Some beers recipes we nail first time out of the gate, others prove to be much more challenging for one reason or another. I love wheat beers, not just the ones brewed with wheat, but the ones full of yummy clove, banana, spice, and most importantly black pepper flavors and aromas. It’s the black pepper that is by far the hardest to get, there are only a few yeast strains out there that can produce that combination. With wheat beers almost all the flavor comes from the yeast. Sure, some tartness or bready flavors originate from the wheat; of course the hops come through a little bit in bitterness, but the real soul of this beer is the yeast. With this knowledge our quest started in the search of our perfect wheat beer brew….
Paging back through my notes from the first days of home brewing, Chris and I started with a bitter ale, a brown ale, third one was a Bavarian Style Wheat, always loved that wheat. I remember searching out places with Tabernash Weiss on tap to get my wheat beer fix. (Mountain Sun Brewery always had it on as a guest tap, along with some pretty good beers of their own.)
My first home brew notes read pretty sad: day 1 good yeast flavor day 2: astringent, lost much of the yeast flavor? Day 3: overtime it lost all yeast flavor and became very thin and astringent (boring)…..I just couldn’t figure out how to get the yeast to do what I wanted. Many years have passed since those failed attempts, and I have learned a little more about brewing. I came to terms with you can’t control yeast, all you can do is feed them and create an environment they like. This means everything from raw ingredients, water composition, mash temperature profile, pitching rates, oxygenation rates, and fermentation temperatures can greatly affect flavor. With our original Brew House system and little to no lab we weren’t successful re-creating the Wheat beers Chris and I love. (one try tasted like banana milkshakes, and I hate banana milkshakes)
Fast forward a few years, Chris had spent some time U-railing through Germany with a long time friend (nick-named Dream Weaver) exploring the traditional beer styles throughout the region.
Upon his return he had two types of beers that he really wanted to brew a Double Bock and a Hefe Weizen. It wasn’t until I met Markus from BrauKon (our equipment supplier) did the realization of our wheat beer come to be. Six years ago we expanded our Two Vessel Brew House to include BrauKon’s automated Mash Kettle and Wort Kettle. This allowed us to control hydration rates and temperatures in the mash…that was huge….now we controlled the mash thus creating the nutrients needed for the elusive ‘Black Pepper’ flavor.
When the Brew House was ready I jumped on a plane to inspect it before shipping. This was the single biggest purchase Chris and I had ever made to this point, we couldn’t write the check until seeing it with my own eyes! This was also my first trip to Germany and a chance to try their traditional brews. As soon as I landed in Munich, Markus took me to a little brewpub (at the airport) for Weiss beer and Weiss-wurst. Loved the Weiss beer, liked the flavor of but not sure of the texture of Weiss-wurst. Over the next few days my new friends Markus and Eckard shuffled me from brewery to brewery in search of the perfect Weiss beer. An old Monastery, Andechs, where the monks still brew, had an incredible double bock that was true inspiration. I can’t recall all of the brewery names, but one experience is still vivid in my mind. Eckhard took me to a small brewery with a great amber Weiss beer, so carbonated it wanted to climb out of the glass, aroma was explosive with clove and black pepper. Because of the bubbles it must have taken five minutes to pour our beers. Then the pork shank and knuckles come out, and wow was that good! Perfect cure for a tired traveler beaten down by too many beers the night before and pretty much no sleep.
Upon my return from Germany and the install of BrauKon’s mash/wort kettles we started experimenting with our wheat beer brews. Now with brew house control and a kick ass lab we are able to grow healthy yeast constantly and feed it what it likes….Dream Weaver Wheat was born. This is by far our most challenging brew (because of the yeast). We get a couple of generations before the yeast stops producing its’ clove/black pepper spiciness. Because of that we are constantly growing new yeast. Switching gears for our new brewery we decided to go old school with open tank fermentation. These tanks don’t have tops allowing us to skim the best yeast. As beer ferments frothy foam rises. Our new tanks have a shoot that allows the ‘froth’ to spill out into collection tanks ready for the next brew. Dream Weaver yeast likes top cropping and doesn’t like head pressure pushing down on it (that’s why we chopped the tops). This was a very old technique not many breweries still practice. The tanks have to been in a very special room since they don’t have tops. Ours if fed with sterile filtered air creating positive pressure environment similar to an operating room. In order to enter the room our brewers will almost look like they are garbed up to be in a clean room…without the superconductors.
Chris and I have wanted open tanks for as long as I can remember, something about watching the bubbling yeast, hearing them gas off and the smells are almost soothing….I know, weird but hey we are brewers, nuf said no?