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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Brew of the Month, March Edition: Joe's Witbier

By Joe Potter

Last month, a certain Pennsylvanian rodent predicted an early spring, but with the way March has started, that might be wishful thinking. Keeping in that spirit, however, March’s BOTM is a refreshing Witbier, which (I’m hoping) might help beckon in spring a little sooner. If brewed now (or soon), the beer will be ready to enjoy when this month, presumably, goes out like a lamb.

I tried a handful of new things with this brew: I mashed in with water directly from my tap, performed my first step mash, added fresh orange zest, and fermented with a brand new yeast strain, the K-97 from Safale™. The yeast is a German ale strain with low ester production, also recommended for Belgian wheat beers. It forms a nice, firm head during fermentation making it great for “top cropping,” the act of harvesting yeast from an already active fermentation and pitching it into a new batch. Top cropping can be used when you’re brewing multiple batches close together, saving you money on yeast.  

The resulting beer is straw colored, and almost glows. A small amount of flaked oats lends it a haziness reminiscent of sundown on a summer day, where imbibing began an hour or two earlier. It’s aroma is wheaty and sweet, with a touch of tartness. The citrus is subtle, but becomes incredibly prevalent as the beer warms. It’s smooth and creamy, medium-bodied, with a long finish due to the lower attenuation of the yeast. In an act of stylistic defiance, I left out the traditional coriander. I now feel the beer would benefit from some spicy complexity, perhaps black peppercorn. Feel free to make it your own.

My starting gravity was 1.043, and the beer finished out at 1.008, giving the K-97 an apparent attenuation of 81% (which is exactly what Safale™ reports on their website), and a nice 4.6% ABV. Here is the recipe for 5.5 gallons:

All Grain ($18.63)

    • 5 lbs Castle Pilsner
    • 4.5 lbs Briess Flaked Wheat
    • 0.5 lbs Briess Flaked Oats

Partial Mash ($19.84)

    • 0.25 lbs Pilot 6-Row
    • 0.5 lbs Briess Flaked Oats
    • 6 lbs Briess Wheat LME


    • 0.75 oz German Hallertau @ 60 mins
    • 0.25 oz German Hallertau @ 15 mins
    • Zest of one orange @ 5 mins          
If you care, here is the mash schedule I used: Having a grain bill composed of 50% adjuncts, I decided to try my first step-mash with a protein rest at 128° F for 20 minutes before raising the mash temperature to a usual 154° for starch-breakdown.

I discovered that the hottest water which runs out of my tap is a piping 133°. Incidentally, for my mash tun, this is nearly the perfect temperature to achieve 128° after infusion. I used the side sprayer to “mash in” directly from the sink, and kept filling until I arrived at what I estimated to be a 1:1 quarts to pounds ratio. (This is essentially analogous to the couple breweries I know of which utilize tankless water heaters to provide their mash and sparge water, forgoing hot liquor tanks altogether.)

After the 20 minute rest, I infused boiling water from my pot to get up to 154°. My reasoning was that starting with a relatively thin mash ratio of 1:1 would allow me to infuse as much water as needed to bump up the temp while still staying close to the totally reasonable ratio of 2:1. (No surprise, this required way more hot water than I expected, so I recommend having a lot on hand and ready to go before even mashing in.) I added just enough hot water to bring me up to temp, and rested for an additional 30 minutes before sparging.

I hope you enjoy this brew and that it succeeds in building excitement for the approaching summer and brewing season. Brew on, Grand Rapids.

The staff at Siciliano's is always eager to answer your homebrewing questions. Stop by for help developing custom-made recipes like this one!

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