Monday, October 17, 2016

Self Bitterment

An acquaintance recently asked me why I seem to be constantly brewing beers that belong in the broad family of bitter. It's true that at least every other brewday is some form of ordinary, best, or extra special, and there is a very good reason for this fact. Bitter, regardless of sub-type, is one of my favourite styles of beer to drink and for all the hoopla around craft beer and its endless IPAing of every form of beer possible, most American breweries simply don't bother with bitter as a style.

What then is a chap supposed to do, especially a chap with little interest in IPA? Sorry hopheads, your addiction is one dimensional most of the time regardless of the latest hop to come out of the Pacific north west. The answer is obvious, a chap must either take the risk of ancient, and and badly oxidised, bottles from Britain, lurking around the local bottle shop that neither knows nor seems to care what they are doing, or a chap can make his own. So unless Three Notch'd Bitter 42 is available, I make my own.

A couple of weekends ago I kegged up my most recent batch of best bitter, and having stolen the requisite amount of beer to do gravity measurements and all that jazz, I gave it a taste and thought to myself, this could be good. After a couple of weeks in the keg, I took some growlers of said brew to a friend's place on Saturday in order to lubricate the grinding and pressing of apples for cider that took up a hefty chunk of the afternoon and evening. Boy had my hunch been right, it is as good a best bitter as I have brewed, and certainly one that I would have no objections to paying proper hard currency for.

As you can see from the picture, the bitters I go in for tend to be on the paler side of the spectrum. I rarely, if ever, use crystal malts, preferring one of either Victory, Biscuit, or amber malt as my single specialty grain, and my base malt is usually Golden Promise. For this particular batch I single hopped with Calypso as I had some floating around in the freezer, and at least half of my calculated IBUs tend to come from the first hop addition. In terms of yeast, I have found that Safale S-04 does everything I need, if I remember rightly S-04 is one of the Whitbread yeast strains. I don't bother with water modifications, working on the theory that my well water tastes good, so it's fine for my beer. I brew to make something to intoxicate myself with from time to time, not to do science experiments - and given my ability to blow shit up at school in chemistry class, that's probably just as well.

While it is true that I sometimes lament the indifference of many an American craft brewery to the bitter family of beer, I love the fact that it has given me an excuse to work on my own brewing skills by repeatedly making my own versions. Sure I rarely make the exact same recipe twice, but there are common themes that run through each iteration, such as sticking to as simple a recipe as possible. Also the key to a solid bitter is in the name of the beer itself, don't be afraid of using hops predominantly for bittering rather than flavour and aroma. Hop bitterness is the very soul of a good bitter recipe, it must be firm, bracing even, but never acerbic. This is a beer designed to be drunk in imperial pints over an extended period of time, so balance is vital, once I am finished with a pint, another one should be welcome. Oh and 'balance' is not synonymous with 'bland'.

Bitter is a misunderstood and underappreciated style of beer in the craft world it would seem, thankfully they are pretty easy to make, and done well endlessly satisfying to drink, and that's the whole damned point surely?.


  1. Looks like my kind of pint. Brewing a 3.9% bitter today, in fact, and it's getting a bit of Calypso.

  2. I like the simplicity of your beers. Most of the English Pale Ales I've done have been ESBs that are overly complicated and malty.

  3. One of our local breweries in NW Arkansas flagship brew is an ESB. Core Brewing is the brewer.

  4. I just brewed a bitter today! A (probably quixotic) effort to make something a lot like Timothy Taylor's Landlord.

    Any chance your willing to share your recipe for the Best that you describe here?

    1. More than happy to share the recipe:

    2. Thanks for the link! A bunch of your other recipes look really interesting too.