Real Fermenting: English Pale Ale - Extra Special Bitter

Monday, 5 May 2014

English Pale Ale - Extra Special Bitter

This is going to be my last hopped ale for a little while. I decided on an English Pale Ale, of which ESB is the heaviest class. Maybe it's pure nostalgia, but I am really hoping to recreate the brews I drank back in Merry Olde England when I were a lad. So I got my (organic) Whitbread Goldings hops and my biscuit malt and my Marris Otter LME and my fingers crossed!

Pelletized Whitbread Goldings hops

The Recipe

5.5 gallons water
6lbs Marris Otter malt extract
1lb Great Western Crystal 40L malt
0.5lb Castle Biscuit malt
1 cup brown sugar (I used evaporated cane juice and molasses)
2oz Whitbread Goldings hops (Bittering addition)
1oz Whitbread Goldings hops (Flavoring addition)
1tsp Irish Moss
1 vial White Labs English Ale Yeast (WLP002)
40L and biscuit malts
This was also my first full boil (need a solution so I don't have to move my 8 gallon pot 5/8ths full of boiling wort again...).

Steeping the Grain

Heat 2 gallons of water to 160F. Steep the crushed grains (1.5lbs total) in a grain bag in that hot water for 30 minutes. Remove the grain bag and allow the steeping liquor to drip out (don't squeeze the bag!).You can rinse the grains (sparge) with 1 gallon of 160F water. Then make your water up to 5.5 gallons and boil it.

The Boil

Right after the first hops are added. This is my beautiful new pot

When people write about their boil, they usually write how long the ingredients get boiled for. So for a 60-minute boil like this one, the first ingredient is marked (60). An ingredient with (15) would be added 45 minutes later, and boiled for 15 minutes.

2oz Whitbread Goldings hops (60)
1tsp Irish Moss (20)
6lbs Marris Otter extract (15)
1oz Whitbread Goldings hops (15)
1 cup brown sugar (15)
My fake brown sugar - 1 cup sugar, 1 tbsp molasses
Once the boil is complete, cool your wort as fast as possible. I used an ice bath. It should be around 70F or even cooler than your fermenting temperature. Strain it into your fermenter and pitch the yeast. Stir vigorously, if you haven't already oxygenated your wort in another way. Some people have fancy siphon tubes; I have a sanitized spoon. Airlock and leave for a week. Then rack to secondary for two weeks and bottle with 1/3 cup sugar for the five gallons (aiming for low carbonation of traditional cask-conditioned ales served in the UK). Condition for 3 weeks in bottles and consume!


Some of these improvements are included in the method above, other are ones I would like to include but haven't the money for.
  • Late addition of extract - it's better not to boil the extract for an hour. Extract brewing is never going to get you the exact color of particular styles (especially lighter brews), but only boiling it for 15 minutes or so can help a lot. 
  • Full boil - for apartment brewers on a budget, it can be hard to justify a giant pot, and frankly hard to boil 5 gallons on a stovetop. This was my first full boil and we'll have to see how it turns out. 
  • Quick cooling - took an absolute age to cool 5 gallons of wort for me. My new pot doesn't sit all the way in my sink, so the ice bath was not massively effective. A wort chiller or larger bath definitely required. 
  • Yeast starter - after a few unsuccessful tries with Wyeast smackpacks, I have gone back to White Labs vials. I make a simple starter by boiling 1/3 cup sugar in a cup of water for a minute or so, cooling to room temperate and adding the yeast. Leave this covered for a day or at least 6 hours before pitching and your yeast will be wide awake and ready to go to work when it gets thrown into the tougher wort environment.
I'll post an update a little later when the beer is ready. As for my no-more-hopped-ales statement above, I am planning on doing a series on different gruit ales. There are a million resources for hopped ales available, but I really think I can contribute something to gruit (pronounced to rhyme with fruit) ale information on the web. I am planning on brewing at least five different gruit ales, each tailored to synchronise with a certain  hopped style. Think robust porter gruit ale, hedgerow saison ale etc. I am very excited to kick this new project off, but for now I have a lot of hopped ale to drink with friends, so until next time!



  1. This drinks like a dream. Better when it gets a little warmer, and the carbonation level is really close, maybe even a little high still.


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