Thursday, November 8, 2007


I'll usually tell people that, as a general rule, I don't like wheat beers. But what I really mean by this is Bavarian and American wheat beers.

The truth, as usual, is more complicated. For this post I'll keep from delving into all the nuances of my real position on wheat beers -- the point right now is that I in fact have a true fondness for Belgian Witbiers.

The spiciness, the crispness, the faint citrus... To me, there's nothing quite like a well-made Witbier.

For that matter, there's nothing quite like enjoying a fresh Wit at a sidewalk cafe on a sunny afternoon in Belgium (or anywhere else in Europe, actually), but I digress. Suffice it to say, next time you're in Europe, consider it.

With all this in mind, I was excited to finally try my hand at brewing up a Wit. No real reason why it had taken me so long -- but you know, the list of beers to brew is usually lengthy enough that many are bound to spend a bit of time waiting.

Let me give you the specs on the Wit:

OG 1.052 FG 1.009
AA 82% ABV 5.6%
IBU 17 SRM 3

51% German Pils
42% Flaked wheat
7% Flaked oats
0.5 lb rice hulls

12 IBU Saaz 60 mins
2 IBU Hallertau Mittelfrüh 60 mins
0.5 oz Tettnang 10 mins

0.25 oz Indian coriander (crushed) 10 mins
0.2 oz naval orange zest 10 mins
2 tbsp marmalade 10 mins
1 tbsp flour 10 mins
0.25 oz Indian coriander (crushed) flameout
0.2 oz naval orange zest flameout
1 tbsp flameout

White Labs 400 "Belgian Wit Ale"

* Some explanations: I had the Hallertau on hand so I threw it in. I used marmalade because I couldn't find actual Seville oranges, and I've read marmalade is made with the stuff. I used Indian coriander because I've read the "regular" version is no good for homebrew -- I then crushed it with a meat tenderizer (in a plastic bag) to bring out the goodness. The flour was intended to add that nice white haze that Wits are known for.

A few things jump out at me from this brew. First, the head formation and retention is miserable. This is especially puzzling given the beer is on the same manifold as all my other kegs and I have one regulator feeding pressure to all of them... and, I've had some foam issues with other beers of late, yet the Wit remains docile as ever. I want to say there are oils in the beer that are to blame. This could be psychosomatic, but I believe I get an oily sensation when I drink this particular brew. So if it is indeed oily, what's the source? The coriander or marmalade would be the most obvious culprits.

I had thought that I'd identified the coriander as the source of these troubles, since I presently have another coriander beer on tap that had displayed the same symptoms, except more recently that beer has "come around" in the head department... so I dunno... (But, that one also has more body in the first place, which logic would suggest means it would... ahem... "give better head"...)

But the second issue, and the one that bothers me more, is that the coriander comes on too strong in this brew. I thought I was being careful with my amount, consulting other recipes so as not to overdo it. Well, either my coriander is particularly potent, or I'm particularly sensitive to it, but either way, thar be too much here.

Next time, first of all, I'll cut down on the coriander, probably to 0.25 or 0.2 oz. I'll also restrict the coriander addition to flameout. Really, aroma is what I want, not flavor. This could be part of my problem.

Also, I think I'll mash at a higher temperature than the 149 degrees I recorded on this one. WLP400 seems to be a fairly high attenuator, and I think this beer could stand to have a fuller, smoother mouthfeel, so I'd say 153 or so should be in order.

Finally, I'll try to ferment the beer a little warmer on the next go-around. I've read that others have had great success with this yeast at high (80 degrees plus) temperatures, and given that I found its performance a little restrained this time, I don't see how warmer can hurt. Besides, now that it's getting colder, I don't run the risk of having my house temperature getting out of control during the day. (I won't use the fermentation fridge.) I'll ferment the next Wit at about 75 degrees ambient, which should push the fermentation temperature up around 80 or so. This should also help make up for backing off on the spice additions.

I have to say, I'd love to really nail this Wit. I can imagine few pleasures greater than having a steady supply of this pale yellow elixir at my fingertips, ready at a moment's notice for some quiet time out in the sun.

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