Brew Day: Blueberry Wheat Ale

A few weeks back I had an appointment in Woburn that happened to be around the corner from Beer and Wine Hobby. You know what they say, “When in Rome!”

My girlfriend has wanted to brew a fruit beer for a long time. Last year we even started to brew one, but never got around to buying the actual fruit which turned out to be something of a problem. The wort ended up sitting in the fermenter for several months before I finally got around to dumping it.

I enjoy fruit beers. I might not enjoy them as much as stouts or IPAs, but I do enjoy them. Last year I ordered an entire flight of fruit beers at Lowell Beer Works and thoroughly enjoyed it. That said, it wasn’t a style I was particularly motivated to brew. Most fruit beers have a base beer that is either an American Wheat or Blonde ale that gets out of the way of the fruit flavor. It didn’t feel like the type of beer I could put my own spin on.

When I saw the kit at Beer & Wine Hobby it was a no-brainer to pick it up. I could brew a beer that my girlfriend has wanted for a long time, and I wouldn’t have to come up with my own recipe. The fact that the kit was extract meant it would be an easy brew day.

I also used this as an opportunity to reengage my girlfriend in the brewing process. Brewing started as something we could do together and slowly over time I got more into it. Now it is to the point where I brew mostly alone when I brew at home. An easy extract kit brewed the way we made beer when we started, that is also a beer she wanted to brew was the perfect way to get her more involved again.

Cracking the steeping grain with a can, really kickin’ it old school!

The grist was very simple: dry and liquid wheat extract with a small amount of wheat malt to steep, probably just to provide a bit of freshness to the brew. The hop additions were at 45 and 15 minutes in the boil, and having plenty of yeast at home I elected the dry yeast option. 

The instructions indicated the beer would have a starting gravity of 1.040, a little light for my taste. I added some leftover wheat and pilsen extract from previous yeast starters, and a half pound of corn sugar to boost the alcohol without adding too much body to the beer. In accordance with my tips for making better extract beer, I added all the dry extract at the end of the boil to improve hop utilization, prevent the beer from finishing too dark, and most importantly prevent kettle carmelization where the extract caramelizes like an onion on a saute pan making the beer overly sweet. I saved the dry yeast the kit came with and used 1272 American Ale II. The Wyeast website indicated it works well in a fruit beer, and I am curious how the yeast performs in a lighter, less hop-forward beer in comparison to the Camp Randall Red IPA.

Might was well throw in some odds and ends, especially if it means a little more alcohol.

Last weekend I let Briess do the work of mashing my grain for me.

The blueberry flavor will come from extract added at bottling, and canned blueberry pie filling added in the primary fermenter. I usually seek out the freshest ingredients possible and would want to use fresh fruit. Using fresh fruit exclusively has it’s own problems. Fruit has fermentable sugars, but it also has water. The net effect is usually a lower alcohol beer. A fruit like blueberry which has a delicate flavor will require the addition of a lot of fruit to have a noticeable impact on the flavor. In Homebrew Beyond the Basics, Mike Karnowski recommends 12-20 pounds of blueberry for a five gallon batch. Sheesh! Maybe someday, but I didn’t feel like putting in the effort and expense this time. I think the blueberry extract and garnishing with a couple blueberries will be sufficient.

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