Sunday, September 29, 2013

For The Love Of Wheat

As a homebrewer it's probably happened to you too I'm sure. You've selected the perfect blend of hops and grains, brewed them all together in just the right amounts and then fermented them into one great tasting beer. That beer then became so popular with friends and family that it was gone within a week and folks were upset that they never got to try it. Times like that really got me started looking for ways to double my brewday output to get 10 gallons of beer instead of my usual 5 gallons, using my current brewing setup and in about the same amount of time as a typical brewday.

Using Two 5 Gallon Mash Tuns For A 10 Gallon Batch
I knew right from the start that the most challenging part of my double brewday would be using the available burners on hand to make up enough hot strike water to use for lautering and sparging the extra volume. I've been brewing all grain beer indoors on a small gas stove with 4 burners for about 2 years now and a single 5 gallon batch was pretty easy to brew, doing 10 gallons was going to require a bit more planning. My brewing setup used 2 gas burners to keep hot strike water heating up for sparging with the remaining 2 burners under my 10 gallon brew kettle for the boil. I wrote a post about a year ago about building an aluminum burner frame to improve heating and cooling efficiencies on brewday. It's a worthwhile project for those of you considering the benefits of brewing indoors and shortening your brewdays.

A Layer Of Thick Aluminum Foil Will Make Spills Easy To Clean

I've brewed this recipe many times over the past several years in 5 gallon extract and then all grain batches so I figured the easiest way for me to scale up to 10 gallons would be to simply mash identical recipes in 2 mash tuns and then lauter the wort into 2 separate boil pots. When I first decided to get into all grain brewing I chose to be a single infusion mash and fly sparger right from the very start. The first step I took to get into all grain brewing was to build my own mash tun using off the shelf parts purchased at my local big box hardware store. The initial design worked so well for me that a few months later I went ahead and built another one just in case I needed the extra capacity.

Brewday preparations got under way early in the week when I got the yeast starters spinning on the stirplates, the goal here was to pitch around 250 billion cells into 2 separate 6.5 gallon Ale Pails that I would use for fermentation. Both of the 2 liter yeast starters were made from ECY-10 yeast I had washed from a previous batch of 420 Special Wheat brewed back in June 2013. The starter wort gravity was between 1.030 - 1.040, made with a cup of extra light DME, 2 liters of filtered water and a pinch of yeast nutrient. Once the krausen had dropped the yeast were given time to absorb nutrients to store before going dormant. I cold crash my starters until brewday morning and then decant them before pitching, there's definitely opposing views this and pitching starters when they're at high krausen. I have been getting really great attenuation rates when decanting off the starter wort so I stick with this method.

Two 2 Liter Starters Of Generation 2 ECY-10 Washed Yeast
My favorite recipe for an American Wheat beer uses about 12 pounds of a barley and wheat mixture made up of mostly German and Belgian grains. It also contains some other interesting ingredients often found in traditional Witbier recipes too, things like grains of paradise, coriander and bitter orange peel for flavor and a bit of spice. What really sets this recipe apart from a traditional Witbier is the use of ECY-10 yeast and some very generous flavor and aroma hopping using only American "C" hops. A couple of pounds of honey to lends just a slight hint of residual sweetness while boosting the alcohol level into the 8% range. The important thing to keep in mind when reading this description is that none of the ingredients are at all cloying. The idea is to brew them together in balance so that no one ingredient stands out in front. You want the citrusy hints that coriander provides working in harmony with the bitter orange and spice, you don't want to sip it and taste any one of them individually.

Pilsener, Wheat, Munich, Biscuit, Honey Spices And Lots Of Hops

After allowing for grain and hop absorption and boil off and a 90 minute boil my preboil wort volume needed to be somewhere around 13 gallons. In order to do a full wort boil I had to use use my 10 gallon kettle along with a 5 gallon pot I usually used for heating strike water. The lack of gas burners also meant I had to boil enough water ahead of time to store in a corny keg and use it later to make up the 170F sparge water I needed to collect enough wort. The single infusion mash took 60 minutes and fly sparging took another 60 minutes of lautering to collect the wort from both mash tuns into my kettle and boil pot. Even with all the careful planning I had done before brewday I ended coming up short on having enough 170F sparge water to lauter both mash tuns at the same time. I wasn't too disappointed though since the beer finished around 5.1% alcohol which would still make for a fairly strong wheat beer anyway. My calculated original gravity was 1.070 and the actual original gravity was 1.054 but it thanks to a healthy pitch of ECY 10 it finished at 1.014 and tasted really good.

Brew Yourself A Batch Of Golden Liquid Sunshine And Feel The Glow

I've since brewed this same exact recipe again in a 5 gallon batch and hit my target gravity dead on at 1.070, the difference in the 10 gallon batch was caused by not having hot enough sparge water to rinse all the sugars out of the grain bed. This latest batch is kegged and force carbonating now and it finished at 1.008 for a 8.3% alcohol content which is perfect for an early "Northeastern Fallen Wheat" beer, hey I just named a new style of wheat beer! It's loaded with American hop flavor and aroma, somewhere between an IPA and a Witbier but without any yeasty flavors, it's a really great tasting beer with a warming finish for the cool weather we're having here now. Whether you're interested in brewing up a refreshing wheat beer as a summertime cooler or as a transitional Fall wheat beer before switching over to brewing darker Stouts, Brown and Cascadian Dark Ales this recipe with a little tweaking will work for you too.

