Monday, September 5, 2016

Brewing Screwy's Orange Sunshine Witbier

Witbier evolved as a specialty of Dutch speaking Flemish Brabant Province, east of Brussels where wheat, barley, oats and sugar beets are grown. The brewing legacy of the area proved to be just as fertile as the soil, where Witbier breweries thrived in villages, abbeys, cities and farms. While Leuven was the premier Witbier brewing city in Flemish Brabant some centuries ago, the hamlet of Hoegaarden, where brewing dates back to 1318, would eventually become world famous for it.

Pierre Celis Saves The Witbier Style

As the story goes in 1955 the Witbier style had all but been abandoned, left only to exist in the pages of history. That was until March of 1966 when dairyman turned brewer Pierre Celis brewed his first batch and decided to make Witbier commercially available once again. His spiced wheat beer, made from barley, wheat and oats with Curacao orange peel and milled coriander seed soon became hugely popular in Leuven. The Witbier style had been resurrected!

"The quality of the beer comes first" ~ Pierre Celis

Over the course of several decades, in Belgium and in the United States, Pierre Celis would stand up to corporate brewing giants that put profit before pride and quality. Pierre, who was somewhat of a nonconformist, first locked horns with Belgium-based brewing company Interbrew, who insisted that he make his beer using 'high gravity wort' production in order to save money. Refusing to brew an inferior beer Pierre instead went on to open the Celis Brewery in Austin Texas, setting the stage for a new battle with Miller Brewing. When asked about making deals with big brewers he said "They're bankers not brewers, they buy you out and then they kill you."

The Belgian Witbier Style

The following overall impression of the style as copied from the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines.

"A refreshing, elegant, tasty, moderate strength wheat-based ale."

The Belgian Witbier can be very pale straw to light gold in color with a milky whitish-yellow appearance and dense white head with very good retention. Moderate malt sweetness and grain flavor with a zesty orange-citrus fruitiness. Herbal-spicy flavors including coriander and spices should be subtle and not overpowering. Refreshingly crisp with a dry somewhat tart finish and light lactic-tasting sourness.

Screwy's Orange Sunshine Belgian Witbier

This Witbier style of beer is my interpretation of how a delicious tasting Belgian Witbier can be brewed. The ingredients that were chosen and the amounts used in this recipe will produce a Witbier of perfect color, taste, flavor and aroma. This recipe is also the end result of the brewing, tasting and tuning of ingredients; based on the feedback received from friends and family over the years. Screwy's Orange Sunshine Witbier blends those ingredients together to produce beer that is a perfect harmony of malt, hop, yeast, citrus and spice.

Hops, Orange Zest And Spices During The Boil

Mash the grains for 90 minutes at 155F, lauter then add first hop addition and follow with a 90 minute full wort boil. Add the two remaining hop additions at 20 and 10 minutes remaining to the boil. At 10 minutes remaining to the boil also add the freshly crushed coriander, orange zest and ground cardamom seed. Remove hops from kettle at flameout but leave the zest and spices steeping in the wort until the wort has been moved to the fermentor. Chill the wort to 68F, oxygenate with pure oxygen, then pitch the WLP-400 Belgian Wit Ale Yeast™ and ferment at 68F.

Screwy's Orange Sunshine Witbier

The Water Profile

In order to brew the best tasting version of any beer style it is necessary to match your brewing water as closely as possible to the style of beer being brewed. When asked what had made Hoegaarden the perfect location for brewing the Witbier style of beer? Pierre Celis replied “Hard water (calcium-rich water) is good for brewing a wheat beer. Also, there were abundant supplies of water in the area. I have a well at my home”.

The water profile used to brew this recipe was made from reverse osmosis filtered water. The water output of a reverse osmosis filter is also known as RO water. This filtering process removes all traces of salts and minerals from the water that is fed into it, resulting in water that is extremely soft and lacking any buffering capacity. Lactic acid was then added to adjust the pH of the water to within the optimal range for mashing the recipe grains. The the salt and mineral additions listed below were then added to the water to strengthen the water's buffering capacity so as to resist changes within the target pH range. The salt and mineral additions also increase the water's alkalinity, creating the calcium rich brewing water that Pierre Celis had recommended.

