Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My adventures with Bouza, or brewing homemade wheat beer

In the book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, there is a recipe for Bouza, or Ancient Egyptian Beer.  It looked like good fun so I decided to have a try brewing it.

The 'beer' itself ended up terrible.  I finished with a dozen bottles of strange vinegar; however, the bread I made with the mash is AMAZING!  I'll post about the bread next chance I get.  It's well worth making the 'beer' just to have mash for bread later.

Please note, apparently it's not legal to make your own beer in some parts of world, including a good chunk of North America.  It's your responsibility to be aware of local restrictions before you try this at home, or at least before you start bragging about it.  Most of Canada is fine though.  We may not have the god-given right to bear arms, but we do have the god-given right to make our own home-brew.  

Out of the entire book, this is the one recipe that I've had the most trouble with.  Anyone around know more about the process of brewing this beverage, please get in touch.

According to Sandor Katz, people in Egypt have been brewing this form of beer for at least 5 thousand years.  Given that beer was one of the main sources of nutrition for the masses over the years, that basically means the pyramids were built on this stuff.  Wow.

I'm going to describe to you what I did, and some of the problem solving I attempted.  I'm not going to give you the actual recipe because that would not be fair to the books' author.  However, the book is available at most libraries and its well worth buying your own copy.

The recipe has three main steps: Malting, Forming Loaves, and Brewing Bouza.

Malting is way easier than I ever suspected.  It involves sprouting then toasting the grain.

wheat in jars waiting to sprout

sprouted wheat ready for toasting

The recipe says to toast on the ovens lowest setting for 20 to 30 min until the grain is dry.  This is no where near long enough,  2 to 3 hours will do the trick.

When the grain is dry, it can be stored in an airtight container for later use.  The smell of the sprouted and roasted (aka, malted) grain when it is ground, is heavenly.  I've taken to sprouting half a cup of wheat whenever I have a chance, and maybe I can coarsely grind it and add it to rice or bread later on.

The next step is to make a loaf with coarsely ground wheat.  Combine some sourdough starter (I used sponge as it's generally moister) and coarsely ground grain. You then leave this loaf to ferment for a few days before half-baking it so that the outside is cooked and the inside is still gooey.

ground wheat and soudough sponge

the loaf ready to be put somewhere to ferment before baking

This is the step I had the most trouble with.  To start with, I wasn't able to get the loaf to stick together, so I ended up kneaded in about two tablespoons of all purpose flour.  I put it on a piece of parchemt paper and covered with a cotton towel to ferment.

 After two days, I went to put the loaf in the oven, I noticed there was the start of mould on the bottom.

I probably should have done something about this, but I hoped that either the heat from baking or the alcohol from brewing would take care of this.  This might be why I ended up with vinegar.

When it comes to baking the loaf the recipe tells us that the finished result is to have the outside baked and the inside gooy and alive.  That way it will keep until you are able to brew the Bouza.  Problem is, the temperature given is far too low to heat up the outside of the bread.  At 350, to bake the outside of the bread enough, you will have to bake the inside of the bread too.  Instead, I think it's better to bake at 400 to 425F for about 10 to 15 min.  The outside is cooked, but the inside is all gooey and still quite cool.

Brewing day finally arrived and I ground up the malted wheat, broke up the loaf and added them both into the water.

Malted wheat as it came out of the mill

In the vat you go malt

yeast loaf with gooey interior broken up ready for brewing

Into the Bouza with you too

I sealed up the top of the bucket and waited a couple of days.  After the recommended time, it had only just started to ferment (I keep my house cool so it's understandable), so I left it a couple of more days (and made the mistake of stirring it again, which added air to the mix and might be another cause of my vinegar).  When the bubbles started to slow down, I strained it into a pot (kept the mash for bread) and left it to settle.  I strained it again through a cloth and kept the second straining.  This second straining is traditionally considered a major source of yeast and use to be a necessity in bread baking.

An early sample, after two days brewing

Tastes like yeast and water at this stage

The drink itself turned out pretty dismal.  Most of the recipes I've tried from Wild Fermentation I had no problem with; however, this Bouza was nothing but trouble.  But I'm going to try it again later and I have a few ideas that might make it more to my liking.  And even if it doesn't work, I'll have more mash for baking bread.

Bread, yummy!

Beer mash, water, flour and salt - that's it. Apparently it's the best bread ever, but I haven't had any yet because it got eaten so quickly.


  1. I loved what you wrote! Was getting prepared to try the same recipe. I plan on reading it again a few times and ponder before I begin. Thank you for taking the time & the pictures!

  2. What did you use to grind the toasted grain with?

  3. Hello Anonymous, I have a small home flour mill that I used on coarse setting. I don't know the make. Here's some photos of it on my other blog. http://itissunnyatebertshome.blogspot.ca/2008/03/flour-mill-or-grinder.html