Thursday, October 25, 2012

Harvest Bitter Tasting

As is the case with many brewers, once I get a beer out the fermenter and into a keg, I usually have a good idea of when that beer is going to be at its peak flavor; typically around three or four weeks for most session styles and sometimes earlier for simple milds and bitters. One way of knowing when a beer will be at its prime, ahead of time, is by being familiar with your yeast choices. Most yeasts follow predictable cycles of fermentation and maturation, especially English ones, and after brewing with certain yeasts regularly, you'll notice that they often taste/behave similarly at different points in the process. Knowing when a beer will taste best is very useful when it comes to planning for competitions. A week or two in the keg or bottle can be the difference between a 42 and a 32. However, this batch of beer has not matured in the way I envisioned it would. When I brewed this beer just over a month ago, I had planned on making a malty session style bitter that showcased a mix of biscuit and caramel malt flavor, with some rich yeast esters and a touch of earthy-minty hops on the nose. What I got is pretty similar to this, but for whatever reason, the fermentation was not what I would consider 'normal.' The yeast flocculated too soon, attenuated too much, and cleaned up after itself well before I got around to kegging it. There were certainly brewing issues on my part with this beer, especially the recipe, but once in a while the yeast just decides to do its own thing.

Harvest Bitter: English Special Bitter

Appearance - From the tap, it pours a very clear burnt orange-dark amber color with a fluffy white head that leaves some lacing. Carbonation looks good.

Aroma -  Rather strong, minty-citrusy American hop character that slowly fades to a sweet, biscuit malt aroma as the beer warms. Esters are mild, lightly fruity, with little to no diacetyl. Not much caramel character is noticeable.

Taste - The beer starts out with a sizable amount of earthy, citrusy hop flavor (almost like a Cascade-Willamette combo) and is followed by a strong, biscuit malt character that is similar to fresh baked bread with a nutty aftertaste. Some caramel character, but it is not very strong and seems rather one dimensional. Yeast flavor is ok, lighty fruity with some rich esters. Bittereness is low and the beer finishes clean with a pleasant and smooth maltiness. 

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is adequate and the mouthfeel improves and as it warms.

Drinkability & Notes - Not bad, but not great... sorta "meh." I was expecting to enjoy the NB/Fuggles hop combo but it gave the beer a strong citrusy flavor that seems more appropriate for an American pale ale. I used a large portion of Warminster MO in this beer and you can taste the contribution, as it has a strong biscuity/bready flavor. As for the lack of caramel malt character, I think it is partially due to the yeast attenuating more than I had anticipated (1.010 v. 1.006). While the beer does have some rich yeast esters in the finish, it is rather clean and neutral. Overall, the malt character of this beer isn't as crisp as I would like and the hops seem out of place... and the yeast didn't quite deliver as I had hoped. I will certainly re-visit a beer similar to this, but I will be using a different yeast (I'm tired of not getting the results I want with wy1968) and a new hop combination.

4.8% ABV, 28 IBU, Wyeast 1968 London ESB. Recipe Here


  1. Wy1968 is Fullers yeast isn't it? I use this in its WLP002 form, and while it does floc out very quickly (one of the many things I like about it) I've never had it attenuate below 1010 - 1012. could something else be causing your beers to dry out?

    1. Yep, that's the one. It does make consistently good beer, but it is one of the more difficult yeasts to use if you want to get a certain ester profile out of it. It also tends to clean up after itself more so than I want it to. As for the low FG, I mashed too low (149-150F) and pitched more yeast than I should have. Beer fermented and flocculated out in just over 24 hrs. Crazy fast.

  2. Tihis is a little off topic, but did you ever hear anything more from Wyeast about 1968's habit of waking up in the bottle? I just had that happen with a bitter and an IPA, which was most annoying. I'm wondering if might help to take the beer out of the fermentation fridge and let it sit at room temperature for a few days before I bottle it to see if that will encourage it to attenuate as fully as it seems to want to...

    1. Nothing more than what I had originally been told, which wasn't very helpful to begin with. A few things I did back in the day that seemed to help were to gently rouse the yeast throughout the fermentation to get it to attenuate those last few points and crash cooling (very cold) for a few days before bottling with a different yeast, like US-05.

      I've had such problems with this yeast over the years that as much as I LOVE the flavor when it does what I want, getting a consistant flavor and fermenation out of it is not so easy. Keys seem to be high oxygenation, pitch rate, and ensure it doesn't stall. Also, for bottling, it probably is just better to do the pitch low, let rise fermenation schedule and hold off on the crash cooling if that will ensure it ferments out. I know a lot of people that have had the same problems with this yeast.


Leave a comment. No spam please.