Monday, September 10, 2012

Special Bitter Tasting

Considering how hop obsessed American 'craft-beer' culture has become and the way breweries now use hop variety as a selling point for their beers, it is *almost* surprising that we don't hear more about English hops. Surely the hops growing on the other side of the pond are just as interesting, varied, and tasty as those grown in other parts of the world? Why is no one talking about this? I think the answer is pretty simple. Here in the States, English hops are often seen as boring and largely enigmatic. We all know about EKG and Fuggles, but what about the other dozen or so varieties? On a homebrew level, it again seems like there is a lack of knowledge about English hops and  what they actually taste like. To many, Fuggles taste like dirt and EKG is flowery, delicate at best. To that I say, how are you using them? Can you really get a sense of something when you are using it in small quantities; a half ounce at flameout will not give you a true sense of hop character. So much of today's beer culture is about discovering new flavors and changing perspectives... making that which was old, suddenly new. Yet here we have a whole world of unique hop flavors, completely unknown to Americans, that has largely gone unnoticed. Therefore, the next time you want to brew, pick up a couple ounces of an English hop and give them an honest try. You might just be impressed.

Gunsmith Bitter : English Special Bitter

Appearance - Pours a very clear, orange/amber color with a two finger head that slowly settles to a fine ring.

Aroma - First impression is of floral English hops with a mild orange peel character and some medium crystal sweetness. Esters are lightly fruity and clean.

Taste - Again, hops are at the forefront with a herbal orange peel/apricot character, followed by some soft caramel flavor that lingers on the palate. The malt is clean and biscuity and the yeast character is lightly fruity and rather neutral. No diacetyl. The beer finishes with a slight Whitbread-like 'tartness.' Bitterness is medium and the overall flavor of the beer is clean, dry, and hoppy. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is medium-low, appropriate for the style. The beer is dry, but goes down smooth. 

Drinkability & Notes - After a few weeks on tap, I wasn't crazy about this beer. The hop character was spot on, but the beer had a slight bready-tartness that reminded me of the Whitbread yeasts. Luckily, it has almost completely disappeared. As the beer sits now, I'd say it turned out well - it is clean and flavorful - but I don't think I would use this yeast in another bitter. I may have fermented this batch a bit too cool, but the initial tartness and neutral yeast character of this yeast isn't what I want in my bitters. Aside, the IPA I brewed with it turned out excellent... but equally clean and neutral. Perfect for IPA's.

5.0% ABV, 30 IBU, Wyeast 1335 British Ale II

Recipe Here


  1. I guess I am biased as a Brit living in VA, but I love English hops, especially Fuggles. I also enjoy using First Gold, as I did in my most recent Best Bitter, and it gives it an almost trangerine quality.

    A few years back I brewed a "British Black IPA" using Admiral and EKG which turned out to have bags and bags of "hop character".

    When I work at Starr Hill in the tasting room I am often surprised that so many people equate "hoppiness" only with grapefruit and pine resin flavours/aromas, when there is quite literally a whole world of flavours out there if people would just go and find them.

  2. I think there's a lot to be said for brewing single hop beers to see exactly what the hop in question brings to the table. I'm planning to do exactly that with the Bramling Cross hops I've recently harvested here in the UK.

    1. I really dig the flavor of Bramling Cross, but trying to find fresh, new crop pellets/whole leaf is nearly impossible. Another good one is Admiral, great orange marmalade flavor.

  3. Will - great posts but it's frustrating not having a link to the recipe brew day, could you point me in the correct direction. Cheers


Leave a comment. No spam please.