Graf, beer for ACCE congress in Burgos

After the last gastronomical post, we come back to brewing. And this time for a special occasion, the Spanish Homebrewers Association (also known as ACCE) congress, that this year takes place in Burgos. I had been wanting to go to this congress for a couple of years and finally this year I decided to go to this homebrewers party. My initial idea was to go with my brother, my brewing mate, but he couldn’t do it, so I’ll go by myself. Anyway, we made together the beer we brewed for the congress, so if you like the beer, some of the credit will be his. As everything was more or less without planning, we didn’t have time to brew a refined recipe. There was a style that I’d been wanting to brew for some time, and since it coincided with Burgos 2017, we gave it a try. The beer I taking to Burgos is a Graf. And you will say: “What’s that?”. I’ll explain it in the next paragraphs.

Graf in Stepheng King’s “The Dark Tower”

Actually, Graf is a fictional beverage. Until a few years ago it only existed in the mind of Stephen King, author of the book saga “The Dark Tower”. I haven’t read these books, but it seems that Graf in described in them as some kind of dark ale, that incorporates malt and apple juice, and it can have a variable alcohol content. As it could not have been otherwise, it’s been in the homebrewing world where this style has become a reality. You just need to search the internet a little bit to see lots of versions of this drink made by homebrewers all around the world. Proportions from apple juice and wort vary from some recipes to others, being from 3-4 parts of juice for 1 part of wort to a ratio of 1:1 between them. There are also a lot of choices for the grains and yeast to be used.

Since the idea of brewing Graf seemed a curious and attractive option, and having into account that one of the beers I’ve recently liked most is Saison du Pommes from Tempest Brewing in Scotland, that shares in a way the same concept as Graf (although they brew beer and hard cider separately and then they mix them), we decided to give a try with our own version of Graf. Besides, as Chip Walton says in the highly recommended chapter of Brewing TV about it, being Graf a fictional beverage, it’s difficult to do something wrong since you don’t have something real to compare with.

Apple juice

Not wanting our Graf to be more like a hard cider, we decide to go with a proportion of approximately one half of wort and one half of apple juice (actually a little bit more of wort than apple juice, around 6 liters (1.59 gallons) of wort for 4 liters (1.06 gallons) of apple juice). With respect to the grains which were going to be mashed to get the wort that would be later mixed with apple juice, our idea was to use malts that could contribute color, malt flavor and, above all, some body to compensate the lack of it if only apple juice was used. As for the base malt we decided to go with Bohemian Pilsner from Weyermann. For specialty malts we chose aromatic malt, Caramunich I and melanoidin malt, apart from some flaked barley. All of them were able to supply some body to the final beer. For hops, theoretically Graf is not very bitter, so we limited our hop schedule to one addition of Northen Brewer 60 minutes before the end of the boil, to get around 22 IBUs. The recipe for the wort we used for our Graf is shown below (amounts for 6 liters (1.59 gallons) of wort).

Graf – wort recipe

1.20 Kg (2.76 lbs) Bohemian Pilsner (Floor malted) from Weyermann (4.0 EBC) (70.6%)
0.15 Kg (0.33 lbs) aromatic malt (150.0 EBC) (8.8%)
0.15 Kg (0.33 lbs) Caramunich I (95.0 EBC) (8.8%)
0.10 Kg (0.22 lbs) melanoidin malt from Weyermann (75.0 EBC) (5.9%)
0.10 Kg (0.22 lbs) flaked barley (3.3 EBC) (5.9%)
5.00 g (0.18 oz) Northern Brewer (11.20% AA) (boil 60 minutes, 22.2 IBUs)
69ºC (156.2ºF) for 60 minutes; mash out at 72ºC-75ºC (161.6ºF-167.0ºF) for 10 minutes
60 minutes

Wort boiling

Not everything went as expected, neither in the mash nor in the boil. Pre-boil gravity was lower than expected. Besides, we decided to boil the wort in our big kettle (38 liters, 10 gallons) and we lost more volume that we had estimated. When dealing with such volumes we usually boil in an 11 liters (2.9 gallons) kettle and evaporation rate is much lower. Well, nothing too bad to keep us going forward. To compensate for the excessive loss by evaporation, we boiled 2 liters (0.53 gallons) of water to add to the wort, so we finally ended with a little less than 6 liters (1.56 gallons) of wort. After cooling the wort, we added 4 liters (1.06 gallons) of apple juice (be careful! It should not contain any preservatives) and ready to ferment.

Graf, before fermenting

A nice color, quite similar to what we were looking for and, at least before fermenting, with a promising aroma and flavor. Original gravity was 1.040, lower than planned, so it will be a somewhat weak Graf. To ferment, we pitched the versatile M10 Workhorse from Mangrove Jack, looking for a clean fermentation. We’ll probably experiment with other yeast strains in the future if this Graf turns out well.

