Article

Wheatwine

by the numbers
OG: 1.080-1.120
FG:1.016-1.030
SRM:8-15
IBU:30-60
ABV:8-12

Most homebrewers are quite familiar with barleywine, a very strong ale with English roots and modern American craft interpretations. However, many have not heard of wheatwine, its quirky craft cousin. As with many wheat beers, a grist of at least half wheat malt is typical, but a wheatwine is not just a barleywine with a higher percentage of wheat. It’s quite a bit more sophisticated than that. Many examples play up the “wine” angle and seek strong aromatics and a lean body rather than being a malt bomb, but interpretations vary widely.

Stan Hieronymus writes in Brewing with Wheat that wheatwine has its origins in modern American craft brewing, but that it was not intentional. A happy accident produced a higher gravity American wheat ale. The first modern commercial version is credited to Rubicon Brewing Company (Sacramento, California) in 1988, but many breweries now produce it as a limited edition winter release. Some examples are vintage-dated and oak-aged, suggesting they likely will continue to improve with age.

The 2015 Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines includes Wheatwine as style 22D, part of the Strong American Ale category that also includes double IPA, American strong ale, and American barleywine. So you can correctly infer that higher alcohol levels are a major component of the style.

Sensory Profile

Wheatwines made like American barleywines with half the pale malt swapped out for wheat malt will often be indistinguishable from barleywines. A biscuity or bready character might suggest to tasters that an English base malt was used, or that some flaked grains were added to increase the body and mouthfeel. While American barleywines can also vary widely, many have strong caramel, toasty, or bready flavors, and many feature aggressive American hop varieties (often with citrusy, piney, or resiny qualities). I think both of these qualities are out of place in a wheatwine, but you can likely find examples made this way.

Wheatwine is more of a scaled up American wheat beer than a wheat barleywine, so the main malt flavors are the grainy, bready flavor of wheat with a more dextrinous body. Wheatwines tend to be more attenuated than barleywines, giving them a drier finish. The increased body provides a filling sensation but this is
usually not accompanied by a syrupy or sugary sweetness.

The aromatic qualities of wheatwine features hops less prominently than a barleywine, which allows some of the bready, wheaty aromas to be enjoyed. Hops can be of any variety, but milder floral, spicy, and fruity varieties tend to play better than more aggressive choices. Likewise, the malt can have some additional character, but not at the expense of masking the bready wheat flavors. Light caramel, toast, or honey qualities can add complexity while complementing the base wheat character.

Hop bitterness levels are wide open, and often suit the brewer’s personal preferences. I prefer moderate IBUs, but the balance can be low to high. The bitterness shouldn’t be low enough that the beer is perceived to be sweet, but shouldn’t be so high that the wheat flavors are overpowered. Higher IBU levels are fine if the beer is intended to be aged, since bitterness will fade over time.

As with an American wheat beer, the yeast should not be a German weizen variety; banana and clove are uncharacteristic. A clean or lightly fruity strain is typically used. As the alcohol is in the 8–12 percent range, there should be a warming mouthfeel and sometimes a light alcohol aroma and flavor. The alcohol should never be burning, solventy, or harsh, however.

Wheatwine may be oak-aged, which can add some oak, toast, and vanilla flavors, increase the perception of body and the dryness. If the beer is aged, some light oxidation notes may be present, but should be the more positive Sherry-like notes and not the harsh papery ones. Oak aging adds tannins, which can mellow over time to give the beer a more velvety texture, like in a fine aged red wine. I wouldn’t use oaking in a beer that will be consumed young since it could be perceived as more harsh in the short term.

Brewing Ingredients and Methods

The main base malt of a wheatwine is typically an American wheat malt, although imported wheat malt can also be used. The percentage of wheat is variable, but is typically over 50% (and often quite high). Relatively neutral base malts (American 2-row, pale ale, or Pilsner-type malts) make up most of the remaining grist, and serve to provide a rounder character and to assist with lautering. Specialty malts, if used, typically comprise less than 10% of the grist. Malts that provide a richer maltiness, or a light caramel, toast or honey character are often used. Some versions use raw wheat or flaked wheat as a portion of the grist, particularly when more mouthfeel is desired. Specialty wheat malts can also be used for part of the specialty character.

Mash programs can vary at the brewer’s preference, with barleywine-type versions often using single infusion mashes and leaner versions using step mashes. Lower temperature mash rests encourage attenuation, but in a very large beer there will be sufficient residual extract to give some body. When using raw or flaked wheat, a protein rest will increase fermentability.

