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Belgian Witbier 1.0

Finished Witbier
Early on in my exploration of (drinking) craft beer, I came across a few examples of the Belgian Witbier style such as Hoegaarden.  These were light, flavorful beers that could be really enjoyable in warm weather.  Until now, though, I've never brewed one.  I'm not sure why.  It is time to change that...

For those not familiar with the Witbier style the BJCP judging criteria describe it as "a refreshing, elegant, tasty, moderate strength wheat-based ale" with a malty sweet grain flavor, zesty orange fruitiness, and often a crisp, dry, slightly tart finish.  It's not a style for hop-heads, though, as it is described as having a hop bitterness of "low to none" in the judging criteria.

My goals, based on judging criteria and personal preference, for this beer are:
  • Aroma:  Orange and coriander up front, with some malty and herbal elements
  • Color:  Pale gold to yellow, cloudy from the yeast and wheat, with good head retention
  • Flavor:  Malty sweet, prominent orange and coriander notes with a touch of peppery spice from grains of paradise, very slight tartness, and just enough hops to balance the malt and blend into the background
  • Mouthfeel:  Light to medium body, with plenty of carbonation
After reviewing a few existing recipes and deciding how I wanted to "spin" them for myself, I came up with the recipe below.


2 pounds Weyermann Pilsen malt (Belgian was unavailable)
1 pound Briess White Wheat Malt
12 ounces Red Wheat Malt
6 ounces Flaked Corn/Maize
2 ounces Flaked (Quaker) Oats
0.4 ounces German Northern Brewer hops @ 4.9% AA (FWH)
0.5 ounces Bitter Orange Peel, dried (10 min.)
1 gram Grains of Paradise, crushed roughly (10 min.)
0.89 ounces Indian Coriander, crushed roughly (5 min.)
0.50 ounces Sweet Orange Peel, shaved from a fresh orange, without pith (5 min.)
1 ml Lactic Acid 88% in the mash water
2 gallons plus 64 ounces mash water (this is a mash thickness ~ 2.35 qts./lb)
1 gallon sparge water (1.5 gallons needed to hit target volume)

According to Brewfather, the beer should have the following characteristics:
  • Batch Volume:  2.5 gallons estimated, 2.0 gallons actual
  • Pre-boil Volume:  3.4 gallons estimated, 3.0 gallons actual
  • Boil Time:  60 minutes
  • Original Gravity:  1.055 SG estimated, 1.047 SG actual
  • Pre-boil Gravity:  1.044 SG estimated, 1.044 SG actual
  • Final Gravity: 1.014 SG estimated
  • SRM:  2.9
  • IBUs:  17
  • BU/GU Ratio:  0.32
  • ABV: 5.5%
  • Fermenter:  SS Brewtech Stainless Small Bucket with Temp Control
  • Bottling Wand:  Stainless 1
  • Carbonation Method: 4 or 5 Brewer's Best Conditioning Tablets per 12-ounce bottle
Mash schedule:
  • Mash in and Ferulic Acid Rest at 113F for 25 minutes
  • Mash at 155F for 30 minutes, adding enough Lactic Acid to adjust pH to 5.2
  • Add the oats and mash for 30 minutes more
  • Then for the next 15 minutes, every 5 minutes, raise the temp gradually from 155 to 158F.
  • Mash out at 168F for 10 minutes and sparge with 168F water
The addition of the Ferulic Acid Rest is intended to help the Belgian yeast express itself in the finished beer.  The 155F mash temp should result in a slightly sweeter beer, but still within the confines of the BJCP criteria for the style.

Boil Schedule:
  • During the sparge, add first-wort hops to the kettle and begin heating to boiling
  • 60 minutes:  No additions
  • 15 minutes:  Yeast nutrient
  • 10 minutes:  Bitter Orange Peel and Grains of Paradise
  • 5 minutes:  Sweet Orange Peel and Coriander
  • 0 minutes:  Chill to 72F
The use of first-wort hops should smooth off the bitterness and help it fade into the background as it is supposed to do for the style, and using German Northern Brewer hops should provide a cleaner bitterness that is less dramatic, again in keeping with the style.

Fermentation Plan:
  • Days 1-7:  Start at 68F, increasing daily until at 74F, using temperature control
  • Days 8+:  Hold temp at 74F until fermentation is finished
The WLP400 yeast's optimal temperature range is 67-74F, and reportedly will express phenolics toward the upper end of its temperature range, so I'm planning to start low and ramp upward during the first week of fermentation, then hold it at 74F through the second week.

