Monday, September 3, 2012

Brew Day: Harvest Bitter redux

When it comes to English bitters, most of what I brew often falls into two categories. The first are pale bitters, usually brewed with Golden Promise and less than 4% dark crystal, with a sizable amount of homemade brewers invert syrup, usually around 25-35L. These bitters are typically hopped with floral English varieties, namely EKG and First Gold. What I enjoy most about these beers, is that they showcase the hop character and yeast choice, while still being supremely drinkable. On the other hand, I also like bitters that have more of what some would call 'traditional flavor,' that is malt forward with plenty of caramel character. For these, I typically use Maris Otter (Thomas Fawcett) and rotate through various combinations of medium and dark crystal malt, with an occasional addition of toasted malt for complexity. I prefer more hop aroma and flavor in my bitters than what the BJCP recommends for the style, with less emphasis on bitterness. And of course, yeast choice is always king for me. Compared to most American commercial versions, my bitters typically have more hop and yeast character, with less caramel flavor and bitterness,

With that in mind, this recipe is similar to the bitters most Americans are familiar with. While not a style per se, "harvest bitters" are generally amber colored, session-y beers with an emphasis on caramel malts and rich, earthy flavors. Last year I brewed a beer almost identical to this one, although I ended up dumping the batch due to fermentation issues. The recipe is nothing new, although I will be subbing the EKG hops for Northern Brewer and UK Fuggles. I've not used NB hops in a beer like this and I think the earthy-minty and woody flavors would pair well with the wy1968 yeast and the darker crystal malts. Lastly, to keep the beer on the malty side, I've toned down the sulfate levels quite substantially. Should be drinking this one a few weeks into football season. 

Harvest Bitter : English Special Bitter

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 4.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.85
Anticipated OG: 1.042
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 14
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

87.6% - 6.0 lbs. Maris Otter
7.3%   - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 60L
3.6%   - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 120-150L
1.5%   - 0.10 lbs. Pale Chocolate

0.75 oz. Northern Brewer @ 60 min for 24 IBU
0.50 oz. UK Fuggles @ 15 min for 6 IBU
1.00 oz. Northern Brewer @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast 1968 London ESB
Brewed on 3 September


  1. This looks tasty!

    I'm also interested in your thoughts on hopping schedules for the pale bitters you like to make. I've made a couple beers along these lines (minus the invert syrup, which I haven't tried making yet), but I've been having trouble getting good hop character in them. What kind of loads and timing do you generally use with something like EKG?


    1. I think the key to getting good hop character with most English hops, EKG in particular, is that you need to use them in quantity. Most bitter recipes typically only use one or two oz total, usually at 60, 30, and flameout, since they are looking for more bitterness than hop aroma/flavor. I usually forgo the 30 min addition and focus on the 15 min and flameout... with a dryhop if I want more aroma.

      I'll usually do something like this for a hoppy bitter: 0.5-1.0 oz at 60min, 1 oz at 15, 2-2.5 oz at flameout, 1-2 oz dryhop. However, many times the beer turns out hoppy enough that I don't need a dryhop. I do like a good amount of hop character in my bitters, but often the dryhop takes away from the malt and yeast character.

      One thing that has improved my hop aroma in particular, is an extended whirlpool. At flameout, I kill the heat on the kettle and add my hops. I chill the wort down to 170-180F, it only takes a minute, and then I start the whirlpool and let the hops sit for 20-30 minutes in the hot wort, before chilling. This has become common practice for many homebrewers and I've found it works very well. I've also tried a 'hop-stand' a few times, where you add one big addition at 15 min and then let the hops sit in the wort for up to 2hrs after flameout. I was not impressed.

  2. Thanks as always for the advice!

    I'd been sticking to the kind of hop schedule recommended by Wheeler in "Brew Your Own.". The kind of schedule you outline here looks quite a bit different, and I'm looking forward to giving it a try!


    1. I've never got around to reading his book, even though I hear he has some good recipes for bitter. Though most recipes have table sugar in them or something? I'd be interested to see what type of hop schedules he's using.

      The whirlpool hop steep is pretty much what 99% of american craft breweries are doing these days. Don't know where it came from, but it works well.

    2. Yes, he uses table sugar in a lot of the recipes in the book (maybe around three quarters of them or so). While he does include a few paragraphs on invert sugars in the "how to" chunk of the book, he uses table sugar as a substitute in the recipes themselves because he feels that it's easier to find.

      His typical hopping schedules call for 75-80% of the total hop load to be added at the start of the boil (90 minutes), and the rest during the last 10 minutes. He discusses post-boil steeping, but I don't know that he actually uses it in any of the recipes (though he does recommend dry hopping in several of them).

    3. I got hold of that book about 4 months back and I've been trying a few of the recipes. I have to say I'm not that impressed. I think his late hopping is way off in most recipes. For example I've brewed both his recipe and the brewing network's "Can you Brew It" recipe for Fullers ESB, and the CYBI one is far far closer to the original. This is definitely due to the late hopping - for Wheeler's it's 0.5oz of goldings at 15 minutes, for CYBI it's over 1oz of a mix of higher AA hops at 3mins. That's a big difference.

      Same with the Black Sheep beers, Wheeler says 0.5oz of fuggles/goldings at 10mins, but I can't see how you could possibly get the kind of hop aroma these beers have without at least twice that.

      Still it's an interesting book and worth a look - I think the malt bills are reasonably accurate. No yeast information whatsoever though.

    4. I think that Sean is right about the hop schedules. I've brewed both Wheeler's version of TT Landlord and DrSmurto's version, and the latter definitely has a much more pronounced late hop character to it, thatnks to an extremely heavy 0 minute addition.


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