I was recently challenged to a brewing duel, and when I heard what it was, I couldn’t believe it: Weizenbock. I love brewing Weizenbock! I wonder if Ray challenged me to it because he’d overheard me saying that I don’t really drink it much? Well, if so, his (potential) loss because even though I’m not a fan of drinking Weizenbocks, I really do dig making them. What other beer style gives you that much room for creativity, experimentation, and sheer complexity? Sure, I’d rather sit down with a German Pilsner or British pale ale or American amber, just to drink—but I love being able to offer a big, rich, fruity Weizenbock to my guests! Anyone with a heart condition must leave the room!
Lots of people compare this beer to Dunkelweizen, but I think that’s a poor comparison: instead, I think of Weizenbock as a cross between a banana protein shake and Belgian Dubbel. It has a similar phenol profile (clove, pepper) to a Belgian Dubbel, the same dark pit-fruit flavors, and very similar vital stats, but it adds a big banana nose and a rich flavor that seems like it should feel heavy but still drinks pretty easily! It runs from amber to light brown, and features the same basic fermentation characteristics as the other German wheat beers while adding in the malt profile of a traditional bock.
Strange as it sounds, the wheat is almost the least interesting thing in this beer, what with everything else going on. My older recipes included mostly wheat; I wasn’t getting much flavor out of it (that I could tell), but it was playing hell with my sparges, so I started swapping in more Vienna malt instead, and wow! did the spice really kick off! But to keep what I’m sure are my numerous German brewing ancestors happy, I still leave the wheat at a bit over 50 percent, so this is properly a “wheat” beer.
I know we usually shoot for simple grists, but this isn’t one of those weeks. This is a big, complex beer (even within its style, we’re going high) and it’s all right there in the recipe . . . until you get to fermentation! We’ll get our simplicity back in the hopping, I promise.
First, start with a 4:2:1 ratio of wheat malt to Vienna malt to Munich malt. Eight and four and two pounds (3.6 kg, 1.8 kg, 907 g), respectively, should do, but if you want to drop the gravity (we’re shooting for 1.084), you can scale down; just keep that ratio. Then we add ½ pound (227 g) each of Crystal 45, Special B, and Chocolate Rye. That will really amp up the malt flavor, adding dark fruit, toffee, toasted biscuit, and a spicy drying note. Last, add ¼ pound (113 g) of Melanoidin malt to increase the perception of “richness.” Use it cautiously: a little goes a long way.
You can use any hops you like here, so long as you end up with 30 IBUs. Add them at the top of the boil, then forget about it. I used to use Styrian Goldings as a finishing hop to add some spicy aroma, but the herbal-grassy notes didn’t quite work, so I just dropped it! The beer didn’t notice.
As for yeast, no need to get cute here: Wyeast 3068 (Weihenstephan) is a classic and will make it relatively easy to get the fermentation character we want—unless you screw it up, like I used to.
How did I screw it up, you ask? I fermented too cold. It’s my normal process, but I was leaving a lot of flavor on the table. This is one of the only beers I brew that starts at or higher than 70°F (21°C), and with good reason: I wasn’t getting the right flavors by fermenting cooler. I had been advised to ferment cool here, which made me feel good because that’s just my strategy more generally, but it just wasn’t working for me, so I tried one “warm.” That did the trick.
Mash and boil are standard, then chill and ferment warm and steady at 71°F (22°C). That number comes with a big caveat, though: if you have trouble maintaining temperature control, ferment cooler. Nothing wrecks this beer faster than hot alcohols, and if you go much over 71°F (22°C), you’re increasing your risk substantially, so keep a close eye on that thermometer. When you’re done with fermentation, if you can, bump up the temperature by a couple of degrees for a day or two to make sure it’s finishing out and cleaning up completely.
Carbonate high (at least 2.5 volumes) and you’re good to go! If the mouthfeel is too rich, lower the carbonation, but with the smoothness the wheat imparts, you ought to be fine.
I can’t guarantee that Ray won’t win this upcoming duel, but I’m comfortable that I won’t beat myself. This is a good recipe, and unlike many other “big” styles, it’s pretty forgiving. When brewers ask me what their first “big” beer should be, it isn’t barleywine or Old Ale or double IPA: it’s Weizenbock.
And if you really want a good time and this isn’t complex enough for you, add a pound (454 g) of buckwheat honey! That’s some homebrewer stuff, right there. Prost!
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