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Competition Corner

by Bryan Gros

There has been some discussion lately on the Homebrew Digest about mashing cereal grains. I know most homebrewers are reluctant to put anything that isn’t barley in their beers. I’m not sure why that is, other than disdain for the megabrewers’ products. Grains like rice and corn have their own flavors and uses, and shouldn’t just be ignored.

Rice has little flavor and can be used to lighten the body and color of a beer. As such, it is seldom used in homebrews. Corn, on the other hand, can be a nice addition to a beer. Thanks to folks like Jeff Renner and George Fix, Classic American Pilsner has been revived and recognized as an important style of beer. Originally, in the last century, corn was probably used because it was so available but also because it diluted the high protein content of American barley. These beers available at the turn of the century were a far cry from the bland, pale beers that are dominant today. These Classic American Pilsners had a slight corn flavor and some sweetness. The corn adds a subtle touch to these beers, not unlike the subtle richness that oatmeal can add to a sweet stout.

The corn in these lager beers is typically 15 to 20% of the grist. Much of the discussion on the internet has been in how to best add corn to your beer. The easiest way is to buy flaked corn, similar to flaked barley. This corn has been steamed and rolled into flakes. The starches are already gelatinized and you simply add the corn to your mash.

Traditionally, ground corn has been used in the mash. Both finely ground corn (corn meal) or coarsely ground corn (polenta) have been used. These kinds of corn need to be cooked before mashing. If you simply add water and boil the corn meal, you will end up with a thick porridge. Trying to incorporate this into the mash requires a lot of stirring and patience.

The solution seems to be to add about two pounds of malt to the water and corn. Hold this mixture at sacchrification temperature, around 150F for twenty minutes in a kind of mini-mash. This step seem to be the secret to getting the mixture to thin out and get some starch conversion. Then heat the mixture to boiling, like a mini decoction. You’ll get some darkening and some melanoidin formation, the benefits of decoction mashing. You also will not get a thick gummy porridge but a thinner mixture which is easier to incorporate into your mash (so I hear).

So why bother and why not just use flaked corn? I don’t know how much it matters for the homebrewer. You can see, in a larger brewery setting, how thinning out the cereal mash would be a benefit. For the homebrewer, it isn’t a big difference to stir in the thick corn mixture, just a bit more elbow grease. Many people like to make traditional beers in the traditional way, so doing the extra malt and corn mini-mash is preferable. And, you also get the benefit of added malt flavor from boiling the grains.

I hope people will give this style a beer a try. Classic American Pilsner is not Budweiser of today, but a beer with real malt flavor and, significantly, hop flavor and bitterness. It is, however, definitely distinct from German and Bohemian pilseners, and is one of the few indigenous American styles of beer. And, most importantly, it tastes good.


Upcoming events:

Besides BABO.

Toronado Barleywine Festival starts Feb 8, so if you recover from BABO fast enough, head over to the City for this one of a kind event.

The 4th Annual MASH (Marin) homebrew competition is Feb. 20. Entries are $6 and due on Feb 6 at Oak Barrel. For details, contact Mike Riddle at 415-472-3390.

The 6th annual America's Finest City homebrew competition is March 6 in San Diego. Entries due by Feb 26. Contact Greg Lorton for details at 760-943-8280 or glorton@cts.com

The 99 World Cup of Beer in Berkeley is set for March 27 at Golden Pacific. To judge, contact Greg Griffin at griffin1842@earthlink.net. Great party always follows in the parking lot. Again, this is the California MCAB qualifying event.

AHA National Conference is in Kansas City this summer.


Updated: February 18, 1999.