Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hefe-Wit: An Experiment in Splitting Batches

A friend and reader of this blog has requested seeing more of my personal homebrewing musings and experiments.  Since the arctic tundra outside is starting to warm, the permafrost layer lowering and the glaciers in my yard shrinking, brewing season is upon us!  I'm a wimp when it comes to brewing outside in the frigid Minnesota winter, and do the majority of my brewing exploits in the warmer month.  Yes I said "month."  Keep in mind that this is Minnesota.  A lot of my friends brew only in the Winter and have no free time in the Summer due to over-scheduling, but they are doing it WRONG!  So without further ado--Mark, this entry is for you! 

My first batch of the warm season (high of 36 yo!) was an experimental batch of wheat beer.  A good friend of mine donated some Rahr white wheat and some Moravian Pilsner malt to me a while ago and I needed to use this awesome grain before it goes south.  A little quirk of genetics has left me with the amazing superpower of getting migraine headaches when I drink wheat beers, inherited from my mother who has the same issue.  Because of this unusual defect in my genetic make-up, this style is not on my quick-list for brewing or drinking.  But I have six taps at home and Summer will soon be upon us, and many of my friends and family will be clamoring for a refreshing lawn-mower beer, so why not use this evil grain to serve the masses?  To be honest I'm still not sure if the problem I have is wheat related or perhaps from the estery wheat beer yeasts.  Some Belgian beers get me as well, but often have similar yeasts and include wheat.  I may have to finally break down and do some ill-conceived experimentation and see what happens to me.

I had enough grain to do a 10 gallon batch, so my idea was to split the batch into two separate 5 gallon carboys and make a slightly different beer out of them.  I have done this many times, using different yeasts or adding fruit to half of the batch, but this time I was going to try something a bit off the wall.  I started by creating a fairly simple grain bill:  the above mentioned grains and a bit of Munich malt to add interest.  I was aiming somewhere right in between the typical grain bill for German Hefeweizen and a Belgian Wit.  I have the corresponding yeasts for those styles in starters and ready to get fermenting.  The part that had me a little perplexed at first was the addition of spices to the brew.  Belgian Wit (think Hoegaarden or Celis White, or Blue Moon if you lack imagination) typically uses orange peel and coriander as complimentary spicing, adding a refreshing citrus quality to the beer that the German Hefe lacks.  Usually the spices are added near the end of the boil, so I thought about running half my beer into the first carboy, then adding spices to the remaining in the kettle and running it into the second carboy.  However, having not brewed this style before, I had no idea how much of the spices to add. 

Recipes I've found on line vary greatly and differ depending the freshness and quality of your ingredients.  Most recipes call for the bitter orange peel that comes as a dusty, dessicated and mummified packet from your local homebrew shop.  I opted for fresh orange peel, zesting a blood orange and a grapefruit because I happened to have them in my fridge.  The blood orange is not as bitter, so I felt that the grapefruit would add some of that character, as well as make this a little more interesting.  I added the combined zests to a small container of vodka.  I will let this sit for a week or two (until the primary fermentation of my beer is done.)  The flavor and aroma from the zest should be leached out by the neutral spirit and I can then run this through a coffee filter and add incrementally to my beer before bottling.  In this way I can get just the right amount of flavor from the spice without over or under-doing it and spoiling a whole batch.  I did the same thing with some Penzey's ground coriander and will add it at the same time.

I have used the alcohol tea method successfully a few times before with chipotle peppers and hibiscus flowers.  I hope to get a fairly good approximation of a Belgian Wit from using the technique here.  The other half of the brew will be a typical German Hefe that my wife will hopefully like!   

There are some other tricks to this particular batch.  Using wheat in a beer can add some difficulties on certain brew systems (mine included.)  First off, the wheat has a smaller kernel than most barley, and will not crush as well at the regular settings on your mill.  I recommend crushing your other grains, then resetting the mill for a finer crush and running your wheat through it.  The other big issue is stuck sparges.  I have not had this issue on my current system but did have it once on my old Igloo cooler set-up and that was a huge mess.  Since wheat malt has no husk, it doesn't filter the the grain bed like barley and your mash can compress into a firm hunk of dough.  Not cool.  I usually throw a half to full pound of rice hulls into the mash when using wheat, oats, etc in a batch.  Keep in mind the hulls can absorb some water, so you may need a little extra strike water for the batch than you usually do.  One other thing I have run into with using the Moravian pilsner is that it is less modified than many of the current brewing malts, resulting in it taking a longer time to convert its complex starches to fermentable smaller sugars.  Give it more than 60 minutes to mash, and you may even want to do a protein rest if you can. 

Wheat wort results in disgusting spoo!

So far so good, but the proof will be in the final result.  With any luck I'll end up with 5 gallons of German Hefe and 5 gallons of Belgian Wit, and neither will give me a skull-busting migraine headache.  I'm hoping also that the Belgian Wit will be ready in time for the May JAB Belgian Madness so I can have more than one Belgian ale to bring.

Hefe-Wit Recipe:

8.5# Moravian Pilsner
8.5# Rahr White Wheat malt
0.5# Munich
1# Rice Hulls
1.5 oz Hallertau hops 4.3% AA at 60 minutes
WL German Hefe yeast
Wyeast Belgian Wit yeast

Mash at 125 for 30 minutes, then step up to 152 for 60 minutes (took me 15 minutes to rise to that.)
Sparge 30-40 minutes.
Boil 90 minutes.
OG 1.052
Ferment at 64 for Hefe and 68 for Wit.

Fermenting away!
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Next Up:  Review of McCoy's Steel Toe Beer Dinner


HALF WIT said...

Nice! Ask and I shall receive. Great work as usual, this is an exceptionally cool experiment. I just brewed my wit for the May meeting last weekend, and used the crusty bitter orange peels. I threw in a tiny bit of chamomile too, so we'll see what happens... I'm planning to do a Bavarian Hefe soon also, the warm weather has me itching.

CTolson said...

Those are some hot fermentation temps! Is that C or F!?!?!


Eric Wentling said...

Crap! Thanks for the post on that, I totally hadn't noticed that I had the temps listed wrong! Now fixed...

Anonymous said...

I was thinking about trying this, how did they turn out? I was thinking of taking a few litres of the runnings and boiling with zest, peel and coriander then adding this to the wit fermenter when cooled.
Would you do it again? Cheers, Bodge

Eric Wentling said...

Mine turned out pretty good, but I do think the coriander didn't translate as well without boiling. I think your idea would be a good way to do it, but I wouldn't boil very long. Good luck!