Sweet sorghum syrup is tasty on pancakes, and it’s also a tasty addition to a Belgian-style ale. Its flavor is much like molasses. However, how it’s made is more like maple syrup.
Every fall, participants in the Cane Hill Harvest Festival in Cane Hill, Arkansas, take sorghum cane grown on the grounds of historic Cane Hill College and turn it into dark, sticky deliciousness. The locals just call it “sorghum,” but sorghum cane is different from sorghum grain, which is used to brew gluten-free beers. And although some people call the end product “sorghum molasses,” it’s not really molasses. Molasses is a by-product of turning sugar cane and sugar beets into granulated sugar.
The process begins by taking the leaves off the sorghum cane stalks and feeding the stalks through presses. At Cane Hill, there is a press powered by a tractor and another powered by a mule. The sweet juice pressed from the cane runs downhill through hoses to a copper pan that is heated by a wood fire. The juice flows slowly through a zig-zag of channels where water is boiled away. At the end of its journey, it’s a tenth of the original volume and much darker in color. Meanwhile, a green foam is skimmed from the surface of the liquid.
While many would think of pancakes when watching this process, I thought of beer. I took a few bottles home to play with and to share.
The trickiest part of brewing with sorghum was getting it out of the bottle. It is very thick stuff. I used a metal cooling rack to suspend the upended bottle over a glass bowl before I started my brew day. It turns out the bottle held a little more than a pound of sorghum.
For the recipe, I dug into my Brewer’s Logbook and found an old standby that I’ve used several times over the past few years. It’s pretty simple: Belgian Pilsner, malted wheat, Styrian Golding hops and Belgian yeast.
The end product is very tasty. The sorghum comes through in the end of the flavor as a bit of molasses-like caramel. It’s a big beer, weighing in at 8.4%, but I mashed low to try to keep down the residual sweetness. If I were to brew this again, I’d probably add some more hop bitterness to increase the bite and liven it up a bit. However, it is delicious as it is.
Sorghum Syrup Belgian-Style Ale
5 gallon (19 liter) batch
10 lb (4.5 kg) Belgian Pilsner
4 lb (1.8 kg) Malted Wheat
1.12 lb (506 g) Sweet Sorghum Syrup – added midway through boil
Mash at 148˚F (64˚c) 90 minutes
2 oz (56 g) Styrian Golding pellets – 60 minutes
WLP 500 Monastery yeast ( 2 liter starter)
OG: 1.075 FG: 1.012 ABV: 8.4%