Malting Sorghum and Why I Wouldn’t Recommend It

 Unfortunately, sorghum poses some problems for the home maltster. The first of which is that the warm germination temperatures required to sprout sorghum are perfect for the development of molds and fungus which can produce aflatoxin and other mycotoxins. There are 13 strains of aflatoxin with the B1 strain being the most dangerous. Ingested in small doses over long periods these toxins can cause liver cancer, severe respiratory and digestive problems. Ingested in large doses they can actually kill you. This paper, Control of microbial proliferation on sorghum during malting by Mathoto Lydia Lefyedi is well worth reading. There are test kits that you can buy to determine the levels of mycotoxins in your grain but I believe they are quite expensive.

  • Warning Without the proper means to test for the toxins associated with sorghum I believe malting sorghum at home is too risky an endeavor. The benefits to drinking a gluten free beer are seriously outweighed by the potential health risks posed by these toxins. You have now been officially warned!

The best solution to this problem is to disinfect the grain with an initial 4- 6 hour steep in a 0.2% lye solution (sodium hydroxide). Yes, the same chemical that’s found in drain cleaner that can cause burns if handled improperly. Sounds bad I know, I wanted to avoid it myself but after doing more research I would consider this a mandatory step when malting sorghum. Without it, you’re guaranteed a certain percentage of mycotoxins. The solution used is quite dilute, 2 grams of pure lye per litre of water will give you a pH of between 11-13. As well, the malt is rinsed and steeped in plain water a few more times afterward. There is also food grade lye, which I believe means that it is produced in a facility that would have zero risk of contamination from any other chemical product.

Diluted lye solutions are used in a variety of food preparations like pretzels and certain types of noodles. Because it comes in its dry concentrated form, which you have to dilute yourself it’s very dangerous. Lye can cause severe burns so wearing gloves and eye protection is an absolute must.


  • Never add water to lye as it will boil and splash. This is what usually causes burns.  Always add your lye to your water so it’s diluted immediately
  • Never use Aluminum with sodium hydroxide solution as they will react

Depending on the sources, recommendations are for either a 0.2% solution or a 0.3% solution of Lye steeped from 4 to 6 hours. Personally, I went with the 0.2% for 4 hours. To make a 0.2% solution the ratio is 2 grams of lye per 1 liter of water. I used 8 liters of the solution to steep 12 lbs. of Sorghum.  After soaking for four hours some of the solution will have been absorbed by the grain which is good for killing any fungus within the surface layers of the grain. Subsequent steeps in clean water should dilute the absorbed solution. Although I did not do this, a second short 20 min soak in a lye solution right before germination sounds like a good idea,  just make sure it’s rinsed several times after.

A lot depends on the quality of the sorghum you use. For my first batch of sorghum malt, I started with 12 lbs of grain. Huge mistake, the due date said I was buying it before the due date but I found out later that the due dates are two years from the harvesting dates. The malt turned out to be too moldy with black kernels and a lot of ungerminated grains. These are visible, I just hadn’t bothered to look. Old grain appears dull in colour with many gray or black kernels. Reddish kernels can also indicate fusarium mold. I decided to throw it out as there were too many moldy grains to pick out. For my second test batch started with 3 lbs of grain (starting small this time) and it was much cleaner.

Picking out moldy grains from the first batch. I scrapped all 12 pounds of it.

Steeping schedules for sorghum seem to vary quite a bit. One schedule from the Journal of the Institute of Brewing vol. 117 issue 3 calls for  6- hour steeps at 40 C followed by 3-hour air rests until the moisture content is 40% (Ogbonna). 40 C for steep water is very warm. I’ve also read that 30 C is ideal with a moisture content of 33% (Briggs, Malts and Malting) Or 40-43% (Ezeogu Sorghum Malting pg 61). For germinating, one article recommends, for maximum diastatic power germinate at 30 C for 4-5 days. Although 25-28 C is recommended in another article. You can sift through all of these articles in the Information on Malting section of this blog under Sorghum.

I steeped at room temperature (22C) but used warm 30C water. I didn’t bother to maintain the steep water temperature during the 6-hour steeps. I steeped with 3- hour air rests in between the 6-8 hour steeps (although one air rest went on for 7 hours accidentally, not a big deal) until I had a moisture content of 39%. I also germinated at room temperature and the grain would heat up on its own depending on the depth of the pile. I managed to keep it between 25 and 30C in piles that varied in height from 4″ to 10″. If it was getting too warm I would spread it out into a shallower pile, if the temperature dropped below 25 C I would pile it up deeper. Because of the heat produced the grain can dry out so most articles recommend spraying water once daily to keep it hydrated.

