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The Kruger Brewer’s Master Class: Wheat Beers and How to Brew Them

A landscape architect and horticulturist by profession, from Cape Town, South Africa, Thean Leonard Kruger better known as ‘the Kruger brewer’, is also a brewing consultant who has established himself in setting up breweries across Europe, Asia & Africa. He is also on the panel as an international specialist who assists a well renowned equipment manufacturer, Mithraeum, in Slovenia and famous malt manufacturer, Castle Malting S.A., in Belgium.

Undoubtedly, anyone who either owns, works in or even just frequents craft breweries and brewpubs in India will know that without a shadow of a doubt – beers brewed with wheat are the top sellers in any city or region in the country. Wheat accounts for around 60 to 70 percent of sales, while everything else that’s on tap, fills out rest of the monthly revenue. I am not exactly sure for the reason behind this, but my theory revolves around the fact that in India people eat spicy, fatty food with wheat beer, and either creamy and sweet or fruity and crisp, is an answer to both those scenarios. Another reason may be that wheat beer generally does not have a great deal of hops added, and in India in general people gravitate away from bitter beers, especially in the northern parts of the country. Whatever the reason, we brewers are faced with a situation where we have to brew copious amounts of the stuff, but many breweries don’t get it right – sometimes to horrifying ends!

A typical scene in many of the more dubious establishments, sees patrons quaffing jugs of what looks to be milk, but it’s actually wheat beer that has been served without any form of conditioning (known as ‘green beer’ or as an inside joke “lassi-weizen” depending on who you ask). The culprit here could be-wrong yeasts, wrong ingredients, wrong thought process in the approach to brewing the beer or possibly just a severe lack of knowledge. There are many more sins committed in these kinds of commercial arenas – more than I could list in a short conversation – but let’s rather look at solutions and together understand something clearly:

  • Beer styles have been developed over centuries of trial and error to reach a product that is perfect in such a profound way that it has been dubbed a “style” or category in its own right
  • While experimenting, along with crazy combinations is one of the cornerstones of craft brewing, it usually done by brewers who understand the style intrinsically, and so are able to bring a variation that is something new, while still respecting the style it was built upon, therefore guaranteeing a good end product

The purpose of this article is to get all brewers on the same page in terms of what is expected of a particular wheat beer style, how to brew it well and, when you’ve mastered a traditional example, how to approach making your own variation of it unique. This is not an article for the masses either, it is meant to be read by the owners and the brewers of craft breweries across India, as you are the only people who can affect a change and then educate the public through your efforts and excellence.

Wheat Beer Styles

When you’re sitting at the bar of your craft brewery, the word “wheat beer” is thrown around as if it were a homogenous concoction that is the same the world over. Well – it isn’t. Apart from the popular styles of wheat such as Witbier and Weissbier, there is a whole world of wheat out there. Here are some examples:

Berliner Weisse

Description: A very pale, sour, refreshing, low-alcohol wheat ale. A regional specialty of Berlin; referred to by Napoleon’s troops in 1809 as “the Champagne of the North” due to its lively and elegant character.

What I think

This is a lovely little beer – I am a self-confessed “hop-head” (someone who likes bitter beers), but I have to tell you that this beer is by far the most refreshing beer you are ever likely to have. It is sour, which for some may be a weird idea on its own, but it drinks so easily and goes so well with any fatty food that two pints down, I know you’ll be as hooked as I am. The sourness is achieved by the addition of lactic acid bacteria and the beer warmed up to between 30 and 40°C, either after the main fermentation has been completed or at the same time.

Gose

Description: A highly-carbonated, tart and fruity wheat ale with a restrained coriander and salt character and low bitterness. Very refreshing, with bright flavours and high attenuation.

What I think

Once again, a sour wheat beer this one has the combination of coriander and salt added to the boil. In terms of flavour, I personally like it very much, but the saltiness and the coriander spice, followed closely by the lactic sourness most likely isn’t for everyone.

Lichtenheiner

Description: A sour, smoked, lower-gravity historical German wheat beer. Complex yet refreshing character due to high attenuation and carbonation, along with low bitterness and moderate sourness.

What I think

This is a beer that I cannot wrap my head around. I travel to Germany quite often, and I have had quite a few of them, but I cannot personally recommend the combination of sourness and smoke…for me it’s one or the other. As it is listed as a historical style (in other words it’s not brewed in its home region much anymore), it makes sense that a lot of people seem to agree with me. That said, it’s a wonderful beer for those who appreciate it and has a cult following in certain craft beer circles.

