Tuesday, December 27, 2011

AHA Big Brew: ginger witbier

May 7 was the American Homebrewers Association's Big Brew celebration of the 2011 National Homebrew Day. The idea is to participate in a group brewing event with a local club using one of the suggested recipes. My brewing gear isn't mobile, so I had to brew at home and catch up with the North Seattle dudes later.

The witbier recipe caught my eye along with the suggestion that homebrewers "add local, seasonal adjuncts such as flowers, herbs, spices, or fruit." About the only thing growing in my local garden at this point was chives, though, and I was not willing to commit so robustly to the seasonality of the event. Instead, I purchased a couple of pounds of ginger root and decided to experiment with a ginger witbier.

The Cellar sells LME in six pound tubs and the recipe called for 7.25 pounds. Having been repeatedly annoyed by the darkness of my witbiers I decided to use rice extract to make up the difference.

The ingredients ended up being:
  • 6 pounds liquid wheat malt
  • 1 pound dry rice extract
  • 25 grams Mount Hood pellet hops at 5.5%
  • 780 grams ginger root
  • 30 grams orange zest
  • 120 grams coriander
  • Wyeast 3944, Belgian Witbier liquid yeast
I used a single smack pack of yeast. I've never used two and am not sure why this recipe called for two since the original gravity is a mere 1.051.

Based on some experimentation I figured I'd want about two teaspoons of ginger puree per eight ounces of beer. That amounted to 780 grams (28 ounces) of ginger for the batch. I used the Kitchenaid grinder attachment to produce that pretty quickly.

I savaged three oranges with a microplane to obtain the 30 grams of zest. 

It takes just a few seconds to bust up the coriander seeds in a grinder.

To the boiling water I added the rice extract and hops. Still in pursuit of a lighter color I went with the late malt addition at 40 minutes. In 15 minutes it was back to a boil. I waited five minutes, then added the separated ginger liquid and hops bags containing the zest, coriander, and ginger pulp. It took another five minutes to return to boiling. Five more minutes then flameout.

Cooled to 74 degrees and 5.5 gallons, with a gravity of 1.046. Without doing the computation, that seems about right for the original recipe's 5.3 gallons and slightly more malt.

And, I did achieve a significantly lighter color. Compare to the first witbier and second witbier.

The wort had an excellent ginger kick, and nice balance between citrus and ginger. At the pre-fermentation sweetness it was actually quite delicious!

The wort started bubbling within 5 hours. It was vigorous for about 24 hours, slowing down to nothing very noticeable after 48. I did not rack to a secondary.

At bottling on May 15 the final gravity was 1.013, exactly on target.

The flavors were of pronounced bitterness, strong ginger, and both grapefruit and orange citrus. It was very cloudy but I think that may be unavoidable with this much ginger.

I screwed up during bottling, forgetting to add corn sugar until I'd already filled several bottles. Had to pour those back and then try to blend dissolved sugar into the full bucket. This is the second time I've done that and it makes me concerned about oxygenation, infection, and uneven distribution. Well, checklists have been shown repeatedly to greatly reduce all sorts of mistakes even amongst expert practitioners of an art. Probably time to make one.

Carbonation of bottles did end up being hit-or-miss. I think it's due to uneven bottling sugar distribution. However, even the ones that are closest to still have a good ginger bite that seems to accentuate even the mild carbonation.

It has clarified beautifully, although this photo doesn't do it justice.

Of course that's not the proper way to serve a witbier. It's best with the settled yeast poured into the glass, improving both flavor and body. This was from a bottle that did not develop much carbonation, but the ones that did produce a lovely white head.

The color is supposed to be 5 SRM units. I haven't applied the correct methodology with the BJCP color guide but eyeballing it in a glass with a light background leads me to believe it's pretty close.

I've been enjoying this witbier for several months and it is one of my favorite homebrews so far. I love the ginger kick and I'm pleased to have obtained a more appropriate color. Proper management of bottling sugar is the only change I would certainly make for the second attempt. Additional coriander would be interesting as well.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

tasting the March 2009 witbier

Opened a bottle of the first witbier I brewed, in March 2009. It was problematic, but by May I'd figured out what was going on and ended up thinking it was at least not abominable.

Unlike the aged Tipsy Bird red ale, I'm not sure this has improved over time. It's not much different from what I recall. Perhaps the phenolic component has rounded off a bit, but spicy phenols are still the dominant flavor by far. The citrus is there if I look for it in the aftertaste. If it were a little more dry I might like it better.

tasting the Tipsy Bird after three years

During a bit of garage cleanup I found a box with some bottles of Tipsy Bird red ale, my first real brew from late 2008. It poured with an enormous head, which concerned me at first, but it was delicious. Incredibly smooth with a sweet caramel maltiness. I remember it being simpler and sharper. Quite interesting to see how it has changed. I think I'll go see what else I can find!

Friday, March 25, 2011

2010 potato harvest

The second attempt at obtaining a massive potato yield through the use of potato towers was not as successful as the first. I did change more than one variable, so it's not highly valid as an experimental result,  and the weather was uniformly rotten.

The 2010 result was about nine pounds of All Blues

and ten pounds of German Butterballs.

The were of excellent size and quality, but the yield was really disappointing. Last year I got 29 pounds of Desiree Reds and 18 pounds of Yellow Finns from the boxes.

The blues are (were) really lovely and delicious:

Although I did attempt to keep the vines much more covered as they grew, in comparison to 2009, I don't think I did it well enough. Here's an interesting comment from a thread on this site about potato towers:
I'm both amazed and amused that nobody has taken the time to explain the facts. In the first place, the thread title is 100% correct. Potatoes do not grow along the stem. They grow at the ends of modified branches called stolons. Those grow only from a certain portion of the stem which is just above the roots. If allowed to grow without interference, all of the stolon buds will form in a tight little ring at the base of the stem. Immediately above that will begin the true stem. If that basal portion of the stem is allowed to elongate, stolon buds continue to be formed. 5 stolons equal 5 potatoes, 20 stolons equal 20 potatoes. It is that factor which makes tire planting so very effective. At the same time, it is why tire planting can be a total flop. As long as the stolon-producing portion of the stem is well underground, and the true stem has not formed, it is able to continue growing longer. If that portion stops growing, it doesn't matter if 10' of vine is covered as there will never be another stolon.
It sounds critically important to keep the young vines covered long enough for the stolon-producing portion to develop some length. I'm sure I did not do that effectively. That's what I'll focus on in 2011.