Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Six months of brewing and two ESBs

So, I suck.

The purpose of having this blog was so that I could document my adventures in homebrewing, including recipe details and my thoughts on batches.

Well, I've done about half a dozen batches that I haven't blogged about at all.

Hence, I suck.

Let's fix that!

Today's post is going to be about a pair of ESBs, and what I've learned about trying to brew this style.

My first attempt was back in November 2012.  I started with a grain bill very similar to my IPA:
5lb 2-Row
5lb Maris Otter
1lb Munich
8oz Crystal 60

I used mostly English hops, with a bit of Magnum for bitterness:
1oz Magnum 12.1% @ 30min
1oz Glacier 5.4% @ 30min
1oz US Hallertau 5.0% @ 30min
1oz Glacier 5.4% @ 5min
1oz US Hallertau 5.0% @ 5min
1oz Glacier 5.4% @ Dry Hop
1oz US Hallertau 5.0% @ Dry Hop

I fermented this with Safale S-05, which was a poor choice that I'll get to in a moment.

It was an uneventful brew day - hops and grain and standard stuff.  Mashed at 153, boiled for 90 minutes.  Look, hops!

The two hop additions split into half-gallon pitchers.

Everything seemed like it was on the right path.  Standard fermentation, nothing went wrong.  Kegged it after a little over a week in primary, and wound up with a beer with the following stats:
OG: 1.060
FG: 1.010
ABV: 6.6%
IBU: 66

But, it simply wasn't a good beer.  Here's why:
1. American yeast was a poor choice.  A good ESB should have fruity notes from the English yeast, and have a bready, malty flavor to balance the bitterness.  It dried out too much and was just too clean.
2. Too bitter - I never should have added the Magnum hops.  No idea what I was thinking.  The better choice would have been use an extra ounce of Hallertau or Glacier at 20 minutes - get some bitterness but also flavor.  With that said, I think those hops were part of the problem.
3. Poor hop combination.  I think the Glacier was a good choice, even though their flavor didn't come through as much as I wanted.  The Hallertau was not.  It's too "noble", in my mind, for a beer this hop forward.  I would have been better off with EKG, Fuggles, Willamette, or another English hop.  Alternatively, I could have gone very American and used a C-hop to balance the Glacier.  Either way, the Hallertau just wasn't a strong enough hop for this beer.
4. Too strong.  6.6% is too much for a supposedly easy drinking ESB.

I took this beer to the office and left it on the kegerator for six months.  Six months later, there was still 2-3 gallons remaining.  I think that says all that needs to be said - it was drinkable, but definitely not something I'd brag about.  I'm actually going to throw out the remainder.  Simply put, it's not worth bottling.


I wanted to try again.  I know how to make hoppy beers - that's not a problem.  But I have consistently failed to brew a solid ESB.  The one above was actually my second attempt - my first attempt's recipe has been lost to the winds of time, but it had similar issues.  Just not enough character and hoppy flavor.

Third time is the charm, right?  That was my mindset on May 1st.

Let's start by fixing the problems.
1. English yeast.  Safale S-04.  A clean, cheap, dry yeast.  $4 for a pack, guaranteed to have enough cells for a proper pitch.  Also has the benefit of putting out the fruity flavors you want in an ESB, plus will not dry it out (attenuate) as much, so it finishes a bit maltier and sweeter.
2. I cut the IBUs down to around 40.  Less bitter, less like an IPA, and more balanced with a lower amount of alcohol.
3. I went with a tried and true English hop combination.  UK East Kent Golding (EKG) and US Willamette (as a substitute for Fuggles).
4. Fix the grain bill.  Less malt, and more specialty malts to contribute color and flavor.

Here's the recipe I went with:
8lb Pilsen
1lb 6oz 2-row (because I ran out of 2-row)
12oz Caramel 80
4oz Special B

1.5oz EKG @ 60min
.5oz Willamette @ 20min
.5oz EKG @ 20min
1oz Willametter @ 1min

Safale S-04 yeast

Now, I'll admit, this is a pretty non-traditional grain bill for an English beer.  I feel that I need to explain my choices.  First, in an ideal world, I would have used entirely Maris Otter malt.  But, I was out of that, and running out of 2-row.  So, I used 8 pounds of Pilsen to give it just a bit more of a malt backbone, and just finished off my 2-row (hence the odd amount of 1lb 6oz).

Second, the Special B is a Belgian grain.  But, it had the color and flavor I was looking for.  It added a really nice copper hue and a light breadiness to the finished beer.  The Caramel 80 added a sweetness, and an almost raisin-like (very faint) flavor, as well as a bit more color.  The caramel 80 is a more standard ingredient - a true ESB is likely to use English crystal grain that's been roasted to a similar color.

Uncrushed grain.

My setup.  Burner and two pots on the left, water bucket for measurement purposes, and a 10 gallon igloo cooler as a mash tun.

The first runnings were the perfect color.

Have to love an early May brew day.  Gorgeous weather for it.

Again, a pretty standard brew day.  Mashed in for an hour at 154, sparged with 170 degree water, and collected just over 7 gallons for a 90 minute boil.

Fermentation was clean and consistent at 65 degrees, and was done within 5 days.  I left the beer on the cake for an extra five days to allow it to clean up a bit and then cold crashed.  (Cold crashing is dropping the temperature of the fermenter so that the yeast drops out of suspension and forms a compact cake at the bottom of the carboy).  That makes it easier to use my auto-siphon to rack from the fermenter to the keg without bringing any of the yeast or other particulate into the keg.

On day 11 I kegged the beer and force carbonated it at 30 PSI for 36 hours.  I brought it into the office 13 days after I brewed it, and it was a hit.  It replaced my first attempt and was immediately hit pretty hard.  It's been on draft only two days, and the five of us have already drank nearly a gallon across the two days.

OG: 1.052
FG: 1.013 (notice the original was 1.010 - those extra 3 gravity points make quite a difference to the finished beer.)
ABV: 5.2%
IBU: 38

Appearance: Coppery.  A bit hazy, but that will likely fade with more time in the keg.  Head is firm and meringue like, but fades after a few minutes to just a wisp.
Aroma: English yeast and hops.  Simple, clean. A bit of maltiness to balance the hops. Mostly smells like ripe fruit (not citrus - very English) and flowers.
Mouthfeel: Pleasant.  I'm happy with the weight - there's enough malt there to keep it complex, while not being heavy. It might be just a bit sweet.
Taste: Yeast fruitness first, followed by a clean bitterness that finishes with a hint of bread and sweetness.  Aftertaste is hops and yeast.  I want to say there's a lot going on here, but I'm not sure that's truly accurate.  It's really 3 flavors: yeast esters, bready malt, and English hops.  Those three flavors just interplay and work so well together.
Overall: Nailed it.  Third time was definitely the charm.  At 5% I can have several pints and not hate myself the next day.  The 3 flavors are working perfectly with each other to provide the right amount of complexity.  

Potential improvements: I might want to mash just a bit lower next time.  I mashed this at 154 and it finishes just a touch sweet.  Either that or cut back on the Crystal 80 a bit more.  I'm happy with this beer, and may just focus on cleaning up the recipe a bit. I'll try this next time using 9.5 pounds of Maris Otter instead of the pilsen / 2-row combination, and cut the Crystal 80 to 8 ounces instead of 12.  The special B stays in, though.  It's a perfect addition.

In summary - ESB is one of the styles I've struggled with the most.  My first two attempts were beers I simply didn't enjoy.  But, I really feel like I've figured out what I was missing, and now I'm starting to come around to this style.  It's one I'll probably brew again next spring.  A great spring/summer beer.

1 comment:

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