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Friday, February 24, 2012

Homebrewing: Honey Weizen

Today’s brew is a honey weizen, or wheat beer, and was made as a Christmas gift for Amy’s parents to keep on hand at their lake house. Essentially this is a hefeweizen made with American wheat yeast. It should ferment dry and clean and not produce the banana and clove flavors typically associated with a wheat beer. The kit comes from Northern Brewer. For this first description of brewing I'll provide detailed instructions, but in the future I'll provide links to the kit instructions for reference.

6 lbs. Liquid wheat extract
1 oz. Tettnang hops
1 lb honey
The ingredients-L to R: Wheat LME, Honey, Hops

Tettnang Hop Pellets

Wyeast 1010 American Wheat 

Liquid extract is sticky and viscous, so I usually heat the containers in a pot of hot water for a while before brewing to make it easier to deal with. Be careful with boil-overs if you are using a smaller sized kettle. My kettle is barely half full with the 2.5 gallons of water, so boil-overs haven’t been an issue but my old 20-quart pot gave me ample opportunities to clean up spilled beer. Trust me in that it's not a fun exercise in scrubbing.

1.     If using liquid yeast (Wyeast), break the inner nutrient bag and incubate the package at room temperature for 3 hours or more, until the bag is swelling. Other yeast makers (White Labs) provide vials that merely need to be warmed to room temperature and mixed prior to use. If you are using dry yeast, it can simply be sprinkled on top of the final wort in your fermentation bucket.
2.     Heat 2.5 gallons of water. If steeping grains came with your kit, add them to the cheesecloth bag and submerge until the water reaches 170 F (Nothing additional came with this particular kit).
3.     When the water is near boiling, add the 6 lbs Wheat extract.
4.     Stir to mix completely.
5.     Return to a boil. If using a gas stove or burner, some people like to use diffusers to prevent scorching the wort. I tried one on the electric stove and pretty much destroyed it in one brew.
6.     Start a timer for 60 minutes when the mixture comes to a boil. The liquid is now called Wort (unfermented beer).
Boiling wort (after addition of LME). Note that this is only 2.5 gallons total.
7.     Add 1 oz Tettnang hops. Stir vigorously, as this can help prevent boil-over. If using a smaller kettle, be sure to keep a very close eye on the boil as cleanup of wort that has boiled over is a gigantic pain.
8.     At the end of the 60-minute boil, add 1 lb honey and stir.
9.     Cool the wort as rapidly as possible to <80 F. This can be done by placing the kettle in a bath of ice water, or by using an immersion chiller. If brewing in the winter, you can also put your kettle in a big snow pile. Chillers are somewhat expensive, but they get the job done quickly (about 10-15 minutes depending on how cold the water is) and easily.
10. Clean and sanitize the fermentation equipment (bucket, hydrometer, airlock, lid) while cooling the wort. This step can be also be done while you are boiling the wort.
11. Pour the cooled wort into the bucket.
12. Fill the bucket with cool water up to the 5-gallon mark.
13. Stir vigorously for 5 minutes, or place the lid on and shake vigorously for 5 minutes. The wort is oxygen deprived from boiling, and you need to reintroduce oxygen for the yeast to ferment properly. I started using an aquarium pump hooked up to a diffusion stone to aerate for 30 minutes after cooling.
14. Pour the yeast into the bucket and mix thoroughly. Be sure the wort is below 76 F or you risk either killing off lots of your yeast, or producing undesirable flavors in the final beer.
15. Measure the Original Gravity and Alcohol Potential of the wort using the hydrometer. Refer to the instructions with your kit to learn how to use the hydrometer. Write down the O.G., Alc. Pot., and brew date.
16. Place the lid and airlock on the bucket. Fill the airlock to the indicated line with tap water or neutral spirit like vodka.
17. Keep the fermenter in a cool, dark place for 1-2 weeks (60-75 F). I place it in a bathtub to help in case of blowouts. Fermentation should start within 24 hours (indicated by bubbling through the airlock).
