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

MALTS/GRAINS
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%)
HOPS
21.20 g (0.75 oz) Hallertauer Traditon (6.70% AA) (boil for 60 minutes, 16.2 IBUs)
OTHER
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)
YEAST
Belgian Wit (Mangrove Jack’s #M21)
THEORETICAL DATA
OG: 1.046     FG: 1.008     %Alc: 5.0%     IBUs: 16.2     Color: 7.2 EBC     BU/GU: 0.350     Efficiency: 65.00%
MASH
50ºC (122ºF) 15 minutes, heat to 65ºC (149ºF), keep 45 minutes and mash out at 75ºC (167ºF) 10 minutes
BOIL
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.

(UPDATE: You can check how these beers turned out here)

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

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1 Response to Witbier, one elaboration, a triple threat

  1. Pingback: Tasting our triple threat Witbier | LOS CHICOS

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