Belgian Wit (all-grain)

Beer lab

The weather honestly could not have been nicer for making this beer. 70 and sunny on a Sunday afternoon.  I wanted to do a Belgian wit beer mainly because it’s a style that really can only be done well with all-grain. It’s hard to get that super light, pale white-ish yellow with malt extract, and at the same time nail that light, wheaty, Belgian wit flavor we know and love. That, and it’s just a great style for Spring and the warm weather to come.  I brewed this beer with the help of my good friend Sherman, and in the down-time we sipped on “Not Just Another Wit” by Mikkeller, as well as some homebrew I had leftover. If you haven’t tried Mikkeller’s beers yet, definitely hit up your local craft beer store for some. He (the brewer) is what’s known as a “gypsy-brewer”; pretty wild.

Yeast destruction! Overflow!

On to the beer.  I made a yeast starter for this batch, and had some totally wacky results. The purpose of a yeast starter is 1) the make sure your yeast is healthy, alive, and ready to chow down on sugars, and 2) to help them reproduce BEFORE adding it to your full batch, which can cause some weird flavors to come about. You’re basically making a mini-batch of beer with just yeast, water, and some DME to help the yeast get happy.  Usually when I make one, in about two days it’s done fermenting and everything’s normal; ready to pitch with a good amount of yeast developed. This time the fermentation was SO active, that it bubbled up all the way into the airlock (see picture), and actually shot off the bobber onto the floor! To keep this from repeating I set up a blow-off tube into a 22oz bottle with some water in it (see other picture), and even THEN, the 22oz bottle overflowed with yeast, too! This thing was unstoppable. Atleast I know I’d have plenty of it to pitch into the batch.

Mashing: after doing some reading about how to mash a wheat beer, it seems like most recipes use a “protein rest” at ~125 degrees to help break down the initial large amount of proteins in the wheat malt.  Then, bringing up the temp to normal ~150-155 region for regular starch/sugar conversion.  My first all-grain only used a single temperature, so this will be a test :-O.

blow off tube

Using some online tools, I calculated what the strike water had to be to get my initial temperature right, but somehow I was about 5 degrees off.  For the second temperature step, I did the calculation myself using some algebra, and I was again off by about 5 degrees, after which I’d add boiling water to raise up the temp to the right level.  From just these first two all-grain batches, I think the lesson learned is pretty apparent: buy some brewing-software. Save yourself the trouble and invest $20 in a well-thought-out program made by experienced brewers so you can get this stuff right. How much the beer will suffer from these inaccuracies? In about 3 weeks we’ll find out..

Souring experiment

I let this beer sit in the primary for almost two whole weeks, and it STILL wasn’t done fermenting – bubbling once every 30 to 45 seconds. Normally it’s ready to rack in about 5-7 days.  Anxiously I racked it to the secondary, and when I opened up the lid, guess what: it still had a full head of krausen in the fermentor, meaning it truly was not done fermenting, not matter how much i wanted it to be. The gravity read 1.011, so maybe it had a few more days left, but not much.  How the hell is this taking so long when the starter was like a machine?  Whatev.  Anyway, it had a really funky Belgian yeasty smell to it, so I hoped this would vanish in the secondary. All the other flavors were on point, though. Probably could get away with a little more coriander and orange peel, but this tastes fine.

Right before kegging, I decided to take a small portion of this beer and let it sit outside – collect some natural yeast in the air, and see if I can turn this wit into a Belgian sour ale. A friend and fellow brewer told me about a beer that he let sit outside for a night, then bottled, and it developed an awesome “spunk” to it similar to a Belgian sour.  I’m not a huge fan of sour/lambic/bacteria Belgian beers, but it’s a style I want to start investigating.  I figure this is an easy experimental way to try and sour a beer, so we’ll see how this goes!  I’ll bottle this little bit of beer and let it age for a while before trying it.

Recipe for the wit

Ingredients

  • 6.5 lb Pilsner malt (belgian)
  • 2.6 lb Flaked wheat
  • 1.5 lb white wheat malt
  • 0.75 oz tettnang hops (60 min)
  • 0.25 oz hallertau hops (60 min)
  • 0.25 oz hallertau hops (5 min)
  • 0.25 oz tettnang hops (1 min)
  • 0.5 oz semi-crushed coriander (7 min)
  • 0.5 oz bitter orange peel (7 min)
  • WLP400 Belgian Wit yeast (using a 2 quart starter)

Brewing

Mash 15 minutes @ 125, 60 minutes @ 148.  Boil 75 minutes total, adding hops and spices at specified times.

Fermentation

Primary 12 days, Secondary 5 days. Keg and force carb.

The finished beer:

Despite missing the mash temperatures, this beer came out really nice.  A little on the lighter side (~4% ABV), it’s got a light body and very mild flavors, making this beer an easy drinker for spring/summer. The funky smell from the Belgian wit yeast was a little nerve-wracking and off-putting after I first kegged, but it soon dissipated once the beer chilled and got a little C02 pumped in. The orange peel and coriander is pretty subtle, as well as the overall “wheaty-ness”, but it’s very very drinkable.  The color is fantastic – a hazy pale yellow which I love seeing as a result of going all-grain. It’s got a nice white, cloud-like, fluffy head on it which looks amazing and hangs around for a while after pouring.  I’m pretty happy with how this came out being my second all-grain batch.  My family’s already taken a liking to this one, so I’m sure it will get polished off pretty fast to remake again for the summer!

Just prior to kegging

The final wit!

Look at that head!

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Filed under Belgian, Wheat beers

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