The cooking term “sous vide” means “under vacuum.” It is a method that involves preparing ingredients with techniques that can include cutting, browning, and seasoning prior to placing the food item in a specialized plastic bag that is then sealed under vacuum. The bags are then submerged in a water bath equipped with a scientific-grade immersion circulator that precisely heats the water to within 0.5 °F (0.2 °C) and continuously moves the water around to prevent hot spots. Placing foods in vacuum-sealed bags causes no loss or exchange of ingredients throughout the cooking process. This advantage plus the ability of cooking in a precisely maintained water bath allow for much more controlled cooking processes (gelatinization of starches and coagulation of protein).
Bruno Goussault invented sous vide cooking in the 1970s and brought the precision of cooking under vacuum in water baths to the rest of the culinary world. Working with top chefs, Mr. Goussault founded the Centre de Recherche et d’Études pour l’Alimentation (CREA) in 1991 in Paris, France in order to properly train chefs in this important cooking technique.
In order to introduce this technique driven process to my Northern Arizona University students where I am a chef instructor, I took a CREA sous vide course. Our students’ eyes light up when we cook and taste food using this technique in class. They can not believe how much more flavorful, tender, and aromatic the food is.
Enter our school’s nerdy homebrewing club. I challenged our students in the club to think about making a beer using this technique and it took about .0327 seconds for the smiles to spread around their faces. Everyone’s brains started racing with ideas and questions. How would we vorlauf? How would we establish a hot break? How would we isomerize alpha acids? With some excellent advice from Josh Ward, head brewer at Grand Canyon Brewing Company in Williams, Arizona, we had a plan.
Formulating the Recipe
We chose to brew a cream ale in order to clearly perceive the effect that sous vide had on the malt character and minimize any specialty grain/hop combinations that might interfere. We also decided to brew two separate 1-gallon (3.8-L) batches: one with vanilla bean added four days prior to bottling, one with no vanilla bean. We also chose to use a HopShot™ resin extract rather than leaf or pelletized hops in order to try and address the isomerization issue. Note: We treated the brewing water with 1 tsp. of calcium chloride.
On November 5, 2015 we popped open our bottle-fermented sous vide brewing experiment at the Mother Road Brewing Company in Flagstaff, Arizona and had Chief Beer Officer Michael Marquess, and Production Manager, Campbell Morrissy help us analyze our results.
We all raised an eyebrow and gave a subtle head bob when we heard the affirming “tschhh” sound after popping the cap. Then the light straw, effervescent gold poured into the sample glasses. We noticed immediately how light the color was and remarked that there was no kettle caramelization, which made sense due to our heating technique.
The aroma was clean and malt forward. Campbell noticed a hint of sulfur and thought that a higher yeast pitching rate could remove that in primary as there was no boil. He also suggested that we try this experiment again doing it three ways:
• Traditional brewing methods for mash and boil
• Sous vide mash followed by a traditional boil
• Sous vide mash followed by sous vide at 190 °F (88 °C) in place of boil
The taste was malt forward for both plain and vanilla with a hint of corn in the plain. The addition of vanilla masked any corn notes if they were present. Michael felt that the batch with the vanilla bean had just the right amount of vanilla flavor, and said it gave the beer a mild, cream soda quality that was enjoyable.
We all agreed that the mouthfeel was more crisp than we anticipated and Campbell noted that mashing at 148 °F (64 °C) along with the slow rise from room temperature to 148 °F (64 °C) might have broken down the longer chain carbohydrates, making the mouthfeel more crisp and less “creamy.”
In the end, we learned a lot from this experiment, and with almost 95% efficiency can see that there is room for more exploring with this method!
A Beer Named Sous
(2 gallons/7.8 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.037 FG = 1.014
IBU = 13 SRM = 3 ABV = 3%
2 lbs. (0.9 kg) North American 2-row pale malt
8 oz. (227 g) Briess flaked yellow corn
2.5 oz. (71 g) Briess flaked rice
0.5 mL HopShot™ extract syringe
1 tsp. calcium chloride (optional)
1 vanilla bean (optional)
White Labs WLP080 (Cream Ale Yeast Blend)
1⁄4 cup corn sugar (if priming)
• Sous vide immersion circulator
• Water bath vessel
• Eight 1-gallon (3.8-L) Cryovac or zippered plastic bags
Step by step
Set up a water bath for steeping your sous vide bags, using your immersion circulator and your brew pot or cooler filled with water; using warm water will save time, but don’t use hot water. Set the circulator to 148 °F (67 °C) to preheat the water. Crush and thoroughly mix all of the grains. Divide the grain mixture into the four plastic bags. Measure out 75 oz. (2.2 L) of water and mix in 1/4 tsp. calcium chloride. Repeat three times, placing the water into four separate bowls; 300 fl. oz. (8.9 L) total. Add one bowl of water to each of the four 1-gallon (3.8-L) sous vide bags containing the grains and seal with a Cryovac machine or other means. Seal bag carefully to remove oxygen and carefully shake bags to fully hydrate grains. (If you aren’t using Cryovac bags or another method of vacuum sealing, one way to remove all of the air from your zippered bag is to close the zipper up except for just an inch and then lower it slowly into the water bath. Seal the bag when the water is nearly to the edge of the zipper bag — this will give you a pretty good airtight seal.) Place the bags in your preheated water bath equipped with an immersion circulator set at 148 °F (67 °C) and let them steep for 120 minutes.
There is no sparging. Our pre-boil volume was 2.13 gallons (8 L).
After the mash, strain the contents of the bags through sanitized cheesecloth into four new sous vide bags. Then add ¼ of the HopShot™ to each of the bags before sealing (HopShot™ is a CO2-extracted hop resin that can be used for bittering or late additions to boiling wort). Now place the bags back into the preheated water bath equipped with the immersion circulator, this time set at
190 °F (88 °C) and circulate for 75 minutes. Then place the bags in an ice bath until they reach a temperature of 65 °F (18 °C). Transfer the bags into two 1-gallon (3.8-L) carboys (two bags per carboy). Oxygenate each carboy (we did 30 seconds of pure oxygen through a 0.5 micron stone infuser) then pitch the yeast (split the starter between the two carboys). Ferment at 67 °F (19 °C) for two weeks. Four days prior to bottling, we added half a vanilla bean pod (soaked in vodka for 10 minutes, then split and scraped) to 1 of the carboys. Bottle or keg as normal.
For more about sous vide, check out this article from Serious Eats: http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/01/first-thing-to-cook-with-sous-vide-immersion-circulator-essential-recipes.html.