Growth takes 4-5 days, keep it in a darkened room. Sorghum is hulless so the acrospire (growth shoot) is visible along with the roots. On day two it seemed pretty dry and the roots looked a little wilted so I added about 6 oz of water and it was quickly absorbed by the roots overnight. After 4 days I noticed a couple of acrospires turning green, once this happens the grain becomes bitter so I figured it was time to kiln the batch. Most information on malting sorghum recommend kilning at 50C until it’s dry to maintain as much diastatic power as possible. However, I found that it was next to impossible to remove the roots and acrospires without curing it. With barley once the moisture level is below 10% it is cured at higher temperatures to drive off moisture within the grain and to make it more friable. So this is what I did with the sorghum and cured it at 170F for three hours. This worked well and the roots and shoots came off easier.

It’s important to remove the roots and acrospires because they contain a chemical called Dhurrin which when mixed with the enzymes in the mash creates hydrogen cyanide or prussic acid, a very poisonous substance.  Nice, like the risk of aflatoxin isn’t enough!  The roots are removed by rubbing the grain over a strainer or wire screen. Consider this your second warning!

Brewing: The gelatinization temperature of sorghum starch is higher than that of barley, 68-75C or 156-166F which is above our mashing temperatures or the temperatures at which our enzymes are most effective. Even though the malting process has broken down the starches somewhat it is suggested that mashing would be more effective if the starches were gelatinized. This is done by “Decantation” mashing. This involves soaking the crushed grain at  45C or 113F for 30 minutes to dissolve the enzymes into the wort. The majority of the wort is then drawn off or decanted from the grains which are then boiled to gelatinize the starches. The grains are then added back to the wort carefully so that the temperature does not exceed 149F or whatever saccharification temperature you’re using. Mashing is continued at this point as you would with barley malt. I am not sure how much water is used during the initial mash. When I used a normal liquor /grist ratio it did not seem like enough. (This could have been due to the large amount of rice hulls I used) I was worried there wouldn’t be enough enzymes preserved in the small amount of wort, so I ended up drawing off all of the wort and adding just enough extra water to the grains to boil them. Once the grains were added back this gave me a slightly thinner mash than I would normally use.

After two hours of mashing at 154F, yes I overshot the temperature, an iodine test revealed that I hadn’t converted any starch – it was black. I thought this was yet another big fat fail of an experiment but I then took a reading with my refractometer and it read over 10 degrees. Good enough?  Moving on to boiling for an hour with Huell Melon hops and my original gravity was 1.049 not too shabby.

The beer – Visually very cloudy, most likely due to the starch that didn’t convert. Perhaps I didn’t boil the grains enough to fully gelatinize them or the grains were undermodified. Or, curing at 170 reduced my diastatic power. Yet another reason could be time, perhaps this beer just needs a lot of time to settle.

Flavour- Clean, slightly tart like wheat. The melon flavour of the hops is present but overall this beer is kinda boring. This isn’t surprising given the fact that it’s just a low kilned base malt fermented very dry and without any caramelized or roasted grains (other than my scorched pot accident) I used safale us-05 yeast. There are no off flavours that I can detect, it tastes like beer. However boring this brew may be, I can see why gluten free brewers use sorghum to replace barley. Add some roasted or caramelized sorghum malt or even roasted millet (also gluten free) more hops,  a different yeast and some great beer can be made. That is if you’re ok with a little aflatoxin and cyanide.


Posted by on September 6, 2017 in Sorghum


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Hulled Oat Malt

I really did have high hopes for malting oats. I like oats, I eat them for breakfast. I also like putting them in beer, in their raw state or toasted. So I’m very disappointed in this grassy, green corn husk flavour that I’m getting as soon as the oats germinate. This experiment has at least proven that the flavour is coming from the oats and not the husk as I previously suspected. I’m not going to give up on oats completely just yet, I’d like to try a few more things with them, like a caramel for example but as a base malt it’s not a grain I’d recommend. If you’re curious, my process went as follows:

  • Steeped for 8 hours at 10C in filtered water to reach a 40.6% moisture content. Hulled oats absorb water very fast.
  • Germinated at 16 C for 10 days spraying with water once a day after day 5.
  • Kilned for 12 hours at 30-35C with a fan on
  • Then 8 hours at 50-55C without the fan (my hot-plate stays on the same setting)
  • Cured in my oven starting at 170, 180,190,200F for one hour each.

