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…

 

Lift your glass

Just learned of the passing, April 9, of the legendary Pierre Celis. Pierre was a milkman in the 1950’s in Hoegaarden, Belgium, and was responsible for the revival and survival of the Belgian Witbier style, especially the brews of his hometown, Hoegaarden Witbier. In later years he sold Hoegaarden and moved to Texas where he founded a new Belgian-style brewery, Celis Brewing. The beers of Celis (a witbier, a grand cru, among others) were perhaps the best US-brewed Belgian beers available.
In 1999, when I began research for North American Clone Brews, Pierre Celis was among the first to respond, with great enthusiasm, shipping me a case of his beers to try, along with a personal note wishing me luck with the project.
RIP and cheers, Pierre.