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


  • 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…


Time for a Holiday (Porter)

Mid-August, the heat waves of July are over, back-to-school sales are in full bloom, about half the baseball teams are already eliminated from the postseason, and it’s nearly time to harvest the hops. The first Octoberfests are hitting the shelves (a little early, in my opinion, sort of like having the Christmas decorations up before Halloween…) and soon we will see the winter lagers, warmers, spiced special ales… Late summer, and it is most definitely time to brew the official winter holiday libation.

I try to do something a little special and a little different each year. Different beer styles, different added flavors, spices, etc., but usually something strong to raise the spirit and warm the body. Some have been more memorable than others, and I am hoping that this year’s will be a hall-of-famer.

Based on a Robust Porter style, I added sweet/woody spices at the end of the boil to add an aromatic twist. The English flavor and aroma hops complement the high-alpha US bittering hops, and there’s enough malt in there for anyone!

2010 Solstice Porter
5 gallons, all-grain


  • 10 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1/2 lb. black malt
  • 1/2 lb. dark crystal (120°L)
  • 1/4 lb. roasted barley
  • 1/4 lb. chocolate malt
  • 1/2 lb. malted wheat
  • 1/2 oz. Galena hop pellets (14.1% aa)
  • 1 oz. Fuggles hop pellets (4% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. East Kent Goldings hop pellets (5% aa)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • pinch grated nutmeg
  • White Labs Bedford English Ale yeast (WLP006)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold at 153°F for 90 minutes. Heat 14 more quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collect 27 quarts of sweet wort. Bring to boil. Add Galena hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Fuggles, boil another 25 minutes. Add EKG hops, boil 5 minutes (60 total), turn off heat. Cut vanilla bean and break cinnamon stick into 3 or 4 pieces each, add along with grated nutmeg to wort. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate, pitch yeast (leaving cinnamon and vanilla in wort). Seal and ferment 8 to 10 days. Rack to secondary (removing cinnamon and vanilla at this time), age 14 to 20 days. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition cool (45 – 50°F) for two months or more.

OG: 1070
IBU’s: 43

Notes on yeast: White Labs recommends this yeast as “perfect for porters”. I was originally going to use a London ale yeast, but this was a new release and I thought I’d give it a try.

Notes on style: I am often asked what the difference is between a porter and a stout. Ask ten brewers and you will probably get ten slightly different answers. Both are dark ales, both can run from dry to sweet, from hoppy to malty, from relatively low in alcohol to huge. The major flavor difference, for me, is the use of roasted (unmalted) barley. The typical stout flavor profile is full of deep, bitter roasted barley notes, while porters exhibit typically more black and chocolate malt aroma and flavor. The line blurs…

Note on spices: Freshness is of the utmost importance when brewing with spices – use, as in this recipe, fresh whole vanilla beans (not vanilla extract), whole fresh cinnamon sticks (not pre-ground), freshly grated nutmeg…

Note on holiday beverages: I also brewed a holiday Mead this year, adding vanilla beans (2) and 2 or 3 tablespoons of bitter cocoa powder. It was a 3-gallon batch, with 7 lbs. local honey. The OG was over 1090…