Wheat Wine

Description: A richly textured, high alcohol sipping beer with a significant grainy, bready flavour and sleek body. The emphasis is first on the bready, wheaty flavours with interesting complexity from malt, hops, fruity yeast character and alcohol complexity.

What I think

If you are familiar with barley wine, this is simply the wheat version of it. Imagine a beer with a grist of 50% pilsner and 50% wheat malt, fermented with an English yeast and simply made very strong – to the tune of 8 to 12 percent alcohol (would most likely be popular in Punjab!). Not something to serve in giant mugs, rather smaller vessels like white wine glasses or chalices.

So you can see, there’s a lot of different wheat beers out there…and saying “wheat beer” doesn’t actually mean anything conclusive. Nonetheless, let’s get back to the subject at hand.

Yeasts for wheat beers

Nothing is more important to the two wheat beers we are dissecting today than the choice of yeast. Hefeweizen needs a banana and clove character derived by the method you handle the yeast during fermentation and Witbier needs anything fruity or spicy just NOT banana and clove. A common mistake brewer’s in India make is use a Hefeweizen yeast in what is supposed to be a Belgian Wit – do not do this ever! Hefeweizen yeast, with its signature banana and clove character, makes the addition of orange peel and coriander very muddy and a bad beer overall. In the recipes below, I will give you examples of the yeasts you can substitute for each style to get the right character and ensure balance in your wheat beer.

Time to start getting technical!

Hefeweizen

Description: A pale, refreshing German wheat beer with high carbonation, dry finish, a fluffy mouthfeel, and a distinctive banana-and-clove yeast character. Other names: Weizen (in northern Germany), Weissbier (in southern Germany)

Variations:

  • Dunkleweizen – Same recipe as a standard Hefeweizen, but with the addition of 20% Munich dark or 10% dark caramel malt
  • Weizenbock – Generally, the same as a standard Hefeweizen (although some coloured malts like Munich are sometimes used, but only sparingly for a bit of colour), it’s just made far stronger with starting gravities of between 16°P to 22°P
  • Kristalweiss – Exactly like a standard Hefeweizen, but this one is filtered so it is completely clear. If you have one, a 2 micron filter should do the trick, but I would prefer a centrifuge as it doesn’t affect the beer flavour as much as a filter would
  • The history of this beer is quiteinteresting

This style of beer was allowed to be brewed by royalty only back in the Middle Ages, namely by the king of Bavaria. Modern hefeweizen dates from 1872 when Schneider began production. However, pale weissbier became popular since the 1960s. It is quite popular today, particularly in southern Germany.

Special brewing techniques / ingredients and why they are used.

There are a few aspects you should always consider when designing a recipe for a Hefeweizen:

  • Decoction: Traditionally, Hefeweizen was always decocted – decoction being the process of mashing your grains in cold water, removing a portion of the mash, boiling it separately and adding it back to increase the temperature. The reason for doing this was, historically, because they didn’t have steam generators to increase the mash temperature and so this was the only way to do it back then. Today, though many breweries in Bavaria still use this method despite having the technology to simply step mash as usual – the reason being boiling the mash creates a fuller, richer beer by the creation of melanoidins through the boiling process. I will discuss how you can cheat and get a similar result by the use of other ingredients, as most of the breweries here cannot support this kind of operation
  • Wheat malt: Hefeweizen is considered one of the sweeter beers out there, so wheat malt is the only way to go. You should have a minimum of 50% wheat malt in your recipe

Traditional Hefeweizen Recipe

It is important to remember that it is a beer of balance! Not too much banana, clove or bubblegum flavours, all the yeast flavours should be in harmony, and they shouldn’t overpower the soft malt character either…a tall order, but there it is.

Stats:

  • OG = 1.050 (12.4°P)
  • FG = 1.013 (3.3°P)
  • IBU = 12.4
  • Colour = 3.3 SRM
  • ABV = 4.9%
  • Assumed Brew House Efficiency = 80%
MALT
(per HL)
AmountPercentage
Weyermann Pilsner10Kg50%
Weyermann Wheat malt10Kg50
HOPS (per HL)
Czech Saaz @ 60 minutes100g12.4 IBU
YEAST (per HL)
Safale WB-0650g
WATER PROFILE (per HL)
Calcium Chloride21g

IDEAL MASH PH RANGE: 5.4 – 5.5
(not lower!)

