Belgian Brewday: Wonmisan Wit

Today is my first attempt at a Belgian Wit. I’ve only had one example of the style, the inoffensive Hoegaarden Wit available in Korea. (I’m told it is brewed locally, or somewhere in the region, not in Belgium. It’s not bad, it’s just… well, not all that wheaty, or distinctive, or striking.)

I’m making my first attempt using the Forbidden Fruit yeast, about which I’ve heard wonderful things. The other interesting thing you might notice if you look at the recipe (it’s set for a double batch but I’m doing a single batch today) is that I’m attempting is the use of air-kilned malt and raw wheat (along with some flaked oats). This deserves a little explanation.

First, the air-kilned malt: contrary to what the named suggests, it’s not kilned at all. This apparently (according to something I read, maybe Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing) was used in Belgian Wits because it is so pale, though it’s not widely available now. The reason for this is cost: air-kilned malt never sees a kiln, but instead is air-dried, I think by being packed into small, very air-permeable bags and hung out in the sun. The production method is slow and involved, which makes it the opposite of cost-effective, so this kind of malt isn’t used anymore by commercial brewers. But since I know someone in Korea (Garrett!) who is malting his own barley and then drying it this way, I figured I’d give it a shot.

The raw wheat is a normal component of a Belgian Wit, though it’s something of a pain in the ass for brewers. Unlike barley, wheat has no husk, which means when you run water through the mash, you risk a stuck sparge. This can be a major pain in the ass. However, raw wheat gives a beer a much wheatier quality than any other kind of wheat… supposedly. (Flaked wheat is supposed to be good too; torrefied wheat, of which I have some, is supposed also to be wheaty, but with a more biscuity quality to it… I’ll try it in my next Wit, which will likely be fermented on the same yeast cake…)

The risk of stuck sparge isn’t the biggest issue, even though, to make things even more risky, I’m adding  a small but considerable amount of flaked oats to the grist. Between the oats and the raw wheat, over 60% of my mash is grains with no hulls. But I’m not too worries: I got my hands on some rice hulls (from overseas — ironically, they’re not easy to get around here, despite all the rice production: apparently they’re used for hog feed or something) so I don’t think I’ll have much trouble with a struck sparge, if I’m patient and run it off slowly.

On the other hand, raw wheat also requires a cereal mash. That means the time I need to spend mashing is a fair bit longer: I’m doing stepped rests at ten degrees apart, and will boil the raw wheat to gelatinize it and liquefy the proteins a bit. Then I’ll be adding it to the main mash (the barley), which has me wondering how in the world I will be hitting my target mash temperature. I’ll probably undershoot and bring it up to the temp I want. That seems the safest way…

I’ll be using the Wyeast 3463, the Forbidden Fruit strain, about which I’ve heard great things.

I’m lucky enough to actually have the spices and stuff on hand that I need: there’s an orange and a grapefruit sitting here, waiting to be zested, some coriander I will grind by hand, and some chamomile tea ready to be added. But once again, I seem to have gotten myself into a brew day starting after dinnertime. That means I probably won’t finish until sometime after midnight.

The big challenge, though, will be keeping this beer at the optimal temperature while it’s fermenting. I am seriously considering the bathtub for the moment, though if I can manage to haul a certain piece of crappy furniture out of my brewing closet, I may be able to use a tub and some slowly running water. I won’t get around to doing that till Friday morning, though… hopefully when I have a batch of something else mashing on the stove!

Well, I should get back to it: the second rest is done, and I need to get the raw wheat up to mashing temperatures.

UPDATE: Brew Notes:

I need to start brewing earlier in the day. It’s 4am. Argh.

I also need to make sure I check the assumed efficiency of my recipes: I usually hit between 73-75% mash efficiency, and hit about that with this batch too. But I’d assumed 80% efficiency, so I’m a few points under my intended gravity (I was shooting for 1.045, and I got 1.040. Scratch that — after I’d cooled the wort and took another sample, I hit 1.044, which gives me a much less shabby 79% efficiency.)

It doesn’t taste gorgeous in the gravity sampler, but then, it’s a tiny touch overhopped since the gravity was too low. Just barely too much, but still. and now that I know the gravity’s not to account, maybe I put too much citrus peel? In a wit, you get citrusy flavor/aroma from coriander, and bitterness from the fruit peels. I may have overdone it, as this tasted like an IBU 30-ish beer in the sampler.

It’s now cooling and I’m about to pitch the yeast onto it. Then, a little cleaning and I’ll hit the hay.

Last thing: I am taking a chance with my brew bucket. I was soaking some stuff in it — hose, a siphon, etc., and somehow a bolt got into the bucket and corroded a little from the bleach. I scrubbed the corrosion away, and bleached the bucket, and sanitized with iodophor solution. There might be some nasties that survived in a scratch in the bottom of the bucket — scrubbing creates scratches, after all — but, as I noted, it’s 4am, so I’m going with the bucket as I don’t have a sterilized carboy handy. It should be okay, but if the batch goes bleah, well, this would be why.

UPDATE (26 May 2011): Less than 24 hours after pitching, the yeast is now bubbling healthily, which is something of a relief. Strong bubbles every two seconds or so seems to be the rate at the moment. I’ll be letting it ferment at about 21-22°C for the moment, and on the weekend, I’ll shut the window and door on the living room and turn on the air conditioner to about 19°C. (I plan on seriously cooling the beer in secondary, but that will only be brief before I keg it.)

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