Malting and brewing with buckwheat

Why brew with buckwheat? Because we can. Why malt buckwheat? Because we can, but also because the Reinheitsgebot (the Bavarian purity law of 1516) says we can only brew with malted grains. Ok, so we're not Bavarian, but it's fun to pretend. Especially if we're trying to brew an authentic Koelsch style beer.


1. Getting the buckwheat.

I found unpreserved buckwheat groats at a local health food store. These babies are "groats" because the outer husk had been removed (they look like grapenuts). They also had whole "sprouting buckwheat," with a very dark husk, which I suspected would lend a dark colour to the beer. Plus it was expensive. So I bought a pound of the groats.


2. Malting the buckwheat.

I soaked the buckwheat for about 6 hours in twice its volume of water. It really soaked up the water, and almost doubled in bulk. The water became quite slimy. At this point I placed the swollen groats in my zap-pap lauter tun (still useful after all these years), and placed the whole thing in the bathtub so it could drain. Every few hours I turned on the shower (on cold) to rinse the grains and keep them moist.

The buckwheat began to sprout on the second day, and about 90% were sprouted on the third day. Unlike barley, buckwheat does not grow rootlets first. It also sprouts very quickly, even though our bathroom was cool (about 60F). The sprouts were about 1/4 - 1/2 the length of the grains.

After rinsing the grains one last time, I spread the buckwheat on a cookie sheet. I put the sheet in the oven, and turned the oven on 150F. I turned the grains every hour. After about three hours the house was filling with a wonderful nutty aroma, and the grains were starting to dry. I then turned the oven down to "warm" (about 120F) and left it overnight. By the next day the grains were perfectly dry.

The malted buckwheat was not very sweet, but more nutty (and very crisp or steely).


3. Brewing with buckwheat.

I decided to use the whole pound in a koelsch style beer, substituting it for the 5-15% malted wheat usually used. The recipe (38 litres):

6 lbs Hugh Baird 2 row

Mash: Single rest infusion - 90 minutes at 152F, liquid decoct to mashout at 168F.

10 lbs Canada Malting 2 row

1 lb Vienna

1 lb malted buckwheat

OG: 1.045


1.25 oz Galena (11%) 60 minutes

1 oz Saaz (4%) 30 minutes

Yeast: 1 carboy was fermented with dry lager yeast (mauribrew), and 1 with WY# 1007 (German Ale). 1 week primary (at 60F), 2 weeks secondary (at 55F falling to 52F).

FG: 1.011 (for both)

Bottled with 3/4C corn sugar.


Excellent long-lasting white head on a golden beer. The head is very creamy (perhaps because of the buckwheat?). Aroma on both is slightly fruity, no malt, slight hops (Saaz). The dry yeast batch is fuller, and maltier. The buckwheat flavour comes through as a nutty, almost dry wheat flavour. Perhaps grainy and less bracing than wheat. WY# 1007 is slightly fruity, very clean, and slightly sweet but not malty. Body is light. Balance is hoppy, with some Saaz character. Buckwheat is less pronounced than with the dry yeast, but still present. Again, the only way to describe it is "nutty, bready, grainy, similar to wheat". 

Final note:

Don't expect much fermentable contribution from buckwheat - I calculated about 15 points per lb for mine (although my efficiency was off with this batch, so it could be slightly more). In a light style such as a koelsch, buckwheat lends a wheat character, with some nuttiness. It also contributes to the body and head retention.