Belgian Wit is a wonderful light, refreshing beer that narrowly avoided extinction to become a popular hit here in the United States. This week we’ll take a look at the history, brewing and recipes for Belgian Wit and White Beer.
History of Wit
Belgian Wit goes by many names, all variations of the term “White Beer”. In French it is called “Biere Blance”, while the Flemish name is Wit or Witbier which is pronounced “Wit” or “Wet) [Ref: BT] While the style was likely derived from the Belgian Monastary tradition, it reached widespread popularity in the 18th and 19th century in the towns east of Brussels. The two beers “Biere Blanche de Louvain” and “Blanche de Hougerde” were brewed in Louvain and Hoegaarden respectively. The Louvain version was more popular.
After the lager revolution in the 1800′s and into the 1900′s, Wit gradually declined in popularity and in fact disappeared when the last Belgian brewery went out of business in 1957. Nearly 10 years later Pierre Celis raised money from family members to open a brewery called De Kluis and began brewing a traditional Wit called appropriately “Hoegaarden”.
In 1985, the De Klius brewery burned to the ground, again threatening Witbier with extinction. Pierre Celis was able to raise money from commercial sources to rebuild the brewery, but by 1987 these larger brewers essentially took control from Pierre Celis and altered the recipe to appeal to a broader audience. Pierre Celis, disappointed, moved to Austin Texas where he opened a new brewery making “Celis White” based on the original Hoegaarden recipe.
Brewing The Wit Beer Style
Belgian Wit is a light, wheat based beer with light to medium body, slight sweetness and a zesty orange-fruity finish. It has a clean crisp profile, low hop bitterness and high carbonation with a large white head. Traditional Wit is slightly cloudy due to the use of unmalted wheat, and pale to light gold in color.
Original gravity is in the 1.044-1.052 range, bitterness in the 10-20 IBU range and color in the 2-5 SRM range. Carbonation is high.
Belgian Wit is made from a base of around 50% pale malt, and 50% unmalted wheat. Often 5-10% rolled or flaked oats are added to enhance body and flavor.
Unmalted wheat presents some challenges for the single infusion homebrewer. Pure unmalted wheat will not convert well with a single infusion mash. This can be rectified by using a multi-step infusion or multi-step decoction mash, but simpler solutions exist. If you substitute flaked or torrified wheat, you can perform a single infusion mash easily, while still preserving the distinctive flavor of unmalted wheat.
If you are brewing from extract, wheat extract might be an acceptable option, but all grain brewers should avoid using malted wheat as it will not result in the authentic wit flavor. Rolled oats are best if you are brewing all-grain as these two will work well in a single infusion mash. Where possible, high diastic pale colored malt should be used as the pale base.
Hops are typically chosen to minimize the hop profile. Low alpha hops such as BC Goldings, Hallertauer, Fuggles or Saaz with just enough hops to balance the sweetness of the malt. Late hop additions are inappropriate, as hop aroma is not a feature of the style. I personally prefer about 1 oz of BC Goldings boiled for 60 minutes in a 5 gallon batch. Dry hopping and large late hop additions are not really appropriate for this style.
Spices play an important role in Wit. Traditionally, Coriander and Bitter (Curaco) orange peel are used in small amounts at the end of the boil to add a bit of spice. In some cases, small amounts of sweet (traditional) orange peel are also added, though sweet orange peel should not be a dominant flavor.
The coriander should be cracked, but not crushed, whole seeds. I run my coriander seeds through the grain mill to crack them in half. Bitter Curaco orange peel is not the type you find in the supermarket, but is available from most major brewing supply shops. I recommend about 3/4 ounce of bitter orange peel and 3/4 ounce of coriander for a 5 gallon batch added 5 minutes before the end of the boil.Belgian Wit Recipes
Here is a collection of Wit and White beer recipes from our recipe site:
And here is a link to my personal Wit Recipe:
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Scotch Ale brings forth visions of fog filled bogs, dimly lit pubs and a hearty pint of ale. Scotland has always had its own distinct brewing style with an array of unique beers from the 60/- shilling light Scottish ale to the "wee heavy" strong ales. This week we examine the history of scotch ales as well as some Scottish ale beer recipes.
Scotch ale can be divided into roughly four categories. The standard ale is available in three strengths: light, heavy and export. A fourth category is often broken out for strong Scottish ales or "wee heavy" ales. These ales are also often named by their 19th century per-barrel price in schillings (now obsolete) as 60/-, 70/- and 80/- for the light, heavy and export and higher numbers of 100/- to 160/- for strong and "wee heavy" styles.
The History of Scottish Ales
Scotland has traditionally produced a wide array of beer styles including many that are either English or Irish in character. During the 18th and 19th centuries Scotland was a major exporter of all kinds of beer to both England and also its colonies, and Scotland was first in the British isles to begin producing lager in large quantities.
Despite the influence of neighbors, Scotland's unique geography and political situation combined to produce a uniquely Scottish style of beer that we now know as scotch ale. According to Daniels, two of the major factors were the availability of malt and hops. Barley has always been grown in Scotland, with a large portion dedicated to the production of whiskey. However, in Southern Scotland significant portions of the yearly crop were dedicated to beer production.
Hops, however, has never thrived in Scotland. The soil and conditions are poor for hop production, so hops had to be imported often from England at high expense. As a result a variety of hop alternatives were traditionally used including spices, herbs and quassia. Later when hops were used, they were added only sparingly resulting in a distinctly malty character. In contrast to the South in England malt was heavily taxed and hops plentiful resulting in more highly hopped styles such as IPA.
