Cornmeal and grits are both made from dried corn kernels and can be used to create fermentable sugars that are beneficial to the home brewing process. Use either cornmeal or grits to make a mash, which helps produce the sugars needed for fermentation and alcohol creation. They can also be used to lighten beer, creating a finished product with a smoother, sweeter taste.
Difference Between Grits and Cornmeal
Cornmeal is made by grinding whole kernels, while grits are made from hulled kernels. Cornmeal has a higher fat content than grits, and is more perishable. Because of these slight differences, you need different processes for using cornmeal and using grits for making beer. Both grits and cornmeal produce a sweet, smooth flavor in beer, and help create a light-textured body.
Making the Mash
Because the starch in corn, either as cornmeal or as grits, is difficult to break down, a mash must be made before the malt enzymes are able to make use of the sugars in the grain. Cornmeal and grits are boiled, often in a cereal cooker, to gelatinize the starches, making them available to the malt enzymes. You need to heat the grits or cornmeal to at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit before the starches become available. However, ideally, the grains should be boiled until soft. Cornmeal, because of the husk, needs to be cooked longer — or at a higher temperature — before the mash is fully gelatinized.
How Much to Use and How to Use It
Before adding to the other beer ingredients, combine the corn mash, either made with grits or cornmeal, with the barley mash. The corn mash must be at a high temperature, while the barley mash needs to be at a low temperature. The final temperature — of the mixed barley and corn mashes — needs to be between 149 and 158 F. If you are using corn as more than 30 percent of your grains in your mix, you need a malt that is very enzymatic, such as a pale American malt. Do not use cornmeal for more than 40 percent of the total grains and starches, grist, you use. Too much grist can lead to off-flavored beer. However, you can use slightly more if you are using grits, as they have a lower fat content than cornmeal.
Texture and Taste Produced
Corn, especially cornmeal, lowers the protein content of beers, meaning that there is less risk of a hazy look. The finished beer will also be lighter-bodied and have a neutral flavor that is sweet and smooth. With cornmeal, a slight corn flavor may be more apparent, so corn is most commonly used as an adjunct to sweeter beers and lagers; rather than full-bodied, bitter beers, like double IPAs. Grits do not impart as pronounced a flavor, and so they are more commonly used to create light-malt-flavored beers. In general, using corn, either cornmeal or grits, for roughly 10 to 20 percent of your total grist content may help stabilize the flavor of the beer.
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