Ahh, Spring. The time when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of refreshing beers on a beautiful day.
That's how that goes, right?
Sure. I'm going with it.
Anyway, in February I found myself craving a nice light wheat beer that would be perfect for springtime. I knew going in that I wanted to hit some specific notes:
1. 5-6% alcohol, a nice sessionable beer
2. Citrus - lemony in particular
3. Wheat, because I hadn't made a wheat beer in a long time
4. Clean American yeast, because I'm not a fan of the banana/clove flavors that hefeweizen yeasts can provide
With those goals in mind, I started with my base American wheat beer recipe that I've used a few times before:
5 pounds wheat
5 pounds 2-row
I then started tweaking it. Thanks to the nice folks over at Farmhouse brewing supply, I had half a pound of Briess Midnight Wheat malt on my hands. According to the spec sheet for this malt, it's designed to provide purely color, without a lot of flavor impact. Since I was wanting a purely fun spring beer, I thought why not, and threw the whole half-pound in there. Since this was about 5% of the grist, I knew that it should provide a deep dark color, and hopefully very light flavor notes.
Next, I wanted to add a bit more body to this beer. I didn't want it to be heavy, but I wanted to balance the darker color and very basic grain bill with a bit of residual sweetness. Toward this end, I threw in half a pound of Caramel 60 malt.
Finally, I needed to decide what hops to go with. I had some Citra on hand, and I thought very seriously about using that. But I realized that Citra can be an overpowering hop, and I really wanted something more delicate but still able to provide that citrusy/lemony flavor. Checking my supplies, I found that I had 2oz of whole leaf Sorachi Ace hops. This is a hop from Japan that is known for providing a lemony flavor, and I thought that would be perfect. To take it up one more notch, I decided to zest a lemon in the hop bag and really emphasize that lemony aroma and flavor.
So, the final recipe:
4.5lb Wheat Malt
4.5lb 2-row Malt
.5lb Midnight Wheat
.5lb Caramel 60
.5oz Sorachi Ace (60 min)
.5oz Sorachi Ace (15min)
.5oz Sorachi Ace (5min)
Zest of 1 lemon (5min)
Wyeast 1056 yeast cake
I brewed this beer on 2/22, and my friends and I quickly settled on a name for this beer. We have a habit of tasting the first runnings from the mash as it's the sweetest part of the wort. It's before we start the boil and add the hops, and it can provide a good clue toward what kind of flavors you're likely to get in the finished beer. This is something that has helped me adjust the recipe in the past, when I've realized a dominant flavor is present in the wort that I want to either emphasize or balance using the hops.
When we pulled a couple ounces of the first runnings to taste, we realized it had a chocolate tea sort of taste. Pretty quickly, we started riffing on the idea of tea in the name, and wound up with the name Mr. T's Chocolate Wheat. I pity the fool that doesn't have some of this beer.
Other than that, brew day was pretty uneventful. I'd never zested a lemon before, but it turned out to be a pretty straightforward process. I took a small cheese grater and grated the outside of a cleaned lemon until the yellow peel was scraped off, leaving the white under-peel (I feel there's a word for this that I just don't know). The peel that I grated went directly into the last hop bag. That certainly made the brew area smell pretty awesomely of lemon.
I collected a about 5.5 gallons of 1.049 wort, which was right in the ballpark I was shooting for. I pitched it on top of a yeast cake of Wyeast 1056, which turned out to be a very bad idea.
See, one of things I've always read when re-using a yeast cake is to only pitch beers that are stronger than the previous beer. In other words, if you have a yeast cake from an 80 schilling, pitch a Wee Heavy on it. Don't pitch a lighter, weaker beer on it.
But I ignored this. Mostly because I was drinking beer with my friends, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. So I threw this 1.049 wort directly onto the yeast cake of the 7.6% IPA that had just finished fermenting in this vessel. You can see the ring at the top where the previous krausen had dried, as well as the yeast cake at the bottom.
I came to realize my mistake two days later, when I blew the airlock clean off the top of the carboy, making quite a mess.
But hey, I have aluminum foil, I can fix this!
See, all better.
Or so I thought. I let it sit like that for a day, then I sanitized the airlock and re-capped it.
Only to have it blow off again the next day.
I've never seen that before in my life. I've had explosive fermentations previously - that can happen any time you have a large volume of yeast with a large volume of available sugars for them to eat. But I've never had a ferment that slowed down after a blow-off, but then ramped up and had the same problem again. That was new to me. Especially in a temperature controlled environment, like you see above. It should never have gotten above 65 degrees.
Of course, I immediately got scared - if it blew off a second time, it may have done so because something else was eating available sugars. Could I have gotten an infection when the airlock was blown off the initial time?
However, I believe my fears were unfounded. When fermentation was complete a week later, I racked it into a keg - just about completely filling my 5 gallon corny keg. (Perfect!) I had my first pull of this beer on 3/3/12, and I don't taste any off flavors.
Overall, I'm a fan of this beer, but I definitely have learned my lesson
about over-pitching yeast. I feel like the over-pitching introduced a
risk of infection due to the blowoff, but it also has 'scrubbed' the
beer a bit too much. Over-pitching is known to cause thinner beer, and
can muddle flavors. In this case, I think the over-pitch took a lot of
the chocolate flavor out of the beer.
Aroma: Faint citrus. Light malt.
Appearance: Almost like a porter. Very dark, with a bit of light able to shine through the thinnest part of the glass. Excellent head retention.
Taste: All citrus and wheat and carbonation bite, but very balanced and mild. Faintest hint of chocolate initially, but gets a bit more prominent as it warms. Again, a very mild beer, not at all as dominant flavor-wise as the appearance would have you believe.
Body: It has a medium body, so it's not too heavy but fairly well balanced.
ABV: 5.4% (1.049/1.008)
Overall Impressions: Solid beer, but overpitched yeast. If I did it again, I'd add a bit more lemon, a bit less midnight wheat malt, and definitely less yeast. I'd also hit a lower mash temp. Very appropriate spring beer, right in the sessionable range, but just a bit too heavy. Pleasant mouth-feel, mild yet distinct flavors, well balanced. Great for pairing with a meal.