Earlier this year we were sent an email asking if we had ever brewed beer with a Joule Sous Vide. We didn’t even know what Sous Vide was so hastily typed it into Google and discovered it’s a cooking method that uses a gadget to heat water to precise temperatures, allowing controlled underwater cooking of foods that have been sealed in a bag. Joule, it transpires, produce one of the leading pieces of Sous Vide kit on the market.
Getting the sweet goodness from malted grains (mashing) requires cooking them in water at precise temperatures – a task that is tricky with the variable heat provided by ovens or hobs – so we responded with a ‘no’ swiftly followed by ‘tell us more.’ The people behind the Joule Sous Vide were as keen as us to put it to the test, so they sent us one to try.
Before giving it a go we wanted to be certain that a hot, sticky wort (the liquid produced by mashing) wouldn’t damage the Sous Vide. It contains a pump that keeps the water flowing and regulates temperature so foods are cooked in bags partly to avoid bits clogging the system up, therefore it was important to know if it could cope with sugary liquid.
The Joule Sous Vide team did the research and found someone who had successfully brewed beer using this method: Claire at Home Brewtique, a business that produces products for the home brewer. We’ve worked with Claire before and love the kits they put together so knew we could trust her opinions. Claire enthused that the Sous Vide approach was her favourite method of home brewing and kindly sent us an ingredients kit for their English pale ale, which helpfully comes with thorough details on timings and temperatures. All that was left for us to do was brew.
How to mash grains for beer with a Joule Sous Vide
One of the great features of the Joule Sous Vide is that it connects to a smart phone app from which you can programme cooking. There are built in recipes with pre-programmed temperatures and timings (not yet for beer) or you can plug in your own instructions. Before starting you get to name your Sous Vide (we called our Joule ‘Rimet’) and it then politely runs through everything you need to know (not a lot: it’s easy).
Because you don’t want the grains running amok in the water during cooking they need to be put in a bag that keeps them in place while allowing the liquid goodness to seep out. Home Brewtique have developed their own ‘Grainstay’ bag that does this perfectly, which is lined with an elasticated band that fits around the rim of your cooking pot. To accommodate the Sous Vide on the outside of the bag we had to divert its journey around the rim so simply nicked some clothes pegs from the washing line and clipped it in place.
Once set up I asked the app to heat the grains to 67C for an hour, followed by a shorter ‘mash out’ temperature of 76C to finish up. The app obliged. My wort was ready. The Joule Sous Vide had done its job to perfection.
From here on in we returned to our usual brewing methods – boil on the hob with hops*, cool, ferment and bottle.
The Joule Sous Vide is an excellent device for home brewing, turning a regular pot into a proper temperature controlled piece of brewing equipment. Its precision and efficiency allows you to step up a degree of professionalism with your brewing, is simple to use and can be left to get on with the job while you do something else (the app allows you to operate it from another room). Knowing you’re brewing to precise times and temperatures also means you can more accurately repeat the process, certain that any changes in beer quality from batch to batch aren’t as a result of varying temperatures – which is ideal for beer experimenters like us and for those that hit the jackpot with a beer and want to brew exactly the same again. Sous Vides may give you a whole new way of cooking food but for us its priority will be for beer.
*We swapped out the hop pellets provided for home grown target hops and the wild plant yarrow. The beer tastes great.
To find our more about the Joule Sous Vide visit chefsteps.com/joule
To get your hands on Home Brewtique’s brewing kits visit homebrewtique.com