Sunday, September 30, 2012

Brew Day: Special Bitter

One of the biggest issues homebrewers have when it comes to recipe creation, is that they so often feel the need to include in their beers every specialty malt at their disposal, undoubtedly thinking that the most flavorful and complex tasting beer is made with a lot of ingredients. This of course, is not the case. While I used to fill my recipes with all sorts of unnecessary specialty malts, within the past few years I have made a concerted effort to ensure that every ingredient I put into my beer actually belongs there. And especially when it comes to brewing English bitters, less is more. If your bitter recipes include a bunch of melanoiden, aromatic, biscuit, and other character malts, stop for a moment and think about what you trying to brew. Bitters are not dopplebocks. Regardless, the recipe I have for today is very simple... and for something that looks so plain, I am expecting big things from this beer. Foremost, I am using Warminster Maris Otter - undoubtedly the most biscuity and rich tasting MO you can buy - and rounding out the malt bill with some Simpsons medium crystal. Especially in bitters, using a quality UK base and crystal malt makes all the difference between a good beer and a great one. And as for hops, I'll be using some very aromatic, whole leaf EKG. Yeast will be Wlp006 Bedford Bitter. Lastly, for a more malty and sessionable beer, I am toning down the sulfate to 100ppm and keeping the chloride in line around 35ppm.

Yeoman Bitter: English Special Bitter
Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.75
Anticipated OG: 1.046
Anticipated FG: 1.010
Anticipated SRM: 11
Anticipated IBU: 30
Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

91.4% - 8.0 lbs. Maris Otter, Warminster
8.6%   - 0.75 lbs. Medium Crystal

1.25 oz. EKG @ 60 min for 25 IBU
0.50 oz. EKG @ 20 min for 5 IBU
1.00 oz. EKG @ flameout

Yeast: Whitelabs 006 Bedford Bitter
Mash 154F for 60 min
Brewed on 28 Septemeber


  1. Totally agree with you on the grain bill thing. Just did a Fuller's ESB clone with 95% MO, 5% Simpsons dark crystal and the complexity of flavour is quite amazing.

    Something unexpected I've noticed is that beers from simple grain bills seem to need a little more conditioning time compared to more complex grain bills. Quite a while back I brewed a best bitter from the "brewing classic styles" book which was at it's best after 2 weeks (complex grain bill). Most other best bitter recipes with more simple grain bills seem to take at least four.

    1. I can agree with that. With less ingredients, it takes time for the individual flavor complexities and nuances to develop, whereas you wont have the same for those beers that have a laundry list of specialty malts. I've found that with my wlp006 bitters, the flavor is at its peak around 3-4 weeks in the keg for a relatively simple recipe.

      Aside, I really want to get into serving my bitters from proper casks, as I think the process of racking the beer into a keg and cooling to 42-45F under pressure, throws off the flavor profile for a time. It often seems the flavor follows an inverted bell curve; out of the fermenter it tastes great, once chilled it becomes different, and then comes around again once everything has had time to carbonate and settle out from racking.

  2. That mirrors my own experiences (the inverted bell curve). I've been putting it down to oxygen pickup on transfer - but I may be wrong. My theory was that the oxygen pickup and general rousing that takes place on transfer causes a small secondary fermentation, resulting in some green beer flavours to come to the fore. I've been taking steps to eliminate oxygen pickup (burping kegs with CO2 multiple times), but I'm still seeing these flavours develop in the keg before dissipating after a few weeks.

  3. I'd even take it a step further: a bitter brewed with simply Maris Otter can be quite a beautiful thing, especially one that is balanced toward the hoppy side.

    I do still quite prefer my bitters to be very young, even with simple recipes, but I do bottle carb, so I wonder if it makes a difference. I chill/fine a maximum of 2 days and then bottle carb for two weeks at room temperature so there isn't any prolonged chilling under pressure.

  4. That looks a cracking recipe for an English Bitter. Also agree with the flavour profile you get with kegs. I find it more noticeable now that I'm using casks too, as the cask definitely has a more consistent flavour. Just needs drinking quicker.

  5. Ah, so this is the beer you mentioned in my Warminster MO thread. Funny how we brewed very similar beers at nearly the same time. It would be fun to trade a couple bottles but shipping would probably be $20.

    About a beer (especially bitters) changing when kegged, I've also experienced the same thing. I can't explain what's going on scientifically, but I think it has to do with the forced carbonation. For some reason, new carbonation has somewhat more of a "bite", than carbonation that has had time to sit with a beer for a while. My bitters are beautiful straight from the fermenter, but almost immediately after kegging they develop a sharp twang. I know it isn't temperature related because I crash cool my primaries for a week before kegging. Anyway, the twang seems to peak a couple days after kegging, then drops down so that in a week or two it's gone. At least that's what happens for me.

    1. As they say, great minds think alike. I've been sneaking some warminster MO into my bitters for a few months now. Seriously though, I'd be happy to swap bottles once this beer is kegged and ready to drink.

      Per the change in flavor, I think cold crashing does help maintain some of the yeast esters, but as you said, the beer goes from having a perfect flavor to something less so after kegging... before coming around again. Also, I noticed the clarity on my beer nose dives for a few weeks in the keg, only to drop out crystal clear later on. Now I really want a 'real' cask set up.

  6. Hi and great blog! Thanks for this detailed resource. Keep it up!
    I was gonna go for a WL006 vial on your advice for my next bitter.
    As its not much of a top cropper I was thinking of taking the cake off the bottom on day 3.
    Is this how you would proceed with harvest?

    1. You really should wait until the beer is done fermenting before harvesting the yeast. Give the beer plenty of time for it to ferment to completion and clean up (10-14 days), and wait until the yeast has completely flocculated. After that, rack the beer off the yeast cake and then harvest. Good luck.


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