“Make Your Best” Highlights
Going beyond the simple question of “what” and instead exploring the “why” will help you understand how to design and brew better beers.
This is a once-a-year beer for me, and it’s a surprisingly approachable beer even for non-beer geeks. Just be careful: at a well-hidden 10.5% ABV, it can catch you by surprise when you stand up.
Style: Wheatwine is a higher-alcohol beer with a significant contribution of flavor and texture from malted wheat. It also allows for “mild” hops character, and we’ll pair some classic American citrus and Continental floral notes. It’s also a smooth pale beer with noticeable alcohol and good grain and fruit notes. What it is not is a kind of imperial weissbier. Yes, you can brew those, but not this time. Banana and clove should not be present, especially if you’re going to enter it in competition! The guidelines also indicate a subtle preference for a light oak character, but it’s easy to overdo, and we can add some of those richer flavors in other ways without risking big tannin expression. Recipe: Start with enough malted wheat to constitute 60 percent of the grist. Blend in sufficient rice hulls to avoid a stuck sparge. To that, add Vienna malt; the BJCP Style Guide suggests 2-row malt but also indicates that the beer should be “richly textured” with “interesting [malt] complexity.” I find that American 2-row is unlikely to add much texture or flavor. Hence the Vienna to add some light grainy spice, nicely complementing the wheat (and any alcohols that come through in the flavor). Rounding out the malt are equal amounts of Caramunich and Maris Otter, plus some Melanoidin malt. All of these should provide a bit more bready, biscuity complexity, and the Caramunich will give a touch of crystal sweetness without darkening the beer too much. A fair amount of bittering is needed for balance, so I add 65 IBUS of any high-alpha American bittering hop, then tack on 4–5 IBUS with an addition of Hallertau at 10 minutes. Finally, at flame-out I add some Cascade. That might sound like a bit too much, but this beer will age into itself, and it helps preserve a light orange-and-flowers nose that won’t completely fade in a few months’ time. Finally, I like London Ale III yeast because it gives a rounded expression to the malts but also adds some nice fruit aromatics. It’s not the best attenuator, but that’s something we can manage, and I’d rather have the right malt-ester profile and a few points of leftover gravity than a bonedry beer that lacks character! Process: Mash at a steady 152°F (67°C); some might recommend lower to increase fermentability, but the style can tolerate some leftover body, so you don’t want to try too hard. Boil and chill as usual, then pitch the yeast and start at 60°F (16°C). That might seem too low, but you need to guard against the alcohol being too hot or too strong in flavor, and a cool fermentation will help on both counts. Hold there for a week or so, then raise to 68°F (20°C) for another week, ending with a free-rise to wherever it wants to go. When you’ve had no airlock activity for a week or so, cold-crash and package, shooting
for a very modest 1.75–2 volumes of CO2.