Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Special Bitter Tasting

Lately, I've been thinking about English bitters. Not about how much I like to drink them, or what ingredients and yeasts would make the tastiest example thereof, but rather of what they are and how we define them. When I sit down with a beer in front of me, what makes me say, "oh, that's a bitter!" and not think of something else? Regardless, the first time I brewed an English style bitter, I had a certain idea in my mind of what a proper bitter should taste like. That idea was formed from the first time I tasted one... a light copper colored beer, smooth in body and low in carbonation, with a perfect balance of hop, malt, and yeast. And it was on cask.

As much as I would love to buy a proper cask and handpump and serve my bitters and milds from it, such a thing isn't feasible at the moment. In the meantime, I have been interested in finding a way to mimic the characteristics of cask bitter, but from a keg. This beer was brewed with that in mind. First, for the malt bill I went as traditional as possible, using Warminster MO and some Simpsons medium crystal. Hops were EKG and the yeast was Bedford Bitter. However, what I did differently with this beer that I've not done with my other kegged bitters, is that as the fermentation was nearing completion (about 85% complete), I racked the beer into a keg to let it finish fermenting and build up some natural carbonation. Once the fermentation seemed to be complete, I crash cooled the beer to get the yeast to flocculate and then let it sit at 50F for two weeks to mature. All this time I let in a few PSI worth of CO2 into the the keg every other day to maintain a seal and provide some carbonation for serving. My thinking for this change in process, was that by racking the beer off the yeast early and letting it mature at serving temperature, I could maintain more yeast character and prevent the beer from going through a period where the malt and hop profile gets muddled; from what I believe is caused by a low temperature and high C02 pressure. The process seems to be an improvement, as the beer is certainly more flavorful and was ready to drink earlier than normal, although it is hard to say exactly how the changes in ingredients compare to the changes in the process. More experimenting needs to be done.

Yeoman Bitter: English Special Bitter

Appearance - Pours a ruddy, amber color with a small white head that slowly dissolves back into the beer. Clarity is clear, with a slight haze. Carbonation is very low, on the verge of uncarbonated.

Aroma -  Biscuits, raw honey, and fresh brown bread. The Warminster MO has certainty made its presence known... I don't think I have ever made a bitter with such a strong honeyed-biscuit character. Some earthy, stone fruit esters on the nose and the EKG hops lend a slight floral character. Did I mention honey and biscuits? 

Taste - Like the aroma, there is an initial biscuit and toasted bread character that transitions into a strong honey-toffee flavor that completely fills the mouth. The flavor of the malt (MO) is rich, biscuity, warm, and lends a honey-like intensity that is unlike anything I've made before. Esters are lightly fruity with some earthiness and the hops are floral, with a pleasant lingering bitterness. Certainty the most flavorful bitter I've brewed/drunk in a long time.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation is very low and the beer has a medium, smooth mouthfeel that goes down easily. Not too full, not too light. A very easy drinking pint.

Drinkability & Notes - When I first started drinking this beer, I wasn't sure of what to think. It has a lot in common with my other English bitters and tastes great, but there is something about the intensity of flavors that had me initially thinking that I had done something wrong. Are bitters supposed to taste this flavorful...? Overall, I really like this beer. It is probably the closest I have come to reproducing the flavor of U.K cask bitters (as I remember them), yet at the same time, it still seems a bit over the top. Maybe. This very well could be among the best bitters I have ever brewed, or depending on who's drinking it, a good try at best. Regardless, I like this beer enough that I will be revisiting it soon - same malt, water, hops - but toning down the yeast character for a more singular malt/hop flavor and giving the beer more time to ferment out.

4.6% ABV, 28 IBU, Whitelabs 006 Bedford Bitter. Recipe Here

1 comment:

  1. " I have been interested in finding a way to mimic the characteristics of cask bitter, but from a keg"

    Those 5 litre mini-kegs (mini-casks/party-fass) are a good cheap option, served by gravity in the southern English style (ie no sparkler).
    ---TavastlandBrewer

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