Getting back at Weissbiers – Part 1/2 – Classic Weissbier

Since the day I started brewing at home, back in 2011, I have brewed beers with more or less success, but I have almost never had the feeling of having brewed a really bad beer, one of those that goes down the sink. With one exception, a Weissbier I brewed in my early years as a homebrewer, which was one of the most insipid beers I’ve ever brewed. I was left with that little thorn in my side and, a couples of years ago, with a few years and quite a few more batches of experience I decided it was time to settle the score and try again.

Those of you who are readers of the blog already know that when I go to work out a style, especially the first few times, I like to find out as much as possible about it. Later, I review all that information and based on it I make the decisions that I think might be good to get the best possible result. On this occasion, in view of my previous fiasco, I didn’t want to take any chances, so the reading on Weissbier was more thorough than usual. Among the different sources I consulted, the main article I used, for being the most complete, was the one entitled “Brewing Bavarian Weissbier – all you ever wanted to know”, from Brau magazin. As you can see, the title says it all, and it really lives up to it, with very complete and detailed information. Another very complete article, this one in Spanish (among its sources it also draws, of course, from the previous article) is an article on Weizenbier from Cervezomicon. With these two articles, not much more information would be needed to brew a good Weissbier, but as information is never too much, I also consulted a couple of articles from Craft Beer & Brewing, “Traditional Hefeweizen: Worth the Trouble?” by Stan Hieronymus and “Brewer’s Perspectives – Hefeweizen” by Emily Hutto.

Grist for Weissbier

As there is a lot of information available in the articles linked above, here I will only make a small summary of the most practical aspects. Although there are different substyles within the Bavarian wheat beers (hefeweizen, kristallweizen, dunkelweizen, weizenbock,…), on this occasion the idea was to make a classic Hefeweizen or Weissbier, with bottle refermentation. This style is pale in color, with high carbonation and a dry finish, which makes it very refreshing. Like the other substyles within this family, Weissbier is brewed with at least 50% wheat malt and has a relatively low bitterness (between 9 and 15 IBUs is typical). However, the main characteristic of the style and what distinguishes it from other wheat beers is the character provided by the yeast used. Weissbier yeast is POF+ (i.e., it produces phenols) and it is usually the combination of these phenols and esters also produced by the yeast that sets the aroma and flavor. The main compounds are ester isoamyl acetate (banana flavor and aroma) and phenol 4-vinyl guaiacol (clove flavor and aroma). In order to enhance one or the other or to seek a balance, there are several strategies, depending on the objective. Mainly, malt percentages, mash and fermentation temperatures are the knobs that we will be able to turn to reach the profile we are looking for. It is possible to brew a Weissbier with a simple infusion, but to get more control over the production of esters and phenols, a step mash with different temperatures is almost a must. Within this step mash, the issue of decoction (removing a part of the mash, boiling it for a short time and returning it to the main mash to raise the temperature) can enter into this step mash. This decoction can be single, double or triple and adds complexity to the elaboration. Because of this, we opted for a step mash but without decoction.

Munich Classic, from Lallemand, of the few dry yeasts for Weissbier with good reviews

Getting into more detail, let’s get to our recipe. The idea was to look for a balanced profile between banana and clove, so following the guidelines of the Brau magazine article, we decided the ingredients and process based on this objective. At the same time that I explain our decision, I will explain the reasons in case you opt for another profile.
In terms of grist we opted for almost 60% wheat malt and approximately 40% Pilsen malt. The wheat malt was divided into 38% light malt and 22% dark malt. When going up from 50% wheat malt, the 4-vinylguaiacol precursor (ferulic acid) is in lower quantity (barley contains more of this compound), so for strains that produce a lot of this compound, using a higher percentage of wheat malt is an option to consider. If what you want to do is to pull towards clove, you should leave it at 50% wheat malt.
In the case of hops, you do not need to think too much. Aim within the range of 9 to 15 IBUs, in principle all in one addition. If possible, German noble hops are preferred. We opted for Hallertauer Tradition, boiled for 60 minutes to get about 11.7 IBUs.
Yeast is a key aspect and there are several alternatives, both liquid and dry. Here we had to go to a plan B because the initial plan was not possible. Our idea was to brew with White Labs WLP300 (equivalent to WY3068 from Wyeast Yeast), whose origin is the Weihenstephan brewery, and which is one of the most recognized weizen yeasts by home brewers. The thing is, we started a starter of this liquid yeast too late and it was not ready for brew day. Luckily, we had a sachet of Lallemand Munich Classic dry yeast on hand. The origin of this yeast is not well known, but many speculate that it is a dry version of the Weihenstephan strain. Moreover, among the dry yeasts, it is almost the only one that has some recognition among homebrewers for this style. It is even used successfully in several commercial breweries, so it did not seem like a bad alternative.
The mash is another of the keys to brewing a good Weissbier and, as we mentioned before, it is practically essential to make a step mash. In our case we opted for the following regimen: mash in at 40ºC (104ºF), 10 minutes at 45ºC (113ºF), 5 minutes at 55ºC (131ºF), 30 minutes at 63ºC (145.4ºF) and 30 minutes at 72ºC (161.6ºF). The first step at 40ºC (104ºF) is to mix the grains and gradually heat up to 45ºC (113ºF), which is the ideal temperature for the formation of the 4-vinylguaiacol (clove) precursor. Here, if you do not want too much clove character, it is advisable not to exceed 15 minutes. The third step is to heat to 55°C (131ºF) and reach the protein rest, where the larger proteins are broken down to avoid excessive viscosity. Here we only left it for 5 minutes so as not to break too many proteins and damage the foam. Finally, the two typical German steps, the maltose rest and the saccharification rest. In the first of the two, 63°C (145.4ºF) for 30 minutes, conditions are ideal for beta-amylase to produce maltose from malt starches. After those 30 minutes, not all the sugars are converted, so it is moved to 72°C (161.6ºF) for another 30 minutes to bring the mash to ideal conditions for alpha-amylase. This temperature is above the malt starch gelatinization temperature and alpha-amylase completes the conversion of the sugars. This last rest also has another advantage, and that is the formation of glycoproteins that help with the formation of foam and give wheat beers that characteristic mouthfeel.
I have left the water for last. We only add some calcium chloride to try to get closer to the profile that is considered appropriate for the style, which you can see here. According to Bru’n Water the pH would be a little high, about 5.7. However, on this occasion we were not too concerned for several reasons. The first is that this pH, together with the temperature of 45ºC (113ºF), is ideal for the formation of ferulic acid. At this pH, turbidity is also favored, which is not a problem in Weissbier. Finally, the yeasts used for these beers tend to reduce the pH more than usual during fermentation, so it does not matter if the mash pH is a little high.

