Early spring in Eastern Washington, as I have recently discovered, is extremely unpredictable. It can get up to almost 70F during the day and drop into the 30s at night. It can be warm and dry one day, while rainy and frigid the next.
Because of this quirk of meteorology, when my new friends Aaron and Tevor asked me to brew a beer to buoy our team’s spirits during the upcoming Palouse 100k Relay, I was at a loss as to what brew might be appropriate. A light, crisp Berliner would be great if it was hot and brutal along the Snake River, but conversely terrible if it was raining and cold. A Scottish Export could be nice if snowing, but potentially devastating if a warm front came through.
A happy medium, I decided, was a high protein Hefeweizen – refreshing in all temperatures, with just enough spice and ester to be warming and interesting if it was chilly. Additionally, the high protein content provided enough rationalization to call this a “Recovery Beverage.”
To accomplish the healthful aspects of this beer, while surrounded with recently harvested fields of low-protein winter wheat was a challenge I gleefully accepted. It turns out that buckwheat groats have 23g of protein per 170g of grain. Buckwheat also has a very pleasant aroma, especially if blended with its roasted version (Kasha), producing notes of peanut butter. To add an additional twist and some mouth feel my local co-op (Moscow Food Co-Op) had flaked Kamut on sale.
Also called Khorasan Wheat, Kamut is one of those hippy “Ancient Grains” that have gained a resurgence especially in Washington college towns. The history of Khorasan wheat is actually quite interesting and I’d encourage you to do a little reading on it. In all honesty though, what I mostly cared about was that it had 14.5g of protein per 100g; and, from sampling, had a rich nutty flavor that complemented the buckwheat. Banana (isoamyl acetate) and peanut butter? Sounds like the Elvis of Beers.
Recipe: Big Buck Hefe
|Grain Type||Amount (lb)||PPG||SRM (degL)|
|Hops||Amount (oz)||Time (m)||Alpha Acid %|
|Wyeast 3068 (Weihenstephan Wheat)|
|Mash||Temp (degF)||Time (m)|
There isn’t a lot of ready literature out there about best practices when it comes to brewing with buckwheat (especially when it comes to using significant percentages). One recipe I remembered reading and being intrigued by was Mike Tonsmeire’s Buckwheat Sour Amber Ale.
In the recipe, Mike chose to boil the cracked buckwheat kernels for 15 minutes to pre-gelatinize the grain. This fell in line with my instincts in handling, as this is the same process I use when utilizing old school/scottish/pin oats – aka not the flaked kind.
The cereal mash step is necessary when using non flaked non malted grains to loosen up the starch matrix of the raw grain which allows the alpha amylase to actually do its job during saccharification. To accomplish this, I mixed the buckwheat with 3 quarts of water, and let ‘er rip (boiled for 15 min).
On top of making some delicious looking porridge, I whipped up a 1.5L starter of my favorite yeast – Wyeast 3068. It always works…
It doesn’t always work the way I want it to, but it works… (foreshadowing?)
When the brew day came around, I pulled my setup out of storage and cleaned the crap out of it. Set up, it looks like so:
It’s not much, but it’s mine. Mwahahaha.
I mixed the chilled porridge into the dried grain.
Pullman, Washington has fairly hard water, what with the tap-source being a half a dozen or so wells, and I have yet to find a place that sells food-grade phosphoric acid, thus I threw in a short acid rest at about 110F (basically a warm dough in) to help. In addition to slightly acidifying the mash, this particular temperature allows for beta-glucanase/cytase to help break down the gummy glucans that make high flaked-adjunct mashes such a pain.
As noted before, my recipe is rather high in extremely sticky and starchy adjuncts. To help counteract this and the impending sparge from hell, after the acid/glucan rest, I drew off 2 quarts of early wort, mixed with a gallon of cold water, raised to 170F, and mixed back into the mash raising the temp to 128F which will hopefully reduce chill-haze. Protein Rest Achieved!
I then performed the same step as before, drawing off about 2 quarts of wort, mixing with a gallon of water and heating to 168F. Mixed back in to the main mash, this raised the temperature to the desired 148F. Sometimes I’m a big dummy and forget to take pictures :(.
After the prescribed 60 minute mash, copious vorlaufing, and a slow but not terrible sparge, I collected my 6.5 gallons of runnings and set it to boil.
Got to boil the sweet wort to get to the fun part.
This is actually the First Runnings OG – 1.055ish. Apparently I deleted my pre-pitch OG picture due to its potato-quality…
After using my handy-dandy wort chiller, which lowered the soon-to-beer to 70 degrees, I pitched my yeast and prayed.
I’m going to be honest with you all. I suck at fermentation control. I don’t have a fridge or a chamber or many of the cool things that are “expected” of a homebrewer. However, my fermentation closet sits, on average, at 65F. That’s definitely on the low end for 3068, but not unheard of for producing a solid beer. Also given the fact that many prominent homebrewers recommend low ferm temps for hefe yeasts, I figured it would be fine.
