For the past nine years, Mike, my husband and the Beer Scientist here @THFB, has delved deeper and deeper into the world of homebrewing, and the process of connecting with the past and embracing the simplest joys and experiences of human existence has introduced and reinforced (sometimes unexpected!) values in our life. Among the most important, the value for thrift has risen to a high place on the list.
I know, I know: in our culture of ready consumption and convenience, the practice of thrift has quickly disappeared from the landscape, even taking on a pretty negative nuance. But when I say “thrift,” I don’t mean to evoke images of cheapness or hoarding. I mean it in the sense that Wendell Berry uses in The Unsettling of America: “Thrift was [before the advent of the industrial economy] a complex standard requiring skill, intelligence, and moral character…” (page 115). So, I mean thrift in the sense of using creative and even inventive solutions to avoid being wasteful and making the most of one’s resources. And this creativity and inventiveness, I think, is actually quite consistent with the qualities it requires to (home)brew well.
Whether we have practiced homebrewing thrift out of necessity or by choice, we have experienced a certain satisfaction and personal pride in coming up with imaginative solutions for conserving, preserving, and saving. I wanted to share a few of those ideas with the hope that they might help you to save a penny or get more out of some obvious and not so obvious resources for brewing. This article is the first in a (hopefully long) series to explore “Thrifty Homebrewing.”
With Mike brewing nearly four out of every eight weekends on average (four successive weekends > wait for empty carboys > repeat), we throw away a lot of grains. Since we don’t have too high a volume, it’s not worth the time, gas, etc., to find a place to bring the grains for feed. However, we hate to see so much waste. One way we’ve been able to use at least some of the extra is by making spent grain bread, which is delicious! (One of my friends also makes Spent Grain Doggy Biscuits for her pups.) We make bread when the grains are fresh on the day of brewing, but we have also started dividing grains into three-cup measurements and freezing them in containers (yes, this involves baking and giving away a lot of bread!).
Basic Spent Beer Grain Bread (a.k.a. The Reinhardt Spent Grain Brot):
- 2 c bread flour (King Arthur’s is great for the gluten structure) or all-purpose flour
- 2 c whole wheat flour (you can adjust the ratio of the two flours, although the wheat flour should be no more than 50% of the total four cups)
- 2 tsp salt
- 2-3 tsp yeast (use a lesser amount for a more dense bread; more for a lighter bread; be aware that the gluten content of the overall bread will also affect the fluffiness, so you will want to take into account your choice of ingredients and density preference)
- ¼ warm water (110-115°F) for proofing the yeast
- ½ -¾ c milk (the higher end if your grains are relatively dry and you don’t use any of the wet forms of syrup)
- 3 c spent grain (drained but damp)
- ¼ c sugar, (real) maple syrup, honey, molasses, malt syrup, or a combination
- ¼ c butter or oil
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2-4 tbsp vital wheat gluten, optional (no gluten if you use the resting technique below; 1-3 tbsp if you don’t use the technique but use bread flour; 3-4 tbsp if you use all-purpose flour)
- Equipment I use: food processor, KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook; neither is a necessity.
1. Proof the yeast.
2. Measure out the flours in a large bowl and mix them together (I use a whisk). Set aside.
3. Place the grains and milk in a food processor and puree. You may have to do this in two batches depending on your food processor. If you do not have a food processor, you can use the grains whole, although I have found the scratchiness of the husk to be unpleasant if I don’t process the grains.
4. Transfer the grains and milk to the mixer bowl and stir together all of the ingredients except the flours.
5. Slowly add the flours, cup by cup.
Optional resting technique: If you like a lighter, fluffier loaf, you can use the following technique (compliments of the Beer Scientist, who has mastered the art of pizza dough using this very technique) in order to improve the gluten structure of your bread. After you have added three cups of the (King Arthur bread) flour, let the dough rest on the counter for about twenty minutes. Then add the remaining cup of flour and continue with the next steps.
6. If the dough is too sticky, you may need to add more flour. When the ingredients have been incorporated (hope you have the KitchenAid for this!), knead the dough until it is smooth for 5 minutes with the mixer or 10 minutes by hand.
In terms of blending the ingredients, Mike has an easier time with this (probably because he uses the above gluten technique!), but I usually finish incorporating the flour in the early part of kneading. As far as the wetness/stickiness of the dough, I have never made the bread without having to add more flour, so I recommend keeping some close at hand.
7. After needing, shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with a towel and let it rest in a warm place for 60-90 minutes—until the dough has doubled in size.
8. Punch down the dough and divide it into 2-3 loaves, depending how large you want your bread. Shape these into loaves and place them in lightly greased bread pans or on a cookie sheet. (You may score the tops of the loaves.) Re-cover with a towel and let the dough rise again until doubled, about sixty more minutes.
9. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for about forty minutes. It may take a little longer if you only make two loaves. The bread will be nice and golden on top and sound hollow when you knock on the baked loaf.
10. After baking, let the bread cool for thirty minutes on a cooling rack. This is important as the bread will finish cooking during this time, so don’t cut into it too soon!
A final note: This is a stiff dough, and I absolutely do not recommend using a bread machine; I haven’t tried it, but I would anticipate disastrous results.