Real Fermenting: Holiday Wit

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Holiday Wit

Over the past year, I have been focused very much on improving my beer brewing knowledge and skills. Brewing different styles, brewing from kits and making my own recipes. Experimenting and reproducing. Today I am going to write about my most recent brew, which was bottled on December 9th 2013. It is a Belgian Wit style, brewed with seasonal spices.

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In keeping with my general brewing policy, I brewed what is considered a half-batch. 2.5 gallons of beer. A few months ago I made a 5 gallon batch of cider (recipe coming soon), and that was such a chore to bottle that I didn't bother labeling it! Confused all my relatives at Thanksgiving explaining that the bottles without labels were hard cider, with labels were beer.

What I suggest doing is buying a kit for a Belgian Witbier (something like this would be great) and adding your own spices. Kits like this are constructed by homebrewing supply companies, usually at cost, and they make it super simple to buy the ingredients for a specific style. As this is a 5 gallon kit, you would just split it in half for every ingredient you receive. As before, I am going to lay out the recipe in three simple stages: Steeping the Grain, The Boil and Fermentation.

Steeping the Grain
I steeped the grain for 30 minutes in 1 gallon of water held at 160F. I put 4oz of Carapils into a grain bag and dunked it a few times to make sure all the grains were wet. This is going to give us excellent head retention (foamy top of beer), plus the final mouthfeel should be enriched. Use whatever specialty grain came with your kit. After 30 minutes, remove the spent grains and freeze them for later use (Spent Grain Bread?). Don't squeeze the grain bag! Now you have a little under 1 gallon of grain tea to start your boil with, because the grains will absorb some water.
A handful of Carapils, milled

The Boil
To account for some evaporation, you need to start the boil with more than 2.5 gallons. I know I lose about 1 quart of wort during the boil, so I start the boil with 2.75 gallons of water. Simple, huh? Heat the water until boiling, then turn off the heat and stir in the wheat extract. Return the wort to the heat and as soon as it boils it's time to add the hops. I used the 1oz of Hallertau pellet hops that came with my kit. Now starts the 60 minutes of your boil. Adjust the heat to maintain a steady boil, and keep an eye on your wort to make sure it doesn't boil over.

After 45 minutes of boiling, I added 1tsp of Irish Moss. Irish Moss is a sea vegetable which helps to clarify your beer. As the wort cools later, more particles will fall out of suspension if you use Irish Moss. It is not required at all. After 55 minutes of boiling (i.e. 10 minutes after the Irish Moss), I added the cinnamon sticks and grated ginger. Finally, as the clock hits 60 minutes, I turn off the heat and add the rest of the spices.
These spices put the Holiday into the Wit

I used 1tsp fresh ground nutmeg and 1/3oz of bitter orange peel.

Below you will see a list of additions to the wort, along with the timing after start of boil, for your reference.

1oz Hallertau pellet hops, 0 mins
1tsp Irish Moss, 45 mins
2 cinnamon sticks, 55 mins
1 tbsp grated ginger, 55 mins
1tsp ground nutmeg, strikeout
1/3oz bitter orange peel, strikeout

That says the same as I wrote above; it's just in a common shorthand that you will see on a lot of brewing websites.

Now our job is to cool the wort as fast as possible. We want the yeast to get really well established quickly so it can make the beer unappealing for any bacteria or wild yeast that happen along. For that to happen, the wort has to cool! The best solution would be something like this wort chiller, but I don't have one of those, so I carefully put the pot into an ice bath. Wait until the temperature reaches around 80F. You really don't want to splash the beer around before it gets under 140F, but careful stirring after that can help cool things quicker.

Once it's cool, we'll add the yeast. My kit came with the Wyeast Belgian Witbier liquid smackpack. I have come to love these smackpacks, far and away over White Labs vials or dry yeast. That said, something like the White Labs Belgian Wit Ale Yeast would work just fine. I smacked the pack the day before I brewed and it puffed up like a champ. Now I put the lid on and fill the airlock with vodka.

Primary fermentation was one week on this beer. I probably could have moved the beer over after 4-5 days, but my schedule has to be a little flexible with a little one in the house. You're looking for the airlock to be bubbling probably less than once every 30 seconds before you move over to the secondary fermentation. My brewing room has been a little cooler than ideal for a witbier, because we had a cold snap (did you notice?) here in the US. Once the beer has been in secondary for 2 weeks, I bottled it. And here we are. This brew is going to spend 2 weeks in bottle. I recently moved all my conditioning bottles out of the brewing room, because they were just too cool to get carbonated. Needs to be around 70F for at least 3 days in my experience. It'll be ready just in time for Christmas, and I'll update y'all with a review then. 

Cleaning and Sanitizing
A quick word about cleaning and sanitizing. I think anyone who makes beer just has to suffer through the cleaning and sanitizing. Yes, you can make sour beers with wild yeast, but not every style of beer calls for random bugs to be growing in your beer, so it's good to know how to remove them. For bottles and my fermentation bucket, I use hot water and elbow grease to clean. It's vital to avoid any surfactants in your beer, which many dish soaps leave behind. The Better Bottle secondary fermenter I clean with Seventh Generation Free and Clear Natural 2X, as per their suggestion.

Once everything is clean, you can sanitize. I love Star San for sanitizing. It doesn't require rinsing, and it breaks down into food for yeast. I just keep a spray bottle around to sanitize my kitchen counters/bottles for beer/whatever needs sanitizing. Super handy. Everything that touches the wort after the boil must be sanitized. The yeast packet, the scissors you open it with, any spoons, the fermentation vessel, anything you use to steal a sample. Everything!


  1. Nice to see your enthusiasm but CaraPils is not an ingredient of a true Witbier and one does not add Irish Moss to a wheat beer where one of the main visual characteristics of this style is a certain cloudiness due to using a strain of less flocullent yeast as with the #3944 Wyeast that you pitched. Irish Moss is a "fining agent", used to clear the beer, which will also aid in the yeast falling out of suspension. Kits are a good intro into brewing but not a platform to launch your experience. Just leave that to the kit recipe notes. Read "Brewing Techniques - Witbier by Martin Lodahl on the web for some great insight. Brew on!

    1. Thanks for your comment. I am a little confused because I thought the Irish Moss all falls out of suspension as a jelly when the beer is cooled. I know some people add wheat flour to the boil to guarantee some haziness, but as you say the true witbier haziness comes from suspended yeast. So if the Irish Moss is all done with before the pitching even happens, how does that matter?

      Also can you explain how a kit is good for an intro but not as a platform to launch one's experience? I'm not too sure on the difference.

    2. As for Carapils not in Witbiers: and both have it.

      I agree Martin Lodahl's article is a great resource:

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