Wit Minus Minus (Gluten-Free ‘Wit’bier)

One of my good friends was semi-recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease, a rather craptacular condition that essentially makes consuming gluten a big no-no. Most of the world’s beer is brewed with barley and/or wheat, which both contribute gluten proteins. Bummer. Said friend loves beer, so I figured I needed to take a stab at brewing a completely gluten-free beer, using Briess White Sorghum Syrup a gluten-free, 100% concentrated wort made from the unmalted grain of the white sorghum plant.

Original guidance on this recipe came from Russ Chibes’ White Riot sorghum based wit. First off, I had a little bit of trouble finding sorghum extract. Most online homebrew suppliers seemingly used to carry it. I even recently have heard commercials from Fermentap on The Brewing Network podcasts advertising that they carry it… but that seems to no longer be the case. Northern Brewer stopped carrying it; Beer, Beer, & More Beer seems to be completely out as well. Locally, Keystone Homebrew had a small amount left, but their two locations are quite a haul for me from South Philly these days, now that I no longer work in the suburbs. Midwest still had some though. Score!

One of Russ’ comments to me on beeradvocate.com when I asked him about the beer was that it needed some more orange peel character. Recently during a fun-filled week in Philadelphia Jury Duty, I spent a lot of time reading Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher. I am typically a “stick-to-the-bjcp-guidelines-and-use-proven-recipes (coughcough Brewing Classic Styles coughcough) but this book is pretty inspiring in a challenging, refreshing way. It includes lots of pointers on using non-traditional ingredients, and how to go about getting the most flavor out of spices and other additions for homebrewers. One of the sections that caught my eye was on orange peel – a typical addition to most of the world’s witbier recipes. Mosher points out that in his brewing, he has found the dried Curacao orange peel that most homebrew shops sell imparts “too much pithy bitterness and not enough orange aroma.” One of his substitutions? Seville Orange Marmalade. Usually marmalade would be a no-no in beer, since the pectin would lead to a haze, but luckily, that is quite acceptable in this style of beer! The other day at Wegman’s I stumbled upon a Seville Orange Marmalade, actually made by Trappist Monks in Massachusetts, which I clearly had to have.

Anyway.. On to the recipe:

Wit-- (Sorry, I’m a computer geek, and this is a wheat-less wit)


  • 6# Briess Liquid White Sorghum Extract
  • 8 oz Maltodextrin powder (to add body)
  • 2 oz Corn Sugar (just to boost the alcohol a tad)

Other Ingredients:

  • .7 oz (6% AA) Organic New Zealand Hallertau (60M)
  • 1 oz Fresh Mineola Orange Zest
  • 1 T Buckwheat flour (to add more haze)
  • 1 T Seville Orange Marmalade
  • .4 oz Lightly Crushed Coriander Seed (Fresh, not stale!)
  • .15 oz Dry Chamomile Flowers (both JZ and Mosher mention this as pretty key in this style

After chilling this down to the low 60s, I pitched a packet of Fermentis Safbrew T-58 dry yeast. Normally for a belgian specialty ale, I’d use a nice starter of some White Labs or Wyeast yeast.. But they are usually grown on barley, whereas most dry yeast are grown up on gluten-free sources of food like beet sugar and the like.

I started with 5.5 gallons. I racked from my kettle to a 6 gallon better bottle and had about 4.75 gallons. My starting gravity was 1.050; assuming I get solid attenuation like I always seem to from Fermentis dry yeast, I am looking at a final gravity in the low teens and an ABV in the upper 4s. We’ll see. Beth commented that the aromas permeating from this wort were the most pleasant of any batch to date. I think using good quality coriander, vibrant chamomile, and fresh orange zest is really the way to go with this style.

I had good activity by the next morning – though there was no krausen. I’ll let it go for about 10 days or so and bottle, and hopefully we’ll be tasting in a couple of weeks.