Graf, 48 hours after pitching yeast

After pitching yeast, we tried to maintain fermentation temperature around 17ºC-18ºC (62.6ºF-64.4ºF), keeping the demijohn in our little fridge. The next day the only sign of fermentation was a little activity in the air-lock. After 48 hours, bubbling was more intense and a considerable krausen was present. This activity, along with the krausen, were kept for one more day. From then on, both were decreasing with time. After 7 days fermenting we took a sample to read gravity, which was 1.009. I also took a sip, it was nice. Some apple aroma, some tartness and a nice flavor, with medium body, much more than that from a hard cider.

The last days before kegging, we gradually raise the temperature until it reached 20ºC (68ºF) so the yeast could finish its work completely and 13 days after brewday, we kegged it. Before that, new gravity reading with a final gravity of 1.006, for a 4.5% alcohol by volume, not bad. Having into account that it is not strange for hard ciders to finish even under 1.000, we considered this final gravity very good since it means this beer will have some body and residual sweetness to balance an excessive dryness and tartness that could come from fermented apple juice alone.

Graf, final result

We are no experts in kegging (I hope the kegging seminar in the congress will help us). In fact, we’ve only kegged once before this Graf, so we are still learning. After purging with CO2 our 9,45 liters (2.5 gallons) keg, we slowly transferred our beer into it. As the beer temperature was about 20ºC (68ºF), we left the keg in a fridge at 4ºC-5ºC (39ºF-41ºF) overnight. That way we would be able to force carbonate easily the next day. For carbonating, we set the pressure at 1.5 bar (21.76 psi) and rolled our keg on a table to encourage the gas to dissolve into the beer. We repeated this step until the pressure stabilized and put back the keg in the fridge. The picture above is 5 days after carbonation and both aspect and flavor are quite interesting. Right now apple is not so evident in the aroma, but is noticeable in the flavor. Some tartness is present, well balanced with the malts with a nice aftertaste. It seems that this Graf will be a very drinkable beer. I hope everybody in Burgos who has the chance to taste it likes this Graf.

*This post was first published in Spanish on 19 February, 2017

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Fermenting with Kveik, trying to recreate a Norwegian farmhouse ale

Apart from howebrewing and writing about it on this blog, one of the things I enjoy most in this hobby is reading blogs where other homebrewers share their experiences. One of the most curious blogs I follow has to be Larsblog. This blog is written by Norwegian blogger Lars Marius Garshol, who considers himself more a researcher than a homebrewer. Lars visits farms from his native Norway (and from other countries of Northern Europe, as Lithuania), researching ingredients, equipment and traditional processes, some of them centuries old.

One of the most interesting topics in that blog is Kveik (it means yeast in Norwegian). Until recently, these yeasts (there are a few different species) were only used in some regions of Norway, where they have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. What makes these yeasts special is a group of common characteristics that make them appear as some sort of missing link:

  • They have high heat tolerance. In fact, their bests results are produced when fermentation temperature is above 30ºC (86ºF), with 35ºC-40ºC (95ºF-104ºF) being a normal range for them (it could be an opportunity for those homebrewers not able to control their fermentation temperature in the summer).
  • They tend to produce a similar ester profile, no matter the temperature, when “normal” yeasts tend to produce some undesirable compounds at high temperatures.
  • Underpitching is a common thing for these type of yeasts, avoiding the need for starters.
  • They have high alcohol tolerance. It’s common to see beers made with these yeast having 7-9% alcohol by volume (remember these yeasts are usually underpitched).
  • They can be dried and reused.

If you want a more detailed information, you can visit the entry about Kveik in the wiki form the Milk the Funk website.

Kveik yeast from The Yeast Bay

Evidently, these yeasts can be used to ferment any kind of wort, but being our first time with Kveik, we decided to emulate a traditional beer style. Specifically, we based our recipe and process in this entry from Larsblog, where the process of brewing a Vossaøl style beer (one of the three styles of the Norwegian farmhouse ales family) is described. Norwegian farmhouse ales are named as a group as maltøl (beer made from malts in Norwegian). Basically, these are the characteristics for this beer:

  • Instead of water, juniper infusion is used.
  • Only pilsner malt is used.
  • Mash and boil times are very long (in our particular case, 4.5 and 3 hours, respectively)
  • Mash starts at 69ºC (156ºF) and it should not finish below 50ºC (122ºF).
  • Noble hops are added during mashing
  • Noble hops are added again 15 minutes before finishing the boil (bitterness is usually low for this beer style).

For the yeast, we were able to get a vial of Sigmund’s Voss Kveik, commercialized by The Yeast Bay. It is a single strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae isolated from a sample of kveik provided by Sigmund Gjernes (also the brewer of the beer we were trying to emulate) via Lars Garshol.

