You’ve probably figured it out by now, but one the goals of LocAle Brewing Company is to use local products from around Mankato in our craft beer. One of those products will hopefully be locally grown grains. We had a chance to get a sample of a few wheat varieties grown by Ben Penner Farms near St. Peter (learn more about his fields and process here: https://www.facebook.com/benpennerfarms/). You can buy flour made from his wheat at the St. Peter Co-op. We have used his Turkey Red heritage wheat and his other whole wheat flour blends to make wonderful sourdough bread, so we thought it would be to use his wheat in our beer (as it turns out he’s growing some other unique grains like buckwheat too). Turkey Red is a heritage variety of wheat that was brought to the U.S. in the mid-1800’s by Mennonite immigrants from Russia and was primarily planted in Kansas. It just so happens that it does well in Minnesota too, as Ben has found out!
Most grain that we use to brew in a step called the “mash” is malted grain, which means it has been slightly germinated. Malted grain has its own enzymes to convert the starch in the grain to sugar that yeast can turn into alcohol through fermentation. For now, the wheat from Ben is unmalted so in order to brew with it we have to consider a few extra steps in our mash. These include mixing it with malted grain and mashing at different temperatures to release the starch stored in the unmalted wheat. But that’s no problem, as our future seven-barrel stainless steel brewhouse from Crawford Brewing Equipment has the ability to do a technique called “step mashing” at different temperatures (more on this in a future post!). Unmalted wheat can be used in several beer styles: saisons, Belgian wits, mixed culture sour beers and others, but we’re also hoping to have some of Ben’s wheat malted to be able to use it in a wide range of beer styles. The picture below shows the wheat (a reddish colored grain) and Pilsner malt going through the grain crusher that opens the grain up for mashing.
So far, we’ve brewed a test batch of low % abv saison (also known as a “grisette”) with a mix of Turkey Red wheat and Pilsner malt. We also hopped it with Cascade and Crystal hops, two hop varieties we plan to source from Minnesota hop farms. The beer is currently bubbling away: part of it was fermented with our favorite Saison DuPont yeast strain (more on that here: https://beerandbrewing.com/review/saison-dupont/) and the other part is a test batch with a yeast strain we isolated from an oak tree in Rasmussen Woods here in Mankato. We have plans to isolate more wild yeast from landmarks around Mankato (more on that in a future post!). Hopefully this beer will be one of our regular, flagship craft beers on tap in our taproom.