Monday, April 19, 2010

seventh brew (Belgian witbier), part 1

Brewing my first witbier was a lengthy and educational venture. More educational than fun, as a recall. I've wanted to brew another for many months, both because I love the style and because I was so thoroughly tormented by the first. Everything has been in the garage just waiting since last June!

In my witbier tastings I've certainly encountered great variety in the implementation of the style. I don't know that it's my very favorite but Hoegaarden is surely a benchmark and I like it very much. I would be thrilled to come close to the great original, even if it has suffered at the hands of InBev.

After scouting around online I settled on this recipe for a Hoegaarden clone.

So, I finally got things together on 2010-03-27. First order of business on brew day: follow the sage advice of Charlie Papazian. Relax and have a homebrew! One of the few remaining witbiers from last March seemed appropriate. Not bad. The phenolic notes have quieted a little, but are still dominant. Nice body and carbonation. I do like it; it's just not the result I'm after.

The ingredients and recipe for what I guess I'll have to call Clonegaarden ended up like this:
  • 2 cans Muntons wheat liquid malt extract, 3.3 pounds (unhopped)
  • 4 ounces flaked oats
  • 8 ounces flaked wheat
  • 8 ounces aromatic malt
  • 1 ounce Kent Golding hops pellets, 5.0% AA (60 minutes)
  • .5 ounce Saaz plugs, 7.7% AA (15 minutes)
  • .5 ounce Saaz plugs, 7.7% AA (5 minutes)
  • 1 ounce coriander seed (15 minutes)
  • 1 ounce coriander seed (5 minutes)
  • 1 ounce bitter orange peel (15 minutes)
  • 1 ounce bitter orange peel (5 minutes...but I forgot it)
  • White Labs Belgian Wit Ale Yeast (WLP400)
All the ingredients except the coriander came from Brewmasters Warehouse. Good site and good prices. No complaints at all for my first order.

The grains in separate bags went into 1.5 gallons of tap water at 157 degrees. I kept the heat at 3, and the temperature actually climbed to 170 after 30 minutes. Research: what is optimal, and what about thermometer calibration?

This wort ended up surprisingly dark. Gravity at 170 degrees (77 C) was 1.00. Correcting for temperature, that's 1.025. Research: How much of that is fermentable? All three grains need mashing. According to Palmer, temperatures above 158 inhibit starch conversion, so I was running pretty hot. Palmer's typical malt yields table (Table 27) says PPG for steeping these grains is negligible. So what does that gravity mean, exactly, considering that the final gravity was 1.014? Some significant fraction ended up being fermentable, right? Ah, but on other hand this is the boil gravity, so 1.5 gallons of wort at 1.025 becomes only 1.007 at 5.25 gallons. So I guess it's quite possible that none of that is fermentable.

Added a gallon of water, probably splashing a bit too much. The wort was tasty with lots of body. Brought to boil and added Golding hops. 

Based on my earlier research I've pretty well decided to add malt extract near the end of the boil. Added extract at 45 minutes. This knocked the temperature down to 160 and it took maybe 15 minutes to come back to boiling. That's something to think about with respect to the boiling hops. Also added first half of Saaz hops, coriander (coarsely ground), and orange peel in a nylon hop bag. 

At 55 minutes added the rest of the hops and coriander, but forgot the second half of the orange peel. Grr. I wonder whether I shouldn't make a strong tea and add it during fermentation. (I didn't.)

Cooled, aerated heartily, and added 60 degree tap water to get about 5.25 gallons at 75 degrees according to the bucket fermometer. However, the base of the bucket felt much warmer than the top. I was startled to discover just how ineffectual the delivery of water from the faucet is at blending, even from a height of a foot over the bucket. I'd pulled my original gravity sample already from the spigot and realized that it was useless. Mixed by pouring between kettle and bucket, by which time I'd reduced the temperature to about 66 degrees. And, I also discovered that the kettle thermometer may be high by 8 or 10 degrees. Nice. So, the above temperatures for the steeping are probably erroneous.

The upshot of this latest temperature fiasco is that I really need to mark the kettle so I know exactly volume I'm trying to cool, and I need a new floating thermometer.

Pulled another sample to measure an original gravity of about 1.066. The recipe says OG is 1.055 (and is based on 7 pounds of extract). That's a pretty big difference. The 6.6 pounds of LME at 36 PPG would account for 1.045. I'm not sure whether that's the right figure for wheat malt or not; it may well be lower.

Comparing the two The first one was like syrup compared to the second. I'm shocked at how poor the blending is even when adding that much water. I really need to get the water into the bucket first and then pour in the wort.

The yeast was a bit past its "best-by" date of 2009-10-30. Pitched and and plumbed a small diameter blowoff tube.

Just for fun, I poured the gravity samples into a jar with a sprinkle of Red Star dry champagne yeast I had in the fridge.

Fermentation took a couple of days to get going. I put the bucket in the downstairs bathroom and ran the heater, keeping it in the 70s. During my tussles with the last witbier I had my know your yeast epiphany, so I made sure to keep this at a happy temperature. A week later was still blowing bubbles every several seconds, down from a peak of every second or less. The blowoff tube worked beautifully.

The champagne yeast sample seemed to finish up in a few days. Tasty, but none of the Belgian goodness that the wit yeast should deliver.

By 2010-04-12, or two weeks after visible fermentation started, it had pretty much stopped. The gravity was about 1.017, getting pretty close to the recipe's final of 1.014.

There was just a thin layer of krausen. This one never went berserk -- no crap gunking up the blowoff tube, no cranky stopping and starting.

The flavor at this point was dramatically different from the first witbier. There was no harshness, no phenolic band-aid character. It's good! The bittering hops are detectable and it is considerably more hoppy than the first one, although no hop aroma, really. There's some fruitiness and slight tartness. It's lively on the tongue, almost as if it were already lightly carbonated. There's some bitterness on the finish, and I think that's where I pick up the coriander. Maybe a hint of yeastiness. This is a low-flocculation yeast and it is quite cloudy. From my limited experience I'd say it tastes green, expectedly, and with some time I think it may become quite fine. I am pleased.

Bottled on 2010-04-18, at a final gravity of 1.014. Oh, it's very tasty! No question about its Belgian lineage. It has smoothed out a little in the last week. I think I'm going to be happy with this one aside from the color, which certainly is not possible to achieve using the the Muntons wheat LME.

Bottle count was 25 twelves and 21 sixteens.


Kevin said...

That top photo of the glass of beer and the bowl of grain is an absolutely fantastic photo.

Now that I've read this I'm glad I didn't let my coworkers talk me into trying the Hoegaarden at a pub in England a couple of years ago. I think they were kind of daring me because all of them except one hated it. I didn't know then it was a wheat beer, and if I'd tried it I would've really gotten sick, I'm allergic to wheat.

Adina said...

Hi Steve,

Jane and Andy highly recommended your site as an interesting read. I'll be here from time to time.