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Reducing Carbs and Calories in Homebrew

By now you have probably heard all about the latest low carb diets. As a fan of good beer, the news that carbs are bad hits where it hurts, because beer is pretty high in carbs for a beverage. If the level of carbs in your homebrew is a concern to you, there are a few things you can do to reduce the carbs. It helps to understand where the carbs come from in the first place.

Carbs (and calories) come from sugar and starch (basically the brewing malt), and your average homebrew has plenty of both, resulting in an average of about 10- 15 carbs per 12 oz. serving. Although most of the carbs in the unfermented wort are converted to alcohol and CO2 by the yeast, enough remain behind to make beer off limits to those on a strict low carb diet. Certain specialty grains contribute to higher carbs in beer, especially caramel, crystal malts, and Munich malts. Essentially, grains that contribute a full body and sweetness contain a higher level of complex carbohydrates that are unfermentable by yeast, thus leaving more carbs in the beer. Fortunately, grains with a very dark roast such as chocolate and roasted barley have been roasted so long that the carbohydrates have been broken down in the roasting process. For this reason a very dark beer such as Guiness clocks in at about 10 carbs for 12 oz. while a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale actuallly contains about 12 carbs.

Knowing this, it is possible to brew a beer with low carbs that still has some flavor. The trick is to acheive a low starting and finishing gravity, and then, if you really want to cut out the carbs, utilize a carb destroying enzyme such as beano (available in most drugstores) in the secondary fermenter.3 Beano tablets added to the secondary fermenter will reduce the carbs in the finished beer by about half. Beano is actually the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, and it works by breaking up complex carbs that yeast cannot normally ferment. Note that these complex carbs are the source of the flavor and mouthfeel you may be used to in your homebrew, so you may want to start by brewing a beer with less carbs and then try the extra step of adding beano to a smaller portion of a batch- say 1 gallon- to be sure that you find the results drinkable. Using Beano to cut carbs will make the beer taste thinner. If you brew a beer you do not like, of course it might not contribute carbs to your diet at all- if you end up dumping it down the drain!

If you are very partial to a higher alcohol content you can bump up alcohol by adding ingredients that are highly fermentable, such as refined sugar, fruit, or honey. If you are an all-grain or partial mash brewer you can also use fermentable adjuncts such as barley or rye flakes. All grain brewers can utilize mash techniques to reduce carbs by maximizing the fermentability of the wort. Adding a 15 to 20 minute rest at 140oF and also mashing at a slightly lower temperature- 148- 150 oF will help to produce a more fermentable wort. One more thing a brewer can do to ensure lower carbs is to use a yeast strain with a higher attentuation and to make sure the yeast has a healthy start with vigorous aeration and by making a yeast starter so that a large amount of yeast is intitially pitched.

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