Below it is a description of the ingredients we used for this recipe and the process we followed.


3.25 Kg (7.17 lbs) (100,0%) Pilsen malt (Dingemans) (5.0 EBC)
20.00 g (0.70 oz) Select Spalt (4.60% AA) leaf (mash 4.5 hours, 3.7 IBUs)
20.00 g (0.70 oz) East Kent Goldings (5.00% AA) leaf (boil 15 minutes, 9.1 IBUs)
 Sigmund’s Voss Kveik from The Yeast Bay (1 vial, without starter)
Volume: 15.0 L (4.0 gallons)    DO: 1.050    DF: 1.010     %Alc: 5.2%     IBUs: 12.8     Color: 8.1 EBC     BU/GU: 0,293     Efficiency: 65,00%
55 mL of sulfuric acid added to the mash to lower pH to 5.48
Ca: 39 ppm; Mg: 3 ppm; Na: 7 ppm; SO4: 144 ppm; Cl: 13 ppm
Heat water (30 liters, 7.9 gallons) with juniper until it reaches about 74ºC (165ºF). Turn off the heat and let it steep for 15-20 minutes. Set aside 10 liters (2.6 gallons) from this infusion and use the rest for mashing. Mash out at 74ºC (165ºF) for 5-10 minutes.
Mash using juniper infusion (see above descriptioin) starting at 69ºC (156ºF) and leave for 4.5 horas. The final temperature should not be lower than 50ºC (122ºF)
Boil wort from mashing plus the reserved volume of juniper infusion for 3 hours.

Juniper for our maltøl

A few days before brewday, we had everything ready except, of course, juniper. Fortunately, in the outskirts of where we live there are woods with plenty of juniper shrubs. So we planned a little excursion to recollect a couple of bags of juniper tips, the green ones, avoiding juniper berries and branches. After a little research, we found out Juniperus communis to be the most common species in our area, the same that grows in the Nordic countries from where this recipe is originated. Be careful because some types of ornamental juniper may be toxic. In the picture above you can see the amount we used for this beer. We didn’t weight it, so we don’t know exactly what amount it was.

We put juniper tips in the kettle with 30 liters (7.9 gallons) of water and we heat it until it reached about 74ºC (165ºF). After turning off the heat, we let it steep for 15-20 minutes while we milled the grains. We took off a lot of things coming from the juniper tips with a strainer so they didn’t pass to the wort. After that time, we remove juniper to a 11 liters (2.9 gallons) thermos, where we also kept 10 liters (2.6 gallons) from the juniper infusion. As you can see in the picture below, water had then a yellowish color and a characteristic juniper aroma.

Juniper infusion

To the 20 liters (5.3 gallons) of water still in the kettle we added 55 mL of sulfuric acid, the amount the Bru’n Water spreadsheet told us it was necessary to obtain a mash pH of 5.48. After putting our brew bag in the kettle, we slowly added the milled grain while we stirred to wet the grains. We also added 20 g (0.70 oz) of Spalt Select hops, first time we were using hops in the mash. We stir a little bit more and put the lid on, with the starting mash temperature at 69ºC (156ºF). Since mash was going to take a lot of time we went for lunch. After 4.5 hours, mash temperature was 53ºC (127ºF), above 50ºC (122ºF), which was the minimum temperature the mash should reach. We took a sample to measure pH, and after cooling it, we read a pH value of 5.47, almost the same value Bru’n Water had predicted.

Mashing with grains and hops

We mashed out at 74ºC (165ºF) for 5-10 minutes. We remove the bag with grains and hops and we added the volume of juniper infusion we had reserved with the juniper tips. We started the boil with 26.7 liters (7.1 gallons) of wort. At the same time, following instructions, we took of the yeast from the fridge so it could warm slowly. We boiled for 3 hours, adding 20 g (0.70 oz) of East Kent Goldings hops 15 minutes before the end of the boil, using for the first time our new hop spider. We ended with a little more volume than expected, a little above 15 liters (4 gallons). We cooled with a cooper immersion chiller as fast as we can until the wort reached about 43ºC (109ºF). We pitched the yeast at this temperature directly from the vial and, after shaking to get some oxygen needed by the yeast to growth, we distributed the entire volume of wort between a 12 liters (3.2 gallons) PET demijohn and a 5 liters (1.3 gallons) glass demijohn. In the picture below you can see the effect of such a long boil in the color of the wort.

