Orange You Going to Zest That

“Here, try this.  It’s terrible.”

“Then why are you giving it to me?”

Ah, the joys of introducing friends to your new hobby.  Sorry Cassie, but everyone has to taste the wort at the end of the brew day.

This was my second official brew day; only the fourth total that I had been to, so all in all it went swimmingly.  We stayed on schedule, tasted a lot of good stuff, and even got my girlfriend’s mother (a noted beer-phobe) to try 2 different brews.  “It smells better than it tastes,” she said.  Somehow, it sounded like a compliment.  One day I’ll find out how she does that.

The brew in the kettle that day was affectionately named “Reign in Blood (Orange).”  A nod to Slayer’s seminal 1986 album, as well as a refreshing, fruity hefeweizen for the impending summer.  Kip and Allen were there to help out, and even before the day started, one question loomed above all others: “So what are you doing with those oranges?”

In all the preparation I had done for the brew day, it became clear that there was no shortage of ways to infuse fruit flavors into your beer.  What seems really straightforward actually ended up being a minefield.

Method 1:  You just add the zest of 2 oranges for the last 10 minutes of the boil.
Effective, no doubt.  I had no intentions of tossing out the zest, the most potent source of citrus flavor.  However, this wasn’t just an orange beer, it was a blood orange beer.  All the fun of using blood oranges comes from getting that deep dark red juice in there and hoping to eventually swig a nightmarishly crimson nectar.  So, zest of course.  But there had to be more.

Method 2:  Just chunk up the oranges and drop them right into the primary.
I was almost sold on this method.  I could see the yeast chowing down the cell walls of the oranges and finally breaching the chambers of blood red goodness.  In my mind, they became stronger for the effort.  They reproduced like marauders and sired mutant blood orange/yeast hybrids!  Dine, my creatures, DINE!

“That might be a sanitary issue,” Kip said in his buzz-killing-est tone.  And he sounded right.  Do you know what lives on the outside of an orange?  I don’t.

Method 3:  Chunk up the oranges, remove the pith and steep them around 120°.  Then add to the primary.
Winner!  I took to chopping up the oranges.  Just for effect I even broke out the muddler and did my best Dexter impression.  We steeped them in a small pot of filtered water for about 20 minutes.  Blood oranges they were and bleed they did.  The pot achieved a deep red.  My cheeks flushed and my pupils dilated.  Adrenaline took over.  Power coursed through me.  I’ve done it!  Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!

“That’s going to be too hot to drop right into the primary.”  There was that tone again.  And again, he was correct.  120° water will kill your yeast off real quick.

So in the end, we added the Orange water to the kettle at knockout.  We gave it a stir and cooled it along with the wort.  The oranges themselves were strained out along with the hops and proteins.  I wish they could have stayed in the primary, but snacking on hop covered oranges for the rest of the afternoon was its own reward.  (Don’t make that face, they were good!)

The result?  Well, we’re not sure yet.  I am going to take a break from this and rack it into the secondary.  I’ll take a sample and see how we are doing.

There you have it.  The signature orange haze of a hefeweizen.  A vampiric delight it is not.  But the flavors are absolutely on point (orange, coriander and clove with light hints of banana), and my gravity went from 1.060 to 1.020 in just 8 days, so it is fermenting very well.  I think once this batch is carbonated it is going to be a perfect cure for a broken air conditioner.

As for the color, all is not lost.  I am considering dropping some more oranges into the secondary in the next couple days and see if that will work.  If the oranges fail again we will considering putting together a potion with some Campari (blood orange liqueur) to add at bottling.   Stick around to see how my thrash metal-inspired fruit beer fares in the weeks ahead.


– Ryan N.
Correspondent Brewer

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