Where’s there’s smoke…

It began as a casual comment and mini-discussion between my friend Aaron and me. We were judging wheat beers at a recent homebrew club meeting and we had before us a Belgian Witbier (it turned out to be Aaron’s, I found out later) and I noted a faint smokiness to the beer (there was no smoked malt used in the brew)… A dreamy look must have come over my face as I remarked, “Hmm, wonder what a smoked witbier would be like…” We agreed it was worth a try, and left it at that.

The idea fermented for a while and then I got access to some oak-smoked wheat malt, which sounded to me like the perfect ingredient and the perfect excuse to try that smoked witbier I had put on the back burner, so to speak.

I wanted the smoke to be subtle, but also wanted it to be the only thing different about the beer, so I went in search of a classic Witbier recipe. I ended up with a combination of Pierre Rajotte’s Silk Lady and Sierra Blanc (from the AHA Style Series book “Belgian Ales”) and my own clone of Celis White (from “North American Clone Brews”), and then tweaked it to its actual form.

 

Fumée Blanche (Belgian style Witbier)

5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs. Belgian pilsner malt
  • 1.5 lbs. light wheat malt
  • 1 lb. oak-smoked wheat malt
  • 1 lb. unmalted wheat berries
  • 1 lb. honey malt
  • 1 lb. flaked wheat
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (@ 4.0% aa)
  • coriander, cardamom, dried ginger root, bitter orange peel, ground coarsely
  • White Labs Wit II yeast (WLP 410)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains (except the flaked wheat). Heat 13 quarts water to 165°F. Dough in grains and hold 60 minutes at 154°F. Heat 12 quarts water to 167°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 23 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add Saaz pellets, boil 60 minutes. At kettle knockout, add spices and steep 5 minutes. Chill to 80°F and take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 65 – 68°F for ten days. Rack to secondary, condition 3 to 4 weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age 2 to 3 weeks.

OG: 1054

IBU’s: 17

Note on grains and style: The classic witbiers (Hoegaarden, Celis, Cheval Blanc) are all vaguely cloudy. This is due to the use of a certain amount of unmalted (i.e. starchy) wheat. I used unmalted wheat berries and flaked wheat, both, in this brew, and in the past I have even used a little whole wheat flour.

Notes on spices: I neglected to actually measure the spices used – which almost guarantees that this will end up with the perfect balance, and I will be unable to duplicate it… I would guess it was about 1 tbsp. of orange peel, 1/2 a tbsp. of ginger, 10 or 12 cardmom seeds and 20 or 25 coriander seeds…

Note on smoked grains: Here I go again… always with the smoked grains! I guess it’s becoming my house signature flavor…

 

A Belgian State of Mind

Blame the weather, blame the sun, blame… the Belgians! Anyway, two recent brews that have not yet been documented, for your consideration.

pLambic 2011
10 gallons, grain/extract with fruit

My annual batch of pLambics, aged on fruit. Soured with bacterial cultures and various Lambic dregs… This is a semi-complicated fermentation, although the brewing process itself is pretty straightforward. I try to time this brew to coincide with ripe fruit, although this year I am using last year’s harvest.

Ingredients:

  • 9 lbs. lager malt
  • 5 lbs. malted wheat
  • 1 lb. unmalted wheat
  • 1 lb. flaked wheat
  • 1/2 lb. carapils malt
  • 1 lb. extra-light dry malt extract (DME)
  • 1 lb. wheat dry malt extract (DME)
  • 1 oz. whole (stale) Chinook hops (home-grown)
  • 1 oz. whole (stale) Cluster hops (home-grown)
  • White Labs Belgian Ale Yeast Blend (WLP575)
  • 4 lbs. frozen cherries
  • 4 lbs. frozen blackberries and/or raspberries
  • 4 lbs. frozen black and/or red currants
  • 4 lbs. frozen blueberries
  • White Labs Belgian Sour Mix (WLP655)
  • Wyeast Lambic Blend (3278)
  • 2 cups corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:
Crush grains. Heat 22 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold at 150°F for 90 minutes. Heat another 22 quarts of water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 42 gallons QUARTS of sweet wort. Stir in the DME, bring wort to a boil, add Chinook hops. Boil 30 minutes. Add Cluster hops, boil another 30 minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into sanitized fermenters, spalshing well to aerate, and pitch yeast. Seal and ferment 10 to 14 days at 70°F. Rack to separate carboys with each of the fruit (approximately 2.5 gallons each), add the Lambic cultures and age in carboys 4 to 6 weeks. Prime each small batch with 1/2 cup corn sugar, bottle and condition 6 to 8 weeks.