Wort before boiling and after a 3 hours boil

The final gravity was 1.050, a little less of the usual value for these styles. We put both demijohns in our fermentation chamber, trying to keep the temperature they had as much as possible. The next day after returning from work, 20 hours after pitching the yeast, both recipients showed a lot of activity and krausen was starting to form in both of them. The PET demijohn, with a stick on thermometer was at about 30ºC (86ºF). The following days the maximum temperatures were going to be around 35ºC-37ºC (95ºF-99ºF) (we had planned this beer having this into account, since these temperatures are not usual in our city). Our idea was to keep the small glass demijohn inside the fermentation chamber (turned off), at a room temperature of about 25ºC (77ºF) and the PET demijohn outside in a terrace (covered with a towel) at temperatures above 35ºC (95ºF) during the day and in the fermentation chamber at night. The objetive for that was to see if we could detect differences between fermenting at 30ºC-35ºC (86ºF-95ºF) versus fermening at 25ºC-27ºC (77ºF-81ºF).

Fermentation after 20 hours

High krausen was between days two and three in both demijohns. For four days airlock activity was clearly visible and from then it started to slow down. Until the fifth day, the PET demijohn was at a minimum temperature of 28ºC (82ºF) and a maximum temperature near 35ºC (95ºF), keeping it in the terrace during the daylight, with an average temperature of about 30ºC (86ºF). Meanwhile, the small glass demijohn was almost all the time about 25ºC (77ºF). From the fifth day onwards we left both demijohns in the fermentation chamber at 25ºC (77ºF), which would be maintained for a few more days, until two weeks from brewday passed. During those last days both beers cleared and turned orange.

Beers before secondary. To the right, the one fermented at 30ºC-35ºC (86ºF-95ºF) and to the left the one fermented at 25ºC-27ºC (77ºF-81ºF)

Two weeks from brewday, we transfer both beers to a secondary fermenter to leave behind most of the trub and we set the temperature of the fermentation chamber at 17ºC (63ºF). Due to a lack of time, we left them both one more week in secondary at that temperature. After seven days in these conditions, we bottled 8 liters (2.1 gallons) from the PET demijohn and about 4 liters (1,1 gallons) from the small glass demijohn (we had left the rest of the volume when transferring from primary to secondary to avoid trub). Final gravity was 1,009 for the beer in the PET demijohn, fermented at higher temperature, and 1,010 for the beer in the glass demijohn, fermented at a lower temperature. Thus, the alcohol by volume for the beers was 5,4% and 5,2%, respectively.

Vossaøl, before bottling

Targeting 2,2 volumes of CO2 for carbonation, we added 43 g (1.52 oz) of table sugar to the volume from the PET demijohn and 21 g (0.74 oz) to the volume from the glass demijohn. From the first one we bottled a 75 cL bottle (25.4 oz), 3 50 cL (16.9 oz) bottles and 16 33 cL (12 oz) bottles, while from the second one we bottled we bottled a 75 cL bottle (25.4 oz), 2 50 cL (16.9 oz) bottles and 6 33 cL (12 oz) bottles. We left them at 23ºC (73ºF) to carbonate for at least two weeks. In a coming post we will tell you how they ended.

In conclusion, a very curious process the one used to brew this style. Kveik yeast works really well (attenuation near 80%) at temperatures at which others yeasts would even die. As we said before, an excellent alternative for those homebrewers who don’t brew in the summer because of high temperatures, apart from some saison strains. We are sure that, after working with Kveik, we will use it again to see how it works and what it contributes with other more conventional beer styles. In some places they even place Kveik as the next big thing in the brewing world, we’ll see.

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Spent grain veggie burger

I know, this post is not about homebrewing. But it is about something related, more precisely about the homebrewing waste. I’m talking about spent grain left after mashing. Evidently, we can get rid of it, but it’s a pity to throw it away in the trash can instead of trying to use it for something else. Spent grain can be used as food for farm animals, as compost, as an ingredient for cooking and even as biomass to obtain energy, allowing us to save in fossil fuels. Living in a flat, the first two options are quite complicated (although we could use it as compost in a pot) and the last one is restricted to a little number of microbreweries. However, using spent grain as an ingredient for cooking is a very interesting and easy option.

Ingredients: spent grain, cooked quinoa, bred crumbs, egg and barbecue sauce

Before we get into the details, first let’s explain what to do with the grain just after brewing to keep it for some time without getting spoiled. In the first place we put the spent grain in one or various oven trays, well spread out, forming a thin layer in each tray. Then we set a relatively low temperature in the oven, around 70-75ºC (158-167ºF) works fine for me. We keep it at this temperature for a few hours to lower the moisture of the grain as much as we can. Depending on the environmental humidity and the oven we use, this process can last between 6-8 hours, approximately. To help with the process of drying it’s better to move the grains halfway through de process (you’ll have to guess the midpoint the first time).

Once we have the grain dried we have two options, to store it as it is or to mill it to store it as flour. Depending on the recipe, we’ll need one way or another. For recipes, I strongly recommend the Spent Grain Chef section from Brooklyn Brewshop website, where you’ll be able to choose from an impressive selection of recipes. I’ve tried some of them (the one from this post is an example) and I must say the spent grain give them a special touch. I also recommend to use spent grain from beer recipes with special or roasted malts, since the flavor these kind of malts impart to these food recipes is more assertive than if you used pale or pils mats.