After fermentation, I'll plan to bottle the beer using Brewer's Best carbonation tablets to a high level of carbonation and condition at ambient basement temperatures for at least 7 days before serving.

Brewing Notes and Observations

04/05/2020:  I discovered too late into the game that I did not have the 2.5 ounces of coriander that I had originally planned (based on a winning recipe I used as a source), but had 0.89 ounces.  I used all of it, which still seems like a lot now that I think about it.  All the other ingredients were in stock and fresh, having been ordered in the last 2-3 weeks.

Mash pH initially read 5.6-5.7, so I added 1 ml of 88% Lactic Acid.  20 minutes or so later it was reading 5.20, which was what I was looking for. Even late in the mash, it read 5.23.

I forgot about the flaked oats, which I ended up adding with 30 minutes left in the mash, and decided to extend the mash an additional 15 minutes to ensure conversion and maybe lower the FG a notch since it could come up a little high for the style (but only a couple of points, not enough to really sweat).

Original gravity came in at 1.047 SG at a volume of 2.0 gallons.  That's about 2 points higher and a half-gallon lower than I wanted.

Pitched the yeast from a fresh package of White Labs WLP400 with a June 4, 2020 date on it.

Brewhouse efficiency hit a paltry 58% on this batch.  I'm going to need to do some research to understand why this was so low.  When I was doing 5-gallon batches in The Grainfather it was not uncommon for me to hit 80% or higher efficiency until I used larger mash bills.  Even then, I don't recall it being this low.  Maybe the thinner mashes have something to do with it, or maybe I should have included some rice hulls in the mash to help the wort flow through (though it did not seem to have any trouble).

04/06/2020 (8am):  The temp control system has the beer at 68F, which is where I wanted it. Gravity is still holding at 1.047 SG per the Tilt Hydrometer.  From what I've read, the yeast often needs about 32 hours to really start fermenting actively, which should be approximately 1am tomorrow morning.

04/06/2020 (9:50pm):  Around 5pm, the gravity began to drop.  As of this writing, the gravity has dropped from 1.047 SG to 1.045 SG.  The temperature is reading 67F.  Tomorrow I'll start pushing the temperature up by a degree each day.

04/07/2020:  Gravity is down to 1.040 SG and temperature is holding at 68F.  Around 7pm, I increased the temp by one degree.

04/08/2020:  Gravity has dropped to 1.030 SG and the temperature is reading between 68-69F.  Later today I will bump it up another degree.

04/09/2020:  Gravity is down to 1.026 SG today, with the temperature at 69F. I'll be bringing that up to 70F later today to help encourage further fermentation.

04/10/2020:  Gravity is 1.020 SG, temperature 71F.  Raising to 72F today.

04/11/2020:  Raised the temp up to 74F today, the top of the yeast's optimum range and the final level I intend to raise it to.  Gravity is down to 1.013 SG, which is a point lower than I expected but not a problem.  This puts the beer at about 4.5% ABV, which is at the lower end for the style but the yeast may well ferment another point or two out.

04/12/2020:  Gravity is down to 1.010 SG, which is within the range for the style (1.008 - 1.012 SG).  I don't think fermentation is totally finished yet, as I'm still seeing some occasional lower readings from the Tilt.  I plan to leave the beer alone until the gravity readings hold for at least 4 days.

04/13/2020:  Gravity is reading 1.009 SG today. Temp is holding at 73.9F.

04/14/2020:  Gravity is at 1.007 SG today and seems to be holding there, at least for the last 13 hours.

04/15/2020:  Gravity is holding at 1.007 SG and temp is holding at 74F.  I think primary fermentation is probably done. I want to give the yeast some time to clean up after itself before bottling.

04/16/2020:  With an occasional blip of 1.006, the gravity is still holding at 1.007 SG.  Temp is continuing to hold at 74F.

05/03/2020:  I chilled a bottle of the beer today and tasted it.  The coriander is definitely more a background note now, with the orange peel more prominent.  It's very smooth and easy to drink.

06/19/2020:  I poured a bottle and took the photo at the top of this post.  The beer is a nice pale yellow with plenty of carbonation and nice head retention.  It's pretty hazy, as expected for a wheat beer that isn't treated to remove the protein.  Aroma is definitely coriander and citrus forward.  Flavor is initially hit of malt, followed by a solid note of coriander, mild tartness, and maybe a touch of clove or something in the finish.  Extremely easy to drink and very enjoyable.  


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