Traditional Rice “Beer”

For Christmas, my brother gifted me with Sandor Katz’s excellent The Art Of Fermentation (affiliate link), and as I’ve been greedily tearing through it, I haven’t been able to help myself from trying some of the more exotic fermentation processes in it.

One that immediately captured my imagination is what he calls “rice beer.” Though, to be fair, the first thing you should do when you hear that term is drop any notion you may have of what comprises a beer. For the purposes of this discussion, a beer is a fermented grain beverage, and Katz presents a simple process, most likely in use in Asian households for centuries or longer, for using rice as the grain.

Basically – Cook rice and let it cool, add an Asian “Yeast Ball” (I acquired them at a local Asian grocery), put it in a crock and allow to ferment. But if it were that easy to turn universally available, extremely inexpensive rice into alcohol, wouldn’t everyone be drinking it?

Photos and my own cut-rate science below…

Let’s start with quantities. Katz says that two pounds of rice will yield about 3 liters of brew, so I felt like that was a manageable quantity, about 4.5 cups, which I cooked in 10 cups of water. The dry rice nicely filled a one quart container.


These are the magical Asian yeast balls (the link explains more about them), but unlike the packets of bread yeast or brewer’s yeast that you buy, these aren’t a monocultured strain of one organism. This is a community of yeasts, molds, and bacteria, because rice, unlike brewing grains like barley, lacks the enzymes necessary to convert starch to sugar. So while a home brewer can steep whole barley and wheat in hot water and drain off sugary wort an hour later, steeping rice that way will produce rice and warm starch water.


In my house, these went into a jar I labeled “Rice Yeast.” That should reduce giggling around the whole “yeast ball” thing.

So when you crush up a yeast ball and work it into cooled, cooked rice, you’re inoculating the rice with organisms sufficient to create a two-, or most likely, three-stage fermentation. First, the molds – Aspergillus oryzae and Rhizopus oligonsporus, and likely others – come to life and begin their metabolic processes. Aspergillus in particular produces amylase and glucanase enzymes, which brewers will recognize as primary starch converters.

As the mold life cycles liberate sugars from the starches, the second wave of fermentation ramps up and the yeasts bloom, devouring sugars and producing alcohol and CO2. The final product was quite sour, so there’s a third overlapping fermentation from lactic acid bacteria overlaid throughout this.


Crushing the yeast ball in a mortar and pestle. The powder has a sweet, floral aroma to it.

So the basic procedure is this: Cook rice, let it cool, crush up an Asian yeast ball, work it into your rice, then put it into your preferred fermentation vessel. Here’s mine, a one-gallon glass pickling jar with an airlock. I put it into my bathroom alongside a beer I was finishing at about 80 degrees.


Mmm…. fermenting food in a hot bathroom…

From my notes: “24 Hours – No significant change @ 80 degrees. Took to kitchen and removed lid. Aroma is rich, sweet, earthy, similar to oyster mushroom growing media.”


At the outset, there was a discernible structure to the rice mash. This didn’t last.

From my notes: “48 hours, noticed some yellowing [Aspergillus causes yellowing] and one spot of mold visible [which looked very much like this shot of Rhizopus]. Opened vessel and mixed a second yeast ball in. Stirred thoroughly. Strong airlock activity at this time. Aromatics are sweet, strong, boozy.”


There are two things to do at this point. One is pour this frothing rice thing into the compost. The other is to decide to eat it. Yeah, I’m that person.

From my notes: “72 hours – looks like sourdough starter. The ‘well’ shaped into the center has fully collapsed as liquifaction takes over.”


“85 hours – looks like porridge.”


The shot below is actually of bubbles forming and rushing to the top. By now the mixture has a goopy texture, and the bubbles rarely moved straight up the way they would in a more liquid medium. Instead, they’d form, then shoot away through all the liquid places in the mixture, so you’d see little ghost impressions of bubbles here and there then an eruption at the top.


