Sunday 2 December 2012

Brewing an Extra Special Bitter

Extra Special Bitter (ESB), one of the English Pale Ales, is one style of beer that even most non-beer geeks can say that they've tried at some point. This is mainly due to the wide availability of Fuller's ESB, probably the most well-known ESB around. If you can get it in the Maritimes, what does that tell you? It may not be the best ESB out there, but it's a classic example of the style that I always enjoy.

ESBs (also known as Strong Bitters), while exhibiting a medium to medium-high bitterness and hop flavor, as well as some hop aroma, still have a strong, supporting malt backbone and usually fruity esters to varying degrees. Despite the name, don't expect an English version of an American Imperial IPA. Usually reaching up to about 6% ABV, they're really not overly "strong", especially when compared to a lot of other beer styles. They're meant to be quite drinkable, if not sessionable like the Standard and Special Bitters of the same class.

The third beer I ever brewed was the ESB recipe from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles. I enjoyed that beer, but it was an extract batch with a partial boil, so I didn't get the hop utilization that you'd really want for this style. As a result, the bitterness was too low. For today's ESB, I decided to try something different. I looked at the recipe online ('Guvnah', by Matt and Jake Tucker) for the English Pale Ale gold-medal winner of the 2010 NHC. Substituting ingredients that I had on hand, the recipe below is what I came up with.

This is the first time that I've ever used a first wort hop (FWH) addition, where you add the hops into the boil kettle right before you drain the first runnings into it from the mashtun. You continue filling your kettle as normal; meanwhile, the hops are sitting in the hot wort, releasing their oils and resins. A lot of brewers have claimed that performing a FWH results in a better hop aroma and a less-harsh bitterness. I plan on doing a separate post on FWHing in the near future, so I'll get into more details then.

I also decided to alter the water profile for this beer, with a specific target in mind: England's Burton-on-Trent, an area that has a very important history in the brewing of English Pale Ales and IPAs. The water in Burton-on-Trent has a very high mineral content, especially calcium and sulfate, meaning that IPAs and Bitters brewed here had a crisp, dry finish that accentuated the hop bitterness very well. Because the sulfate level in Burton-on-Trent water is SO high (ranging from 650-850 ppm, depending on who you ask), and I'm a bit worried of overdoing it (which can happen quite easily when you start adding brewing salts), I decided to add 25 grams of gypsum (calcium sulfate) for an end target of about 250 ppm calcium and 500 ppm sulfate. I'll be splitting these additions between the mash and the sparge water.

For the fermentation of the first ESB, I used Wyeast 1968 London ESB (the Fuller's strain). This is a great English Pale Ale yeast, producing a good amount of fruity esters, and it has an extremely high flocculation rate, making for a very clear beer. However, since I've used it several times, and because I already have some Wyeast 1028 London Ale slurry on hand from the Southern English Brown I brewed last month, I decided to switch things up this time and go with the 1028.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency): OG 1.060, FG 1.014, IBU 48, SRM 9.6, ABV 6.0%

4.43 kg (82.7%) Maris Otter
454 g (8.6%) Crystal 40 L
227 g (4.2%) Honey malt
132 g (2.5%) Flaked Barley
113 g (2%) Wheat malt

East Kent Goldings - 56 g (3.5% AA) - FWH
East Kent Goldings - 49 g @ 60 min
Fuggles - 28 g (5% AA) @ 5 min
Fuggles - 28 g @ 0 min

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

Yeast: Wyeast 1028 London Ale (~1 cup slurry, harvested Nov 21/12)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; treated with 25 g gypsum (divided b/w mash and sparge)

- Brewed Dec 2nd, 2012, by myself. 50-minute saccharification rest with 15 L of water for a mash temp of 154 F. Mashed-out with 4.25 L of boiling water, resulting temp 168 F. Let rest for another 10 minutes, then vorlaufed 3-4 L and drained into kettle. Sparged with ~15 L of 168 F water, stirred well, and left for 5 minutes before vorlaufing and draining into kettle again, for a total volume of ~6.75 gallons (slightly under target of 7 gallons).

- SG 1.049 (target 1.047). 75-minute boil. Began chilling at flameout; took about 25 minutes to get to 62 F. Poured into BB with a little more hop sludge than I would have liked; volume lower than expected, maybe 5 gallons; as a result, OG a bit high at 1.062. Pitched yeast slurry at 63 F, aerating by shaking well for several minutes before and after. Placed BB in room with ambient temp set at 64 F.

3/12/12 - 4/12/12 - Lots of airlock activity, bubbling a couple of times per second, and a large, fluffy krausen sitting on the beer. Temp 68 F. Activity slowed quickly within a couple days, temp hovering in the high 60s.

30/12/12 - FG only got to 1.019 for some reason. Bottled with 67 g table sugar, aiming for 1.9 vol CO2 for 4.5 gallons with a max temp of 68 F reached.

2/3/13 - Tasting notes... came out oddly over-carbonated (likely due to the high FG and residual sugars), but I'm really enjoying the effect of the high gypsum addition.

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