Saturday, 15 April 2017

Tasting Notes: Bitters and Dry Stouts

This will be the first of a series of posts catching up on notes from some batches from the past twelve months or so.  The beers in this post are all ones I've brewed multiple times.  For the past couple of years I've been using Wyeast 1318 in every English-style beer I've made, but being a bit of a contrarian, the recent popularity of that strain in 'juicy' pale ales sent me back to another of my old favourites, Wyeast 1469, which I've used in every English-style beer I've made this year.  Sometimes this strain can get a bit too estery for me, especially if you use brewing sugars and don't keep an eye on the fermentation temperatures, but when it ferments well I think it gives an elegant and balanced flavour profile that is quite distinctive.  In fact, though I haven't tested this out, I suspect that that flavour profile, along with some of the stone fruit esters it spits out, would make it work quite well in a hazy and hoppy pale ale.

Ordinary Bitter

Grist: Golden Promise (93%), Torrified Wheat (7%)
Hops: EKG
Yeast: Wyeast 1469
O.G.: 1.040
IBUs: 42
ABV: 3.9%

This was another beer loosely inspired by descriptions of the beer Boddingtons Bitter used to be.  That meant focusing more on bitterness than hop aroma, with two additions of EKG at 60 and 30 minutes left in the boil.  The grist was very simple. I think Golden Promise works really well in pale bitters, and its been a long time since I've used anything else as a base malt for them.  The torrified wheat is mainly there to help with head retention and give a little extra body.

Nothing 'juicy' about this beer.  It was dry, bitter, and incredibly drinkable.  You still get some hop character even with no additions late in the boil, but obviously the main point is the moreish bitterness.  I was fairly conservative with my sulfate addition for this batch, keeping it at around 120 ppm (I forget why), and I think that detracted slightly from the quality of bitterness I was looking for.  When I make this again I'll probably go to at least 200 ppm, perhaps higher, and keep the chloride at around 60-80 ppm.

The Wyeast 1469 worked nicely here.  I think it brings out the malt a little more than 1318, and the slight apricot-like esters sat well with the base beer.  I'd certainly use it again.

Pale Ale

Grist: Golden Promise (90%), Invert Sugar #2 (10%)
Hops: EKG, Fuggles, Styrian Goldings
Yeast: Wyeast 1469
O.G.: 1.042
IBUs: 45
ABV: 4.4%

I don't know why I'm calling this beer a pale ale, except that its a pretty direct copy of Timothy Taylor's Landlord and that's what they call their beer.  Landlord is one of the beers I always seek out when I'm back in the UK (to me the bottled version is a sorry substitute, and I never buy it over here).

My recipe is based on the Northern Brewer 'Innkeeper' kit, which I found in the Northern Brewer recipe collection on BeerSmith.  They use pale sugar and a bit of crystal for colour, but I made some invert sugar using the dilution method described here.  Its super easy (I just make up enough for the recipe during the mash) and a great way to get colour and character without using too much crystal malt.  The EKG and Fuggle additions are at 60 and 45 minutes respectively, with a final dose of Styrian Goldings at the end of the boil.

I've made this beer quite a few times now.  Due to a loose temperature probe the batch pictured above fermented a little warmer than I would have liked, which meant it had a very prominent ester profile for the first few weeks in the keg.  Its settled down now though, and is drinking nicely.  I think the hop character is a bit lacking compared to the original beer, perhaps due to the quality of the Styrian Goldings I have available.  I'll also mention that the head retention isn't particularly good---usually I use some torrified wheat or a bit of crystal malt to help with that.

There's another batch conditioning in a keg, which will probably go on in a few weeks time, ready for the warmer weather.

Dry Stout

Grist: Golden Promise (66%), Torrified Wheat (18%), Chocolate (7%), Roasted Barley (7%), Dark Crystal (2%)
Hops: EKG
Yeast: Wyeast 1469
O.G.: 1.035
IBUs: 35
ABV: 3.2%

Looking over my brew log for the past 12 months, I've made more versions of this dry stout than any other recipe (besides my spelt saisons).  Dry, bitter, and low in alcohol, dry stouts are my kind of beer, and I'm always a little disappointed that the style isn't more popular with craft breweries in the US (especially given the historical popularity of a beer like Guinness).  I can usually find a few on the shelves around St. Patrick's day, and there was occasionally one on at the Clybourn Goose Island pub (once my favourite place to get cask beer in Chicago), but the few I find here are usually too sweet or full-bodied for my tastes.

When I came up with this recipe I was trying to make a stout with a bit of fruitiness reminiscent of a bitter dark chocolate, rather than the more acrid bitterness of a dark-roasted coffee.  I've stuck to this recipe with minor variations for quite a while now, but going forward a bit I'll probably vary some of the character grains.  I used some amber malt in a more recent batch that's currently conditioning in a keg, and I'd also like to try something along the lines of some historical stout recipe, with a large proportion of brown malt.


  1. Do you have favorite finishing hop you like to use for bitters?

    1. Usually EKG or Styrian Goldings. I've been using Fuggle and EKG together recently, and in the past I've used Challenger,
      and also Bramling Cross, both with good results. But I think any English hop that is fresh and aromatic will work well.

  2. I don't brew a lot of English styles, but today I'm making an ESB with wyeast 1469. I've taken an interest in the classic styles lately, and English beers certainly are classics, so I'm anxious to see how it turns out! Cheers!

  3. Concerning the use of brewing sugars increasing ester production, is this just an observation of yours or do you know of an explanation for this effect?