Procedure:

1. Mash at 67°C for 60 minutes. Mash thickness should be around 2.6 litres / kg.
2. Mash out at 75°C for 10 minutes
3. Sparge at 75°C
4. Boil for 90 minutes.
5. Add Czech Saaz hops at 60 minutes
6. Ferment at 20°C for 4 to 5 days or until the hydrometer measures 1.013 (3.3°P). As soon as the final gravity is reached, cold crash immediately and remove the yeast
7. Mature for minimum 1 week at 4°C before transfer to BBT (optimum = 3 weeks maturation before transfer). Purge residual yeast before BBT transfer to prevent too much yeast in the final beer

Variations you can experiment with:

  •  Yeast varieties
  • From Fermentis: Only WB-06 will work
  • From Lallemand: Munich and Munich Classic will work as well
  • From White labs (if you can get it): WLP300 is absolutely superb! But you need to ferment at 17°C otherwise the banana will be overpowering
  • For a maltier beer that tastes almost like it has been decocted, add 1kg per HL aromatic malt
  • For a fuller bodied beer, add 1kg per HL Carapils or Cara Blonde
  • For more banana esters, ferment between 23°C and 25°C
  • For more clove phenols, ferment at 17°C

PRO TIPS: Hefeweizen

  • Open fermenter – Hefeweizen yeast doesn’t like being put under pressure, it will make very little flavours that way. Best case scenario, use open fermenters if you have them (I don’t know many brewpubs that do so
  • If you’re fermenting in a conical, leave the beer open at the CIP inlet so that the beer is not under pressure. This results in a far better flavour profile
  • Yeast reuse – Yeast used for Hefeweizen cannot be cropped in the same way you crop other yeasts. Hefeweizen yeast must be top cropped (in other words the krausen or foam that forms on top of the beer during fermentation). If you use the bottom cropped yeast, you will get far less banana flavours than you normally would and far too much clove. To do this in a conical fermenter, insert a pipe into the top inspection hole and siphon it into your yeast container. If you can’t do this, it’s far better to use a fresh packet of yeast each time you brew, as you will get a much better flavour profile
  • Time on the yeast – it is critical that you get the bulk of the yeast off the beer as soon as your desired gravity is achieved. Especially yeasts like WB-06 which are reasonably aggressive. Longer you leave the beer on the yeast, more of the flavours it creates will be neutralised, leaving your beer lacking character…not great when it comes to this style of beer
  • Getting the best personality from the yeast – Hefeweizen yeast doesn’t like to be treated well, in fact the more ill-mannered you are with it, by under oxygenating the wort, underpitching, quick changes in temperature – it will stress the yeast out, causing it to produce more of those iconic flavours that make us brew the beer in the first place

Witbier

Description: A refreshing, elegant, tasty, moderate strength wheat-based ale. Low bitterness level with a balance similar to a Hefeweizen, but with spice and citrus character coming from additions rather than the yeast.

Other names: Bier de Blanche (France).

Variations:

While there is only one Witbier style, there are so many additions that you can play around with that it can end up as profoundly different beers.

  • White IPA: This is a combination of the IPA style with the ingredients of a Belgian wit, but it is more IPA than it is a Witbier

A 400-year-old Belgian beer style that died out in the 1950s; it was later revived by Pierre Celis at Hoegaarden, and has grown steadily in popularity over time, both with modern craft brewers and mass-market producers who see it as a somewhat fruity summer seasonal beer.

Special brewing techniques / ingredients and why they are used

There are a few aspects you should always consider when designing a recipe for a Witbier:

  1. The 3-ingredient rule: Everyone knows that there is always an addition of both coriander and orange peel in a Witbier, but there is always a secret third ingredient! It can be a herb, spice, or extract – the sky is the limit! I will discuss a few additions later on
  2. Orange peel: There are two types of orange peel generally used, the bitter orange peel and the sweet orange peel. Bitter orange peel has a very different flavour profile and leans toward a more vanilla, herbal flavour profile (bear in mind that it is only called bitter due to the taste of the fruit, not the peel). Sweet orange peel has a much more citrusy appeal, so it depends on what you want to achieve
  3. Raw wheat: This is the one factor that precious few brewers actually get right. Witbier is NOT made with wheat malt ever! The reason for using raw wheat is that it tastes very different to wheat malt; wheat malt being sweet and malty (by malty we mean the flavour of Horlicks) and raw wheat lends a very dry, crisp flavour to the beer along with a much stronger wheat flavour than wheat malt does and provides a beautiful backdrop for your spice / herb additions. I will discuss how you can opt to use raw wheat in the recipe below

