Nick Carr on May 29, 2015 0 Comments History Extra Special Bitter and all the variations of bitters’ have their start with the development of coke around 1642. Coke is a high carbon fuel made from coal. Before its development, malts where roasted using wood and peat which invariably infused the malt with some degree of a smoky character and darker color. The new fuel made it possible to create lighter malt, both in color and character. The name pale ale is without doubt taken from the pale color of this new malt. By the 19th century pale ale was a blanket name covering three different strengths of bitters and English IPA. If the English IPA is considered as a bitter also, it provides a rather simple picture of the convoluted history of these somewhat arbitrarily distinct styles. The early 1800’s also saw the quality of “bitters” change quite dramatically with the rise of brewers around Burton-upon-Trent. The water from this area carried an unusual load of calcium sulfate which gave a light, clear complexion and a very clean, robust hop character to their beer. It also served as a yeast nutrient, allowing healthy yeast to quickly do its work. This broadened Bitters’ availability and competition building fertile ground for the Bitter to flourish. Even today there is really no good way to classify the differences between Ordinary, Best, and Extra Special Bitters other than by strength (both ABV and to a lesser degree IBU). But even this is a blurry, sometimes completely invisible line. In strength, ESB would find its home on the tier right below the IPA and could be said to have a fuller body then the American pale ale. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Extra Special/Strong Bitter style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what you should expect from this style. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 6–18 SRM Original Gravity: 1.048–1.060 OG Final Gravity: 1.010–1.016 FG IBU Range: 30-50 ABV Range: 4.6 – 6.2% Appearance: Ranges from Gold to Dark Copper; Brilliant Clarity; Low-to-Moderate White Head. Aroma: Strong Malt Aroma With Caramel Notes; Medium-Low to Moderate Fruit Aroma; Medium-Low to Medium-High Hop Aroma; No Diacetyl; May Have Low Sulfur or Alcohol Notes. Flavor: Maltiness with Strong Caramel Notes; Moderately Low Fruit Esters; Moderate Hoppiness from UK Hops; Little Diacetyl; Medium Dry Finish. Mouthfeel: Medium-to-Full Body with Low-to-Medium Carbonation. Food Pairings: Grilled Chicken, BBQ, Spicy Shrimp, Pizza, Asiago & Cheddar Cheese, Bread Pudding Appearance: Color should be gold to dark copper, with good, often brilliant clarity, and a low to moderate white to off white head topping the show. Little head is ok as long as it coincides with low carbonation. Aroma: An excellent example will express good malt aroma, with the possibility of recognizable caramel tones. There should be some fruit aroma noticeable, in the range of med-low to moderately high. Hop aroma is medium-low to medium- high with authenticity favoring the UK hops, but any hop variety can be used. There is usually little to no diacetyl. Some examples may carry low sulfur and/or alcohol notes. Mouthfeel: Mouthfeel should bring authentic low carbonation, but packaged examples may range into moderate carbonation. Medium-light to somewhat full in body, stronger versions of the style may also carry some alcohol warmth, but should remain a background element. Taste: Malt flavors should be evident, balancing the medium to mid-high bitterness. Malt will have a strong caramel-sweet element, but secondary flavors (nutty, biscuity, and woody) will lend to complexity. Fruit esters are moderately low to somewhat high. Hop flavor often is squarely footed in the UK varieties bringing earth, resin, and some floral qualities. It should present with little to no diacetyl and finish medium-dry to dry (the finish will be dryer in examples that have taken advantage of sulfate water). Stronger versions may have low alcohol warmness. *Reference: The 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines Examples of the Style Public Ale from Community Brewing Company (Dallas, TX)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2014 and 2013. Availability: Year Around. Red Fish from Flying Fish Brewing Company (Somerdale, NJ)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2014. Availability: Year Around 14o ESB from Bent Paddle Brewing Company (Duluth, MN)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2014. Availability: Year Around. Endless Skyway Bitter ESB from Black Mesa Brewing Company (Oklahoma City, OK)World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2014. Availability: Year Round in Oklahoma. Queen’s Ale ESB from HitJinro (Seoul, South Korea)World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2014. Availability: Year Round but may not be available in the U.S. The Wise ESB from Elysian Brewing Company (Seattle, WA) World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2014. Availability: Year Around. Special Addition: Fullers ESB from Fullers Brewing Company (London, England)Has won 24 awards since 1978 including one World Beer Cup