The Thing About Spices

Witty Kitty Witbier is now finished and here’s the deal.  The prior batch was dumped because of astringency and I had attributed it to leaving the 1oz of coriander in the wort while it fermented.  So this time I separated the wort from the coriander/orange peel when transferring it to the fermentor.  This yielded an improvement but there is still a slight astringency which is now showing itself more plainly as a spicy/peppery coriander overkill.  It’s drinkable but could be better.  So how could this be?  Well to backtrack a little, when I made this beer the first two times, it was on a 2.5 gallon scale and I used 0.5 oz of coriander.  Both batches came out beautifully.  So just like I do with all the other ingredients when I scale a recipe up (grain, hops), I scaled up the coriander linearly.  My batch was twice the size this time, so I added twice the amount of coriander.  Well, apparently it doesn’t work like that, for spices anyway.  Not knowing previously that this was an issue, but now seeing that it is, I googled the idea of scaling spices in homebrew linearly.  Lo and behold, I got a handful of hits containing the information that spices in general do not scale linearly.  So yet another lesson learned in this great hobby.  So next time I’m going to play it safe by going with 0.5 oz of lightly crushed coriander and 0.75 oz of bitter orange peel.

Below is a pic of the latest witbier from my Tap-a-draft.  The aroma had a mild yeasty/sulfur like smell which indicated that the 6L keg needed 3 weeks instead of 2 to condition, probably due to the higher volume compared to a bottle.  I had this aroma issue in my last “good” witbier batch, and it resolved itself nicely with additional room temperature conditioning.  Aside from that and the coriander issue, it looked and tasted good.  I won’t have an issue drinking this batch, though it is not up to par to share with a group of people.  But if someone happens to stop over, I’ll gladly pour them a glass, but with a disclaimer up front.

Big Mane IPA was bottled a week ago and will be ready for tasting next Sunday.

My next brew day is a saison for my upcoming wedding in September.  But with the hectic schedule I have going on this summer, I’m struggling to fit it in.  I’m hoping to get it going in the next two weeks so that, if there is a problem with the batch, I’ll have time to re-brew it if necessary.  This beer will be bottled into bombers and given as parting gifts to the wedding guests.



If At First You Don’t Succeed…..

Since the last witbier debacle, I decided to take a short break from brewing, approximately a month.  Now I’m ready to shake off the bad juju and get back into it.  And the best thing to do is face your demons head on.  So of course my next brew was trying to right a wrong…..tackling that Witty Kitty one more time.  Brew day yesterday was a smooth as could be.  Only difference was autosiphoning my wort from kettle to fermentor while leaving the coriander and orange peel behind.  I even went easy on crushing the coriander this time.  I didn’t want to overdo it. OG was 1.046 (target was 1.047) and the taste test was good though I think I might have detected that same astringency though it was very subtle.  If there, it’s being obscured by the sweetness of the wort and will come more forward after fermentation.  If true, that means that it is coming from the coriander and was not a product of an infection previously.  And even if it rears its ugly head again, I’ll bottle the batch anyway in the hopes that it will subside with some conditioning/aging.  In the future, the only thing I could do differently is cut back on the coriander.  But I feel confident that this batch will ultimately be good.

By the way, it was sweltering yesterday on that back patio here in Florida and a propane burner on full blast didn’t help matters.  Usually I brew on Friday mornings.  But it just worked out that I was going to brew on a rare lazy Sunday this time.  The fiancee had things to do and she was out and about.  So I took my sweet time and didn’t mash in until 1:30.  I wasn’t trying to beat the clock like I usually am (e.g. I have to be done in 5 hours because I have to pick the kids up).  So it was a very zen brew day despite the heat.  And because of that,   I also knocked back a couple of beers in the process to keep cool and refreshed.  One of them was Timmy Time Lime Cream Ale.  This one turned out so nice.  When I first had one of these from my latest batch, I thought that the lime could be dialed back a little.  But now after more than month since bottling and spending a couple of weeks in the fridge,  it’s mellowed out and has reached it’s peak.  Such a clean beer.  And I couldn’t believe how clear it was. I forget what some “lagering” time will do for a lighter cleaner beer like a blonde or cream ale.

Next Friday, I’m brewing Big Mane IPA, with some minor tweaks from the last time I brewed it.  It’s still going to be a Cascade centric beer but I’m working to give the body a little more fullness with the addition of some carapils.


Well This Was A First…..