Hamburger dough

After this introduction, let’s start with the recipe for the veggie burger. In this case, we will use the entire grains. Apart from the spent grain, the rest of the ingredients that will be part of the dough will be cooked quinoa, egg/s, bread crumbs and barbecue sauce (or any other sauce). You can try different proportions of these ingredients, but I use one part quinoa, one part spent grain and half part of bread crumbs. Depending on the amount of these three ingredients you choose to use, you’ll add 1 or 2 eggs and sauce. In the first picture above you can see the amounts I used for one burger, although you can play with the amount of each ingredient.

Forming the dough is pretty easy. First, we cook the quinoa (I boil it for 15 minutes and then I remove the water) and rehydrate the spent grain with some water. Then we put them both in a bowl with the egg and barbecue sauce, and a pinch of salt. We mix everything well with a fork and, finally, we add bread crumbs until a quite solid dough is formed.


Due to the moisture from the mix, and in my own experience, it’s of no use trying to shape the dough before putting it on the frying pan. It’s better to add 2-3 olive oil tablespoons to the frying pan, wait until it heats and then add the dough. Once in the frying pan, while it get cooked, it’s much easier to shape it with a spoon or a skimmer. 8 minutes at medium heat for each side will be enough. You’ll see how it slowly gets darker and gets more consistency. As this happens it’s better to compact the dough so it doesn’t expand too much.

Spent grain veggie burger

When the consistency is firm enough to remove it without risking of breaking it, we can take it out from the frying pan. From here, you can taste it as you want: with hamburgers buns, with fork and knife in a plate, with or without additional sauce, with toppings,… It’s not meat, but I assure you the result is quite tasty. And this way, you can use that spent grain that more often than not ends up in the garbage. Enjoy!

*This post was first published in Spanish on 30 January, 2017

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New pH-meter, stability test

During these years we’ve been homebrewing I have always thought that it is better to walk step by step. Following this philosophy, a few weeks ago I decided to give another step forward within this hobby, seeking to control water used for brewing and mash pH. Until now, for all the batches brewed, we haven´t paid too much attention – if any– to either of these parameters. Beers brewed this way have been quite tasty, but I think this could be an important aspect of the process, one that could allow us to improve in the future, as some other homebrewers have already done (special mention to the Brulosophy blog and their exBEERiments about water chemistry) and bibliography references seem to remark.

To do this, first of all I should get a pH-meter. As each time I face a new purchase to improve/upgrade our equipment, my idea was to look for a reliable and long lasting model, if possible. I’ve never liked to buy bargains that break down easily, so as long as it weren’t excessively expensive, I didn’t want something of a questionable quality to save a few euros. First thing I did was to look for some information about the specifications that a pH-meter used for brewing should meet. After searching the web, I came across this post on Homebrewtalk, with a revised guide to by a pH-meter that convinced me. That post is based in the specifications that appear in the book Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers, written by John Palmer and Colin Kaminski. These specifications are the following:

  •     +/- 0.02 pH accuracy
  •     ATC (Auto Temperature Control)
  •     Two-point calibration
  •     Sealed or refillable electrode with a resolution of +/- 0.02 pH or smaller
  •     Double junction electrode
  •     Flushable junctions, which allows for easier cleaning and longer life

You can check the details for these specifications (and more) in that post, and you can also read about some model choices that meet them. After evaluating prices and availability, I decided to purchase a PHH-7011 from Omega. It comes with a practical case with batteries, instructions, two buffer solutions for calibration (pH 4 and pH 7) and a little bottle with a solution for storage. I also purchased a replacement for the electrode.

Omega PHH-7011 pH-meter case

At first sight everything looks nice and, after reading the instructions, it doesn’t seem too difficult to use. Display visibility is very good and the electrode comes well protected with a screw cap. So far, truth be told, looks very good. Time for checking its performance. I planned a stability test for the pH-meter, something recommended in this other post, again from Homebrewtalk forums.

Omega PHH-7011 pH-meter

In this stability test, after doing the corresponding calibration of the pH-meter following the instructions, you must take readings of a pH 4 buffer solution for a period of time, at room temperature. These readings must be taken over time every couple of minutes up to about 20 minutes and then every 10 minutes or so for a couple of hours or more. Of course, this is not the funniest thing to do, but you can do other things between readings. After getting everything ready, I performed the test.

pH-meter stability test

Following the recommendations, I took readings every couple of minutes up to 20 minutes and then every 10 minutes up to 3 hours (you better find something to do between readings if you don’t want to get bored). With all the readings taken, I plot them on a graph. As you can see in the graph below, repeatability and precision were very good.

pH-meter stability test results

In view of these results, for now I’m very happy with my purchase and I’m looking forward to use it when brewing the next batches. From now on, when planning recipes for our brews we will have to take into account water related issues. Everything we can do to brew better beers each day.