Hop varieties can also vary, with noble-type hops, some milder American hops, and many New World hops as good choices. Hops with tropical fruit, grape, or white wine-like characteristics can be quite interesting. Varieties like Nelson Sauvin, Citra®, Galaxy®, and Amarillo® come to mind. Some of the newer hop varieties can also provide interest, especially if they have something other than a citrusy, resiny, or dank character. When thinking about wine-like character, I look for hops that have fruity characteristics similar to those found in white wines (paler fruits, such as tropical fruit, apples, apricots, pears, gooseberries, etc.) not hops that taste like wine itself. Floral characteristics such as honeysuckle can also add complexity.

The perceived hop character is generally not extreme, although the choice of hop varieties that provide fruity and floral characteristics often fools perceptions to think elsewhere. The bitterness level tends to be lower in the leaner wine-like versions and higher in barleywine-like interpretations. Think more about the balance between the residual sweetness and the bitterness more than balancing the alcohol or original gravity. Remember that higher alcohol levels often provide a counterpoint to residual maltiness and sweetness, and that absolute bitterness levels do tend to be lower than in barleywines.

Oaking can add complexity, and is used more frequently in wheatwines intended to age. Oaking can also be used to adjust the balance, if desired, by increasing the tannin level and adding a perception of dryness. When selecting oak, I would avoid heavy charring and aggressive flavors. French or Hungarian oak would be my choice, with mid-range toast levels. Barrels that held spirits would tend to add more flavor that would clash with those built directly from the beer, although wine barrels might be an interesting experiment (Chardonnay, perhaps). I think bigger red wines would also have too much flavor, and draw the fruitiness to the darker fruits.
I don’t see yeast as a major driver of this style, except as selecting one with good attenuation. I’d go with American or English strains, generally neutral to lightly fruity. I like to get fruit character from the other ingredients, so I’d keep it fairly clean. I would avoid phenolic Belgian yeast strains, and definitely not a German weizen yeast. Those could be used in more experimental beers, but they would not be characteristic to the style.

Homebrew Example

I put together an example recipe below that is more in the wine-like class than a wheat barleywine; I figured any barleywine recipe could be converted to a wheatwine by swapping wheat malt for half of the grist, replacing the primary base malt. In my recipe, the base grist is mostly malted wheat, with Pilsner malt to add a roundness of flavor and Golden PromiseTM to add some bready complexity.

An intensive step mash helps provide a more attenuative wort and improves clarity. I use some white sugar to increase the attenuation as well, a technique that is common in dry double IPAs. I was looking for some interesting hop aromatics, with tropical, lush fruit and white grape notes, so I chose some New Zealand hops to go with the fruity Citra®. I think the honey malt might be adding to the interesting fruit aromatics from the hops, and bringing an impression of sweetness without a higher finishing gravity (plus it reminds me a little of mead). Any clean bittering hop and yeast strain would work; I wouldn’t want to bring any more fruit complexity to the mix since it’s almost a fruit salad now.

If you want to perform a single step infusion mash, use a rest temperature of 147 to 149 °F (64 to 65 °C). Age
the beer as you would any strong beer (I like to give it at least 6 months of cellaring). A light oaking also would add complexity; a medium toast French oak would be my choice. Avoid the use of any spirit-infused wood since the beer is complex enough without making it boozy. The honey malt can be omitted if it is hard to find, or if you don’t like honey flavors. I am aging my version without oak, and the character continues to change and evolve. I like to understand the base character of my recipes before adulterating them too much.
My sampling notes for the beer say that it has a deep amber color, and a mild grainy-sweet honey nose with apples, pears, and luscious ripe fruit like peaches and melons. The fruity component is huge; one of the highest of any beers I’ve done. The beer has a large grainy wheat flavor with medium to medium-high bitterness and noticeable alcohol. It definitely needs aging to smooth out the alcohol. A clean fermentation profile is noted, with a spicy, fruity, and herbal hoppy finish. It has a full body but is dry, and is chewy but not sweet. This is the kind of balance that should age well, as the grainy notes merge with the bitterness and dryness in the aftertaste and the alcohol and fruit smooth out over time. I am still sipping this one as it continues to improve as it matures. Time will tell when it will hit its peak, but I look forward to sampling this every winter for some time to come.