Okay, so the next Friday, after fermenting for a week, it was time to test this out. Below, my lovely assistant squeezes the rice mash through a grain steeping bag.


We got two quarts of thick, milky liquid. Flavorwise, the closest comparison I can think of is to milk kefir. The flavor after a week at 80 degrees was both alcoholic and strongly soured. My assistant and I took these to a party where a number of people tried the Peasant Rice Brew. I wouldn’t call it a hit, but it was fun to discuss the microbial processes that led to that distinctive soured flavor and share a taste of what one might find traveling in rural Asia.


This isn’t an easy sipping kind of beverage. It’s more of a sour tonic beverage than an alcoholic beer, but it has several advantages – it’s gluten free and it’s dairy free. One food-sensitive friend commented the day after that she could really tell that she’d had some living food and was experiencing less intestinal trouble than she normally would, and I don’t doubt the probiotic nature of this stuff.

The mash left over from the straining was turned into batter the next morning and baked in muffin tins for a really lovely and unique breakfast. Soured rice mash with tart cherry preserves and cocoa nibs – that would have been a hit at the party.

I’m fermenting a five gallon batch of brown rice with a lot more water in it, at ambient temperatures. All in all, this has nearly everything I like – weird food, weird booze, and tons of microbes.

Cold Crashing in the South

For several weeks, I’ve had a carboy of pear wine sitting out on my back porch, theoretically to cold crash.

Cold crashing is when a brew is exposed to temperatures in the ~30s for a few days or weeks. The cold temperatures force solids in suspension to precipitate out, resulting in a clearer drink.

The problem with living in Atlanta and attempting to cold crash is that our daytime temps are consistently sitting around 70 here in December. I have a separate fridge, but at the moment it’s full of beekeeping gear. I guess it’s time to rethink a few things.

Lynchpin Pale, a Sessionable Ale

When I started brewing, I loved malty beers. I did not yet know that the world of hops was varied and beautiful, or what an art form it is to modulate your sugar content to produce a relatively low-alcohol, session-drinking beer.

I’ve been expanding my repertoire quite a bit – all grain, better control over color, and of course, exploring hops like a madperson. But I want a simple, go-to recipe that’s quick to brew, finishes fast, and won’t get me hammered when I drink one. Enter: Lynchpin Pale Ale, v1.0, a partial mash approach to a solid craft beer.

Mash Recipe:

  • .5# Flaked Barley
  • .5# Carastan
  • 1# Biscuit


Steep the grains (mash) in a grain bag at approximately 155 degrees for at least 25 minutes. I mashed for 60. I’m experimenting here. After the mash, remove grains and sparge to bring kettle volume up. Bring kettle to boil.

Extract Recipe:

  • 3# Golden Light DME
  • 3# Bavarian Wheat DME

I believe most any light or golden dry extracts will work fine.


To control SRM (color), I’ve been playing with the “add the sugars late” approach. So for the extract, I added half of one bag at boil, then commenced with the hopping schedule. At flameout, I added the remainder of the sugars and stirred it into the hot wort. This helps keep the sugars from caramelizing during the boil (most of my homebrew has been brown), allowing a wider spectrum of colors.

Note: Some sugars *must* be added at the start of the boil or the hops don’t process properly, from what I’ve read.

Hops Pack:

  • 1 oz Cascade – 60 min
  • 1 oz Styrian Golding – 40 min
  • 1 oz Whitbread Golding – 20 min
  • 1 oz Crystal – Flameout

Hops should be adjusted to your taste. If you prefer pine flavors, go in that direction. If you just like facefulls of bitter, there are hops for that.


I’ve been experimenting with big quantities of yeast and multiple strains. For this, I used one sachet each of Safale-04 and Safale-05. No particular reason, except that I want a nice dry, hoppy, slightly fruity end result. And because I’m curious. Do competing yeasts muddy the flavor, or clarify it? No idea. Maybe neither one. Maybe the result is neutral.

