Sunday, January 29, 2012

Brew Day: Session Bitter

Considering the number of recipes and ingredient combinations there are in homebrewing, it is often difficult to make the same beer each and every time. Even when following the same recipe, little things like using a different hop variety, yeast strain, or even a type of malt can make a huge difference in the final product. I've always enjoyed homebrewing for the freedom and ability to make a beer exactly how you want it. The endless combinations of ingredients and processes are indeed a playground of possibility. Yet, I do know a large number of homebrewers that brew the same five or six recipes over and and over again, and are completely content drinking the same thing all year long. I suspect this has something to do with their wives! Regardless, while I like experimenting with ingredients and tweaking recipes as much as anyone, I wasn't always that way. For my first year and a half of brewing, I made nearly the same damn thing each and every week. Special bitter, witbier, stout. Rinse and repeat, ad nauseum. Anyways, for today's brew day, I got one of those early recipes. My 'yeoman special bitter,' a beer that I have brewed dozens of times and have lately forgot about. The recipe is pretty much the same, although I did make a few minor substitutions for what I have on hand. And as I managed to culture some Bedford Bitter yeast from the bottom of my kicked keg of ESB, I will be using that. This guy wont be waiting until June to get his wlp006 yeast fix!

Yeoman Special Bitter : English Special Bitter                                                                               
Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.4
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated FG: 1.010    
Anticipated IBU: 33
Anticipated SRM: 10
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

88.9% - 7.0 lbs. Pale Malt, Maris Otter (TF)
6.3%  - 0.4 lbs. Toasted Malt
4.7%  - 0.3 lbs. Crystal 60L
3.1%  - 0.2 lbs. Crystal 120L                                                                                                             
0.75 oz. Challenger @ 60 min for 26 IBU
0.5 oz. EKG @ 15 min for 7 IBU
1.0 oz. EKG @ flameout
0.5 oz. EKG @ dryhop 5 days

Yeast: Whitelabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 154F for 75 min
Brewed on 29 January

Notes: I toast my malt at 350F for 30 min on a heavy duty cookie sheet or until I get a deeply nutty - toast like flavor that is actually pretty similar to cheddar goldfish crackers. Biscuit malt and/or victory would be a passable substitution, though home toasted malt just tastes better and has a more discernible impact on the final beer.


  1. Should I assume you toast your malt prior to milling?

    I usually use victory in my bitter, but toasting some maris otter would be an interesting way to switch things up.

    1. Yep. I think you'll find the toasted MO has a much deeper flavor than victory malt.

  2. I like to use a mix of amber and brown malt in my bitters as well as a little caramel 10. Have you tried using a cubitainer to replicate cask conditioning for your bitters?

    1. I have access to an old handpump and pin cask, which I used once last spring, but I haven't got around to using it since. I had all sorts of problems getting the thing primed properly and the seals in the handpump leaked. Major PITA. I've never thought of using a cubitainer for cask, though I bet it works pretty well!? Have you used one before?

      Amber and brown malt sounds mighty nice in a dark, malty bitter. I'll have to try that out someday.

    2. It worked pretty well:

  3. Hey Will,

    I had some fresh London Pride the other day, and that got me fired up again to brew the perfect bitter. But some of these english yeast strains are super sensitive to temperature drops. I'm using the old water bath method to control fermentation temps. While it works ok, its nearly impossible to avoid getting a few degrees to warm and having to add a good amount of ice.

    So my question is this, I want to start kegging and have temperature controlled fermentation. How can I do this with one fridge? What is your approach, do you use 2 - One for kegs one for fermentation?


    1. Andrew,

      I've actually gone back to a swamp-cooler method since my fermentation fridge died over the summer. I still have a fridge for my kegerator and while I could use it for fermentation, I've been pretty happy with the water-bath method. Only thing that sucks is that I can't do controlled lager fermentations without a separate fridge. Once I get more space, I'll buy another one.

      There are a few things that have helped me with the water bath method though. First, I have a corner in my basement that stays at a pretty constant 65F for most of the year. I found that when I pitch my yeast (62-64F) and place the carboy/bucket in the cooler with cold water (around 55F), I can maintain a pretty constant temp. I have a temperature probe that I often suspend in the beer for the duration of the fermention. Usually, the first 72 hours are around 64-66F and after that I'll remove the carboy/bucket from the water to let the temp free rise a bit. Since most of the exothermic activity has subsided by day three, the beer usually only comes up a few degrees after that. The max temp I want my English ales to get is 68-70F, and I'd guess my mean ferment temp is closer to 65-66F. For some yeasts, 1968 and 1187 in particular, I'll cold crash the beer in my kegerator. I also have an aquarium heater and heat blanket that I'll use when fermenting Belgians.

      If you don't have access to a cool spot/basement and don't want to get a second fridge, I have seen setups where people use small room air conditioners in styrofoam lined fermentation chests. Really though, so long as your not fermenting your ales in the 70's, or going from 60F to 68F and back down, you shouldn't worry too much about minor temp swings. Hope that helped.

