hot wort) and means it takes a long time to get enough wort from the grain.

In baking, buckwheat is much easier to use.  There are a number of ways you can incorporate unmalted grains into bread (including by making a porridge in a process that is basically identical to a cereal mash), but the method I use most frequently involves sprouting the grains and then folding them into the dough.  Buckwheat groats are particularly easy to use in this way: they only require a brief soak (about twenty minutes, where something like spelt needs four to six hours), after which I drain them, put them in a mason jar with a breathable seal (a coffee filter and a rubber band usually), give them a good shake so that there is plenty of oxygen in the mix, and then leave them till they start to sprout.  You can help them along by shaking once a day and maybe soaking and rinsing them again, but buckwheat groats sprout so quickly its usually not necessary.


Once they're just beginning to sprout, they're ready for use in bread.  I fold them into a wholewheat version of the Tartine loaf about an hour into the first rise (you need to do a few folds to develop the gluten first, as the sprouted groats will cut through it if added too early).  You can also grind up a small handful of the groats and use them to coat the top of the loaf.  They add a nice sweetness, along with a bit of texture, to the final bread.

Back to beer again, I've only ever used buckwheat in saisons.  I've brewed four versions of essentially the same beer now: a pale saison using up to 30% buckwheat.  In every case I've cut the fermented beer with some proportion of aged sour beer.  The very first version used a few litres from a lambic-style beer, but the three subsequent ones all used pulls from my Roeselare solera.   All of them have had flavours reminiscent of the description of ethyl caprylate above, though of course its difficult to say for certain whether this is because of the buckwheat and brettanomyces, or because of the saison yeasts and fruity hops (all versions have had late additions of Amarillo).  I've included tasting notes for two of these beers below.  I packaged the third version just before I left for England, and combined the fourth version (fermented with a different blend of yeasts) with the pale sour so that it can undergo a secondary fermentation while I'm away. The most recent batch was fermented with oak cubes in the primary, and I'm curious to see how these add to the overall flavour profile.

Buckwheat Saison I

This is the first version of the beer: I blended about 10 litres of saison with 2 litres of lambic-style sour, and added some Trimbach Pinot Gris as well.  Its about nine months old at this point, and has been in the bottle since the end of January.  You can read some earlier tasting notes here.

Appearance:  Pale and slightly hazy yellow colour.  Soft, foamy, meringue-like head with great retention.

Smell: Lemons and limes, followed by a hint of tropical fruit. Slightly floral edge as well, but more like dried flowers (almost reminds me of my Grandma's potpourri).

Taste:  Lemony acidity up front, but only moderate.  White wine comes across in the finish.  The strange waxy flavour is gone, or at least blended seamlessly with the rest so that its no longer offensive.

Mouthfeel: Crisp, with good carbonation, but the wine in the finish gives it a slight vinous character.  Nice balance of dryness with mouthfeel that I'm aiming for in using these unmalted adjuncts.

Drinkability & Notes: I'm very happy with how this one is tasting right now, and I'll probably start drinking the majority of the batch as soon as I get back from England, setting aside a few bottles to see how it continues developing.  This has all the elements I'm looking for in my saisons: its tart, fruity, refreshing, but with some complexity and structure as well.

Buckwheat Saison II

This is the second version of the beer, and the first that was blended with a pull from my Roeselare solera.  The idea with this and subsequent versions was to increase my overall yield by brewing four gallons of clean saison (about the most my system can handle) and then blending them with one gallon of aged sour.  This works well, and I plan to continue using this system as I keep brewing these beers.


Appearance:  Same as the first version.  Head retention on these beers is pretty solid.

Smell:  Lemons, yellow stone fruit, and hay.  Reminiscent of a younger version of the first version, but without the strange 'soapy' edge that I think came from the white wine.  Slight funk underneath it.

Taste:  Tart and lemony at the start, then again a more generic fruitiness with some floral honeyish elements.

Mouthfeel: Crisp and dry.

Drinkability & Notes: This one is still a bit sharp and angular, but hopefully with a bit more time in the bottle the edges will soften and become more rounded.  Still a very promising beer, and one of my favourite saisons.  Luckily I have more of this batch so I can check in on it more regularly.

No comments:

Post a Comment