Something terrible happened.  Absolutely dreadful.  However, this bad thing occurred about two weeks ago, so I’ve climbed off the ledge since and have had a chance to gain some perspective.

My witbier batch had to be dumped!!!

I was prepping to bottle the batch.  I got my sugar priming solution made.  I racked the batch to the bottling bucket.  Everything looked right and smelled right.  Then I took my sample for my hydrometer reading.  FG was 1.007.  Perfect!! This was when I usually drink my hydrometer sample and make sure it’s really good to go.  For the first 3 seconds upon putting it in my mouth, it was good.  Then ASTRINGENCY reared it’s ugly head on my tongue.  FUCK!!!  I took a few more sips to make sure I wasn’t imagining it.  Yep, astringency.  I looked at the bottom of my fermentor.  The yeast cake looked uniform and normal.  No visual or olfactory evidence of a contamination.  Hhhmmmm.  I’ve never had an infected batch in over 5 years of brewing.  I contribute that to my OCD sanitization practices and the fact that my equipment is pretty simplistic.  There are no hidden places, like ball valves, where gunk may build up over time.  Hell I even remove my bucket lid gaskets when I clean.

Then I realized what the most probable culprit was.  If you recall from my previous post, I did something different.  I dumped the entire contents of the kettle into the fermentor, trub and all.  This was based on Brulosopher’s xbeeriments.  But what also went into the fermentor was all the orange peel and coriander.  They sat in the beer for two weeks, where normally they would have been separated from the wort upon racking into the fermentor.  I did a little bit of google searching and found a few sources that stated that orange peel and/or coriander can lead to astringency if there is too much of it or left in the beer for too long.  Though I don’t have a 100% open and shut case, odds are this was the cause.

So this is a situation of taking my lumps and learning something from it.  I hate wasting time, I hate wasting money and I hate wasting beer.  But that is the risk we homebrewers take every time we fire up the kettle.  I’ve been fortunate enough that it took this long to hit me.

Full disclosure:  I’ve had two other batches that had flavor issues.  One was too much coffee in a stout (overdosed the batch with crushed coffee beans).  The other was too much oak in a bourbon porter (soaked the oak chips too long in bourbon before adding to the beer).  The difference is I drank those batches even though they weren’t good enough to share with anyone else.  The fact they were dark, rich beers to begin with made those flaws somewhat tolerable.  But in the case of this witbier, it was in my opinion, just undrinkable…… even by my standards.

Witty Kitty Witbier on a Special Holiday

As I write this, yesterday was National Homebrew Day (in America), and I celebrated by brewing one of my favorite beers, Witty Kitty Witbier.  This was batch #6 of 2015 and the third time I’ve brewed this recipe, first time at 5 gallons.  It was a beautiful morning here in Tampa.  It was cool, a slight breeze, birds chirping.  I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Witty Kitty Witbier (5 gallon BIAB)


43.3% Weyermann Light Wheat

43.3%  Castle Pilsen

13.5% Flaked Oats

Strike: 5.1 gallons @ 127 F

Step Mash:  20 min @ 122 F,  60 min @ 152 F

Sparge:  2 gallons @ 170 F

Boil:  60 min

Hops:  Hersbrucker 2% AA ( 1.5 oz @ 60 min,  1.5 oz @ 15 min)

Other:  1 oz Coriander seeds (crushed) @ 10 min, 1 oz Bitter Orange Peel @ 1 min

Yeast:  Wyeast Belgian Witbier 3944

Original Gravity:  1.047 (target), 1.050 (actual)

Estimated IBUs:  18.86

Estimated SRM:  3.46

Target Final Gravity: 1.011

Target ABV: 4.6%

Brew day was one of the smoothest ones I’ve had to date.  Including clean up, my day clocked in at 4 hours.  There are a couple of things to note about this brew day though.  I hit my strike temp, but after mashing in the grain, the wort only went down to 126 instead of the 122 I was aiming for on the first mash step.  But I just let it ride.   As for my second mash step, I overshot by a degree but by the end of the 60 minutes, temperature was down to 144 F despite wrapping the kettle in a blanket. But I noticed this on the last brew day, and I assume it’s been happening on every brew day before when I haven’t been measuring the temp at the end of the mash.  This is probably why my finished gravities always end up lower than expected and my beers are stronger than expected. I’ve also read that majority of sugar conversion occurs in the first 20 minutes of the mash anyway.    I don’t have any complaints about how my beer has turned out despite this, so not a big deal.  No?