Posted by on September 2, 2017 in Oat Malt


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Oat malt lager, kinda nasty, gets better, but still weird.

I’ve avoided malting oats after reading in the “Homebrewers Garden” by Fisher and Fisher that germinating oats attract “butryfying bacteria” and that the butanol isomers that these bacteria can produce are poisonous as are the microbes themselves. But I still can’t find any other sources of information to back up this claim, and please correct me if I’m wrong here but I don’t think butryfying is even a word. If you have any information on this subject please let me know, you could be saving my life! What does give me some cause for concern is Ergot which is found most often in rye and oats, but ergot is easy to spot in whole grains because it’s black and looks like a mouse turd. It’s impossible to spot once it’s ground up though.

Ergot in barley


I recently picked up a 40 lb bag of oats at a feed store for $13. It was surprisingly clean, much cleaner than any feed barley I’ve bought. I only rinsed it twice and that seemed sufficient. What I soon discovered with oats is that they absorb water much faster than barley. I discovered this by actually overshooting my target moisture content twice!

I started by finding out the initial moisture content by drying out a ground  1 ounce sample in the oven at 225F for 3 hours. The initial moisture content was 12%. I also tested the germination rate between some damp paper towel and I got a 95% germination rate which was pretty awesome. For the first batch I made mathematical errors while weighing it and I ended up steeping it for too long. It reached 47%  which I malted anyway but I got a surprisingly low germination rate at 62% The malt was very wet for a long time during germination, the surface of the grains just wouldn’t dry out like barley does. So I did another batch and after only two steeps at 8 hrs with an 8 hour rest in between, it was still too high at 44%. The germination rate improved to 72% So why not try again. It turns out you can reach 40% with just one steep at 11 hours and my germination rate improved yet again to 81.5% which is ok, not great, but I’ll take it. Makes me wonder what say 36-38% would produce. The added advantage to steeping just once is less risk of mould forming. This third batch did not have any visible mould by the end of germination whereas the other two had some ( not a lot, I picked out most of them). The oats had an unpleasant smell throughout the process and it should be noted that it was present even before germination, and before any visible mould forming. When oat husks are wet they smell exactly like green corn husks and it’s quite strong too, so much that I almost chucked all three batches. This green corn husk smell is very similar to and can be mistaken for a musty odour – like a mouldy wet basement. Having that show up in my beer well, that’s kind of a deal breaker. It also made me kind of paranoid to think that I could be ingesting something poisonous. I’m not sure why I got such a high germination rate without steeping in the test sample compared to the steeped batches. Perhaps oats do better with spraying water during germination instead of steeping.

I ended up making a lager malt since I planned to make a lager out of these oats using the second and third batches of malt. It’s not something I’ve seen before and I thought it would be a good way to really find out the flavour characteristics of oats. What I soon discovered is that people don’t make oat lager for a very good reason, it’s gross. I added some lightly toasted oat malt to the recipe and those tasted great. It made me think that perhaps dark beer made with a Vienna oat malt as a base would be able to mask the corn husk flavour. I’ll try this next.

After primary fermentation the corn husk flavour was still there but decreasing slightly. I threw in some Citra hops in an attempt to mask some of the flavour and it kind of worked. Needless to say this beer is not what I expected at all so I’m not quite sold on it yet. It’s an acquired taste, but if someone gave me this beer and said that it’s made using the ancient Mayan technique of filtering through green corn husks I would say ” WOW, this beer is AMAZING, you can actually taste the corn husks!” But there is no ancient Mayan technique, so I can’t even lie about it. The first thing you notice is the Citra hops, which are always nice, then for me, the husk flavour starts at the back of my throat – I know gross -perhaps due to the tannins? not pleasant. Once it rears it’s ugly head the husk flavour kind of takes over or this could be just a mental thing – as in, I can’t get away from tasting it when I really don’t want to. But like I said before, if you can embrace the husk flavour (perhaps you also like eating grass) then this beer is fantastic!

