Saturday, 2 March 2013

Tasting : Nowhere Man (Extra Special Bitter)

While I brewed this beer in early December, I technically could have posted the tasting notes much earlier than now, three months later. ESBs aren't really beers that need to be aged; with a good amount of bitterness and some hop character, they really should be consumed sooner rather than much later, for the most part. I was quite happy with this beer when I first started drinking it, but I decided to wait a couple of weeks to be sure, and it was a good thing I did.

The main reason for this concerns the carbonation level. The beer spent 3 weeks in primary, but the gravity was still high at 1.019 before I bottled it. I've had this happen a few times with other beers in the past, but never had any problems as a result (aside from the beer tasting underattenuated). Well, I find that the flavor of this beer is actually pretty good - the malt character is quite pleasant, and the hop flavor has a really nice bite to it, thanks to the addition of salts to the brewing water. However, it is QUITE over-carbonated. Even after letting the beer settle for a few minutes after pouring (the head alone gives away how wrong the beer is for an ESB), I'd say the carbonation is closer to ~2.5-2.75 volumes of C02, as opposed to the 1.9 volumes that I aimed for. The difference compared to the carbonation level of my Southern English Brown (1.8 vol target) is staggering. As a result, the beer has a mouthfeel closer to an American Pale Ale than an ESB.

Ah, the life of homebrewing. This is my fourth English Bitter that I've brewed, and my fourth that I've been disappointed with. I really feel that I was close with this one, however, as I DID enjoy how the beer tasted and smelled; the other three Bitters had issues in terms of bitterness, possible-infection, etc. At least with this ESB, I have the option of letting the beer settle after pouring, so that some of the carbonation decreases. I'm not 100% sure what went wrong, but I assume it had something to do with the health of the yeast slurry I pitched. I'll likely try the recipe again sometime in the future, and maybe try a different yeast strain, such as the Wyeast 1968 London ESB (really more appropriate for an ESB than the 1028 London Ale, anyway).

Also, a note on the effect of first-wort hopping... obviously the only way to give an unbiased opinion would be to have brewed the exact same recipe without include the FWH addition. However, while the bitterness in this beer is quite high, it DID have a smoothness to it that was quite nice. I admit I'm not sure if this is due to the FWHing, the grist of the recipe, the higher-than-expected FG, or another reason. Either way, I'd be happy to try a FWH addition to a future beer, and would recommend it for others to try who haven't before.

Appearance: Poured with a very large, thick, light-tan head that has excellent retention... way too much head and retention for an ESB. The body is a light amber color, with ok, but not great, clarity.

Aroma: Pleasant aroma of low fruity esters, biscuity malt, and a touch of earthy hop character from the Fuggles.

Taste: The malt character really comes through in this beer... slightly bready and toasty. Some earthy/spicy hop flavor that is pleasantly sharp, likely due to the adjustments made to the water. Moderate-high bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: I’m quite happy with the overall recipe for this beer, and it’s definitely the best-smelling and tasting English Bitter that I’ve brewed yet. I’m also pleased with how the water tweaking worked out. If the higher-carbonation could be fixed, I think it’d be a very decent ESB.


  1. I overcarbed my No Short Measure as well - too much priming sugar in the keg.

  2. I've been looking for answers on this sort of "fermentation finishes a few points high, then over-carbonates after bottling issue." Had it happen to me on three batches in a row last year, all during winter. Then it never happened again, until, I believe, one or two of my recent brews. (Winter again). Not sure if I'm just encountering a weird series of coincidences, but it sure is annoying.

    I'm also a big fan of FWH'ing, been doing it on all my IPAs—sometimes I don't even do a 60 min addition. I definitely notice a much softer, cleaner bitterness than the IBUs would suggest. Though I also have to admit I've never done a side-by-side comparison to be totally sure it's a result of the FWH.

    1. Interesting... were your fermentation temps low for those beers? I could see that happening pretty easily during the winter, esp. for people like us who aren't living/brewing in consistently-warm climates.

      I don't think temp was an issue here, however, since it really seemed to stay at about 68 F in a temp-controlled room. It may have been a yeast issue; I've had terrible luck pitching washed yeast slurry and having beers finish at above-target FGs.

    2. I guess I'm probably reading too much into what is likely just a series of coincidences. It shouldn't have been a temp issue, since my apartment is a pretty uniform 70 - 72 F all winter long. In all cases, I don't think I was under-pitching or pitching unhealthy yeast, either. I wonder if yeast can have seasonal depression disorder?

    3. I've pretty much accepted the fact that I can only understand so much about yeast... sometimes they just appear to do what they want to do.

      As for the SAD... maybe try one of those light treatments on your next beer? Just don't do it for a hoppy one!