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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November Brew of the Month: M. Spencer's Strong Bitter

By Max Spencer

With the holidays coming up I wanted to make a crushable yet weather appropriate beer for the long drinking sessions that family gatherings entail. This need inspired me to create a Strong Bitter, better known in America as an ESB (Extra Special Bitter). This very British style of beer incorporates a strong malt backbone with enough hop character and bitterness to be balanced — dangerously drinkable, endlessly enjoyable. ESBs typically have flavors of bread, biscuit, nuts, toffee, fruits, earth, spices, and flowers. To me, this flavor profile screams fall and early winter — a perfect companion for holiday foods too.

I used a technique called first wort hopping as you will see down in the recipes. First wort hopping is an advanced hopping technique that has great practical uses and is easy to execute — it increases the utilization of all the hops that are added to the boil by around 10-15%, increases hop aroma and results in a “softer” bitterness overall. German breweries have traditionally used first wort hopping as a method to get more out of less hops. For all grain, first wort hopping entails adding hops as soon as you start draining your mash into your kettle. For extract, add hops after steeping your grains and adding all or some of your LME before boil.

I ended up brewing an additional gallon of beer to do something a little special with. I took my extra gallon and aged it on oak chips soaked in Calvados — apple brandy from the Normandy region of France. I thought that the flavors of rustic apples and earthy spices found in Calvados would complement my ESB in all the right ways. Feel free to do something similar with Calvados as well, or any form of brandy — especially apple brandy — or even whiskey.

All Grain

    • 9.5 lbs. Golden Promise 
    • 1 lbs. Medium Crystal
    • 0.5 lbs. Amber Malt
    • 0.5 lbs. Melanoidin Malt
    • 0.25 lbs. Pale Chocolate
    • 1 oz. UK Challenger First Wort (60-minute boil)
    • 1 oz. UK Challenger @ 30 minutes
    • 1 oz. East Kent Goldings @ 15 minutes
    • 1 oz. UK Challenger and 1 oz. East Kent Goldings @ 5 minutes
    • Yeast: Lallemand’s London ESB

Extract:

    • 7.75 lbs. Light Pilsner LME
    • 1 lbs. Medium Crystal
    • 0.5 lbs. Amber Malt
    • 0.5 lbs. Melanoidin Malt
    • 0.25 lbs. Pale Chocolate
    • 0.5 lbs. corn sugar
    • 1.5 oz. UK Challenger First Wort (60-minute boil)
    • 1.5 oz. UK Challenger @ 30 minutes
    • 1 oz. East Kent Goldings @ 15 minutes
    • 1 oz. UK Challenger and 1 oz. East Kent Goldings @ 5 minutes
    • (Alternatively, use the same hop schedule as all grain if you are boiling at full volume)
    • Yeast: Lallemand’s London ESB
Manipulations: For all grain, you can replace Golden Promise with Maris Otter as the base malt if you prefer one over the other. For extract — if you feel like spending a little extra money for authenticity — you can use Munton’s Pale LME in place of the pilsner LME. There are several English ale yeast strains that you could use as an alternative to the Lallemand ESB strain — Safale 04, White Labs 005 British Ale, Wyeast 1028 London Ale, Wyeast 1098 English Ale. Really, any English ale yeast will work. You can use American hops if you wish, but I would recommend a lighter hand on the quantity.

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