For Treating 15 Gallons Of RO Water

08.00 g - Gypsum (calcium sulfate)
06.00 g - Calcium Chloride
06.00 g - Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate)
20.00 g - Baking Soda
15.00 ml Lactic Acid

pH = 5.58 @ 74F
Chloride/Sulfate ratio 0.43
Harness as ppm CaCO3 = 193.5

061 ppm - calcium
010 ppm - magnesium
096 ppm - sodium
051 ppm - chloride
120 ppm - sulfate

Add Mineral And Salt Additions To Season The Brewing Water

When using RO or distilled water as your brewing water source, high alkalinity levels are never a problem. Adjusting the pH of the water and adding brewing salts and minerals to it are necessary in order to achieve increased wort fermentability, ideal yeast fermentation characteristics and to promote higher attenuation rates and increased cell viability. 

My Personal Suggestions

"Prepare your brewing water at least a day or two before you plan to brew with it. This will save you a lot of time and leave you with one less thing to do on brew day."

Waiting for brewing water to stabilize, in between water adjustments and taking pH readings, can prolong a brew day by several hours. If possible, fill a container with RO water the day before and then slowly stir in the brewing salts and minerals needed to build the water profile. When adding in acid or base adjustments, make them in small increments, then wait 20 minutes for the water to stabilize before taking a pH reading. Making smaller pH adjustments and then allowing sufficient time in between readings will reduce the chances of overshooting or undershooting your target pH value.

Calibrate Your pH Meter Often

"Buffers, moles, ions, cations, anions, acid, base, atomic weights, valence, electrons, Lewis structures, central atoms, bonding sites, mg/L as CaCO3, mg/L, ppm, milliliters, teaspoons. Really? Let me just arrange all that information in a way that's interesting and understandable by the majority of brewers" ~ Screwy Brewer

Routinely calibrating and maintaining your digital pH meter is the best way to get consistently accurate pH readings. Doing so at least once a week, for less time than it takes to drink a beer, and you will keep your pH meter in perfect working condition.

  • Never let the probe dry out, always make sure that the pH bulb is always submerged in storage solution when not in use
  • Each week be sure to calibrate your pH meter using the recommended calibration solution for your meter
  • Always be sure to sample liquids at a temperature no warmer than of 80F, to greatly extend the life of the meter's pH bulb

Bittering Unit To Gravity Ratio (BU/GU)

When attempting to determine the perceived bitterness level of a beer recipe it is important to take into consideration more than just the International Bittering Unit value alone. To get a complete picture of the hop bitterness to malt sweetness ratio, the calculated IBU value of the recipe should also be used with the original gravity value of the recipe. That comparison will provide you with the ratio of hop bitterness to malt sweetness, which is known as the BU:GU ratio of the recipe.

The math used to determine this ratio is simple, it requires a calculation using the IBU and OG values of the recipe. Screwy's Orange Sunshine Witbier recipe has a BU:GU ratio of 0.460 which is very close to the middle of the BU:GU scale. Doing the actual math is straightforward. Divide the IBU number of the recipe as BU by the number of gravity units as GU. For example Screwy's Orange Sunshine Witbier recipe has 24 IBUs and the OG is 1.052. Using the formula 24 / 52 = 0.460, proving that the BU:GU value of the recipe is 0.460.

Estimated Recipe Properties

    IBU  = 24
    OG   = 1.052
    SRM = 4
    FG    = 1.013
    ABV = 4.9%
    BU:GU = 0.460

Pale Straw To Golden Light In Color

The Grain Bill (10 Gallon Batch)

There are 4 items in the grain bill for this recipe.

15.00 pounds Weyerman Pilsener Malt (German) (67%)
06.00 pounds Muntons Torrified Wheat (Belgian) (26%)
01.00 pounds Flaked Oats (Briess) (5%)
00.50 pounds Briess Munich Malt (German) (2%)

The Hop Bill

Bagging pellet hops before adding them to the kettle greatly reduces the amount of hop debris that would otherwise collect at the bottom of the kettle. Having too much hop debris at the kettle bottom increases the likelihood that some of the debris will be sucked up where it can then clog a counter-flow or plate chiller. Clearing out a clogged chiller is not something you want to be doing on brew day while waiting for gallons of very hot wort to cool down.

The hop schedule is very straightforward consisting of three additions added to the kettle at 90 minutes, 20 and 10 minutes remaining to the boil. At flameout all of the hop additions should be removed from the kettle and the wort allowed to settle for 20 minutes before cooling and racking it to the fermentors.

