Grains being smoked over wood chips is typically what gives this style of beer it's flavor. Incorporating this into homebrewing is easy because major brands offer different smoked malts commercially, but they can be expensive and hard to find. Just like almost every aspect of brewing, DIY can be more rewarding and save money too. In his book Radical Brewing, Randy Mosher put the thought in my head that smoking your own grains is very attainable. I also found a great thread on HBT that outlines the process. Some online research helped me find an inexpensive, but reliable, smoker for $38 at Home Depot. Time to smoke!
The main reason for doing this now is because I entered another "Iron Homebrewer" contest. This one is being held by the Farmers' Cabinet, a new favorite of mine. The center city restaurant gave out the secret ingredient during Philly Beer Week: 2 lbs. of cherry wood smoked rye. The only rule is you need to use the rye so the flavor is incorporated in your recipe. To me, it seems hard to impart a strong smoke presence with only 2 lbs. Plus, I have a couple different directions I want to go with the recipe. Bottom line is I needed more smoked malt.
After assembling and curing the smoker I was ready to go. Below are some pictures of my process:
Getting my coals ready in the chimney. (No, that's not Bud Light)
While the smoker is being cured, I assembled the basket that will hold the grains. For the frame, I used what I had laying around the shed: 2x4's and shims (nothing pressure treated).
I bought some screen material from the Depot for $7 that will be used for the actual basket. This was close enough to keep the grains from falling through.
Staples and a utility knife were used to complete the basket. My hands only bled once :)
Soaking the cherry wood chips for an hour. I used about four handfuls for five pounds of malt.
Weighing the grains to be smoked: 2.5 lbs of rye and maris otter.
Loading in the cherry wood.
I kept the grains moist by spraying them with water. I've read this helps the smokiness "stick."
Rye being smoked. The temperature wasn't as high as it should be for smoking meat, but for grains this isn't something to worry about.
Enjoying one of the last smoked porters I brewed in February.
Here's a shot of the basket after smoking. I was mildly concerned about the frame getting burnt, but it was far enough from the heat.
The finished product! I let both sit out for a bit before bagging to ensure there wouldn't be any condensation trapped that could cause mold. The aroma and taste are almost identical compared to the secret ingredient. It was a fun process I recommend to any homebrewer. I have a feeling next brew day may include a tasty meal too.