11 May 2020

Brewing with rice

In ex-pat land, rice has one great advantage over malted barley- it is available where malt is not. Rice is not directly fermentable as it comprises mainly starch, but there are ways around this. I'm going to tell you how to extract a fermentable 'liquor' from rice. You can then use this rice liquor as the base for a rice beer or, with additional ingredients, a rice wine. But first, we need to make the rice liquor, like this:

You will need 500 grams long grain white rice, a large lemon and a large ripe banana.
A large pan, stainless steel or glass, not aluminium or copper, with a good lid.
A nylon sieve.
  1. Pour the rice into the pan. 
  2. Rinse the rice with cold tap water pouring off the water until it runs clear.
  3. Add enough water to more than cover the rice with approx 2 centimetres clear water above the rice.
  4. Bring this to the boil, stirring occasionally, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Turn off the heat, put the lid on the pan and leave it for 20 minutes.
  6. We want the rice to absorb most but not all of the water. If all the water has gone, add more from a kettle. We want it hot, wet and sloppy but not mushy!
  7. Wash the banana and chop it up small without peeling it.
  8. Add the chopped banana and the lemon juice (only the juice, no peel) to the rice pan.
  9. Stir it all together quickly and cover the pan. Let it sit for 60 minutes.
  10. When the hour is up, fill the pan almost to the top with water.
  11. Bring this to the boil, stirring occasionally, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  12. Turn off the heat, put the lid on the pan and leave it overnight. 
  13. Next day, strain the rice liquor into a fermenting jar.

What have we made, and how does it work?

The first boiling of the rice starts the process of breaking down the starches into sugars while also softening the grains for easier access. The ripe banana contains the enzyme amylase which greatly speeds up the process. The 20 minute cooling period before we add the banana is important. Amylase is effective over a wide temperature range but would be destroyed by boiling. The lemon juice provides acidity to further optimise the conditions for amylase activity. The second boiling after the amylase extraction has finished is to dissolve the newly formed sugars into the bulk of the liquid. 

When you strain the cool rice liquor off on the second day, be prepared to process it immediately into either a beer wort or a wine must. To do this, measure its gravity with a hydrometer and work out the required sugar addition. For wine, it should be blended 50:50 with grape juice. For a rice beer, it can be fermented directly. In the absence of hops, a judicious addition of grapefruit juice works wonders. But, in either case, be ready with an active yeast starter to get the fermentation going, because the rice liquor will not keep for long. It is sterile from its second boiling, but it is a very viable medium for colonisation, so make sure your yeast gets first refusal!





01 May 2020

The ex-pat solera system

Have you ever noticed that sherry never has a date on the bottle? Other Spanish wines do. Rioja, Navarra, Pened├Ęs, they all display their year of vintage, so why not sherry? Like most wines, sherry is matured in oak casks. But it is not simply stored until ready for bottling. Instead, there is a hierarchy of casks, traditionally arranged in several tiers with the youngest wine at the top and the oldest at the bottom in a large cask called the solera. Bottles are filled from the solera, but the solera is never emptied. As matured wine is drawn off for bottling, the solera is replenished from the next oldest cask which is in turn replenished from the next oldest, and so on, with new young wine being added to the top tier. This system means that the bottled wine is a blend of every vintage since the solera was first started. There is much more to this system than I have described, but you'll get the general idea.

Now, the ex-pat solera. I am of course joking. There is no such thing as an ex-pat solera. But you might like to try this. Get yourself a 25-litre food grade plastic keg with a screw cap and a serving tap. Make 25 litres of red or white table wine aiming for around 13% ABV. Make this in five 5-litre water bottles, not in your 25-litre keg. When the wine has finished fermenting and is reasonably clear, transfer it all into the large keg taking care that very little sediment is poured in. (A little doesn't matter). Now you have to be disciplined. Don't take any wine from your keg until you have made new wine to replace it. In other words, your 25-litre 'solera' keg is always full. When you have a new 5-litre wine ready, draw off 5-litres from your solera for drinking and replace it immediately with your new wine. This way, you can gradually improve and refine what comes out of the solera. For example, if it seems a little flat, you can deliberately make 5-litres with extra acidity. Or if the colour is more dark rose than true red, you can have fun making an intensely dark 5-litre batch by pulp-fermenting grape juice and elderberries or blueberries together.

One word of warning- before and after using the tap and removing/replacing the cap thoroughly wipe them with sterilising solution. And when finished drawing wine tie a small sterilised plastic bag over the tap as an extra precaution.


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