By: Jesse Reynolds
For many Canadians, December is a time of plenty: an event-filled month when food and drink are consumed with total disregard for one’s health until the scales are tipped come January.
Now that the free-wheeling holidays are over, positive lifestyle changes are in vogue and vices such as beer tend to move to the back of the refrigerator.
In the colder months, when trying to cut down alcohol-consumption, I tend to gravitate toward sessionable English ales. They combine strong, diverse flavour with the alcohol content of a typical light beer, which makes for a warm and nurturing drink with a calorie count about half of most popular craft beer styles.
In my brewing experience, a particular beer that has always been a crowd-pleaser is the Best Bitter. Light lager and strong ale drinkers alike seem to appreciate this style, as it combines the best of both worlds. A five-gallon keg never seems to last more than an hour after tapping. This is a low-effort, high-reward beer.
A good bitter, though balanced, is highly dependent on malt flavour. A good English malt like Maris Otter serves as our base, with some Crystal malt to add some colour and caramel. In addition, a 90 minute boil will add some Maillard products and darken the beer.
The water should be treated to match a typical English pale ale profile, which contains a fair amount of bicarbonate, calcium and sulphate. We don’t want to “Burton-ize” it, but the additions are a little higher than most recipes.
Using subtle English bittering and flavouring hops is important to achieving a good balance, but I like to add an extra punch of hops at the very end of the boil to increase the aroma.
In terms of yeast, it’s important to use a lower-attenuating English strain to maintain fullness of body and flavour. Fermenting too much sugar will result in a lighter, thinner beer without much character.
The beer will keep for quite a while, but it tastes best when consumed within 3-4 weeks of brewing.
Best Bitter (BJCP Category 11B)
(all-grain, 5.5 gallons)
8 Gallons Tap Water (treated with campden tablets) or Spring Water
Add 1 tsp Calcium Carbonate, 1 tsp Gypsum, ½ tsp Calcium Chloride directly to the mash
8lb Maris Otter
0.5lb Crystal 45
0.5lb Flaked Corn
1oz East Kent Goldings (5% AA, 60 mins)
1oz Fuggle (4.5% AA, 10 mins)
1oz East Kent Goldings (5% AA, 0 mins)
Escarpment Labs English Ale I or WLP002 English Ale
Brew Day Instructions
Mash-in grains with 4 gallons of water to reach 151F (66C) and hold for 60 minutes. Use direct heat or infuse with boiling water to raise temperature to 168F (76C) and hold for 10 minutes. Drain into boil kettle and sparge grain with 168F water until you collect 7 gallons of wort.
Boil for 90 minutes, adding hops as directed in recipe above. Remove from heat, chill rapidly to 66F (19C), transfer to fermenter and aerate wort before pitching yeast.
Ferment at 66F (19C) for 7 days, then allow to rise to 70F (21C) for 3 days to encourage complete fermentation and clear up diacetyl. Package, carbonate and enjoy fresh.
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