Traditional Witbier Recipe

Where a Hefeweizen is mostly about yeast control, with the remainder being hops and malt, Witbier is a different scenario entirely! When brewing a Witbier, you are presented with a kaleidoscope of different options on how to flavour your beer.

Stats:

  • OG = 1.051 (13.3°P)
  • FG = 1.012 (3.3°P)
  • IBU = 11.1
  • Colour = 3.6 SRM
  • ABV = 5.1%
  • Assumed Brew House Efficiency= 80%
MALT (per HL)AmountPercentage
Castle Pilsen13kg61.9%
Raw wheat, Flaked*7kg33.3%
Castle Munich
12.7 SRM
1kg4.8%
HOPS (per HL)
Styrian Aurora
@ 60 minutes
45g11.1 IBU
SPICES (per HL)
Coriander70g
Bitter Orange Peel40g
Sweet Orange Peel70g
Secret Spice(see below)
YEAST (per HL)
Safale K-9750g
WATER PROFILE (per HL)
Calcium Chloride16g
Magnesium Suplhate6g
Calcium Sulphate6g

IDEAL MASH PH RANGE: 5.2 – 5.4

PROCEDURE:

1. Mash in at 48°C and hold for 30 minutes
2. Raise temperature to 66°C for 45 minutes
3. Mash out at 75°C for 10 minutes
4. Sparge at 75°C
5. Boil for 90 minutes
6. Add Styrian Aurora hops at 60 minutes
7. Add orange peel and coriander at 5 minutes
8. Ferment at 18°C for 6 days, then cold crash and remove the yeast
9. Mature for minimum 1 week at 4°C before transfer to BBT (optimum = 3 weeks maturation before transfer)

Purge residual yeast before BBT transfer to prevent too much yeast in the final beer.

Variations you can experiment with:

  •  Secret Ingredient:
    The “secret third ingredient” can take many forms and can help you make your Witbier truly unique. Here are some options –
  • Chamomile flowers, dried – add 20g per HL at 5 minutes
  • Allspice (kabab Chini) – add 10g per HL at 45 minutes
  • Star Anise – add 35g per HL at 30 minutes
  • Green cardamom – add 20g per HL at 30 minutes
  • Ginger root, fresh – add 45g per HL at 30 minutes
  • Cinnamon stick – add 2 sticks per HL at 30 minutes
  • Cumin – add 20g per HL at 5 minutes
  • Nutmeg – add 20g per HL at 30 minuts
  • Sweet basil, fresh – add 35g per HL at 15 minutes

Yeast varieties:

  • From Fermentis: K-97, S-04, T-58, BE-256, BE-134, S-33
  • From Lallemand: Nottingham, Windsor, Belle Saison, Abbaye
  • From Brewferm: Blanche (this is the single best dry yeast you can possibly use for this style! You have to import it yourself though for now)
  • You can substitute the Munich malt for a light caramel malt to give the beer more body
  • Instead of wheat flakes, possible substitutes can include: Maida + rice husks (if your system supports this kind of process, although most do not), precooked dalia and rice husks – both can be added to the mash

PRO TIPS: Witbier

  • Regarding the addition of spices, the longer you let them boil (15 minutes +) the more flavour you will extract. The shorter you let them boil (less than 15 minutes) the more aroma you will get

Final thoughts on brewing in general:

1. Take it seriously – you are taking part in a long history and by definition you are part of that history
2. Don’t only think along commercial lines – best materials = best results. Don’t take short cuts with cheap inferior ingredients
3. Take pride in your product – people will judge you according to the product you make, irrespective of what they say to your face. If you take pride and concentrate on quality, your business will be rightly rewarded

For any questions or further information, please contact me at krugerthean@gmail.com or visit https://krugerbrewerblog.wordpress.com/

editorial@brewer-world.com

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