Editors Note: Jeff, a few friends, and myself have a fairly regular group chat in which we discuss many things, mainly brewing. Jeff knows more about the theory behind brewing than almost anyone I’ve met. The following is an insight into the mind of someone who knows 100% that many of the following thoughts are irrational, yet brewing does crazy things to us all. I present, Jeef’s corner!
Inside the mind of Jeef:
Update Pitch +24 Hours:
So remember when I talked about foreshadowing? Yeah. That was not a joke.
The morning after pitching, there was some slight activity in the airlock. Not a ton, but enough for me to think that it was going to start picking up. 12 hours later, less activity and a lot more Sulfur in the air. From anecdotal evidence, 3068 puts off Sulfur when the temperature is too low. I then shook the fermenter for 30 seconds to oxygenate and encourage a little more growth/fermentation, as well as plunking down a space heater (with a thermostat) set to low – The closet was now heated to 75F. Hooray me.
Update: Pitch + 3.5 days: Minimal activity in airlock. Sample taken showing SG of a little over 1.020. Still smells strongly of sulfur and there’s still a large amount of residual sweetness.
Update: Pitch + 7 days: The shaking and heat had helped a little, but not a lot. Frankly, I was freaking out. But as a good homebrewer, you should always have a backup plan.
Enter Plan B – A new smack pack of German Wheat Yeast. Unfortunately, my local shop was out of 3068, but I’ve had good results regarding ester production with 3333, so I gave it a shot.
My main hope at this point was that I could limp through fermentation without getting an infection. Best case scenario it would taste as desired – bananas and nuts.
Worst case, it wouldn’t taste like anything. The cold fermentation had rendered the yeast useless for ester production and the beer bland. This is where Plan C comes into play: 2 oz of Amarillo and 1 of Mosaic. When in doubt, dry hop the crap out of it.
Now, now, I know what you’re thinking – You can’t cover up bad beer. You’re absolutely correct. You can’t turn a bad beer into a great beer with trickery like brett or massive dry hopping.
But! It should be abundantly clear at this point that it’s become statistically improbable that I have created a great beer, and I refuse to give up. So, I can try and turn a bad beer into an acceptable beer, and also, hopefully figure out what went wrong and learn from it [Note from Jake: maybe don’t expect normal results using a grain that no one else uses…][Retort: You’re not my supervisor!]
Update Pitch +14 days: The beer was fined with gelatin (1.5 tsp per 8oz of water, gently heated to 145-150F, per the recommendation of the excellent Brulosophy site). I had also received my new chest freezer and thermostat, so the beer was gently lowered from 65F to 35F over the course of a day.
Update Pitch +17 days: It worked. The beer has cleared up from “ridiculously gross and cloudy looking with a soupçon of rotten eggs,” to “Hey that looks and smells like a Hefe!” Never doubt the Jeef!
While the gravity is a little on the high side at 1.021, which is close to what it was at 3.5 days, the residual sweetness has dropped a good notch or two, and the sulfur has completely diminished. I’m going to chalk the unchanged FG to some remnants of the trub/gelatin coming out of the spigot on my brew bucket contaminating the sample.
Editors Note: Looking back at our text chain, the beer was at 1.020 at 3.5 days, meaning fermentation was likely mostly complete, not unheard of for a hefe. Using unusual ingredients can often lead to a final result different from what we are accustomed to. I’m inclined to chalk up the high finishing gravity to either low ferment ability of his grains, or the fact that he somewhat performed a mini turbid mash possibly leaving a lot of starch unconverted. Jeff’s comment on day 17 “it worked” is interesting to me because as homebrewers, we make beer, it is very hard to not make that work. What made Jeff’s beer work? He pitched the correct amount of yeast, at an acceptable temperature and the beer was done actively fermenting in 3.5 days, as many hefes are. I think there is an important lesson here that when brewing something we have no experience making, as many homebrewers do consistently (it’s what’s fun), we need to maybe take a broader scope with our expectations before jumping to a conclusion. Cheers!
Unfortunately, I had yet to find somewhere in Pullman to replace my 5lb tank of CO2. Luckily, I still had a handful of 16g cartridges. After injecting two into the keg, occasionally shaking and allowing to rise to room temperature, I then chilled the beer down to serving temperature at 45-50F.
Appearance: Appears to be a standard hefeweizen and within the appropriate SRM range for style 10A. It has a nice translucent straw/lemon color with a hint of toast/orange. It’s a little to early to judge the head retention as it’s only been on gas for 36 hours; definitely persistent at this stage, but not as meringue-like as I’d prefer.
Aroma: Ripe bananas, citrus, and the barest whiff of residual sulfur.
Mouthfeel: Light and crisp, though maybe a little flabby.
Taste: Definite combination of spice/heat from phenols, and banana/citrus esters, with a burst of peanut butter.
Overall: It was definitely a fun if nerve-wracking experiment. A tasty, successful brew, though not as unique as I’d hope, considering the extra effort of coddling the buckwheat. I’ll definitely want to retry this recipe in 3-5 months to see if warmer ambient fermentation changes things in terms of the banana flavors interacting with the grains.
I’ll also post a follow up with the team’s reaction/impressions of the beer.