Great Wit Shark
Get ready for a shark attack.
From time to time, they happen at the Jersey Shore. In fact, back in 1916, there were enough in one season to inspire the book and movie Jaws.
This season, though, you’re not going to want to avoid these sharks. You’re going to want to seek them out. At least, you’ll want to look for Great Wit Shark from Cape May Brewing Company.
No sharp teeth on this one. No fins, no muscular Jaws. (And, unfortunately, no Roy Schneider or Richard Dreyfuss, either.)
Only a clean and gentle Belgian-style wit with a touch of orange and lemon peels, coriander, and grains of paradise.
You’re gonna need a bigger boat.
“Great Wit Shark was designed to be as traditional as possible,” says Innovation Director Brian Hink. “Everything from the malt bill, water profile, spices added to the boil, the yeast strain, and also fermentation profile all were chosen for very specific reasons.”
Great Wit Shark isn’t our first Belgian-style wheat beer — Summer Catch has been brilliantly filling that niche in our portfolio for four seasons. However, Summer Catch was designed from a radically different standpoint than Great Wit Shark.
“For Summer Catch, we use a delicate hopping of Citra and Amarillo to mimic the spices found in a Wit,” Brian says. “That was to help differentiate Summer Catch from all of the other Belgian Wits out there. Great Wit Shark was designed as a Belgian Wit from the get-go, and that subtle difference is pretty huge here.”
There are a few things that make a Belgian Witbier a Belgian Witbier (or a Wit, Belgian Wit, Belgian White — whatever you want to term it). First, the spices: added to the boil, the spices make a wit distinct from other beers.
Traditionally, the principal spice used is coriander: the seed of the cilantro plant, when crushed, it has a lemony citrus flavor that’s warm, nutty, spicy, and slightly orange-flavored. In Great Wit Shark, we used more traditional spices: orange and lemon peels and grains of paradise.
However, the trick with a Belgian Wit is to ensure that you can’t tell where the yeasts end and the spices begin.
“You shouldn’t be able to tell what spices are in there at all,” Brian says. “You shouldn’t taste orange peel. You shouldn’t have an overwhelming citrusy herbaceous floral quality and know that it’s from coriander. When you pick up on the spicy phenol quality you shouldn’t know if it’s from grains of paradise or the natural clove/peppery notes the yeast produces. It should all be in harmony, and that’s the simplistic beauty of a Belgian White.”
To be considered a Belgian Wit, the grain bill must be predominantly wheat. However, for those of us with limited knowledge of Flemish, “wit” does not translate to “wheat” as you might think — it’s more accurately a “white beer.” They got their name because of the cloudy haze left behind from the wheat.
In ours, we used a blend of flaked wheat and malted wheat.
“Flaked wheat is unmalted or raw wheat that’s easier to handle on our system than traditional raw wheat,” Brian says. “Flaked wheat is going to be less sweet and have a fuller body than malted wheat and is going to leave more protein haze behind which is ideal in a Witbier.”
However, as with most Belgian beers, the yeast plays center stage. In Great Wit Shark, we appropriately used a Witbier strain.
“There are a number of Witbier yeasts but we chose this one for its clean phenols, gentle esters, and the touch of acidity it naturally creates,” Brian tells us.
From what we understand, this strain originated at Hoegaarden. Doesn’t get more Belgian-wit-ty than that.
“We already got cute making a Belgian-Style Wheat Ale aka a pseudo-Belgian Wit aka Summer Catch with a unique yeast profile,” Brian says, “so for this one, we wanted to be as traditional as traditional can be.”
Using a relatively new yeast is like Christmas morning when you’re in the lab — although with the potential of finding nothing but lumps of coal instead of a new PlayStation 4. Manager Lauren Appleman had some fun with this yeast.
“When we use a new yeast strain, we can go in with an idea of how it will perform based on the specs the company advertises as far as attenuation, alcohol limits, fermentation temperatures, and how it may flocculate,” she explains.
All of those factors can affect the health of the yeast for subsequent brews. High fermentation temperatures, high alcohol levels, and low pH are all factors that negatively affect the viability and vitality of the yeast. And, you know, healthy yeast makes better beer.
“This beer started fermentation around our normal range of 68-70°, but about halfway through we allow the temperature to rise to about 75°,” she says. “The struggle was to allow the beer to get warm, but not so warm that it would hurt us downstream.”
The Belgian Wit strain we used is a highly flocculant strain — meaning that the individual cells of yeast have the tendency to cluster together — and, because of that, it’s difficult for Lauren to measure its viability.
“In a highly flocculant strain, it can be difficult because the cells are so closely clustered together that they look like one giant mess,” she explains. “Luckily, we have this awesome machine called a Cellometer that makes life easier when it comes to yeast counts.”
CeeLo rocks. He sits quietly in the corner and doesn’t bother anyone, waiting patiently to leap into service. Then, he counts up our yeast cells for us to let us know how the little yeasties are doing — too many dead cells, and they won’t ferment properly.
“The Cellometer is such a cool piece of equipment because it takes a sample that you dilute down and prepare on a slide, then, using fluorescent dye, it can automatically give you numbers for live and dead cells,” she says, nerdily. “This yeast looks somewhat similar to our house yeast on a small scale, but, as mentioned before, the fermentation side is slightly different due to the free rise.”
So, after the yeast, the spices, the malt, we’re left with one final ingredient to bring it all together: Noble Saaz hops.
“Saaz is great for a delicate hop profile,” Brian says. “Its clean bitterness, the touch of earthy spiciness, grassy hay-like notes make it such a great hop for clean Lagers, Saisons, and Wits.”
Combined, we get what we set out to do: a clean, simple, elegant, and traditional Belgian Wit. With a low ABV of 5.2%, you’ll sip this one all summer long.
“I really appreciate its simple elegance,” Brian says. “It’s biscuity and crackery malt profile, fruity and intriguing yeast profile, light mouthfeel without feeling thin or watery, refreshing and quaffable. It’s just a nice beer that’s easy to enjoy on its own without overthinking it, but if you want to dissect it there’s a ton of underlying characteristics that are fun and inviting.”
Lauren is loving it, too.
“This beer is light and crisp with a nice spiciness backed by citrus,” she says. “This one goes down nicely. I’ll probably drink this beer sitting out on the porch while I also admire the new can design. Again, props to the label designers for knocking this one out of the park.”
Great Wit Shark is available now on draft and in 16-ounce cans in the Tasting Room only and will be out for distribution on draft. Don’t miss this shark attack!