Friday, 2 March 2012

Standard/Ordinary Bitter

While I enjoy having "big" beers on hand - your Doppelbocks, Imperial IPAs, RISs, etc. - it's always nice to have an equal number of session (or near-session) beers available as well. Often, the low-alcohol beers are the ones that quickly get a bad rap, usually for being light and essentially flavorless (American Light Lagers being your typical example), but sometimes simply for not being "worth the money" when purchased at a beer bar. Unfortunately, most people, when given the choice, will sooner shell out 7 or 8 bucks for a 7.5% IPA then for a 3.5% Mild.

But, I digress. Low-alcohol beers do not have to be water-like beverages. There's quite a few beer styles that, while low in alcohol, are big on flavor, and are perfect to throw back a pint or two without having to worry about leading to a messy evening and a hangover the next day (yeah, these can be fun as well, but I'm not getting any younger). A Standard or Ordinary Bitter, one of the English Pale Ale styles, is such an example, and one I've wanted to tackle for awhile now.

A mid-3%-ABV-range ale, Standard Bitters, while usually fairly low in hop flavor and aroma, exhibit a very decent amount of bitterness along with a respectable malt and fruity-ester profile. Difficult to find around here (the only one I think I've had is the Greene King IPA), it's a style I'd really like to see more of... but what else is new? It wasn't too hard to throw together a recipe, based on a few reliable sources. A standard recipe (see what I did there? genius) usually contains some British Pale malt, often some Crystal malts for flavor/color, and some aggressive hopping at the beginning of the boil for bitterness. This is often where recipes diverge, as the amount of late hopping seems to vary quite a bit. With this recipe, I made several late additions, but nothing excessive, as I wasn't looking for a huge amount of aroma or flavor. As for the yeast, I've used the Wyeast 1968 London ESB (the Fuller's strain) many times in the past, and it provides a good amount of fruity esters, and also flocculates quickly, leaving a very clear beer even in the fermenter.

Despite the usually-quick turnaround for this type of beer, I plan on leaving it in primary for my usual 3 weeks... I'm in no hurry, and I always like giving the yeast time to clean up any by-products and such. If you've got the time, it's always better not to rush things! Quality beer (hopefully) is worth it.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 83% efficiency): OG 1.036, FG 1.011, IBU 36, SRM 8.2

2.45 kg Maris Otter
227 g Amber malt (36 L)
113 g Caramunich II (45 L)
113 g Crystal 80 L

U.S. Goldings - 56 g (3.15% AA) @ 60 min
U.S. Goldings - 14 g @ 30 min
East Kent Goldings - 28 g (4.5% AA) @ 10 min
East Kent Goldings - 14 g @ 5 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1968 London ESB (PD Jan 23/12, with a 1 L starter)

- Brewed Feb 27/12, by myself. 60 minute mash with 9.6 L of strike water, mashed in at 152 F (target was 153 F). Temp dropped quite a bit during this time (due to low amount of grains/water?), down to 146 F at end of rest. Mashed out with 4.25 L of 210 F water, resulting temp too low at 160 F, rest for 10 more minutes. Sparged with ~4.75 gallons of 170 F water for final volume of 6.75 gallons in the kettle. 60 minute boil.

- Chilled down to 62 F with immersion chiller. Poured into Better Bottle. Pitched decanted yeast starter, aerating by shaking for several minutes before and after. Set in room in mid-60s to start fermentation.

28/2/12 - In the morning the temp was still very low at 60 F, very little signs of activity. Turned the heat up in the room, by the next morning the fermometer read 70 F, lots of activity in the airlock. By that evening, temp was at 68 F, but all activity had visibly stopped, and the krausen had dropped already.

18/3/12 - FG 1.011. Bottled with 76 g table sugar, aiming for 1.9 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, with a max temp of 68 F reached.

30/4/12 - Tasting notes posted here.


  1. Nice writeup and recipe. I did a similar partial mash brew a couple weeks back. While the big beers are nice, my preference is for a sessionable 4-5% English Ale - my goto beer!

  2. Agreed... it's always great to have a beer that's lower in alcohol, but not necessarily in flavor. These beers are definitely getting left behind in the fight among breweries (and homebrewers) for the next big brew!