The recipe:

  • 11 lbs. Oat malt
  • .5 lbs Oat biscuit malt
  • 5 oz acid malt (store bought)
  • 1 oz Goldings (5%) 60 min
  • 1 oz. Goldings 15 min
  • 1 oz. Centennial (10%) 5 min
  • 1 oz Mandarina Bavaria last minute
  • 1 oz Citra last minute
  • 2-3 oz (can’t remember) Citra dry hopped 7 days

Mashed in at 105F at 1.0 qt/lb and added direct heat to 130F for 20 min. Then added an infusion of 1 gal. to get to 145F at 1.42qt/lb for about 30 min. I then decocted a gallon to get to 154 for another hour and a half.

Original gravity was 1.050 Final gravity was 1.0064 for 5.5% abv.



Posted by on August 16, 2017 in Oat Malt


Comparing Apples to Oranges Part 2 of Aerated steeping vs. Un-aerated steeping

After brewing with my aerated malt and the un-aerated malt I’ve come to realize that there is a major flaw with this comparison. So much so that I had decided not to post the results until I redid this experiment. Then I received some enthusiastic words of encouragement from some readers who were waiting for these results, thanks, Arman and Graham! I did learn something while doing this so I think it is worth posting but keep in mind this will be the first of many comparisons of aerated an un-aerated malt. Here’s part 1

The main flaw with this experiment was basically how the low germination temperature adversely affected the aerated malt. Both batches were malted at the same time at the same low temperatures; 5-10C for steeping and 10-12C for germination. I believe it was because of this that the aerated malt did not have the diastatic power that it would have if malted at a higher temperature.

Malting the aerated barley at the same temperature as the un-aerated did prove that it was the un-aerated steep that delayed the growth, or that aeration speeds up growth, but in order for the faster growing aerated malt to develop enough enzymes in its short germination period it needs warmer temperatures in the 15-18C 59-64F range and not the 7-12C 45-54F range. According to Briggs “Steep aeration reduces alcohol production and often leads to subsequent more vigorous germination and  respiration during the germination phase.” (pg 209) Visually the roots were not as long as I normally see them (as expected due to the cold temperatures) but the acrospires seemed long enough and the starch was pasty so I was duped into thinking it was modified when it really wasn’t.

When making the beer I had to mash the aerated malt for 3 hours and it still hadn’t fully converted (using an iodine test). The un-aerated took 1 1/2 hours to fully convert. These were small 2 gallon batches, the recipes were the same, fermentation temperatures were the same but they were brewed on different days.

Aerated :

  • O.G. 1.057
  • F.G. 1.009 6.14% abv.


  • O.G. 1.061
  • F.G. 1.0055 7.3% abv.

Another tell tale sign of under-modification in the aerated malt was a stuck sparge. So not only did I have to decoct this mash a couple of times to maintain the temperature but I had to transfer the whole thing to a large strainer and batch sparge it. Hands down, this was my most disappointing brew day ever. The un-aerated ended up producing more wort at a higher gravity.

Since one malt was under-modified and the other was not it is not really a good comparison. I should be comparing a really well-made example of an aerated malt germinated at a higher temperature that is well modified to a good example of a traditional un-aerated malt germinated at a cooler temperature, which is what I plan to do next. You might be thinking, why not germinate the un-aerated malt at the same higher temperature as a modern malt? With un-aerated malt, higher temperatures may cause uneven germination. According to Briggs (209) ” …at these (16-18C) and especially higher temperatures water sensitivity (dormancy) will be induced and the grain will germinate unevenly. To some extent the adverse effects of higher temperatures may be offset by the use of air rest during steeping”

So what I learned is that aerated malt is a different animal (more vigorous) with different needs (higher germination temperatures) than un-aerated malt.

Taste test: In a nutshell, the un-aerated had a richer maltier flavour but lacked body, the aerated had more body less flavour. Again the brewing of these two beers was so varied that it’s not a good representation of the malts characteristics. What we have is a very well modified malt and an under-modified malt. One theory as to why an un-aerated steep produces a more well-modified malt is that not only is it given more time to develop but that the endosperm is more fully saturated. (See Briggs, Malts and Malting pg 95-96) During an aerated steep the barley often chits even before the steeping is over. When the grain chits, water is absorbed through the embryo faster, so the grain may reach the target steep weight but the endosperm may not be as consistently saturated as a grain that does not chit during the steep. This may also make germination more consistent with the un-aerated malt. The pictures show these traits quite well. The aerated malt is more cloudy and has more head whereas the un-aerated is clear and loses

The pictures show the modification traits quite well. The aerated malt is more cloudy and has more head whereas the un-aerated is clear and loses it’s head quickly. I’m really looking forward to trying this experiment again and I’ll also compare it with store bought malt.