  4. Thanks Will!

    South Florida. No basements. House is 78 almost year round. Haha

    But, I do have 3 room air conditioners standing by for hurricane season. I might just have to make a ferm box with an A/C and get a fridge for kegs. Already have a Johnson controller.

    By the way, do you use a thermowell or something else?

  5. Andrew - that is a rough scenerio for fermentation even for most belgian strains!

    Do you have even a smallish room with a window that you could cool to @68-70 degrees? For the right sized window A/C unit, that wouldn't be too much I'd gather. Then you can let the temp rise a bit (less cooling) as fermentation completes.

    I imagine the ice thing you are doing now works out, but it's probably a lot of maintenance, and probably hard to control just how low the temps dip in an ice bath just the same. The yeast can really get stressed if they're fluctuating in both directions cyclically.

    If you're getting satisfactory beer already, that's impressive and a good start, and it can only get better with ambient temperature control. If not, than better temp control would be the first thing to address, IMO. If you do things cleverly, you could even cool off one room in the house discretely for the fermentation and enjoy those cooler temps yourself simultaneously.

  6. As a matter of comment a beer at 4.2% ABV would fall into the "Premium" category rather than "Session" in bitter's homeland.Though there are no hard and fast rules or laws it is understood by custom and practise that session beer lies below 4% ABV.Fuller's do not regard London pride as a session bitter and as they brew it they ought to know what it is.

  7. Sure, in the UK anything lower than 4% is generally accepted to be session beer. However, here in the US, where you'll be hard pressed to find *any* craft beer that low, I don't see the big deal calling a 4.2% special bitter a "session" beer, especially since it will be consumed like one.

  8. Is there some kind of reinheitsgebot in the UK defining session beer?

    Anyhow, the FG is only anticipated. If it ends at 1.012 instead of 1.010, then it would be 'official' Even so, I hope you do strict gravity temperature compensation as well, or else you may be misleading drinkers about the beers sessionability.

  9. Did you wait several days before using your home toasted malt, I've read somewhere that you should wait up to two weeks before using toasted grains.

    1. I've done both, wait and use immediately. You do get more toasted flavor when used right away, although it can give the beer a 'grainy' flavor as it ages. I try and let the grain sit for at least a week. Generally speaking, the darker you toast the grain, the more time you would let it sit.


      Consistency with any of these methods - toasting/invert sugar - is always a little bit hit or miss. Although, I would still stay the flavor contribution they provide is worth the effort. Interesting about the coffee comparison, I never though about that.

    2. Thanks for the info.
      I did toast the same way as you in this recipe and used it 1 hour after finished in my latest batch. Having hopes that an fresh "amber like" toast like this doesn't have to harsh flavors when used directly, time will tell :)

  10. I think the 'somewhere' you mention is either Palmer's 'how to brew' or Papazian's classic book on homebrewing (The Complete Joy of....?).

    Like anything, waiting before using the toasted malt is going to yield different results than not waiting. Even if there is a science to the 'benefits' of waiting X amount of time and storing X amount of toasted malt in X size/type of bag, preference isn't pure science...

    I gave up on home toasting/syrup making since I feel my oven and personality do not allow for consistent results like purchased ingredients can...once I feel I've got the process and recipes 'nailed,' I might consider it...

    But even if there's 'good reason' behind putting your toasted malt in a brown paper back for X number of weeks before milling etc...well, plenty of other roasted things such as coffee have cult followings for home or on-site roasting in small batches, and then (At home) grinding and brewing the coffee while the beans are still warm(!) or within 1 day, 3 days, 1 week, 10 days, and so on, as a counterpoint.

    Preferences...and quite a few variables in the mix. I try to eliminate the variables as much as reasonably possible via controlled use of particular malts that I can buy from (ideally) consistent maltsters; this also can happen by purchasing x lbs of a 'roasted malt' I purchased from a maltster, and over the brewing of half a dozen+ brews, be pulling from the same bag which at least allows consistency over that series of brews for that ingredient....

    Even the maltsters have variances in their batches of malt, though they may be (and I imagine they are) much smaller than what I have/would get from a batch yielded from a small oven with a home-grade heating element with imprecise ability to measure how roasted/toasted the grain is etc....

    Should also note that from thinking things over quite a bit (some might say, too much)...I try to get consistency by weighting my grains to the gram and weighing my hops to the 0.1 gram scale for recipies. That said, especially with dried, malted grain, how much moisture content the malted grain has when weighed - affected by season, how and where and how long it is stored, etc. - can play a major factor in the amount of malt that weights out as 1kg on day, and what weights out as 1kg on another day.

    And really deservingly - a shout out to the (European) malsters - they are the unsung heros of homebrewer and commercial brewer alike. We'd ALL be brewing inconsistently glorious slop for wort without them, IMO (rather than just some of us who often do so even WITH their fantastic products). =)


Leave a comment. No spam please.