Sunday, February 12, 2012

Brew day: Blanche Devereaux Witbier

I've brewed a gluten-free Witbier and a "black Witbier" (my reaction to people complaining that "black IPA" is an oxymoron), but never a regular ol' Witbier. Well, a good friend of mine who I haven't seen in years is coming to town in April, and I promised to brew a beer for her. She said she likes wheats, so I decided now is the time to brew a traditional Belgian Wit. And since many Wits have "Blanche" in their name ("Bière Blanche" being the French name for the style), I decided to go with the obvious when designing a label:

My buddy Ryan just ordered a homebrew starter kit, so he was excited to come over and help out and see the brewing process in action. Unfortunately, the temperature never got above 19°F yesterday. And also unfortunately, we ran into a couple minor issues (as is always the case when I brew), but overall I think it came out just fine. And Ryan stuck it out the whole day (despite forgetting his thermal boots) so I think he has a fine brewing future ahead of him.

For the recipe, I was a little worried about a stuck sparge but didn't want to use too many rice hulls so I went with a combination of malted wheat and flaked wheat rather than just flaked wheat for the wheat portion of the grain bill. The rest was pilsner malt and a half pound of flaked oats. Ordinarily I'd go with a short beta-glucan rest when using wheat (~120°F) but due to the cold I just went with a simple infusion at 151°F. Of course, given the extreme cold, we came in way low (~144°F) so I did a quick 1.5-gallon decoction--returning the mash as soon as it reached boil--and brought the mash up to 151.

The next issue we ran into was a stuck mash with my small tun (I have a big chest-type cooler I use for most of my batches, but the grain bed can get too shallow when brewing 5 gallons of beer at 1050 or under so I have a small round Igloo-style cooler I use for mashing small batches). Despite having a false bottom, the out valve was clogged with grain so I dumped the mash out into my large mash tun, at which point we were able to sparge without issue.

We collected 6.5 gallons and boiled for 90 minutes. The next issue? I could only find half an ounce of coriander and my recipe called for an ounce. Oh well; if necessary I'll make a tea and add it to the keg. We added sweet and bitter orange peel at 15 minutes and another addition of sweet orange peel, as well as coriander and a small late-hop addition, at 5 minutes.

The final issue we ran into was while getting ready to chill. Because it was so cold, I had to use channel locks to get the hose hooked up to the spigot, and I over-tightened it and the hose broke. Fortunately, a quick trip to Ace Hardware scored me a new hose, and with the frigid temps I actually ended up chilling around 50°F instead of the 60 I was shooting for. Oh, and apparently when it's crazy cold I get a higher evaporation rate, because I ended up with 4.5 gallons instead of the expected 5.5, and a gravity of 1.059 instead of 1.048. Fortunately, adding an extra gallon of water brought the gravity and volume right to where they're supposed to be.

After giving it a couple hours to warm up some I oxygenated and chilled. This morning I'm seeing signs of fermentation. I'll be curious to see how the orange peel and coriander come through; I'd really prefer not to mess around with a tea after the fact, because I'm a lazy, lazy man. And of course the most difficult thing is gonna be waiting until April to drink it. Why again did I decide to brew on the coldest day of the year?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Whisky: is there anything it CAN'T do?

So I forgot to mention it here on the blog, but Burns' Night (the birthday of Scottish cultural icon, poet laureate and hero Robert Burns) was a couple weeks ago and Leah and I celebrated it by enjoying a wee dram from each of the four bottles of Scotch I currently own. Sticking with the theme, I also decided to make a hot toffee sauce with Scotch to serve on top of vanilla ice cream for dessert. It came out so well that I figured I would post the recipe here (which I adapted from this recipe I found at

3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup half and half
3 tablespoons Scotch whisky
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine the brown sugar and butter in a medium saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved, about 5-6 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a full boil.

Slide the pan from the heat, add the half and half, Scotch, and salt, and whisk until well blended. Give the sauce a taste and add a pinch or two more of salt, if needed. If you're serving immediately, add vanilla. If you're preparing to use later, add vanilla after reheating.

Refrigerate whatever you have left over. To serve leftovers, reheat gently in a double boiler or in the microwave. The original recipe warns, "Do not overheat, or the sauce will separate," but we haven't run into that problem.

So anyway, there you go... an absolutely delicious recipe for when you can't decide between a cocktail or dessert--and if you're into the whole presentation thing you can serve it in a martini glass like I did above. Leah thinks it's gotten better each time we used it (I think we got four servings out of it). And, for the record, I'm guessing that you could substitute bourbon or some other kind of whiskey for Scotch and it would still be delicious.