Gold in 2006. Availability: available at good bottle shops or order online. How to Brew Your Own Extra Special Bitter If you’re interested in brewing your own extra special bitter at home, here are a few things you should know going into it. The Grain Bill: The backbone of any good ESB recipe is British pale ale malt. Because it is slightly darker then American two-row (by about 1 to 2 lovibond) it lends biscuit-like flavors to the beer. Building upon this foundation you can then add some specialty malts. Most good examples of the style have notes of caramel, so crystal malt is a good place to start. The color of the crystal used will effect what types of character are imparted to your beer. Darker crystal will give robust caramel and toasty/roasty tones, while lighter crystal malts will give a sweeter caramel character. I would suggest keeping the crystal in the 5 to 10% range and anywhere from 10 to 150 °L. Going any darker then this may make the beer too heavy and sweet. Specialty malts are what make an ESB… well, extra special. Other specialty malts worth considering are biscuit, Victory, and light colored Roast. There is even the possibility of using very small amounts of black and chocolate malts to darken up the color a bit. If using these very dark malts keep it to an ounce or two for a five gallon batch. If brewing with extract, it is important to find true British pale ale malt extract. I recommend looking at Maris Otter for a good extract. Adding a partial mash of some specialty grains will give the beer a depth of character. Available Ingredient Kits: ESB Extract Kit from MoreBeerESB All Grain Beer Kit from MoreBeerSelect ESB Extract Kit from BSG In most cases adjuncts will only serve to reduce the malt flavors and thin the beer. I don’t recommend their use when brewing Extra Special Bitter unless you are specifically trying to lessen malt flavors or help fermentability. Use a very light hand. Water: Purists will say that it is the Burton-upon-Trent water that truly makes or breaks an Extra Special Bitter. Sulfates do enhance the bitter perception in beer, but my recommendation, unless you know for a fact that your water is very soft, try brewing with it before you change it. If you don’t like the results or know that it should be adjusted there’s a couple ways to go about it. First, it never hurts to get a water mineral content analysis for your area. Then, knowing your starting point, you can adjust. Another option is to start with purified water and just add the minerals necessary to get Burton-upon-Trent water. The Breakdown of Burton-upon-Trent Water: Calcium — 295.0 ppm Chlorine — 25.0 ppm Sodium — 55.0 ppm Sulfate — 725.0 ppm Magnesium — 45.0 ppm Bicarbonate — 300.0 ppm But really getting it exactly right is not necessary. Remember also, high levels of sulfate can actually cause diarrhea, so don’t overdue it. The easiest way to adjust water is by using gypsum. Start with a target sulfate of something like half that of Burton-upon-Trent water. No more than about 3 grams to every gallon of water, but less will often suffice. The Mash: The highly modified nature of British pale ale malt lends to the ease of brewing with it. A single infusion mash at a temperature around 152°F will, in most cases, work just fine for the style. Hops: Use UK varieties if you want authenticity. East Kent Goldings, Fuggles, Target, and Goldings would all work nicely. This is not to say you can’t use domestic hop varieties but make some part of your hop load a UK variety otherwise it is very easy to end up with more of an American Pale ale hop profile. The Boil: You are seeking more bitterness then flavor or aroma from your hops when brewing this style; but remember that this is not an extremely bitter style either (30 to 50 IBUS). To this end most of the hops should go in as bittering around 60 minutes. Look for a bitterness to starting-gravity-ratio of between 0.7 and 0.9. (found by dividing the IBUs by the OG). A single late hop addition right before the end of the boil will give some hop aroma while imparting very little flavor. The Yeast: Using an English yeast strain is a must. Much of the aroma and flavor that is expected in Bitters come from the yeast. Depending on your yeast preference Safale S-04 dry yeast, Wyeast London ESB ale yeast, or White Labs WLP-002 English Ale Yeast will all make good ESB’s. Note that at the lower fermentation temperature range creates fewer fruity esters while higher temperature will create more of these esters. If you are able to control your fermentation temperature relatively well, start somewhere in the mid-temperature range and raise it a few degrees over two or three days; this way you get the esters without creating too much diacetyl. Bottling and Serving: Carbonation should be kept relatively low in this style. Stick with 3/4 cup sugar (1¼ cup dry malt extract) or even slightly less for bottling. If kegging shoot for 1.5 volumes. A serving temperature of 50 to 55°F allows the drinker to pick up on all the complex character elements. Colder and you lose much of this character. It’s recommended that you serve ESB in a Nonic pint glass or Mug.