One thing I did do different this time is intentionally pour the whole contents of the kettle into my fermentor, crap and all.   Usually I’ll autosiphon and leave as much trub behind as possible.  But more times than not, I suffer from “Fluffy Trub Syndrome” where it’s impossible to leave most of the trub without sacrificing a good amount of yield.  WordPress blogger Brulosophy did a “Great Trub exBEERiment” where blind tasters could tell the difference between a beer fermented with little trub vs the same beer fermented with a whole lot of trub, but that the trub beer didn’t necessarily have any flaws per se.  Just that it had different characteristics that some would deem desirable, such has more hop aroma and more crispness.  So I decided to trub it up so that I could maximize yield and betting that it wouldn’t impair the beer that much at all. As a side note, it is actually a running theme with Brulosophy’s experiments that  changing one variable that you’d think would make a difference usually doesn’t make a discernable, statistical difference at all when blind taste testing.

One other thing I want to mention is that, as a matter of routine, I pitch yeast at a high temp,  like the 90’s and sometimes upper 80s.  It’s because my groundwater here in Florida, plus my wimpy chiller, only enable me to cool that low.  I could let the fermentor sit overnight and pitch the next morning.  But I don’t want to risk any critters in the wort growing and taking  hold  before the yeast  have a chance to outcompete.  Plus I’ve been pitching high for years and, again, I’ve never had an issue with my beers, so……..

I guess the bottom line I’m trying to get at here is, if you are happy with the beer you make, your process is fine.  Tinker with it if you want, but sometimes don’t be afraid to break some of the rules that have been laid out in the homebrew dogma that has been established through the years.  They say pitch low, I don’t.  They say use a starter, I don’t. They say do your water chemistry,  I don’t.  Personally I think the two most critical parameters to making good beer is to sanitize properly and to not ferment too warm.  The latter is different than pitching too high, because by the time primary fermentation starts to take off, the wort temp has settled down.

I woke up this morning and checked on my fermentor.  I had a minor blow out of my airlock.  I cleaned it up and replaced the airlock.  Happy yeast.  Nice.


Beauty and the Beer

My wonderful girlfriend Erika has been so understanding of my brewing hobby and has gone so far as to show some genuine interest.  We both enjoy craft beers when we are out and about, and she prides herself on how far she has come in appreciating really good beer (she’s a reformed Bud Light drinker).    I too am proud while guiding her through her beer enlightenment.   But when she said she wanted to brew a beer from beginning to end herself, I was downright giddy.  What a woman!  She tends to like lighter ales (not too bold or hoppy) and when we were at a World of Beer a few weeks ago, she tried a Wittekerke, which is a witbier.  Witbier is german for “white beer” and is essentially a belgian wheat beer brewed with coriander and orange peel.  She enjoyed it, as did I.  Much better than a Blue Moon.  So I suggested that this may be a good style for her to tackle.  I designed the recipe and we went to Southern Brewing and Winemaking in Tampa to fetch the ingredients.  She weighed out and milled all the grain herself.  We grabbed the hops, yeast, coriander and orange peel.  On brew day, I set up the equipment and guided her through each step.  She asked questions, I explained the “why” behind each stage, explained all the weird terms such as “sparge”, “hot break”, “trub” and she even took notes.  Below is the recipe for the 2.5 gallon BIAB.


2.25 lbs Weyermann Light Wheat

2.25 lbs Weyermann Pilsner

0.7 lbs Flaked Oats

Strike Water:  3 gallons

Protein Rest:  20 min @ 122 F

Saccharification :  60 min @ 152 F

Sparge:  1 gallon @ 170F

Boil:  60 min

Hops:  0.5 oz Hersbrucker at 60 min and 15 min

0.5 oz Coriander seeds (cracked) @ 10 min

0.5 oz Orange Peel @ 1min

Yeast:  Wyeast Belgian Witbier 3944

strike water 2   mashing in  sparge    recipe and adds  coriander crush    witbier wort

witbier transfer    racking to fermentor   witbier sample

The wort after cooling was remarkably clear when transferred to the fermentor.  This style is usually hazy like most wheat beers, so it will be seen whether the yeast will lend a haze to the end product.  Here are the stats.

Original Gravity:  1.047 (Target),  1.053 (Actual)

IBU:  26.44 (tinseth, calculated)

SRM: 3.46 (morey, calculated)

Target ABV:  4.5%

She did a great job and she’s done with the hard part, because bottling a batch this small will be a cinch.  Then again, the hardest part is always the waiting.