Enormous krausen during fermentation

Below you have the recipe hand process we followed:

CLASSIC WEISSBIER

MALTS/GRAIN
1.50 Kg (3.31 lbs) (40.5%) Pilsen malt (Grannaria) (5.0 EBC)
1.40 Kg (3.09 lbs) (37.8%) light wheat malt (Grannaria) (3.9 EBC)
0.80 Kg (1.76 lbs) (21.6%) dark wheat malt (Weyermann) (17.0 EBC)
HOPS
12.00 g (0.42 oz) Hallertaur Tradition (6.70% AA) leaf (boil 60 minutes, 11.7 IBUs)
YEAST
Munich Classic (Lallemand-Danstar)  (One sacchet of dry yeast, previously rehydrated)
THEORETICAL NUMERICAL DATA
Volume: 15.50 L (3.96 gallons)     OG: 1.049   FG: 1.010     ABV: 5.2%     IBUs: 11.7     Colour: 11.1 EBC     BU/GU: 0.238
WATER PROFILE
The water was taken the day before to allow the chlorine to evaporate and salts were added to achieve the following mineral profile:
Ca: 129 ppm; Mg: 3 ppm; Na: 7 ppm; SO4: 12 ppm; Cl: 172 ppm HCO3: 120 ppm
MASH
Mash in at 40ºC (104ºF), 10 minutes at 45ºC (113ºF) (ferulic acid rest), 5 minutes at 55ºC (131ºF) (protein rest), 30 minutes at 63ºC (145.4ºF) (maltose rest) and 30 minutes at 72ºC (161.6ºF) (saccharification rest).
BOIL
60 minutes
FERMENTATION
In Brewbucket of 27 liters of capacity. Two days at 18ºC (64.4ºF), after which we took it out of the fridge and let it rise freely to promote the formation of esters. It was like this for four days at about 19ºC-20ºC (66ºF-68ºF). After that time, we left the fermenter for two weeks in a cellar at about 15ºC (59ºF). We bottled about 13 liters (3.43 gallons) (3 bottles of 50 cL and 33 bottles of 33 cL) with sugar for a carbonation of 3.2 volumes of CO2.

Weissbier at bottling

I am not going to detail the whole process in detail so as not to make the entry too long, but I will detail some things about how the process actually went and why we took some decisions. Everything went pretty much as detailed above, except for a few numbers. We finally transferred 14 liters to the fermenter because we left quite a bit of volume behind due to having too much leftover ground malt. The original gravity was a little lower than theoretical, 1.044, finishing after fermentation at 1.009, which gave the beer an ABV of 4.6%.
You may have noticed we used a fermenter with a capacity of almost twice the volume of wort that we put in it. We did this to simulate an open fermentation, which usually takes place in fermenters that are as high as they are deep, as is typical in many breweries that brew this type of beer. This causes the yeast to have less pressure and enhances the production of esters and phenols. This is probably true but difficult to verify at home (well, when tasting the final result you can get an idea), but what was certainly spectacular was the krausen after two days of fermentation at 18ºC (64.4ºF). From the 14 liter mark it had risen to the 20 liters mark, as you can see in picture above. I had never seen one like this.
After those two days at 18ºC (64.4ºF) we left the beer at room temperature, which is also typical, to raise the temperature and further promote those esters and phenols characteristic of Weissbier. After four days where the temperature hovered around 19ºC-20ºC (66ºf-68ºF), we moved the fermenter to the cellar, where the beer reached about 15ºC (59ºF) and was kept for about two weeks until we bottled. In total, about 13 liters (3.43 gallons) divided into 3 bottles of 50 cL and 33 bottles of 33 cL. I will tell you about the result in another post, but I can tell you that the thorn in my side is no longer there.

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