*This post was first published in Spanish on 14 January, 2017

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Tasting our triple threat Witbier

It’s been almost two months since we brew our “base” Witbier and about a month and half since we bottle it, already turned into three different beers (you can see all the process explained here). After all this time, it’s time to talk about how these three beers turned out.

Witbier, triple threat: Cascade dry hopping, standard and with blackberries.

We are going to focus on the general appearance of the three beers and then we will detail flavor and aroma for each one of them, separately. Evidently, the Wibiter with blackberries is the one which stands out from the three beers, due to the redish-orange color it posseses. It has also another peculiar characteristic, it has very little foam compared with the other two beers, and this foam disappears rapidly (it is almost gone in the pictures due to the fact that it took me some time to get a good shot). I guess this could be due to some type of interaction of some compound from the fruit, but it is just that, a guessing.

The other two beers look quite similar, with almost the same color and good foam generation. I would like to think this generous foam is due to the first step of the mash at 50ºC (122ºF), but it could also be due to the presence of a great amount of wheat flakes in the recipe. The retention of this foam is something we must improve, because although not immediately, the foam tends to dissipate after not much time. Regarding color and turbidity, we are quite happy with the results, being both in accordance with the style guidelines.

Witbier with blackberries

Now it is time for flavor and aroma. Before we get down to it, a little observation: for the three beers, flavor and aroma are more complex (and better in our opinion) when the temperature of the beers is around 10ºC (50ºF). The aroma in the Witibier with blackberries is clearly dominated by the fruit. Even more, it is difficult to appreciate other aromas apart from that of the blackberries, even though is not very intense. For flavor, more of the same, but the blackberry flavor is quiet strong. It really tastes like blackberries and it is difficult, even knowing the rest of the ingredients, to find other nuances of flavor. We were used to use blackberries with darker styles of beer (Porter or Brown Ale), and in those type of beers, this fruit only gave a little touch that made them special. Witbier seems to be a good style for fruits… if you want them to shine. This a complete different beer from the standard Witbier, and we have the feeling it is a beer that either you love it or you hate it. If you like blackberries, you will definitely like it.

Witbier with Cascade dry hopping

The second beer derived from the original Witbier base recipe was the one with Cascade dry hopping (25 g/0.88 oz for about of 6 liters/1.6 gallons). Possibly because of this limited amount of hops or because this hop cones had some time, hop aroma is not easy to detect. If we did not know it had been dry hopped, probably I would not tell based on the aroma alone (although it could also be a lack of ability to detect that aroma among the other aromas present, you never know). Here we could at last smell some typical Witbier aromas, although it seems as if hops would interfere in some way, since it is relatively easy to distinguish this beer from the standard Witbier only by smelling them. On the other hand, regarding flavor, a very pleasant note of hops is present. The beer is slightly sweet and spicy, with low bitterness… and perhaps a little bit short on citric notes, the ones that the orange peel should have contributed.

Standard Witbier

We left the standard Witbier for the last tasting. For the aroma, the spicy notes from the yeast are present, as well as some coriander. But, as it happened with the dry hopped beer, the citric aromas from the orange peel are missing. Chamomile aroma, on the other hand, is maybe a little bit in excess. This did not worry us, because this aroma usually fades with time (the first bottles we opened had even more chamomile aroma). As for flavor, same thing, at first chamomile flavor was too stong and it masked the rest of flavors. Fortunately, this flavor had also mellowed, and right now, the chamomile flavor is more subtle, very pleasant, and others flavors are more noticeable. It still lacks some citric touch from the orange peel, we will have to improve this in the future.

To end the tasting, some characteristics that the three beers share and, in our opinion, are common for this style. A high carbonation, a low level of alcohol (around 3.5% by volume) and a quite creamy mouthfeel (maybe a little less creamy in the one with blackberries). All of this, and the fact that the beers are moderately dry, make them very refreshing and easy drinkable beers. People who tasted them approved them (although it is difficult to find critics when you offer free beer). We will continue collecting new opinions with friends and relatives to find something we may overlooked.

On a final note, we must say we are quite content with the obtained result of this triple threat Witbier experiment, despite some aspects to be improved in the future. Besides all, the flavor and aroma from the orange peel, we would have liked it to be more prominent. We don’t known if it was something wrong with the type of oranges, the amount of orange peel,… We will have to try some alternatives. Additionally, now perhaps we would make some small changes with the amounts of coriander (a bit more) and chamomile (a bit less) to round the recipe.

