Keys To Great Weizen, Using Fresh-Picked Hops, Aging Beer, and Beer Burps

Q I love hefeweizen, especially Franziskaner, but when I brew these at home I never get the aroma that I am seeking. I have used several different types of malt and changed up my mash schedule to include a low temperature rest, but I’m still not happy with the results. I’ve been using yeast strains that are supposed to be Weihenstephan 3068. What gives?

Brendan Layden
Medford, New York

A I also love hefeweizens and enjoy brewing and drinking weizen beers! Weizen is definitely a yeast-driven style, where fermentation products really define the flavor profile. Let’s set yeast aside for a moment and touch on a few other components of this wonderful style. A great weizen should have a creamy, stable foam, a slightly chewy mouthfeel, above average carbonation, little hop aroma or bitterness, stellar drinkability, and weizen character.

It does not sound like your issue is hitting the right malt profile, although you have unsuccessfully experimented with different malts and different mash schedules. That assumption is based on your displeasure with your beer aroma, and that is a yeast thing with weizen. A great starting point for a solid weizen is 50% Pilsner malt and 50% wheat malt. I like a very small dose, about 2%, of dark crystal malt for a dash of color and an ever-so-subtle touch of crystal malt flavor. Starting the mash around 104 °F (40 °C) also helps with this style because wort ferulic acid is boosted at cooler mash temperatures; this is especially important if you want clove in your aroma profile as ferulic acid is converted to 4-vinyl-guaiacol by weizen yeast (some strains more than others). Some brewers use decoction mashing to increase mash temperature, but step mashing is most common these days and works well for the style. With well-modified malts a two-step mash with a mash-off step does the trick. Something like 20 minutes at 104 °F (40 °C), followed by a heating step to 153 °F (67 °C) for a 30–45 minute rest, then mash off at 167 °F (76 °C) is a solid mash profile.

Intensive mashing tends towards highly fermentable wort, especially with highly enzymatic malts, but weizen yeast often leave a bit of malt sweetness and a full body. That’s part of the profile I personally like. When this is coupled with a high carbon dioxide level, a bit of yeast from the bottom of the bottle, and served in a clean weizen glass, the sensory experience is hard to beat for those who love this style. If you are starting in the 12.0 to 12.5 °Plato (1.048 to 1.050 SG) range, a beer with about 3 °Plato (1.012 SG) in the finish is typical.

The fun thing about weizen brewing is that there are several weizen strains that a brewer can choose from and their flavor profiles are diverse.

For me, I know what I like in my weizen. And that is a balance of yeast aromas that favors 4-vinyl-guaiacol and de-emphasizes banana (isoamyl acetate). The fun thing about weizen brewing is that there are several weizen strains that a brewer can choose from and their flavor profiles are diverse. Weihenstephan weizen yeast and beers brewed from it have never been my favorites. Although I like them, they are a bit too banana-focused for my preference.

Style and recipe tips are topics I usually avoid, but this question is about my favorite style. Here are a few things to try:

  • Check out WLP380 (Hefeweizen IV Ale) from White Labs (commercial brewers can check out BSI380 too). This yeast gives a great balance of banana and clove, leaves a nice touch of malt and body, is a true top-cropper, and produces classic Bavarian-style weizen.
  • Pitch a touch on the low side and keep the fermentation temperature around 66 °F (19 °C).
  • If you don’t use a ferulic acid rest, change your mash profile to include one.
  • Aim for 10–15 IBUs and use German hop varieties to minimize any aggressive hop aromas.
  • If your goal is to mimic Franziskaner, use German malt.
  • Shoot for about 3.0–3.5 volumes of carbonation, preferably in a bottle to make pouring easier and to get a little yeast in the mix.

Q I’d like to ask you about post-boil use of fresh hops. I plan to brew a harvest beer from my backyard Chinook and Cascade this year. Using a general 5-to-1 ratio of fresh to dried hops, do you think I can obtain the same flavor/aroma benefit from fresh-picked hops in the whirlpool that I would get from dried hops? I’m thinking of adding them at 170 °F (77 °C).

Bill McMichael
New Castle, Delaware

A Thanks for the fun question! This topic is a great reminder that beer has been brewed way longer than our scientific understanding of raw materials, brewing, and beer. It wasn’t long ago that landrace hops, or hop types indigenous to an area, were the norm. In these days, brewers knew very little about the brewing value of hops outside of where the hops were grown and the sensory attributes of the hops being tossed into the kettle or cask. Examples of landrace hops are Saazer, Hallertauer, Tettnanger, Spalter, and East Kent Golding. Brewers generously hopped beers with these regional hop types with no knowledge of hop chemistry until the early part of the 20th century. Yeah, less than 100 years ago.