90 minutes - 2.0 ounces Hallertauer (Germany)  (pellet)
20 minutes - 3.0 ounces Hallertauer (Germany)  (pellet)
10 minutes - 3.0 ounces Hallertauer (Germany)  (pellet)
8.00 ounces Total Hop bill

The Spice And Flavorings

There are three ingredients that are added to the boiling wort ten minutes before flameout. The quantities listed below are based on Screwy's Orange Sunshine Witbier, keep in mind that the quantities of those ingredients should ultimately be based on your own personal preferences. Wash the oranges under running water using a rough sponge to remove dirt or pesticide residue before zesting. It is advisable to use organically grown pesticide free Oranges whenever possible. The use of freshly made orange zest is recommended but dried bitter orange peel can be substituted, or used with fresh zest if preferred.

Add to the kettle with 10 minutes remaining to the boil 

* 4.00 ounces of fresh Valencia Orange zest (about 12 medium sized oranges)
0.12 ounces of freshly crushed Coriander seeds (0.50 teaspoon)
0.12 ounces of freshly ground Cardamom seeds (0.50 teaspoon)

* Substitute with dried Curacao orange rinds if preferred *

The Belgian Yeast

The best way to ferment the Orange Sunshine Witbier is to use a healthy pitch of fresh Belgian Witbier yeast. The ideal fermentation is one that suppresses the production of esters and phenols in order to allow the subtle hop, malt, spice and citrus flavors to come through cleanly. Diminishing the build up of phenol, ester and other flavor precursors can be accomplished by pitching the equivalent of two Pure Pitch packets of White Labs WLP400 - Belgian Wit Ale Yeast™, per 5 gallons of beer and by fermenting the beer at constant 68F. Oxygenating the wort using pure oxygen prior to pitching the yeast and using good temperature control throughout the fermentation will produce the best results.

WLP-400 Belgian Wit Yeast Makes All The Difference

Starting on the fourth day of fermentation begin raising the temperature of the fermenting beer by 0.5F a day for next four to five days. The slow increase in temperature will help the yeast clean up flavor precursors that have developed during fermentation, that could possibly lead to off flavors in the beer later on. Once the beer has finished fermenting and the final gravity has been reached the beer can then be cold crashed by dropping the temperature down to just above freezing for several days. The sudden drop in temperature will signal the yeast to go dormant and also help to drop trub and hop debris out of suspension quickly, resulting in a cleaner tasting beer.

Putting It All Together

The first time mashing with an electric brew in a bag system you will have to figure out how much grain and brewing water will fit inside the kettle without causing it to overflow. With eBIAB systems heating the strike water, mashing the grains, sparging and boiling the wort are all done in a single vessel. Before being able to successfully brew using an eBIAB brewing system, after having brewed on a traditional three tier brewing system, you will need to learn a new set of calculations.

Having a separate hot liquor tank, mash tun and brew kettle made calculating mash thickness and preboil volumes pretty straightforward, because the three vessels used provide much more volume to work with. The volume calculations when using only a single vessel system will take little more thought, since all three brewing processes have to share the same kettle.

With eBIAB brewing the strike water and grain used in the mash are added to the kettle at the beginning of the mash. The grain is placed inside of a fine mesh bag so that the sugars can be extracted into the wort while preventing any grain from getting into the kettle. At the end of the mash the mesh bag and grain are raised above the wort, rinsed with sparge water and then discarded. Once the wort is heated to a boil the rest of the eBIAB brewing process is exactly the same as any other type of brewing process.

Summing It All Up

Near the end of the boil the counter-flow wort chiller was sanitized by recirculating the boiling wort directly from the kettle through the chiller and then returning the wort to the kettle. At flameout the wort was recirculated in the same manner creating a whirlpool inside the kettle that helps collect any trub into a neat pile in the center of the kettle.

The hops used during the boil for bittering, flavor and aroma were removed from the kettle while the orange zest and spice additions were left there to steep. Once the pump was turned off, it took about 30 minutes for the wort to settle down inside the kettle, allowing the cold break to fall to the kettle bottom below the valve opening. After the wort in the kettle had cleared it was run through the counter-flow chiller to cool, as the wort was collected in the fermentors.

The preferred serving temperature for Screwy's Orange Sunshine Witbier really depends on your own personal preference and it can vary from one beer drinker to another. For a crisper pour serve your beer at 36F and then finish the glass before the beer reaches 45F. As the beer warms above 45F the crispness will begin to fade allowing more of the malt flavor and aroma to become noticeable. Pour yourself a tall glass and then savor every sip as you enjoy the full range of crispness, flavor and aroma that this easy drinking beer has to offer. Enjoy!

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