You can see in the picture at the top that it has a nice robust color, not as light as I’d hoped for but not as dark as most of my brews. I’ve had it sitting in primary for three weeks or so. I could put it into secondary or bottle it straight away. I’m leaning toward bottling. I really want a no-fuss, easy drinking beer that I can throw together simply and inexpensively. In other words, my Lynchpin recipe that I can go back to again and again.

Catching Up On Beer Blogging!

Hello world! My November has been full of interesting. My NaNoWriMo effort failed after about 12,000 words when my main character, despite my best efforts, decided that the difficult event that starts the book is eerily similar to my last major breakup. And I found that I wasn’t having fun going through that again on her behalf, so that was that.

But there’s been plenty going on with beer. Scary Monsters II: George Lucas Had No Part In This is conditioning in bottles right now. It turned out extremely light bodied with a nice, full hop flavor. I may even want to fortify the body a bit in future renditions of the recipe. Lactose? A bit more dark or chocolate malts? Something.

Hop’s End is a ridiculously beautiful carboy of beer that throws a nice ruby-amber light into my living room every morning. I don’t even want to bottle that. Can I decorate with beer?

There’s more. I’ll be back to adding content on the regular like. I’m currently experimenting with outdoor cold crashing for my pear wine. More on that in a few.


Status Report: Hop’s End


Hop’s End, guarded by the ever vigilant Harm the Bitey Cat

Hop’s End continues aging on Nelson. On warmer days, I continue to see signs of fermentation. I may move it outside for early December for an old school cold crash, but as you can see, it’s a gorgeous red color that’s cleared up beautifully. I still wish I hadn’t ended up with Pilsner malts for the secondary fermentation, but this’ll be a lovely beer.

November WhatNot

November is likely to see less posting than I’ve been going for so far (and even that’s been erratic.)

I’ll be participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which I had a wonderful time with in 2010 and I’m excited about following it up. But it requires writing more than 1600 words a day to stay on track, and cramming that obligation into a regular life means some things get less attention.

That said, check out this little piece about what NaNo means to me over at Southern Spines. It really is an excellent challenge, but more importantly, the NaNo online community is really fun to be part of during the month.

I have noticed that Spyke’s beer/food recipes have brought a lot of traffic in, so hopefully she’ll drop in with some more of that. But mostly I want to say that if you stumble upon this blog in November and it looks neglected, it’s not permanent. Drop some comments, ask some questions, share your approaches to brewing situations.

And I’ll be back in December with more beer everything.



Carboys: Plastic vs. Glass

Scary Monsters II finished a nice, quick primary and is ready to be thrown into secondary on some Willamette. I’ve been ignoring this fact for two days, because the only vessel available is my one glass carboy.

A gift from my brother, this 6 gallon glass behemoth opened my eyes to the weird universe that explodes to life when yeast is pitched, then just as suddenly, sinks into a new order and becomes still. I am very grateful for the glass carboy. That said, I hate to have to actually use it.

At my house, I have three plastic BetterBottles, one 5 gallon (mostly used as a secondary vessel) and two 6 gallons. In a perfect world, I’d transfer from BetterBottles to BetterBottles and never have to worry about glass. The advantages, especially for women who brew, are many:

    • BetterBottles are very light, ounces compared to pounds. One gallon of water (or beer) weighs eight pounds, so when you need to move six gallons of full carboy, your baseline is nearly fifty pounds. Using a 6 gallon glass carboy throws another 10 pounds into the equation, so now you’ve got 60 pounds of mass to move around.