OK, onto some practical thoughts. Your ratio of 5:1 for wet hops to dried hops is right in line with dry weight comparisons between the two types. Although hop drying does not result in appreciable losses of bittering acids or aromatics, both present in intact lupulin glands of whole hops, wet hops do have much more green and grassy flavors than their dried sisters. That’s neither a good nor bad thing, just a difference.

Wet hops also contain enzymes that can, and often do, create fun and interesting flavor changes in beer when added to the fermenter. Until recently, enzymatic activity in beer from hop enzymes had been lost to history. The wakeup call was due to the insane amount of dry hops that some of today’s craft brewers began adding to IPAs. Folks started noticing hop creep, wondered what the cause was, began doing research, and digging through the brewing literature. Like so much of history, the past hit the replay button. I’ll bring this back to the discussion in a moment.

To directly answer your question, I am gonna say “no.” Adding wet hops (fresh and unkilned) to your whirlpool will not give the same flavor and aroma as you would get from using kilned hops. In my mind, that’s a big plus because it differentiates these beers from beers brewed with a different hop product. Would it not be boring if using a different raw material had no noticeable effect on your beer?

Today’s brewers want to be able to calculate stuff. Why? Because there is so much available data just waiting to be popped into the number machine. But the calculator is hard to use when brewing with homegrown hops because the alpha content is rarely known. That’s cool; just use your homegrown hops for aroma. I like the idea of adding these wet hops to 170 °F (77 °C) wort because this temperature is hot enough to denature hop enzymes, but not so hot to isomerize alpha acids. What that means to the practical brewer is that you get aroma, hop flavor, little appreciable bitterness, and don’t need to worry about hop enzymes, specifically amyloglucosidase, that can change wort fermentability.

Some brewers may be thinking that those hop enzymes sound like a fun journey. And that’s where the diversity in brewing jumps into the mix. Another way to use your wet hops would be to dry hop with them. If you decided to go this route, consider limiting the contact time with beer because those green and grassy notes can be a bit extreme. A quick dry hop followed by racking off the dry hops or simply pulling the dry hop bag if a bag is used, will allow enough contact time with beer to extract hop aromas and enzymes, but gives the brewer a way of tempering the possibility of teasing out too much of the green flavors.

For anyone who decides to dry hop with fresh hops, this enzyme topic is more than academic. Hop enzymes convert unfermentable dextrins in beer into fermentable sugars, mainly glucose. If this happens in the package, the results can be volcanic. It also can cause a spike in diacetyl that may not fall below the sensory threshold if viable yeast concentration is too low. The takeaway is, if you plan on dry hopping a beer with wet hops plan for hop creep and allow things to happen before packaging.

Thanks again for the great question and have fun playing with your homegrown Cascade and Chinook hops!

Q How long will my homebrewed beers last? Are they like wine and get better with age or do they expire?

Bob Bungard
Mosgiel, New Zealand

A Hey Bob, before I attempt to answer this question I just want to let you in on a secret. If I could really answer this question, I would be retired on an island somewhere with few people but great access to brewing supplies. And not to spoil the ending; I don’t have a clue! But that never stopped a blowhard from writing.

This question can be viewed from several angles. Let’s start from a commercial perspective and assume you are bottling fully aged and carbonated beer. This sort of beer is not bottle conditioned, and should taste and appear about the same whether it is bottled, kegged, or canned. The rule of thumb with this sort of beer is that age does zero to improve beer. It’s all downhill after packaging because these beers are at their peak when packaged, oxygen pick-up is impossible to prevent and these styles are not done any favors by oxidation. I will never forget a crude story told by a brewer from a large brewery when I was young and impressionable; this brewer stated that the brewing department did everything in their power to brew the best beer before releasing it to the packaging department, where the beer was fussed up to varying degrees when bottled.

Let’s look at another commercial example with bottle-conditioned and cask-conditioned beers. These beers are most certainly not at their prime when packaged because the brewing process has not yet been completed. These beers come into condition in the package and morph during storage. Because these brews contain viable yeast, well-packaged beers are less likely to show the signs of oxidation caused by oxygen pick up during packaging. This argument has been over-played by many brewers who falsely believe that viable yeast prevents package oxidation. Oxidative reactions occur quickly and it is often the case where beer is oxidized before viable yeast can provide much help. That aside, bottle-conditioned beers are oftentimes more stable than their non-conditioned cousins.

This is where things become a bit more interesting and wine-like. Take a bottle-conditioned IPA as an example. This type of beer will come into condition, i.e., carbonate and flavor mature, yeast will begin to die and release enzymes, hop aroma compounds wane, especially if the beer had high package oxygen when bottled, and the beer slowly fades. Although bottle-conditioned IPAs can be great beers many months after packaging, the hop aromas will give way to a malt-centric balance. Most beer judges don’t love this sort of transition. Using your wine comparison, consider this analogous to a bottle of Pinot Grigio past its prime.

