French Farmhand Witbier

BC farm sceneThe Story

We are in a saison making mood, mainly because we have saison yeast sitting in jars, waiting to be used. However, we were also in the mood for a witbier, with all its lovely orange zesty flavours. So we combined the two. All the ingredients are similar to a witbier: lots of flaked wheat, orange peel, coriander, and very few hops. But we fermented the beer with a French saison yeast, which should add peppery and citrusy flavours. We are hoping for a citrusy, tart beer and hints of pepper and oak from the yeast. This will be a nice beer to have in the fridge as we get closer to summer. It likely won’t last that long, because AJ is a witbier drinking fiend.

The Tasting

Appearance: A light, hazy beer, with a very strong head. AJ is colour blind, so he claims it has an orange hue. He is clearly has no idea what he is talking about.
Aroma: A punget aroma full of wheat, spice and citrus. It is amazing how much the saison yeast and coriander bring out the orange aroma. A slightly tart and yeasty smell as well.
Taste: Starts off tart, but the orange flavour comes in right after. Hints of lemon and oak as well. There are a lot of flavours, but they all work together very well. Thick body from the wheat, but is still very refreshing.
Overall: This is a fantastic beer, assuming you like witbiers. It has a very traditional witbier flavour, like Hoegaarden, but with a twist. When you really think about the flavour, you notice the lemon, oak and pepper. But they blend in so well with the rest of the flavours you might not even notice them. We don’t often recommend people brew the recipes we create, but this is an exception. If you like witbiers, but want to try something a little different, make this recipe. Or, if you live close to us (or know us personally), ask to try some. We will most certainly be brewing more batches of this.

French Witbier

Also, AJ is proud that this beer was the first beer his near-brother Braydon ever consumed. A ringing endorsement for sure. It was also popular with those at the stag of AJ’s other near-brother Greg; however, this was most certainly not their first beer.

The Process

Specifics: 23 litre batch, 64% extraction efficiency, ABV 5.5%, O.G. 1.045, IBU 14, step mash: 20 minutes at 56 Celsius; 50 minutes at 67 Celsius.

Grain Bill
We just made a fairly simple grain bill. A typical grain bill for a witbier is 50% Pilsen malt, 50% flaked wheat. We tried to follow that model, but made some changes.

Gambrinus Pale Malt: 5 lb (Pilsen malt is generally preferred, but we did not have any)
Gambrinus Wheat Malt: 4 lb (We did not have enough flaked wheat, so we replaced it with wheat malt. Plus this looks like more of a middle ground between a witbier recipe and saison recipe? We convinced ourselves of that.)
Flaked Wheat: 3 lb (This cleared out our supply of flaked wheat. Now we need to head off to Dan’s Homebrew store to buy some more)

Mash Schedule
Normally, we just do a single infusion mash, meaning we keep the temperature of the grain in the mash tun at one temperature (normally for 60 minutes). This is simple, and it works well with today’s malts, which are well modified and don’t need things like protein rests, beta gluten rests, alpha gluten rests (We admit, we don’t really know what those are, but we have read a lot about them in Brewing Better Beer and How to Brew.)

However, something we’ve always noticed is a huge decrease in our efficiency when making wheat beers. Normally we have an extract efficiency around 85% (meaning we get 85% of the sugar out of the grain), but with wheat beers we normally drop to around 65%. We’ve tried crushing the wheat twice; mashing for a really long time; higher temperatures; lower temperatures. For this batch, we tried using a step mash, hoping this would increase our efficiency.

20 minutes at 56C (This is a protein rest, and it is supposed to help break down unmalted grain, like flaked wheat)
50 minutes at 67C
(This is just our regular temperature for a single infusion mash, converting the starch to sugar)

For the record, reaching different temperatures in a mash tun that is not directly heat (aka it isn’t on a burner, thus we cannot just turn up the temperature) is a huge pain. We had to start off with a very thick mash, and then add more water later to increase the temperature.

Mash at 56Mash at 67
(Left: A very thick mash in the mash tun before adding water. Right: A thinner mash after adding water)

Sadly, none of this increased our efficiency, as our extract efficiency was 64%. Maybe it will improve flavour? Let’s hope it was not all for naught. We should probably do some (poorly conducted) experiment to see if there is any noticeable difference in taste between a witbier with a single infusion mash, and a witbier with a multi-step mash.

Hop Schedule
Saaz hops are the classic witbier hop, but we had Ultra hops (similar to Saaz) with higher AA%.

60 minutes: 0.5 oz Ultra (Just a little bit of hops to balance out the sweetness of the malt. We added no flavour or aroma hops, this will allow flavour of the spices and yeast to dominate the beer)
5 minutes: 1 oz Bitter Orange Peel, 1 oz Coriander Seeds Cracked (We just threw the spices in (instead of putting them in a hop bag). So they sat in the beer as it was cooling for 20 minutes. This might result in a very strong spice flavour)

Fermentation
1 litre starter from harvested Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast. This is the third use (third generation) of this yeast.
Primary Fermentation: 14 days at 20C

French Wit Yeast Starter(The 1 litre yeast starter)

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