*This post was first published in Spanish on 30 December, 2016

Note: As the chamomile aroma and flavor faded, the citric aroma and flavor from the orange peel became more evident, so maybe we will not change the proportions of these ingredients in the recipe.

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Witbier, one elaboration, a triple threat

After a few months without making beer, it was time to come back, and for this occasion Witbier was the chosen style. As we were going to use our equipment with 22 liters capacity (5.8 gallons), during the planning of this batch we decided that, after fermentation, the total volume was going to be divided in three parts to obtain three “different” beers. First of them would be a standard Witbier, the second one a Witbier with Cascade dry hopping and the last one a Witbier with blackberries added in secondary. By doing this we could get rid of a few grams of Cascade we still had and some blackberries we had picked previously and that were waiting in the freezer.

Witbier ingredients

For the base recipe we were going to use a Witbier recipe we had already tried and that had resulted quite tasty, with some small adjustments.

Witbier base recipe

2.45 Kg (5.40 lbs) Bohemian Pilsner (Floor malted) from Weyermann (4.0 EBC) (47.6%)
2.00 Kg (4.40 lbs) wheat flakes (3.2 EBC) (38.8%)
0.55 Kg (1.21 lbs) oat flakes (2.0 EBC) (10.7%)
0.15 Kg (0.33 lbs) Munich I malt from Weyermann (15 EBC) (2.9%)
21.20 g (0.75 oz) Hallertauer Traditon (6.70% AA) (boil for 60 minutes, 16.2 IBUs)
16.0 g (0.56 oz) coriander seeds (freshly crushed) (boil 5 minutes)
8.0 g (0.28 oz) chamomile (boil 5 minutes)
56.0 g (1.98 oz) orange peel (at bottling after three weeks soaked in vodka)
Belgian Wit (Mangrove Jack’s #M21)
OG: 1.046     FG: 1.008     %Alc: 5.0%     IBUs: 16.2     Color: 7.2 EBC     BU/GU: 0.350     Efficiency: 65.00%
50ºC (122ºF) 15 minutes, heat to 65ºC (149ºF), keep 45 minutes and mash out at 75ºC (167ºF) 10 minutes
60 minutes, adding hops at the beginning of the boil

With respect to the recipe, the amounts for coriander, chamomile and orange peel were chosen based on what I had read in Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing and Stan Hieronymus’s Brewing With Wheat. From the first one we took the amount of chamomile needed and the technique for extracting oils from orange peel soaking it in vodka. Oranges (sweet oranges to make juice) were thoroughly washed and peeled to get only the orange-colored outer peel. This peel was kept for 3 weeks in a closed jar with the minimum volume of vodka to cover it. The amount of orange peel was bigger than if we had used bitter oranges or blood oranges because, as Randy Mosher explains, the amount of oils in this two types of oranges is bigger than in sweet oranges. On the other hand, the chapters about Witbier from Brewing With Wheat served us to determine the amount of coriander and other aspects of the process.

Milling the grain

On brewday, as all the material was being sanitized, we milled the grains (only pils malt and Munich malt, excluding wheat flakes). At the same time, we started to heat the water for mashing at about 53ºC (127.4ºF), so that when we added the grains the mash temperature stayed about 50ºC (122ºF). This was the first time we were going to employ a step mash, as with all our previous beers we had used simple infusion mashing. This first step at 50ºC (122ºF) was aimed at obtaining the right texture and appearance for the style, including a good foam retention, due to the great percentage of adjunts in the recipe.

After 15 minutes, in the next step we heated the mash on the induction burner until the temperature reached 65ºC (149ºF) and this temperature was kept for 45 minutes. Here we had to face the first problem. We control very well the heating process with simple infusion mashes, but for step mashing… The thing is we possibly heated faster than we should and we lost control and the temperature went up to 70ºC (158ºF) or ever a little bit more. To try to solve it we left the kettle without the lid for a while, as we stirred the mash, until the temperature reached 68ºC (154.4ºF). At this point we put the lid on and wait for 45 minutes.

Starting the mash

After this time, turn for the mash out, keeping the mash at 75ºC (167ºF) for 10 minutes before removing the bag with the grains. We took a sample to measure the pre-boil gravity that, after temperature correction, was established in 1.038, the same as the theoretical value.

Time to put the induction burner at full power and get the wort to a boil as soon as possible. As the boil started, we added hops (21.20 g (0.75 oz) of Hallertauer Tradition, 6.70%AA).

Boiling the wort

After a little boil over at the beginning, the boil went smoothly, and, in the last 5 minutes, we added in mesh bags the coriander seeds, freshly crushed, and the chamomile. During the boil we also rehydrated the dry yeast (Mangrove Jack’s Witbier).

