HBW: Millet Brew, Part 1

We recently reported a Strabo passage describing an Ethiopian beverage made from millet and barley. This concoction is sufficiently beer-like for another BCS beer recreation. For today’s entry, I provide an overview of the experiment and the initial production: malting, kilning, and brewing.


Millet  is very unlike barley in its outward form; it has the appearance of couscous – very tiny, yellow balls. Despite being somewhat exotic grain in the Western kitchen, modern (western) brewers have not completely shied away from millet in beer – with sorghum and rice, it is often used as a base malt for gluten-free beers.

In Africa today, millet beer is often brewed with bananas. This combo, however, is not described by Strabo among the ancient Ethiopians.

Project Design
This one is not too difficult: brew a beer that has both millet and barley malt – a la Strabo 17.2.2.

Project Goal
Determine the flavor contributions of millet to the beer.

Various online homebrewing reports provide very different flavor profiles for millet beer: bland, sweet, bitter, etc.. It will be interesting to see how this grain reacts to my palate.

N.B. For this beer, I plan to use hops. I am well aware that the ancient Ethiopians almost certainly would not have added these delicious flowers to their millet/barley drinks. The ancients almost certainly would have used other additives to lend flavor and preservative qualities to the beer during brewing, while fermenting, and/or immediately prior to drinking. Unfortunately, these additives are not mentioned by Strabo. Consequently, it is impossible for us to produce a reasonable facsimile of the ancient concoction.

The goal of this recreation is also not to reproduce the specific flavor and form of ancient Ethiopian beer. Its primary aim is to determine the flavor contribution of millet as a beer base grain. As a result, a modest amount of bittering hops should not cover the flavor of the millet

Even more important, I want to make a beer that I would not mind drinking. Although it has certainly been enjoyable making non-hopped recreations for this blog, I have been unable to take more than a couple sips of any of the previous BCS brews.

1 lb (453 g) barley malt (pale 2-row)
0.5 lb (227 g) millet malt (homemade)
.15 oz (2.8 g) EKG hops (60 minute addition)
Baker’s Yeast

Malting Millet
This was a hassle! Millet takes a looooooooong time to germinate. After more than 3 days of alternating soaking and draining two pounds (907 g) of millet, nearly all the grains were reading for the oven. I set my (poorly regulated oven) at a point  halfway between 0 and 200 degrees F (93 degrees C) (there are no numbers below 200!) and inserted the millet on baking trays. Within 5 hours, they had almost completely dried and were starting to turn a slightly darker yellow. Beware the smell: it gave the house an aroma of stale paint for a few hours.

Brew Day

Ingredients (minus hops!)

Crush the millet, measure the grain, heat the strike water (156 F [69 C]), add grains, mash for 1 hour (151 F [66 C]).

Bring the beer to a boil, add hops, boil for one hour, cool to 70 F (21 C) and add yeast. Wait. . .

Pre-boil gravity: 1.020 [the wort has the flavor of puffed wheat]
Original gravity: 1.041 (0.5 gallon [1.89 L])

Tune in next week for a status report on the fermentation and the initial tasting. We will then bottle the beer and see how millet tastes as a modern beer base grain.


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