Screwy's 420 Special Wheat Recipe: Style - American Wheat

Original IBU = 39, SRM = 7, OG = 1.070, FG = 1.008, ABV = 8.3%

0.50 pound Munch (German)
0.50 pound Biscuit (Belgium)
2.00 pounds Honey
2.50 pounds Wheat (German)
3.00 pounds Flaked Wheat
6.00 pounds Pilsner (Belgian)
12.50 Total grain bill

0.50 ounces Columbus pellets
2.75 ounces Cascade pellets
1.00 ounces Centennial pellets
4.75 ounces Total Hop bill

0.50 teaspoon freshly crushed coriander seed
0.50 teaspoon ground Cardamom or Grains of paradise
0.50 ounce dry bitter orange peel
1.00 tablespoon gypsum (optional)

2 Liter starter of  ECY10 - Old Newark Ale™ decanted (250 billion cells)

Infusion Mash @ 152° F For 60 Minutes:
Add a cup of Pilsener malt then alternate with a cup of rice hulls to the mash tun
Then add a cup of Pilsener malt then alternate with a cup of wheat malt to the mash tun
Once all the malted grains and rice hulls are in the tun add strike water
Mix well and adjust mash temperature to 152° F
Add flaked wheat to the top of the mash tun and cover with 1 inch of water

Add .50 oz. of Columbus hops to the kettle and collect 6.5 gallons of wort for preboil volume
At 17 minutes left to the boil add 1 oz. Cascade and .25 oz. of Centennial pellet hops
At 12 minutes left to the boil add 2 pounds of honey to boil
At 10 minutes add .50 tab of WhirFloc, Coriander, Cardamom and dry bitter orange
At 7 minutes left to the boil add 1 oz. Cascade and .25 oz. of Centennial pellet hops
At 5 minutes  left to the boil at .50 oz. yeast nutrient
At knock out add 1 oz. Cascade and .50 oz. of Centennial pellet hops let cool to 170F
Remove all hops and quickly cool to 68F pitching temperature

Fermentation And Conditioning

The yeast starter temperature should be at or near 68F
Whirlpool the wort then transfer to the fermentor leaving the cold break in the kettle
Oxygenate the wort using pure o2 for 1 minute just prior to pitching the yeast
Decant the beer off of the starter leaving just enough to swirl the yeast into solution for pitching
Pitch the yeast and set the fermentor in a room that's about 65-68F for a week
Drop hop using 1 oz. Cascade and .25 oz. of Centennial pellet hops in a weighted mesh bag
After a week move the fermentor to a 36F refrigerator for a week or two to condition
Transfer the beer while cold to a cony keg and force carbonate cold at 12psi for a week

A Little Bit About The Process

Right after flameout as the boiled wort cools in the kettle the addition of knock out hops adds a form of aroma that lasts longer when the beer is packaged than typical late hop additions. Hops will continue to isomerize in the kettle until the temperature drops below 170F allowing the wort to absorb more of the volatile hop oils that are otherwise boiled off when added as late hop additions to the boil. When you think about it there are actually 3 forms of adding aroma hops to your beer. The first and probably the best know of the three is by adding hops to the boil with 7 minutes or less left to the boil, second is the addition of hops at knock out and the third is dry hopping. Each of the three methods contribute aroma to the finished beer in different ways and allow us brewers to produce really great tasting beer. I for one have adopted all three methods into my recipes even though my batches of brew rarely survive more than a month.

I noticed something that got me thinking a long time ago when I first started decanting my yeast starters, the cold temperatures actually helped the yeast settle out of solution leaving the starter beer on top of the yeast cake crystal clear. This turned out to be more than just another 'beerpiphany' it was actually a proven fact! Let me explain. Over the past few years I've narrowed down my 'go to' yeast strains to just one per year. My goal was to use a yeast strain to ferment my ingredients without leaving it's mark on the finished beer. What I was after was a very clean fermenting yeast that produced as little esters as possible while providing better than average attenuation, oh and did I mention it had to adapt to my brewing environment too?

Cold Crashing And Clearer Beer In 3 Days
The colder beer temperatures tell the yeast 'hey it's time to settle out and go dormant for a while' so they suck up as many fermentation precursors as possible and store them away to use as energy when and if they wake up again. What this means to a brewer is that hey my beer is tasting extremely crisp and clean lately, and life is good. With a healthy pitch of yeast my fermentations are typically finished within a week and a tell tale fermentation ring is left on the inside of the fermentors, usually about 2 to 3 inches wide. By dry hopping the beer for another week the yeast are sure to have enough time to absorb nutrients they need and in the process cleanup after themselves any precursors that otherwise would influence the taste and flavor of the finished beer. Now on top of all that flavor cleanup that the yeast cells have done to the beer putting the fermentor in the refrigerator will get those yeast cells to drop out of suspension too and settle out on the very bottom of the fermentor where they'll stay put when we package our beer. Of course the other additional benefit to cold crashing the fermentor is when we package our beer in kegs for force carbonating since the colder beer will absorb Co2 quicker making it easier to carbonate too.

Summing It Up

Well there you have it, my complete recipe and brewing process from grain crush to glass. To sum it all up and put a nice bow on this post think quality ingredients, boil and knock out additions, good yeast management, fast and furious fermentations, dry hopping and conditioning, because they all lead up to that perfect pour that keeps you and everyone else coming back for more.


  1. Can I assume the recipe is for 5 gallons?

  2. You are correct, the published recipe above is for a 5 gallon batch. I'm halfway through my latest batch and loving it. The alcohol content is pretty high and the beer is remarkably drinkable, drink responsibly.