An Ordinary Bitter Brew

Something you immediately find out when you have your first good ordinary bitter is that it is neither ordinary nor particularly bitter. In a world with double imperial IPAs, it doesn’t take somebody baptized in the Church of Hopheadism to drink this beer. It might be one of the best examples of traditional English beer styles and the American styles based on them.  American beers are more brash, are more extreme, and maybe even more exciting. On the other hand, British beers are about balance, they are more comforting, but they are still complex.

I decided a few months ago that I should switch between a bigger beer and more of a session beer each time I brew. My last beer was my robust porter, clocking in at over 6% alcohol, so this time I figured I should go in the complete opposite direction. A beer that is under 4% alcohol and one balanced towards bitter. This is what the word bitter in the style really means, balanced towards bitter.

A lot of help this brew dog is going to be.

We sit in a wonderful world where you can get almost any beer you have ever wanted. Last weekend I had a Finnish style Sahti made by one of the Goose Island Brewpubs (very good). It is a style of beer traditionally flavored and filtered through juniper berries and twigs. This beer styles essentially died out decades ago, yet I just had it at a local brewpub in a location thousands of miles from its origin. The world that original bitter came out of was very different. In the early 19th century, the beer world was very different. Pale malt had just come on the scene, and England basically had 3 types of beer. A brown Mild, a darker Porter, and then a new pale ale generally hopped at a higher level than the mild or Porter. Later on brewers who bottled tended to call their beers pale ales, while brewers called beers in casks bitters.  Strangely, any of the beers, either cask or bottle, from Burton-on-Trent where still called pale ales. I can’t figure out the reasoning, but it’s strange how names appear.

The word ordinary comes from the amount of alcohol. The lower alcohol beer would be the everyday ordinary beer you drank all night at the pub. The Special Bitter used better ingredients and more of them. They saved the Extra Special Bitter for celebrations and extra special occasions.

Once again I took this recipe from the Jamils Show’s Ordinary Bitter Episode.

Grain Bill (Calculated OG is 1039)
4.35lbs Munton’s Extra Light Pale DME
0.5 lb 120L Crystal
0.25lb Special Roast

Measured OG was 1036

Hops (Estimated IBUs using the Regar formula is 31.4) 
0.65 oz East Kent Goldings (at 7.20% AA) at 60 minutes
0.40 oz East Kent Goldings (at 7.20% AA) at 40 minutes
0.25 oz East Kent Goldings (at 7.20% AA) at 1 minutes
0.20 oz East Kent Goldings (at 5.60% AA) at 1 minute

1 Smack Pack of Wyeast 1968 London ESB (no starter)

The other day I measured the gravity at about 1014. That’s probably as low as this yeast is going to get. I just need to find a few hours to remove labels and then bottle. I did use whirflock, which should clear the beer, but it looks very cloudy. Maybe it needs some time to settle, it has only been a week.

Look at who decided to show up right at the end.

Right to Brew

The Bible Belt Brouhaha over Beer

This is the insanity that still exists in the world. Alabama and Mississippi still outlaw homebrewing. If you are a homebrewer,  you absolutely need to be a member of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA). They are the group that leads the path to legalization. In the meantime you have to respect the courage of those who brew in those states despite the silly law. As a member you also get deals at bars, restaurants,  and maybe even your local homebrew shop.

The Pale Rider Porter

Because death needs something robust to get him through the end times.


The winter is in full force, and my second beer of the season will be a bit bigger than my earlier Christmas Mild. I really like porters, and since I have never brewed one before, I figured that it was time. Porter was probably the first industrialized beer in the world. In 18th century England, patrons used to ask the bartender to mix the various beers they had in certain proportions to get the taste they want, sort of like a Black and Tan today. Legend had it that Porter (or originally called entire) was first brewed as an equivalent to a popular combination called “three threads”.

At least that is the legend I originally learned  from the Brewmaster Table, but according to Wikipedia, that story arose due to some misinterpretation of brewing terms in a famous history of porter written by John Feltham. It actually started out as a more aged version of the earlier brown beer. The first style of beer aged at the brewery itself, ready to drink out the door, and the first beer produced on an industrial scale. It was very popular with the street and river porters and the name stuck. Eventually porter fell out of favor, and all but the stout porter, or simply Stout died out. Even breweries like Guiness, now famous for its Stout, eventually dropped the beer it started with. It wasn’t until 1978, when craft beer was emerging again in the  UK, that the style started to come back.