A look at traditional brewing of Scottish ales reveals that these ales were mashed with one or at most two steps, usually at high temperature (often above 160F!) and sparged slowly and often fermented at relatively cold temperatures. The combination no doubt produced a beer full of body and resulted in very low attenuation of the yeast. Bitterness was low, resulting in a malty full bodied beer. The finished beer was aged only a few weeks and then shipped directly to pubs for consumption. When aged, the beer was often kept cold which aided in enhancing clarity.
Brewing a Scottish Ale
As mentioned above Scottish ales have four major categories. The three traditional scotch ales are distinguished primarily by strength and bitterness: original gravitie for 60/- light is in the range 1.030-1.035, for 70/- heavy it is 1.035-1.040 and 80/- export comes in at 1.040-1.054. Strong scotch "wee heavy" ales have very high gravities in the 1.070-1.130 range.
Bitterness is low - with about 10-15 IBUs for light and ramping up to 15-30 IBUs for the export version. Even the strong ales has a low bitterness in the 17-30 IBU range. Malty and caramel flavors dominate the style with little to no hop aroma or flavor.
Scotch ales have an amber to light brown color. All have a target color in the 9-17 SRM range, though the strong ale may be darker (up to 25 SRM) due to the large amount of malt added.
Formulations for scotch ales very, but they all start with a pale malt or pale extract base, generally making up about 70-80% of the grain bill. Crystal malt is used in both commercial and homebrewed recipes making up from 5-10% of the grain bill. Black or roast malt provide color and character in the 2% range, though most purists prefer roast malt over black malt.
Interestingly almost all commercial examples use either wheat malt or sugar in the 5-10% range, though sugar is rarely added to homebrewed versions. Other commonly added homebrew grains in small amounts include chocolate malt, cara pils for body, munich and amber malts though these are not commonly added to commercial browns. [Ref: Daniels]
There is no specific hops tied to the scotch style, though low alpha traditional English or Continental hops are considered most appropriate. Goldings, Williamette and Fuggles are often used commercially, though noble hops such as Hallertauer or Saaz can also be used. Bitterness and hop flavor should be kept to a minimum, so use just enough hops to balance the malt.
The selection of scotch yeast is not as important as the fermentation method. Scotch ales are fermented at much lower temperatures (50-60F) than traditional ales, and the fermentation can take several weeks to complete as a result. After fermentation the ale is cold aged to aid in clarity. This produces a very malty but clean beer profile. You also want to select a low attenuation yeast that can handle the lower temperatures.
Though Edinburgh is famous for its pale ales and hard water, high sulfate water is not a critical element in brewing scotch ale and in fact can be detrimental as it brings out the hop sharpness too much. I personally recommend a moderate neutral water profile low in sulfates that will support the malty base and not enhance the hops excessively.
Scotch Ale Recipes:
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Russian Imperial Stout
Imperial Russian Stouts were actually brewed in England for the export to the court of the Tsars of Russia in the 18th century. A high, malty alcohol content and high hop rate were intended to preserve the beer and also prevent it from freezing during its shipboard trip across the Baltic sea. Thrale’s brewery of London brewed the style preferred by Catherine II’s court in Russia.
Later Thrale’s brewery changed hands and was taken over by Courage, renaming the beer as Courage Imperial Russian Stout. The style has a high alcohol content of 9-10% alcohol by volume. High gravity Russian stout’s are also brewed by Guiness and Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams). [Ref: Wikipedia]
While the style was regularly brewed in the 18th and early 19th century, this beer has enjoyed a resurgence the last few years with the rise of microbreweries.
The Russian Imperial Stout Style
Russian Imperial Stout is a rich, deep, complex beer with full bodied flavor. It has a rich dark malt flavor that may vary from dry chocolate to slightly burnt. A slight alcoholic warmth is normal. It may have a fruity profile including complex dark fruits such as plum, raisin or prune flavors. Like many British beers, it can have a caramel, bready or toasted flavor as well with roast malt complexity.
Color ranges from dark brown to jet black (30-40 SRM). Alcohol content is usually high (8-12% alcohol by volume) with a high starting gravity (1.075 to 1.115 OG). Bitterness generally runs high to balance the malty flavor (50-90 IBUs), but hop flavor should only be low to medium overall. Many US versions have higher bitterness. Carbonation is generally low to moderate. [Ref: BJCP Style Guide]
Brewing an Imperial Stout
Imperial stouts start with a well-modified pale malt base, generally using UK pale malts. The pale base typically makes up 75% of the grain bill. Roasted malts of all kind are added, usually comprising of a mix of moderately colored caramel malt, chocolate malt and roast malt to provide complexity, body and flavor. Together these make up the remaining 25% of the malt bill. Other malts such as Munich and aromatic are occasionally used, though roast malts make up the bulk of the specialty grain bill.
Traditional variations use classic English hops such as Fuggles or BC Goldings, though American microbreweries often also use US hop variants. Hops are typically added as a single boil addition, since a lingering hop aroma and flavor is not needed here. Instead a high hop rate during the boil provides the bitterness needed to offset the malt.
Since roast malts provide a very acidic addition, it is not uncommon to use slightly alkaline water when brewing imperial stouts. Traditionally, English Ale yeast or Imperial Stout yeast provides the fruity complexity required for this style, though again some American variants use high attenuation US yeast variants for a cleaner finish. Very high gravity options may require high gravity yeast such as champagne or barley wine yeast.
Imperial stouts are fermented at ale temperatures in the 63-68 F range, carbonated at low to moderate carbonation rates, and stored at ale temperatures or lower (as they were during the icy trip across the Baltic). Often Imperials require an extended aging period to achieve full maturity due to the high starting gravity.
Imperial Stout Recipes
Here are some sample recipes from the BeerSmith Recipe Page:
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