After boiling, we tried to cool the wort as fast as we could with our cooper immersion chiller. When the wort reached 25ºC (77ºF) we removed the chiller and we transferred the wort into the Brew Bucket through a silicon hose attached to the kettle valve, trying to splash to aerate the wort. With the wort into the fermenter, we closed the fermenter and put it inside our fermentation chamber (a wine cabinet) with cold to lower the temperature before inoculating the yeast. During this time we did all the cleaning and when we finished, we inoculated the yeast with the wort at approximately 21ºC (69.8ºF). To avoid this temperature from going too high we set the chamber temperature at 18ºC (64.4ºF).

Fermenting with temperature control

The next day, 12 hours after yeast inoculation, the airlock started bubbling timidly, showing the first signals of fermentation. At that time the temperature of the beer was about 20ºC (68ºF), and it continued that way the next 2-3 days. After 24 hours, bubbling was faster and the fermentation was in full activity. This bubble rate continued for a couple of days and then it started to slow down through time.

After a week from brewday, we took another sample to determine the gravity. Surprise, the hydrometer showed a value of 1.016, way more higher that the theoretical value, 1.008. Probably this was not due to a stuck fermentation, but because of the excessive temperature during the second step of the mash. This could have caused the enzymes in the wort to produce less fermentable sugars than if the temperature would had been more suitable. Anyway, lesson learned, next time we will pay more attention. Anyhows, if fermentation was not complete, we still had time in secondary to see if the gravity was going to change.

Triple secondary: Cascade dry hopping, standard and with blackberries

The original idea, as commented before, was to divide the total volume in three parts, each one with a volume determined by the capacity of the secondary fermenters.

In the first place, we added to a PET carboy with a capacity of 6.25 liters (1.65 gallons) 725 g (26.5 oz) of blackberries and enough beer to fill up the carboy. The amount of blackberries was set based in comments from Radical Brewing and our own experience with this fruit (a couple of Porters in 2013 and 2014 and a Brown Ale in 2015). To avoid contaminations, and break the cell walls, we kept the blackberries in the freezer since the day we picked them until the day we used them, keeping them at room temperature a few hours before adding them to avoid a thermal shock for the yeast.

In second place, we added 25 g (0.88 oz) of Cascade to another PET carboy of the same capacity, filling it up again with beer.

Finally, the rest of the beer was transferred to a 11 liters (3 gallons) PET demijohn. Perhaps it was a little bit bigger for the volume of beer left, 8.5 liters (2.24 gallons). As always in these cases, there was a risk of oxidation, so we closed it and hoped for the best.

During this process, we took some samples to taste how the beer was at that time. The chamomile flavor was strong (in our experience, it fades with time), and the coriander was also noticeable, although much less prominent. So far so good, having into account that we still had to add the vodka that contained the orange peel, something we were going to do at bottling time. We place the three secondary fermenters in the fermentation chamber again, and we left them there for another week.

Witbier after secondary: with blackberries, starndard and Cascade dry hopping

After a week in secondary, it was time to bottle. At first sight, the appearance was spectacular, especially the tonality obtained in the beer with blackberries. We took samples for each beer to measure the gravity… and of course to taste them. All of them showed a gravity of 1.016, validating our theory about the problems in the mash temperature being guilty of this high final gravity. Before the tasting, we added the vodka that had contained the orange peel for three weeks, distributing it according to the volume of each beer.

The standard Witbier left us a very good impression, all that you could expect from this style. The beer with blackberries, very interesting, although there was a little risk of some flavors from the Witbier being masked by the blackberries. Anyway, we were looking forward to taste this beer carbonated. Finally, the one with Cascade dry hopping was perhaps the one we liked less (my brother said it was too bitter for his taste, although we only had added Cascade for dry hop), although we will see how it evolves after bottle conditioning.

We added enough table sugar to get about 2.5 volumes of CO2 and we bottled the beers in turns. At the end, we ended with more than 19 liters (5.0 gallons) of beer bottled, divided in 16 bottles of 33 cL (12 oz) of the beer with blackberries, 17 bottles of 33 cL (12 oz) of the beer with Cascade dry hopping and 19 bottles of 33 cL (12 oz) and 4 bottles of 50 cL (16.9 oz) of the standard Witbier. All of them with approximately 3.5% alcohol by volume, a little lower than expected. In a coming post we will see how these three beers turned out after bottle conditioning.

*This post was first published in Spanish on 16 November, 2016

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Introduction to the English version

Welcome everybody to the English version of our blog about homebrewing, LOS CHICOS. We started our blog in Spanish in November 2016 and now, trying to reach as many people as possible, we launch the English version. We are now in the process of translating the entries posted in the Spanish version, which will be published as soon as we can. When we finish this part, every new entry will be posted in Spanish and in English almost simultaneously. Hope you enjoy the blog and, if you like it, remember that you can follow us on wordpress or Facebook.


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