Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Tasting : A Witter Shade of Pale 2.0 (Witbier with Belma hops)

Getting to this beer a LOT later than I would like... I originally planned on having it ready to drink at the beginning of summer, or maybe even a bit earlier. It's been bottled for over two months now, but the reason I took a while to get to it is due to one of the most frustrating problems in homebrewing: a stuck fermentation.

When I brewed this beer, fermentation was fast and furious - it took off within 12 hours, was quite vigorous while it was going, and within a couple of days the krausen had diminished and there was barely any activity in the airlock. Because the OG wasn't high (actually even came in a bit below target), I just assumed that it didn't take long for the yeast to do their work. I then let the beer sit in the fermentor for 3 weeks, until I planned on bottling it.

Well, that turned out to be a big mistake. I took a gravity reading after 3 weeks, and it had stalled at 1.019. Not exactly the end of the world, but at about 7 points above target for a beer that isn't high alcohol, and is supposed to be refreshing... well, I was little peeved. I left it in the fermentor for another week, rousing the yeast by gently rocking the Better Bottle every day, but it did no goo - 1.019 is where it sat. I briefly considered pitching some bottle dregs of some Brett beers into it; I kind of liked that idea, actually, of making a funky Witbier. However, I knew that it would take some time to let the Brett do their thing, and I really wanted this beer for summer, so I ended up bottling it as it was. The problem with this is where do you aim in terms of carbonation? I don't keg, so I had to consider what I wanted to risk more... aim for low carbonation in case the yeast "woke up" and consumed the remaining sugars in the beer (as in what I assumed happened to my recent ESB)? Probably the smart move, but if that didn't happen, then you get a fairly-flat Witbier. However, flat beer can't physically injure you... bottle bombs technically can!

So, I split the difference and aimed for 2.5 vol CO2, about what you'd do for "moderate" carbonation. A Witbier should really be 3 vol or even more, so I was hoping to get some decent carbonation, and no explosions. In the end, I'm not sure why fermentation got stuck. The temps never got low in our house. I'd say that maybe it was because of the high percentage of flaked wheat and oats, but the grist of the recipe isn't much different that last year's Witbier, and that finished with no problem. And I made a good-sized starter for a pretty-fresh smackpack. Ah well... the joys of working with yeast!

All said and done, luckily the beer came out pretty good. It doesn't taste overly sweet, even with the high FG, and at less than 4% ABV, it's certainly very sessionable! I'm not too sure if the two additions of Belma hops bring much to the table, but the aroma and flavor of the beer definitely isn't 100% in the norm for the style. Now that I've been drinking it over the summer, and most of the bottles are gone, I CAN say that it is over-carbonated... when you open a bottle that sat at room temperature for awhile, there's quite a lot of foaming over when you pour into the glass. Luckily, high carbonation in a beer like this isn't much of a flaw, unlike the previously mentioned ESB, which was like Champagne by the time I finally finished it all.

I'd certainly brew the beer again... the recipe, other than the Belma hops, is pretty much your standard Witbier recipe. I like what the higher amount of orange peel added to the beer this time. If you're looking to get some Belma character in your Witbier, though, I'd definitely go with more than I added. Doubling it would probably not be overdoing it at all.

Keep in mind the tasting notes below were actually written back in late July... I wouldn't dream of trying to give a fair review to a 2+ month-old Witbier!

Appearance: Poured with an extremely large, white creamy head. Fades a bit and then stays there, great retention. Body is cloudy and dark yellow.

Aroma: Strong aroma of both coriander and orange citrus... the extra orange peel really came through this time. There's a bit of sweet pilsner character as well, and maybe just a touch of strawberry character from the Belma.

Taste: Bang-on with the aroma, lots of coriander and citrus, without being overpowering. Again, a little bit of sweetness/tartness from the pilsner and wheat malt. Refreshing. No real hop flavor to speak of.

Mouthfeel: Light-medium bodied, slightly creamy from the wheat malt. Very high (effervescent) carbonation.

Overall: I like it, minus the issues with the overcarbing. As mentioned above, I'd increase the Belma hop additions to try to make it shine through more.

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