18. After bubbling subsides, measure the gravity and alcohol potential of the beer. This can take 1 week up to a month for a very strong beer. Typically yeasts will ferment 70-80% of the available sugars, so your final gravity reading should be 20-30% of your original reading. For example, if your initial reading was 1.040, then your final should be in the range of 1.008-1.012. Record the Final Gravity (F.G.) and Alcohol Potential. To determine your final ABV, subtract the final Alcohol Potential from the original Alcohol Potential. For example, if you first reading on brew day was 7% and your final reading is 2%, you have a 5% ABV beer.
19. At this point, the beer can be bottled if desired. The preferred method after primary fermentation is to transfer the beer to a carboy to rest for 2 weeks to several months of secondary fermentation where the beer settles and clarifies. When transferring to a carboy, try to leave as much of the sediment at the bottom of the primary fermentation vessel as possible.
20. After secondary fermentation (2 weeks in this case), clean and sterilize 2 cases of pry-off bottles. I use a weak bleach solution and let them sit for 30 minutes in the bleach, but there are a number of no-rinse sanitizers available for bottle cleaning. Just be sure your bottles are clean.
21. Dissolve 2/3 C of corn sugar in 16 oz clean water. Boil this solution for 15 minutes.
22. Boil ~60 bottle caps in tap water for 15 minutes. This is more than you will need.
23. Sanitize a bottling bucket, two pieces of tubing, a siphon, and the bottling wand.
24. Transfer the beer from the secondary fermenter to the bottling bucket. Refer to your kit on how to use the siphon to transfer the beer. Be sure the spigot in the bottling bucket is closed. Try to leave as much of the sediment on the bottom of the carboy as possible. Mix in the cooled sugar solution. This will provide enough food for the yeast to reactivate and carbonate the beer in the bottle.
25. Attach the bottling wand to the other piece of tubing, and then connect the free end to the spigot on the bottling bucket. It's important to keep the wand and tubing as clean as possible prior to bottling so you don't spoil the delicious beer you have made.
26. Open the spigot and fill each bottle, leaving an ~1 inch air pocket at the top of each bottle. Again, refer to the instructions with your kit as to how to use the bottling wand.
27. Cap the bottles using the sterilized bottle caps.
28. Leave the bottles in a cool, dark place for 1-2 weeks. During this period the yeast will reactivate and carbonate the beer. Sometimes carbonation will take longer depending on how long the beer has sat in secondary fermentation. If the beer has sat in secondary for more than 4-5 months, you probably need to add fresh yeast to get the carbonation going.
29. Occasionally bottles can and do explode. If this happens, it’s best to let the explosions just go on for 1-2 weeks, then go in to clean up the mess. The alternative is potentially having a bottle explode in your hand.
30.  Enjoy the beer! A thin layer of sediment will form at the bottom of your bottle. Leave this behind (unless you have a weizen, Belgian beer, etc where you do want yeast in the final beer).

While fermenting, this beer did give off a noticeable sulfurous aroma. I thought there was an infection with some other bacteria/yeast, but after reading literature online, it seems that this aroma is very characteristic of the yeast included with the kit. The sulfur settles down after a long primary fermentation, and disappeared after secondary fermentation and bottle conditioning. Some fermentation also seemed to start up when I moved the beer into a secondary fermentor and died down shortly thereafter.

I gave all of this beer to my in-laws as a Christmas gift, since they typically go for styles like this while I go for much stronger and bigger beers for my own consumption. As a result, I don't have a picture of the final beer, but from what they poured, it was pale, golden and straw-like in color. The beer was fairly light on the palate, but definitely an improvement over their normal Bud Light or Coors Light. A bit of honey came through, but the beer was pretty dry in the end. Overall, I would say it would be a good lawnmower/summer beer. Again, it's not my particular style, but I can see how it would appeal to a diverse crowd and feedback from their friends was pretty good. Next time I'll try to include more pictures of the steps in the brewing process, or perhaps we'll post about a brewery trip.


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