Spicing for a Belgian Wit

Okay, so, I am now facing the reality that I probably (significantly) overspiced my Belgian Wit, and in exactly the way I didn’t want to — bitterness.

Not because of hops: I put in an ounce of Hallertau, which gets me close to (but definitely under) 20 IBUs. That’s fine and well within style for a Wit.

But the problem is the orange peel. I had left my copy of Stan Hieronymous’ Brewing With Wheat in my office (though I didn’t realize that was where it was) and ended up discovering this fact today. So I had a look at some of the suggested amounts of orange peel, chamomile, and coriander.

In one of the spots where details are given for spice proportions — on page 73, discussing the recipe for a wit by Jean-François Gravel, of Montreal’s Dieu du Ciel! — a place I must check out next time I hit that city.

Anyway, besides a few interesting details — such as the fact that he uses Mt. Hood hops (at a mere 14 or 15 IBUs, all at the start), and goes up to a starting gravity of 1.054 (producing a 5.5% ABV beer), he gives some details about spicing:

  • Fresh ground coriander: 0.75 g/L – 1.25 g/L
  • Orange peel 0.5 g/L

In my own Wit,  added:

  • Orange/Grapefruit peel: 16 g/L — one sweet orange, and one half-grapefruit
  • Fresh ground coriander: 2g/L

(And worse, since I was in a hurry, I ended up zesting the grapefruit with the bigger sized holes on my grater, before discovering that the smaller size got less of the pulp. The white pulp is very bitter, which would explain why I’d thought, tasting from the sampling tube, that I’d overhopped the beer.)

Now, I’ve seen elsewhere (including, I’d swear, elsewhere in this book, though I can’t find it now) different numbers for the peels and coriander, but it seems apparent I’ve overspiced the beer. Worse, I didn’t think to add any finishing hops, which would have complexified the aroma of the beer. Then again, I’ve seen posts online that called for amounts much larger than what I’ve put. I don’t know if that’s symptomatic of different tastes, or an example of the “push it farther” thing that seems to have affected a lot of homebrewers. I guess we’ll see when I keg the beer… or, perhaps, if it is too bitter, I might add some sugar or something to it, so that it ferments out a little more balanced.

The good news is that whatever happens, as long as there isn’t an infection, I should have a nice yeast cake onto which to pitch a second, more delicately-crafted batch of Wit with the same approximate grain bill… and that means I should be able to brew something up next week, probably on Wednesday. (Starting at noon, this time, instead of the evening.) Next time, I’ll make sure to have some fresh citrus ready to zest carefully (and minimally) and I may even go for a double-batch, using some pilsner and torrefied wheat to complexify the mash a bit.

One more thing: I think I’ll go for a 45 minute boil next time, so as to reduce the degree of caramelization that happens in the wort. I want to see if I can get the beer as “white” as possible. The chill haze I expect the beer to develop will help with that, but keeping the boil a little shorter will help too.

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