What exactly makes a robust porter robust? It is more Robust than a brown porter of course. It has more alcohol, has more hops, and  has some black  patent malt. It also generally seems like it could be an American version of the porter. A glance at the list of commercial examples on the BJCP style guidelines basically lists American breweries making Robust Porter and English breweries making Brown.

I took my recipe from the Robust Porter episode of the The Brewing Network’s: The Jamil Show. You can find the recipes over at, a site which only lists award-winning recipes. These recipes are probably similar,  or even the same as the ones in his book Brewing Classic Styles.

I adjusted the recipe, as I used dry malt extract, and his extract recipe calls for liquid malt. Let’s hit the main points:

SRM: 32.4
IBU: 34.1
OG: 1.064

I did a partial mash with the following ingredients:

1 lb 6 oz Crystal 60L
1 lb 6 oz  Munich Malt
10 oz Chocolate Malt
7.3 oz Black Patent Malt

This didn’t work out well. I tried to do brew in a bag. I used the recommended amount of water that Beersmith told me, but with the bag I had and the width of my pot, the water didn’t really cover the grain completely. This made it hard for the water to regulate the temp and different parts of the grain had widely different temperatures. I will have to change the method next time, probably with a bag that doesn’t keep the grain so tight.

After the “fun” of mashing, I brought the water up to boil, and threw in half of the 6 pounds of extra light Dry Malt Extract, and 1.7 oz of East Kent Goldings at 5.6% Alpha Acids. At 15 minutes I threw in a Whirflock tablet. This is the first time I have ever used a fining agent. A fining agent binds to the proteins and help make the beer nice and clear. Whirflock is essentially Irish Moss – a red Algae – in a convenient tablet form.

Then I threw the rest of the extra light DME in, and threw the last 0.75 oz of East Kent Goldings in at flame out. I chilled it down to about 65 degrees topped it off to 5.5 gallons and realized my original gravity was under by over 13 points. To fix this I threw in more extra light DME until it hit 1.063, and am hoping for the best.

I have been listening to the Jamil Show a lot, and he  is constantly stressing that proper  fermentation is the key to good beer. Therefore, I made a yeast starter for the first time. To make a yeast starter, you essentially take your liquid yeast and put it in some water with light extract (i.e. you make a low gravity wort) and let it start to ferment. During the first stage of fermentation, the yeast eats all the oxygen in the liquid and multiplies. Then you take your multiplying yeast and throw them in your beer to get a healthy fermentation. Unfortunately, to get the recommended amount of yeast with out a mechanical means to constantly introduce oxgen you need about 3.5 liters of yeast starter. Good thing I have a gallon jug and an extra 12 ounces of DME lying around. Every time I passed it, I gave it a shake help it along.

I pitched the yeast, aerated the wort, and took the bucket to the basement, where there has been a surprising lack of bubbles lately, The krausen did form, so something must be happening.

Homebrewer’s First Labels

This is not actually the first time that I have labeled my beer. The first time really was the beer I made for my Family Reunion. However, my cousin designed the labels then, and had them professionally printed on die-cast vinyl stickers. This time I didn’t tell him about this beer early enough, so I quickly made the labels up myself with an online label maker called beerlabelizer. I also added an extra line of text on the bottom using adobe acrobat.

I printed the labels out on a laser printer, and put them on the bottles using the milk method. You simply use milk as glue. It works pretty well, they supposedly are not hard to get off, and they don’t stink when they dry.



The Enhancement of Heat Miser’s Mild Christmas Ale

What is the helper monkey doing with syringes and a strange looking liquid? Is he doctoring his beer with nefarious substances like the brewers of old? Will this beer grant an experience beyond what Alcohol normally grants?

Of course! It will give you Christmas Cheer.  If you read my post about the brewing of Heat Miser’s Mild Christmas Ale, you know I threw a bunch of spices in at the last 5 minutes of the boil. I did not know exactly how much to put in, so I erred on the side of too little, since you can always add spice. Taking it out is another story.

I tasted it last week and got some orange and a tiny amount of vanilla, but nothing of the other spices. There are several ways to add spice after fermentation. One popular method is to make an extract by throwing some spices in a bottle of cheap vodka and letting it sit for a while. This is essentially how you would make vanilla extract. Then you filter out the spices and pout out a measured amount into the beer. I did not have awhile, so my options were basically to throw some crushed up spices into the bottling bucket and hope it was the right amount, or to brew a spice “tea” and pour in a measured amount.

