Brewday: Rye Witbier

June 3, 2012

As we keep getting closer to the homebrew competition, I had just one beer left to brew for it: the rye beer. The only restriction for the beer is that it has to include rye for at least 30% of the grain used. I’ve brewed a lot of rye beers over the years, and I decided that most entrants would likely use rye pale ales and rye IPAs, so it was time I tried a different approach.

Part of what makes rye so great in a beer is that it adds a bit of dry spicy character, and a bit of an earthy aroma, so I wanted to add it to a non-pale ale style that would really benefit from the heavy use of rye. I figured a witbier would be an interesting and unique experiment. I made a wit recipe with a heavy dose of rye malt replacing a lot of the wheat malt, and was ALMOST tempted to add some peppercorns, but decided against it. So the grain bill for it was:

  • 6.50 lb Pils malt
  • 3.50 lb Rye malt
  • 1.00 lb Flaked wheat

The water additions were pretty light, just 5 grams each of calcium chloride and gypsum. I mashed it on the cool side, around 147F, to try and make sure it attenuated really well. This one should have a nice dry body to accentuate the spicy rye character. Unfortunately, the lautering went really slow for the first two gallons before I realized there was a piece of grain partially clogging the ball valve in my mash tun. After blowing that out and running a vorlauf again, the runoff went as smoothly as it usually does.

The hop and spice schedule on this one was fairly light:

  • 0.75 oz Challenger (60 minutes, 5.6% Alpha Acid)
  • 0.50 oz Challenger (15 minutes)
  • 10 gm Coriander (15 minutes)
  • 0.50 oz Challenger (End of Boil)

The other odd thing about this batch was the yeast I used for it. My previous saison, the peppercorn saison I brewed for my 100th batch last month, had its saison yeast crap out halfway through fermentation. It refused to start back up and was left sitting really thick and sweet, so I made a starter of my Northwest ale yeast that was on hand and poured that in to get fermentation going again. That did the trick, but left me with a blended yeast cake to work with, so I thought that would be interesting to use for this rye witbier. These two yeasts should do pretty well at drying out the body and giving some nice character to the beer.

Also, starting gravity was 1.045, as I was aiming for a nice light session beer for the coming warm months.

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A bar in downtown Troy called The Ruck is holding their first annual Extreme Homebrewing Competition in June. It’s focused on six different brews:

  • Rye: grist has to contain 30% rye at least
  • “Funky”: a significant amount of non-grain adjuncts
  • A beer with both fruit and spice
  • Platiunum: a Bud Light Platinum kind of beer with high alcohol and low body (ironically, everyone will likely have the most difficult time with this beer)
  • Black IPA
  • Ahtanum: a single-hop beer using only Ahtanum hops

The competition allows teams of up to three brewers to make the six different beers, so I’ll be working with a couple homebrewing friends in the Capital Region, Bill and Angelos. Those guys have a lot of experience experimenting with all sorts of adjuncts, fruits, and spices, so they’re taking care of the two beers requiring them (the Imperial Honey Amber from a few years ago was absolutely top notch). I’ll be doing the rye beer, given my recent heavy experimentation with those kinds of beers. The other three beers we’ll be collaborating on and brewing together.

As I like to brew four batches successively to fill my four kegs, I’m in the process of putting together the brewing schedule for these next bunch of batches. I have two yeast strains in house that I’m going to use: a Belgian saison yeast, and my standard American yeast.

The first batch with the yeast I have will be a saison with honey and rose hips, and will be my one hundredth batch of homebrew. After that, I’m thinking of doing the other three beers as different rye-based experiments as potential entries for the competition. For the second batch using the saison yeast, I’m highly tempted to my witbier recipe, replace a bunch of the wheat with rye, add peppercorn (not sure which just yet), ferment a bit warmer, and switch to some spicier hops.

With the American yeast my first thought is to go with a rye pale ale and a rye IPA, as per normal. I haven’t had anything hoppy on tap in a while, and I’ve been pretty damn happy with most of the rye pale ales I’ve made. Part of me wants to try an American rye ale, which would be a very light, dry, spicy session beer.

Those are preliminary thoughts. I’m hoping to get the saison brewed sometime this week, then I can start trying to finalize all my other recipes.