OG: unimportant
IBU’s: meaningless

Notes on style: True Lambics are produced in one very specific region of Belgium. These being produced in Vermont, I use the lower-case p to indicate that they are pseudo-Lambics. I’m sure that my land, my equipment and my process give mine a distinct “terroir”…

Notes on fermenters and kettles:My set-up is very convenient for 5-gallon batches. Brewing 10-gallons pushes the limits, hence it is rare that I brew this much at once. I needed three kettles to bring this all to a boil, and needed to add some DME because I could not get a high enough OG from a mash-only wort. The primary fermentation took place in two 6.5 gallon plastic buckets (pre-bacteria), and the secondary aging on fruit is taking place in 4 3-gallon glass carboys.

Left to right: kriek (cherries), cassis (currants), framboise (rasberries) and bleuets (blueberries).

Note on yeast and cultures: Some Lambic brewers will do the entire fermentation with a blend of ale yeast and bacteria. I prefer to ferment out the beer first with a straight yeast and add the Lambic cultures along with the fruit in the secondary. I get a milder sourness, overall, and I don’t ruin my fermenters :).

Note on fruit: Cherries and raspberries are traditional in Belgium (Kriek and Framboise, respectively); currants are found occasionally as well (Cassis). I have had marvelous results with my blueberries in the past, but there is probably no traditional Belgian Lambic with “bleuets”.

Note on hops: These beers really have no discernible hop flavor or aroma. Hops are used in Lambics basically for their preservative value. Many Lambic brewers will use stale hops, as I have in this batch, which will still contribute some preservative but very little bitterness.

 

Gargouille

5 gallons, all-grain

Another beer inspired by a mention in the Northern Brewer catalog, meant to be a highly hopped Belgian Strong Ale. Their name for it was in incorrect French, I fixed it and then decided to change it entirely. The result is basically a Belgian IPA, hence the new name which is a tribute to the one brewed by Stone.

Ingredients:

  • 10 lbs. Belgian pale malt
  • 1 lb. malted wheat
  • 2 lbs. cara-pils malt
  • 1/2 lb. light candi sugar
  • 1 oz. Perle hop pellets (@8% aa)
  • 1 oz. Saphir hop pellets (@5.6% aa)
  • 1 oz. Magnum hop pellets (@8.8 % aa)
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (@4% aa)
  • White Labs Trappist Ale yeast (WLP500)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:
Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 168°F. Mash in grains and hold 60 minutes at 156°F. Heat another 15 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 27 quarts sweet wort. Add candi sugar, bring to a boil. Add Perle hops, boil 15 minutes. Add Saphir hops, boil 15 minutes. Add Magnum hops, boil 15 minutes. Add Saaz hops, boil 15 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment 8 to 10 days at 68 – 70°F. Rack to secondary, age two to three weeks at 65°F. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition three to four weeks.

OG: 1080
IBU’s: 90

Are You Really Putting That In Your Beer?

It started off innocently enough. I have a tremendous 8-month old Belgian Golden Tripel that I am rationing, hoping to still have some left when it’s two years old or more. But I like Belgian Golden ales well enough that I decided to brew another one, this one not as strong but just as flavorful. As I pictured how it might taste, an evil thought crept into my mind: What if you added… No, my mind said, you can’t. That would ruin it. The evil thought insisted: But just imagine… No! Make it straight, you know you’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t come out…

So I went back to my original plan, I wasn’t going to add anything. Or was I? I decided to leave it to fate. If at the last minute, as I was brewing, the evil thought came back to me, I would see what I could do…

Long story short, I did it. I put a couple of secret ingredients into the boil as “aroma hops”… I will not divulge the exact nature of what I added until I am sure I like it (a couple months down the road…), and maybe I will not even notice them, maybe I didn’t add enough… maybe I will decide to add more as “dry hops” in the secondary… but at least I’ll know, and I will have tried something different.

Basilique, Belgian Golden Ale with herbs

5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 8 lbs. Belgian pale malt
  • 1 lb. cara-Belge malt
  • 1 lb. malted wheat
  • 1 oz. Perle hop pellets (6% aa)
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (4% aa)
  • small pinch each of 2 secret ingredients…
  • White Labs Belgian Golden Ale yeast (WLP570)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 162°F. Mash in grains, hold at 152°F for 75 minutes. Heat another 14 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 26 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add Perle hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Saaz hops, boil another 28 minutes. Add small pinch of first secret ingredient, boil 2 more minutes (60 total). Remove from heat, add small pinch of second secret ingredient. Steep 5 minutes then chill to 80°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment 8 to 10 days warm (65 – 68°F). Rack to secondary, age two to three weeks cool (50 – 55°F). Prime with corn sugar and bottle, condition cool for four to six weeks.

OG: 1055

IBU’s: 35.1

Secret Ingredients: don’t worry, nothing illegal going on here. Common kitchen herbs, I am just reluctant to share the recipe until I have tasted it! Even a Guru gets to have some secrets… I will let you all know what I used when I know if it worked or not – stay tuned!