Wheatwine

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.108 FG = 1.018
IBU = 48 SRM = 9 ABV = 13.2%

Ingredients
13 lbs. (5.9 kg) German wheat malt
2.75 lbs. (1.25 kg) German Pilsner malt
2.75 lbs. (1.25 kg) Simpsons Golden Promise™ malt
13 oz. (0.37 kg) honey malt
1.4 lbs. (0.64 kg) white sugar (15 min.)
14.4 AAU German Magnum hops (60 min.) (1 oz./28 g at 14.4% alpha acids)
8.25 AAU Citra® hops (5 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 11% alpha acids)
9.75 AAU NZ Nelson Sauvin hops (1 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 13% alpha acids)
5.25 AAU NZ Motueka hops (0 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 7% alpha acids)
White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) or Fermentis US-05 yeast
3⁄4 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step
Two or three days before brew day, make a 2-qt. (2-L) yeast starter, aerating the wort thoroughly (preferably with oxygen) before pitching the yeast.

On brew day, prepare your ingredients; mill the grain, measure your hops, and prepare your water. This recipe uses reverse osmosis (RO) water. Add ¼ tsp 10% phosphoric acid per 5 gallons (19 L) of brewing water, or until water measures pH 5.5 at room temperature. Add 1 tsp. calcium chloride (CaCl2) to the mash.

This recipe uses a multi-step mash with a mashout. On brew day, mash in all the grains at 104 °F (40 °C) in 22 qts. (21 L) of water and hold this temperature for 10 minutes. Raise the temperature by infusion or direct heading to 131 °F (55 °C) for 15 minutes, then raise to 146 °F (63 °C) for 40 minutes, then to 158 °F (70 °C) for 15 minutes. Finally raise to 168 °F (76 °C) for 15 minutes to mashout, recirculating. This step mash helps provide a more attenuative wort and improves clarity. Fly sparge with 168 °F (76 °C) water until 6.5 gallons (25 L) of wort is collected.

Boil the wort for 90 minutes, adding the hops at times indicated in the recipe. Add the sugar in the last 15 minutes of the boil. After adding the final hops when the heat is turned off, let the wort stand for 20 minutes before chilling the wort. This technique is called a hop stand and will add flavor, aroma, and some bitterness from the flameout hops. Chill to 66 °F (19 °C).

Oxygenate, then pitch the yeast starter. Allow fermentation temperature to rise to no more than 72 °F (22 °C) until fermentation is complete. Rack and allow the beer to drop bright, using crash cooling or fining if necessary. Prime and bottle condition, or keg and force carbonate to 2 to 2.5 volumes. This is a beer that should age well, as the grainy notes merge with the bitterness and dryness in the aftertaste and the alcohol and fruit smooth out over time.

Wheatwine

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.108 FG = 1.018
IBU = 48 SRM = 11 ABV = 13.2%

Ingredients
9 lbs. (4.1 kg) wheat liquid malt extract
3 lbs. (1.36 kg) dried wheat malt extract
13 oz. (0.37 kg) honey malt
1.4 lbs. (0.64 kg) white sugar (15 min.)
14.4 AAU German Magnum hops (60 min.) (1 oz./28 g at 14.4% alpha acids)
8.25 AAU Citra® hops (5 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 11% alpha acids)
9.75 AAU NZ Nelson Sauvin hops (1 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 13% alpha acids)
5.25 AAU NZ Motueka hops (0 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 7% alpha acids)
White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) or Fermentis US-05 yeast
3⁄4 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step
Two or three days before brew day, make a 2-qt. (2-L) yeast starter, aerating the wort thoroughly (preferably with oxygen) before pitching the yeast.

On brew day, heat 6 gallons (23 L) of water in the brew kettle up to 158 °F (70 °C). Place the honey malt in a mesh bag, and steep in the hot water for 30 minutes. Remove the mesh bag, then turn the heat off. Add the malt extracts and stir thoroughly to dissolve the extract completely. You do not want to feel liquid extract at the bottom of the kettle when stirring with your spoon. Turn the heat back on and bring to a boil. Boil the wort for 60 minutes, adding the hops at the times indicated in the recipe. Add the white sugar in the last 15 minutes of the boil.

After adding the final hops when the heat is turned off, let the wort stand for 20 minutes before chilling the wort. This technique is called a hop stand and will add flavor, aroma, and some bitterness from the flameout hops. Chill to 66 °F (19 °C).

Oxygenate the wort, then pitch the yeast starter. Allow the fermentation temperature to rise to no more than 72 °F (22 °C) until fermentation is complete. Rack and allow the beer to drop bright, using crash cooling or fining if necessary. Prime and bottle condition, or keg and force carbonate to 2 to 2.5 volumes.