Friday, May 18, 2012

Input Wanted

I mentioned in a post last week that I am planning to perfect my homebrewing of 5 particular types of beer when Mrs V and I move into our new house. Top of that list to nail down is an Ordinary Bitter, which would I hope eventually become my house ale, once I have a kegerator and starting kegging my beers.

Bitter is one of those sadly overlooked styles here in the USA, very few professional breweries have one in their portfolio and given the low alcohol content they rarely get shipped from Blighty. There are many, many days when after work I would just love to sit down with an imperial pint of something like Young's Bitter.

You would think then that having won a gold medal for my Ordinary Bitter at last year's Dominion Cup that I have a recipe pretty much sorted. However, that was a partial mash beer and converting a beer to all grain brewing is more than just replacing malt extract with pale malt. The main consideration is which pale malt to use, Maris Otter, Golden Promise or Optic? Here is the grain bill for a recipe I recently brewed, in preparation for an upcoming Pro-Am preliminary competition:
  • 67% Maris Otter
  • 13% Crisp Amber Malt
  • 13% Crisp Brown Malt
  • 7% Briess Caramel 10
Having done a little research, it would seem that using brown malt is fairly unusual in a bitter, of any strength, but as this was a recreation of my medal winning brew from last year, I felt it would be incongruous not to use it. The question remains though, should it stay as an ingredient in the new Dark Island Bitter? That then is the first set of tweaks for the recipe, pulling out the Brown Malt and upping both the Maris Otter and the Caramel, so the grain bill will look something like this:
  • 77% Maris Otter
  • 13% Crisp Amber Malt
  • 10% Briess Caramel 10
I am looking forward to eventually trying the two variants next to each other, and hopefully with a few learned friends from the local homebrew club, to decide which grain bill is better.

Naturally I am open to thoughts and input from brewers, both home and pro, on the grain bill as written, so feel free to weigh on in!


  1. Amber and brown malt are uncommon ingredients for bitters, as they can easily overpower much of the other flavors in the beer. I typically use amber malt at 3% in my pale ale/bitter recipes and even at that amount it is quite noticeable. In higer amounts it gives a very dry, roasted character - some even say similar to a bitter cocoa.

    I prefer to keep my bitters on the lighter side, malt wise, with M.Otter for much of the base character. Instead of using biscuit or amber, I'll toast a 1/2 lb or so of MO in the oven. I figure I want most of my malt character to come from the basemalt, since I am paying more for the good quality, floor malted stuff. Then usually 5-8% medium crystal and generously hopped with all UK EKG. Yeast plays a huge role too. I like wy1968, 1318... anything but dry s-04 or windsor.

  2. Bitters are also one of my favourite beers, so it’s good to see that you’ve been promoting them recently.

    I’ve not heard of brown malt being used before, but if you’ve had success previously that seems a pretty good reason to stick with it. For me, a pale ale base (if possible Maris Otter) with around 10% crystal malt are a good start, with tweaks and additions to personalise the recipe after that. Usually I use crystal 60 which results in a pleasing, reddish copper coloured beer.

    The hops are also important. The bitter aftertaste and herbal aroma (from something like East Kent Goldings or Fuggles) can make these beers very refreshing indeed.

    Good luck.


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