After tasting Aerated on left, un-aerated on right

Aerated malt beer on left Un-aerated on right


Posted by on August 11, 2017 in un-aerated malt



Chevallier vs. Maris Otter

So far given the limited data I’ve gathered from my small plot of Maris Otter and my really small test plot of Chevallier, the Chevallier is seriously outperforming the Maris Otter. Visually there is a huge difference, the Chevallier looks stunning, the heads are huge, bigger than other two row varieties I’ve grown like Conlon and Harrington. As far as weight goes I counted out a random sample of 100 corns of each and the Chevallier weighed 6.2 grams, the Maris Otter weighed 5.3 grams. However, I have not measured the moisture contents yet so these numbers may be a little off but they have been drying indoors for the past 10 days so they’re probably close. I haven’t harvested all the grain yet, I should be able to tomorrow. Unfortunately this year I’ve been hit with racoons, rats and squirrels. I figured they’ve taken about 30-40% of my Maris Otter crop, it’s hard to say. The cayenne pepper seemed to work for the racoons and maybe even the rats but made no difference to the squirrel who seems to like it spicy. I caught him a few times sitting on the chicken wire right out in the open munching away. The good news is I should have enough Chevallier seed to plant a big plot of it next year, I can’t wait to brew with it.

Two of the larger sized heads. Chevallier on the left Maris Otter on the right.

Three large sized heads and three average sized of each. Chevallier on the left , Maris Otter on the right.

You can see the big blank spot in the front as well as the upper left corner.

Chevallier. The plants are tall and the heads are heavy, it probably would have lodged on a larger plot.

Maris Otter drying in the kitchen. I’m so grateful that my wife “appreciates” (puts up with) my hobbies.


Posted by on July 30, 2017 in Garden videos


Garden Update July 1 2017


June night,

Just-right-for-racoon night.

Not too dark,

Not too bright,

As we look for treats.

Out we creep

While people sleep.

Soon we hope to find a heap

Of cheese and bread crumbs,

Piled deep

On codfish bones and beets.

-Nancy Shaw

Bere barley last week

This is from one of my kid’s favorite books when they were little it’s called Racoon Tune. I must have read this to them a thousand times back when I thought raccoons were cute. I’ve since changed my mind. The barley was looking fantastic last week and I thought I may even be harvesting the Bere barley this week but they beat me to it, the masked bastards. Look at the Bere now.

Bere barley this week.

They also destroyed about three beds of the Maris Otter. I’m thinking it’s raccoons and not rats because the stems have just been knocked over whereas rats tend to chew the stalk at the base and then take the seed head. Some of the seed heads have just been chewed off and the only other animal that could do that would be a skunk but they’re quite a bit smaller than the raccoons around here. I also found some of their crap which was rather neatly deposited into one corner of the garden, at least they have manners.


Looks like raccoon crap.

Fortunately, there is quite a bit of barley left in the garden, the Chevallier looks good so I’m not giving up.


The Maris Otter












I couldn’t leave the garden today without doing something to deter these little buggers. Fencing is out of the question, they would just climb over it. So I figured I’d try to make it a little unappetizing for them. I bought three packs of cayenne pepper and sprinkled it all over the barley and I tried to get some on the ground as well so they’d get it on their paws. I know, it sounds kinda cruel, but I’m hoping they’ll just smell it and move on. Fingers crossed.


Posted by on July 2, 2017 in Garden videos


Garden Update 2017

I’ve got a new plot! (again). Last year’s new plot turned out to be a bit of a disaster. It was big and had been neglected so it was full of weeds and rhizomes. I had a heck of a time trying to pull out the grass that kept coming up. It was also in a poorly drained part of the field so it wasn’t a good choice for spring planting. The new plot although smaller 20×30 ‘ is close to my old plot, which I’ve kept, so I’ll be alternating the barley between the plots each year. I planted on March 11 before we went away for a spring break vacation and when we came back everything had come up beautifully, especially the barley under the remay. You can see the difference in this picture, the beds in the front had the remay. The other beds will catch up after a few weeks.

Two weeks after planting. Temperatures ranged from 3 to 10 C

AS soon as I removed the remay, these jerks showed up and started snacking on the seeds

I had to do something, so I took the shirt I was wearing (I had two) and stuffed it with the remay to make this creepy scarecrow.








The Bere is coming up well but the Chevalier seems a little sparse.




Posted by on March 27, 2017 in Garden videos

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