What do I mean by a measured amount? I took a cue from Randy Mosher’s “Radical Brewing” and the Spiced Beer episode of the Jamil Show on The Brewing Network. Both had similar methods for determining the correct amount of the vodka extract. I figured something similar could work for my tea, which doesn’t seem nearly as popular a method, even though Gordon Strong mentioned it for adding more spice to his Christmas Beer if it needed it. Of course he did not mention the specifics, so I (re)invented that myself.

Since in my original recipe, I only used half the spices, I took the other half of the spices and brewed it in 2 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes. Then I filtered out the spices into a measurement cup. I took a sample of my beer, and divided it into several 1 ounce samples. One sample remained undoctored. The other samples received between 0.5 and 3 ml of the “tea” dosed out by small syringes I bought for 25 cents a pop at American Science and Surplus the day before.

The Sous Helper Monkey Amy and I both smelled and tasted each sample and determined that 2 ml tasted the best. There was a good amount of spicy aroma and taste, especially cinnamon and nutmeg, without being overpowering. We then made several samples with 2ml of the “tea” spice addition for the purposes of determining how much vanilla extract. The first sample had 1 cl in it, the smallest measurement the syringe could handle, and it was far too much. Therefore, we scratched the idea of adding more vanilla and the proper amount of spice “tea” was calculated. Since there are 640 ounces in five gallons, this means the beer requires 1280 ml of spice “tea”. That is 5.4 bloody cups. Time to brew more tea I guess.

I got worried that with so much extra liquid we were going to thin out the beer. We didn’t think the samples tasted too thinned out. To make sure, I calculated it out, and the gravity would drop less than 0.7 of a point. Plus, I decided to use two cups as the water for the priming solution. We’ll see if that affects anything.

I poured the tea/priming solution in the bottling bucket, racked off the primary and bottled as usual. This is probably the lowest carbonated beer I have ever had. Jamil (from the Jamil Show mentioned above) suggested carbonating to 1.5 volumes, and my little table in the chapter on priming and bottling of my “How to Brew” book claimed I only needed about 1.5 ounces of corn sugar for the temperature the room is at for this amount of carbonation. This is much less than any other beer I have made. Now it’s time to design the label.

Family Reunion Summer Ale

A few weeks ago I brewed a beer specifically for my family reunion with my Brother.  I’ve been thinking about doing one for the reunion for about as long as I have been brewing beer. I actually “polled” the family reunion Facebook event page. From the responses they thought brewing a beer for the family reunion was a great idea, and preferred a lighter color beer, but not lighter in flavor (sound familiar?). I think it goes with the activity of the 3-day reunion perfectly, which consists of sitting around and drinking beer for 75% of the time.

I scoured the interwebs and my homebrew books, and I decided to try my hand at one of the summer ales from Radical Brewing. I know this is my 3rd beer in a row based on a recipe from that book, but I do love the book so much. My wheat beer and coffee stout were highly acclaimed at my award show for the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award in Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (In Beer Drinking) or “drink my beer so I have room to make more beer party”.

I attempted to make the Summer Ale, What if Version, which is like the Summer Ale, but higher in gravity, and with the addition of coriander and candied ginger at 5 minutes left in the boil. I’m very proud that I made my own candied ginger for the first time out of 1 pound of ginger root  (or more accurately rhizome), despite the fact that the 0.25 oz required for 5 gallons amounted to 2 whole pieces. The rest are delicious by themselves.

This beer is a whole family affair. I got my brother to help me brew the beer. I decided on 7.5 gallons, which basically required doing two different brews at the same time. My cousin is designing a label. I’m still trying to figure out how to get them on the bottle and have them stay on in a cooler full of ice. Vinyl stickers have been brought up as an idea, but I’m not sure they are cost effective.

In the end the brew session turned out well. We did one 5 gallon batch and one 2.5 gallon batch using my biggest non-brewing specific pot. It was the first time I’ve ever done a non-5 gallon batch, and both came in under my target gravity. The 2.5 gallon batch came in at 1.050, about 6 points under target, but the 5 gallon batch came in quite a bit under and I ended up throwing in some extra malt extract at the last-minute to get the original gravity similar to the 2.5 gallon batch.

I took a final gravity reading the other day and got 1.013, which comes out to a little under 5% ABV, a good drinkable percentage. It is also the clearest beer I’ve ever made, probably due to the Wyeast 1968 London ESB used. It tasted pretty hoppy, and I’m excited about how it will taste after carbonation. Next week is bottling week.