Wit...No Clever Name Yet - Brain Sparging on Brewing


Sour beer, saisons, farmhouse beer, homebrewing, ramblings

September 14, 2012

Wit...No Clever Name Yet

I've been a fan of wheat beers for about as long as I have been drinking craft beer but I never really got on board with wits until the past couple years. Most of my experiences that turned me off from the style were drinking Hoegaarden and Hoegaarden-like wits with overwhelming amounts of coriander. The overspicing makes the beer unenjoyable. (I am even less inspired by White IPAs, which as best I can tell means a bastardized we-can-make-anything-an-IPA wit with a ton of hops. Exactly what the style is supposed to lack. And if you are going to make a white IPA, do us all a favor and don't call it a wit.) It wasn't until I decided to give the style another try and tasted Blanche de Brussels. Blanche has a lot of spice character, specifically chamomile, but it's also light, refreshing and well balanced. Since then, I have found a lot of other wits I enjoy as well, including Wittekirke and 512 Wit.

What really nailed down the style for me was a wit-ish beer I had at Funkwerks. Funkwerks White is a wit-style beer but fermented with saison yeast. It's full of character from the yeast and spice additions. Saison yeast isn't too far off from wit yeast. Both give off peppery notes but you can usually coax out more fruit esters from the saison yeast at higher temperatures. What I found really interesting is the combination of spice additions they use. White included orange peel, coriander, ginger, chamomile and grapefruit peel. Yeah, grapefruit peel. It came through in a really interesting way as citrusy but also tart and very distinguishable. Unfortunately, the wise brewers at Funkwerks have decided to swap out grapefruit peel for lemon peel because they felt the grapefruit left an unwelcomed bitterness. Personally I liked the grapefruit but I'd like to try the White with lemon peel next time I'm in Colorado.

Following my new-found appreciation for the style I decided to try my hand at a recipe. Specifically, I wanted to formulate a recipe that combined the smooth character of Blanche with the complex flavor and citrus character of White. I definitely wanted to avoid overdoing the spices or making anything that would resemble a white IPA. I envisioned a grain bill that would keep some of the rustic feel so I kept out any complex specialty malts. Instead, I made the beer mostly wheat (both malted and unmalted) with some two row and pilsner malt for some grainy character. A touch of oats will help add smoothness to the body but also add to the rustic flavor. However, all that wheat and oat will make a very thick beer so a sugar addition in the kettle will help thin out the beer.

No wit is complete without some fun in the kettle. A later hop addition for bitterness would help add a hint of hop flavor and enough bitterness to balance the beer without the sharper bitterness of a 60 minute addition. The yeast character needs to come through in a big way but I also wanted to add small amounts of a few spices to give the beer some added complexity. I chose coriander, sweet orange peel and grapefruit as spice additions. I also wanted to add a little wheat flour to help ensure good haze and a little more starchy flavor. I have some concerns that all the wheat, oats and wheat flour will make the beer too thick for the style, even with the table sugar addition.

Bottle of harvested yeast and boil additions
The yeast came out of a bottle of Adelbert's Naked Nun Wit. I'm not sure what strain it might be since the brewery claims it is proprietary. This beer was my first attempt at using my fermentation chamber to control fermentation temperatures so I needed to think about the right temperatures for a wit strain. As a Belgian strain, it pumps out flavor at warmer temperatures but since a wit doesn't need the fruity esters produced at warmer temperatures as much as it needs the phenolic flavors produced at lower temperatures, it needs to start cool and warm up to fully attenuate.

So here is the one gallon recipe:

Batch size: 1 gallon
ABV: 4.73%
IBU: 14.2
SRM: 3.3
Efficiency: 75%
Est. OG: 1.048
Est. FG: 1.012

0.38lb. white wheat malt
0.25lb. Belgian two row
0.25lb. Belgian pilsner
0.50lb flaked wheat
0.13lb. flaked oats

Step mash:
Dough in at 89 for 10 minutes
Raise to 148F for 15 minutes
Raise to 158F for 45 minutes
Mash out at 168 for 10 minutes

Boil volume: 1.14 gallons
Boil time: 60 minutes

Boil additions:
0.20oz EKG 5% at 30 minutes
0.15oz whole wheat flour at 10 minutes
0.13lb. table sugar at 10 minutes
0.05 oz grapefruit peel at flame out
0.05oz sweet orange peel at flame out
0.5 tsp crushed coriander at flame out

Bottle harvested Adelbert's Naked Nun Wit

Fermentation schedule:
12 hours at 64F
12 hours at 68F
48 hours at 72F
Ambient temperature (~75F) for 18 days (all in primary)

As I write it is in the midst of aging at ambient temperature. Fermentation was restrained at the lower temperatures and seemed to carry on for a long time. Smell is peppery and wheaty. Although krausen dropped (mostly) by day four the beer remained cloudy until day eight, at which point it obtained some clarity but some haze remains.

This is the first run at the recipe but so far I'm happy with it. I am concerned about the body being too thick. If that is the case, I'll start off with axing the wheat flour and increasing the sugar addition. I'll also be sensitive to whether the yeast strain gives me as much character as I want in the beer and look to adjust the spices up or down. I may also play with some ginger or chamomile additions.

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