Yeast becomes inhibited in high gravity beers, so we decided upon Ommegang's Witte with a modest 5.1% abv. We picked up four from the Spirit Haus, with a bottling date that looked about 4 months old. Not perfect, but the best we could do. Each bottle was poured until the first sign of yeast sediment, then the top of the bottle was flamed with a lighter, shaken, and dumped in a growler full of yeast starter. Following the messianic teachings of John Palmer, the yeast starter was made with half a cup of dry malt extract (DME) to a pint of water. It was later found that this is actually more then twice the correct amount of malt extract, but not before all the DME was used up. The yeast was put through three consecutive starters while we waited for the rest of the ingredients to arrive.
We'd ordered 10 pounds of pale liquid malt extract (LME) and two ounces of hops (Horizon and Spalt) through AustinHomeBrew.com, and still had half a pound of crystal 10 and crystal 60 lying around from a previous brew to throw in. So our recipe looks like this:
10 lbs pale LME
0.5 lbs crystal 10
0.5 lbs crystal 60
0.5 oz Horizon at 60
0.5 oz Horizon at 30
0.5 oz Spalt at 15
0.5 oz Spalt at 5
expected final gravity 1.015
Partial mash specialty grains at 150 for 30 minutes.
Well, last Thursday we brewed this baby. The brew process seemed to go fine: mash specialty grains for 30, boil for 60, no trouble really. The Horizon smelled amazing, we're definitely using that one again. The Spalt seemed a little aged. The real trouble began when the uncapped the yeast. The yeastiness was there, but there was also some a little more insidious. I thought I smelled vinegar, Lee felt it was more like tuna, Tim didn't know what it was. But we'd come this far, there was no turning back. We chilled the wort down below 80, mixed in the top up water, and pitched the yeast. Now we had to wait.
Within a few hours a thick layer of yeast sediment had formed, but there was no sign of fermentation. Nothing for 24 hours. First bubbles at 30 hours, it felt like victory. One about every 30 seconds. Fortunately, by next morning the bubbling had stopped (I felt like I was going to cry). So while Lee brewed the hefewiezen, I made a trip to the homebrew store. The guy there recommended another day before giving up on the yeast, and then to pitch a second. White labs 550 Belgian Ale yeast in hand, I headed home.
When all activity ceased saturday morning, we pitched the yeast. The guys down at the homebrew stay not to bother taking it off the trub in the first fermenter, so we pitched with a thick sediment already there. This may have impacted flavors, but its uncertain how to say. Belgian yeasts already do a lot of wild stuff, so it'll be hard to tell. Back to the pitching. In short, I missed. I would say at best 3/4 of the yeast made it in. At worst maybe half. So we may have under pitched.
Within 36 hours the krausen was billowing through the air lock, and we set up a blow off tube. Its been a vigorous fermentation these last few days, and 4 days later it has only just begun to calm down. On sunday there were scents of banana bread, and by Tuesday it had begun to smell like a Belgian. Will post back once its been bottled.