  • BetterBottles don’t break. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but I’ve been brewing in mine for several years and I can say that it hasn’t happened. I’ve poured wort that was warmer than it should have been, I’ve stored them in less-than-ideal conditions when not in use, and they remain healthy, viable fermentation and aging vessels. Glass accumulates injury invisibly over time, and fails catastrophically without warning. I am always aware that there’s a ten pound chunk of curved glass and when it finally fails, I don’t want to have my arms around it or underneath it.
  • BetterBottles are easier to clean. Again, they’re light and you don’t have to worry about breaking them. Brushes work great, as does putting some sanitizing solution in and stuffing a solution-soaked rag into the mouth and shaking. My favorite is the little dance I do on brew day, vigorously shaking sanitizing solution around the BetterBottle without worry. It’s hugely liberating to be so cavalier after starting in glass. My glass carboy has a much smaller mouth and requires painstaking brushwork to scrub out solids. Rinsing it is messier than with plastic and just much more work.
  • BetterBottles are cheaper to buy and cheaper to ship. Which makes them an amazing bargain.

I certainly understand the romance of plastic-avoidance, but as I see it, that ship has sailed. At the batch size which I prefer to brew, there’s simply no comparison. Plastic provides a superior user experience by every measure that matters to me.

What’s your take on the plastic v. glass question?

No, but there sure is an “I” in “IPA”

If you look at the world today – the conflicts in the -stan nations, tyrants, wars, and underdevelopment in countries that were once colonies of the European powers – you really have to wonder if all that was such a good idea.

But the age of Empires (the British one, to be precise) did gift us with one true bright spot, the India Pale Ale.

According to Ray Daniels’s “Designing Great Beers,” the IPA developed in large part because of a trade imbalance between England and its colony, India. I’m sure there’s no PERFECT DESCRIPTION OF EMPIRE inherent in noting that ships would arrive in England full of pilfered goods from India, and then, because India didn’t actually need England in order to be a fully functioning civilization was a terrific, mature colony, would often return to India empty.

Needless to say, freight costs from London to Mumbai (which the British, apparently hard of hearing, called Bombay) were pretty reasonable, and if you had a product that would sell, it would be hard to dream up a better scheme for producing profits. An East London brewer named George Hodgson saw the opportunity, but first he had to deal with some technical issues.

I know we’re all used to a pretty standardized product when it comes to beer, but imagine a world without refrigeration. Beer is produced by microbial action, and every home brewer understands that there’s a small risk of infection – “spoilage organism” – in every batch we make. Not only do we have access to sanitizing solutions and basic hygiene items like soap and toothpaste to keep our bodies (sort of) clean, we also have a lot of control over how our beers are stored. It’s likely that every bottle or keg has a certain level of spoilage organism in it, but these factors, along with the hops and ABV of the beer itself, prevent them from achieving sufficient numbers to thrive.

But imagine putting hundreds of cases of your homebrew onto an unrefrigerated ship, then sailing it along the equator for weeks at a time. That’s the situation the brewers of England were facing, and their innovations to meet that challenge created a new breed of beer.

The first change was to dramatically increase the amount of hops in the beer. Hops aren’t just a bittering agent, they also have anti-microbial action that helps to prevent the growth of bad germs in the bottle. There’s actually a good amount of research right now into the use of hops or hop extracts to replace antibiotics in poultry and cattle, a change that might give us a few extra years of utility on existing antibiotic strains.

The second change was to drop the amount of sugars used in the fermentation. By starting with a lower specific gravity, the brewers were able to fine tune the fermentation to leave fewer sugars in the bottle – and less food for spoilage organisms.

The result was a very dry, very hoppy beer that would remain stable throughout the long, hot voyage to India. And once it arrived, it was a huge hit.

It would be a few centuries before craft brewers in the former colony of America, armed with hops grown in the west coast regions that were just opening up when the style was born, would transform the IPA into the broad spectrum of flavors that American beer drinkers crave – citrusy, grassy, floral, bitter.

So next time you’re watching the news and wondering how in the hell the world got into this mess, crack open an IPA. Think of it as drinking the silver lining, or a little taste of the brighter side of empire.