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…

 

Best Laid Plans

My friend Mark was supposed to join me today to learn the art of all-grain brewing. While waiting for him, I went out and did the barn chores, and when I came back in there was a message on the answering machine. Mark’s upstairs neighbor had apparently left the water on all night and flooded the place, so Mark was going to have to move, sort, clean and dry all his furniture, rugs and stuff. No brew session for him today.

I brewed anyway.

I decided to go for it, on this beer, big and rich, intensely sweet but also highly hopped. A smorgasbord of beery flavors all in one. Freshly smoked pale malt, mashed in condensed maple sap, three different high-alpha hops… A barleywine style ale, meant to be aged for a long while and sipped slowly.

Vermont Breakfast Ale

5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 7 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 3 lbs. Maris Otter smoked over maple
  • 1 lb. 150°L crystal malt
  • 1 lb. Biscuit malt
  • 1/2 lb. maple-smoked cara-foam malt
  • 1 oz. Chinook hop pellets (@11.8% aa)
  • 1 oz. Simcoe hop pellets (@12.2% aa)
  • 1 oz. whole Horizon hops (@11.9% aa)
  • White Labs Super High Gravity yeast (WLP099)
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup (for priming)

Procedure:

Condense 6 gallons of fresh maple sap down to 4 gallons (16 quarts) [Alternatively, add 1 pt. pure maple syrup to 16 quarts water]. Heat to 164°F. Crush grains. Dough in and hold at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat 14 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 22 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add Chinook pellets. Boil 15 minutes, add Simcoe pellets. Boil 45 minutes (60 total), add Horizon hops and remove from heat. Steep the Horizon about 10 minutes then remove them. Chill wort to 75°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment two weeks in relative warmth (65 – 70°). Rack to secondary and age in a cool dark place (50°F) for eight weeks. Prime with maple syrup, bottle and store somewhere where you will forget about them for a year.

OG: 1078

IBU’s: 107

For more info on Barleywines, I highly recommend Fal Allen and Dick Cantwell’s volume in the AHA Classic Beer Style series, appropriately titled “Barley Wine“.

Smokin’ with the Boys

The other day was my friend Rick’s birthday. His wife was out of town on business, so I thought it would be a nice way to keep him from getting lonely if I invited him to come up and brew with me. While I was at it, I also invited our friends Chris, who has some professional brewing experience, and Peter, who is about to move up to all-grain brewing. I wanted Chris’s input on improving my brewing system, and wanted Peter to see first-hand how relatively easy an all-grain brew can be. They all showed up at 8:30 and we brewed this semi-traditional German Rauchbier, while sipping a Hill Farmstead porter, “Twilight of the Idols”, that Chris had brought along (yes, a big Porter at 9:30 a.m. – surely a breakfast beer!). Peter had a lot of questions, the rest of us tried to answer them as best we could, and the Rauchbier got brewed.

The thing about this brew that makes it only “semi”-traditional is the fact that the smoked malt I used was my own. I was playing around last week with a way to smoke grains at home, over various local woods. Five pounds of the grain in this recipe was smoked on my grill over birch chips, giving it a wonderful sort of wintergreen aroma… The mash smelled really cool, and the wort in the kettle smelled even more amazing.

Rauch’n’Roll

5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs. Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 2 lbs. birch-smoked Pilsner malt
  • 2 lbs. birch-smoked Vienna malt
  • 1 lb. birch-smoked 30°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 lb. honey malt
  • 1 oz. Sterling hop pellets (@5.7% aa)
  • 1 oz. Liberty hop pellets (@5.2% aa)
  • White Labs Old Bavarian Lager yeast (WLP920)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar or 1 cup light DME (for priming)

Procedure: Crush malts. Heat 15 quarts water to 163°F. Dough in and hold mash at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 13 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts sweet smoky wort. Bring to boiling, add Sterling hops. Boil 45 minutes, add Liberty hops. Boil 15 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat and chill to 75°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60°F for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, lager cooler (45°F) for three weeks. Prime with corn sugar (or DME), bottle and age cold (38 – 40°F) for six weeks.

OG: 1058

IBU’s: 31

Note on smoked malt: Not everyone will be able to smoke their own malts, obviously. You can substitute 3 lbs. German Rauchmalt (beechwood-smoked) and 1 lb. each Vienna and 30°L crystal. The Rauchmalt is more intensely smoky than my own home-smoked malts, thus you need to use less for the smoke level of this brew. More smoked malt will mean more smoky flavor, and it is easy to overdo it.

Home-smoking grains:I built a 12” by 12” box, 3” deep, out of hardware cloth, then lined it with aluminum window screen. The hardware cloth is sturdy as a frame, the screen is a much finer mesh. My gas grill has a tray you can set in on top of the flames to use wood or charcoal for grilling.

Birch chunks on the left, pilsner malt on the right...

I built a small pile of wood chips at the far left end and placed my screen box on a grill at the far right. I placed 2 lbs. of grain, dry, in the screen box, sprayed it with water to moisten it, and lit the gas under the wood only. Because it was not actually touching the wood but only the metal tray, the wood never actually caught fire but smoldered, nice and smoky, for over an hour.The draft pulled the smoke from the wood across and through the grains, which I stirred and re-misted every 15 minutes. After an hour of smoke, I spread the grain out on a large cookie sheet to dry then packed it away in 1-lb. units in zip-lock bags. I did a total of about 20 lbs. in different combinations – some pilsner malt, some crystal, some Vienna, some wheat, etc… over birch and then oak and then maple. Four or five of my next several brews will include a smoked component.