Other bottle-conditioned beers are much more resilient to age and some styles do indeed improve with age. These beers are usually higher alcohol beers with complex flavor profiles. Barleywines, barrel-aged beers, strong stouts, and big Scottish ales are examples of these brews. During aging, some alcohols slowly react with organic acids to form esters and some alcohols oxidize into aldehydes. These flavor compounds can add complexity to big beers that have enough umph to support the changes. Yeast autolysis, although usually a negative attribute in normal strength beers, can add desirable aromas to this sort of beer. But all good things come to an end; while maturation can be a slowly evolving process, aged beer, just like wine, can go from excellent to subpar in a flash. With that said, great beers usually don’t last long enough in the cellar once they hit that perfect pitch to ever hit the downhill slide.

The last sort of beer I will mention are funky beers. You really never know what’s going to happen with funky beer unless the beer is something routinely brewed with a known progression during aging. Some funky brews contain bacteria, some contain yeast, and others contain a mélange of bugs. Pediococci, Lactobacilli, Brettanomyces, odd Saccharomyces, Acetobacter, and even some enteric bacteria can be part of the wild beer roller coaster. Although many of these microbes come and go before packaging, there are often phases within the package where beer flavor may improve, followed by a down-turn in flavor, that may or may not be permanently bad. These can be odd brews to age because one is never quite sure of the optimal time to enjoy.

The one thing I can state with certainty is that most beers that taste bad today will probably taste bad tomorrow. If you have a batch that seems off and you hold on to it for periodic tasting, don’t hang on to it forever hoping it will improve. Most beers taste better today than they will tomorrow, so when you brew a great batch of homebrew enjoy it and get busy brewing a replacement!

Q Have you ever heard of using a burp to help evaluate beer? I’ve never heard of it before, but I find there are all kinds of interesting characteristics that can be found if my nasal cavity gets a second pass at the beer aromas . . . most notably in big, hoppy IPAs, this is my best tool to assess diacetyl lurking below all the hop oils. Not like I’m purposefully doing this with every beer . . . it’s just when it occurs spontaneously. but I’ve been doing this for years to find hidden characteristics and flaws in beer. Just me?

Noelle Green
Danby, Vermont

A This just goes to show that learning never stops. I can state with conviction that I have never heard or read about this method in decent circles. But I am choosing to tackle this odd sensory evaluation technique because I have noted myself doing this and even discussing with close friends, usually after too many samples of beer have been evaluated. The old hop belch certainly has its own sensory experience.

There are definitely problems with the method. The first is that the sample is not always coming from the cleanest sensory vessel. That occasional diacetyl bump you are detecting could come from the beer, but it can also be coming from that cheddar cheese chilling out in your paunch. In my experience, I have found the cleanest eructations emanate from an empty belly.

Yeah, this is kind of a gross topic, but it’s also interesting. Think about that pint of IPA just hanging out in the internal bota bag waiting to be absorbed. What’s going on down there? For starters, the dissolved carbon dioxide in that beer is going to come out of solution as the beer is warmed. This begins to fill your stomach up with gas. Think about it; the typical half liter (16.9 oz.) of beer contains the equivalent of about 1.25 L (42 oz.) of gas, and the typical human stomach can expand to about 1 L (34 oz.). This means that your belly balloon is probably full and that gas is going to go somewhere.

Besides degassing, that hoppy IPA is down in your body’s own barrel warming up and concentrating beer volatiles in the headspace. Ever cover a beer glass while swirling to increase aroma intensity? If not, give it try . . . or just pay attention to those beer burps because that’s what often naturally follows a beer or two. The interesting thing about this gas encounter of the best kind is the aroma concentration that can occur down there in a clean incubating chamber. It’s like 1, 2, 3, hop eruption! The trained judge will have the mind’s chalkboard cleaned for optimal note taking. Burrrp! Piney, grapefruit peel, linalool, rose water, and pineapple. Darn, I cannot remember those secondary notes. Burrrrp! Coconut, caramel, and, there it is, diacetyl!

I do have a few serious tidbits of advice about this method. Repeating an earlier point, this works best on a clean stomach. I am not implying that any extreme measures are needed, but you don’t want to be doing this after eating spicy foods because, not to ruin it for you, your beer probably does not really have a cumin and garlic aroma . . . that’s dinner! OK, so you need to do this on a clean stomach.

Second pointer is pretty obvious. Do not, I repeat do not use this method in public. And if you do, don’t even think about announcing to the room that you are a hopeless beer geek because that just ruins the reputation of all us respectable, hopeless, beer geeks. No, doing this in public is just plain rude. And it’s equally verboten at a judging table. Seriously, you can lose your brewer’s permit.

Finally, and this one is really, really important. Never, ever admit using this method for any other purpose than pure entertainment. No one wants to hear about your burp-o-meter.

Issue: November 2021