Nick Carr on August 7, 2020 0 Comments Ordinary Bitter, despite its name, is not ordinary nor is it even that bitter. It is the lowest tier of the three sub-categories of English Bitter, meaning it has the lowest alcohol range. It is a low gravity brew packaged with low carbonation levels and served cool, not cold. It is an easy-drinking after-work-go-to-the-pub beer. Its malty flavor and subtle complexity belie its alcohol content. Ordinary Bitter, like mild, is a great style to play with brewing if you’re looking for a full-flavored session beer, something to drink while watching a game or having a cookout. Brewing one is pretty straight forward. Brewing a good one often hinges on the quality of ingredients. Grain Bill Base Malts: Your base malt will be the heart of this simple recipe. Choose it wisely. You’ll be looking for a base malt that can give your bitter a nice slightly biscuity profile. To get this you have to go with a British pale ale malt, and preferably a floor-malted British pale ale malt. There’s just no way around it. English pale malt is kilned slightly darker than Domestic pale malts, which gives it that darker biscuit-like, bready character. Floor malting increases the complexity and richness of flavor even further. Maris Otter is a prime choice here, but something like Optic, Pearl or Golden Promise are also excellent choices. Heck, you could even try mixing these in different proportions if you wanted to get wild. The base malt(s) will make up around 90% of your grain bill. If you do use Domestic pale malt you’ll have to dress it up a bit more with specialty grains, but you should be able to get close to a sibilance of the same character. Specialty Malts: If you’ve gone with something like floor-malted Maris Otter or Golden Promise, all you really need to round out your recipe is one British caramel malt, and possibly one other dark specialty malt for some added color and complexity. If you can get it, use British crystal malt instead of domestic. This may only be for tradition’s sake, brulosophy did an experiment with a British medium crystal and domestic Crystal 60L and concluded it was pretty tricky to tell them apart. Not conclusive enough to say there is no difference across the board, but intriguing none-the-less. But still, I think it’s good to make a beer style as traditionally accurate as possible, at least the first time you brew it. On the other hand, if you can’t get your hands on British Crystal or you have some domestic you’re trying to use up, don’t let it stop you from making this style either. Use anything from a medium crystal (40L-60L) up to the lower end of a very Dark Crystal (100L to about 150L). Those medium colors will bring a measure of sweetness and caramel flavor. As you go up in color the sweetness will gain a bitter tinge and at the higher end, you’ll get some nutty, even roasty-type flavors. The crystal can make up about 10% of your grain bill. However, the darker the crystal the lower the amount you should be using. One or two of several other specialty malts often get slipped in. These include Victory, Biscuit, Special Roast, Honey malt, or UK Amber. On the darker side of the spectrum are things like chocolate malt, black malt, and roast barley. These are used less often than the other specialty malts and at much lower ratios; usually just for a bit of added color in darker examples. If you do use one of these darker malts, decrease your crystal accordingly. Overall, your specialty grains (character malt and crystal) shouldn’t make up more than about 12% of your grain bill. Adjunct Sugars Adjunct sugars sometimes find their way in and whether you use them or not really depends on what you want out of the mouthfeel. Adjuncts are completely fermentable so they will tend to lighten the body and thin the beer, which can quickly be overdone in a beer with such a low original gravity. In his Brew Your Own article on Ordinary Bitters, Jamil Zainasheff, even suggests completely leaving adjuncts out of low alcohol bitters. If you are planning to use an adjunct to lighten mouthfeel use small amounts of cane or corn sugar. Though not traditional, a possible better bet is a dark honey or maple syrup, something that at least has the potential of a worthy flavor contribution. According to Ray Daniels in Designing Great Beers, 8 to 10 percent of the total weight of your grain bill is typical. However, err on the side of “mouthfeel worthy of an Ordinary Bitter” and lower that to around 5 or 6 percent. If you don’t feel like building your own recipe or buying the ingredients piecemeal there’s always the option of cutting right to the chase and buying a homebrew kit. There are at least a couple of places offering kits online, available in both all-grain and extract form. Extract Brewing This is a great recipe for those doing extract brewing. It’s simple and the color range of the finished beer falls in the range you’d usually expect from extract. Just as in the all-grain you’ll be hunting for the freshest, high quality British pale ale extract. You’ll have fewer choices, but Maris Otter is available in an extract form and a great choice. Add a couple of the above specialty grains and steep them for some added color and whispers of complexity. Or if you want further complexity you could always mini-mash a portion of Maris Otter malt (or any of the other base malts listed above) along with your specialty grains. This takes a little more time but can pay off in dividends when it comes to the finished beer. Hops If malt is the heart of an Ordinary Bitter, then hops is the soul. Go with British hop varieties, or at the very least, American varieties that display much the same character as their British counterparts. VARIETIES TO CONSIDER East Kent Goldings Sovereign Challenger Sussex UK Fuggles Beata Brambling Cross Willamette You may also find better results from a mid-level alpha hop than high alpha. Using a hop with a lower alpha acid means you use a little more of it to get your IBUs, which means you tend to get a little more flavor and aroma transfer. This can be especially important if you’ve opted for no flavoring/aroma additions. A perfectly good example of Ordinary Bitter can be had with just a bittering addition. You’ll be looking at a bitterness to starting gravity ratio of .7 to .9 If you would like a tad more flavor and aroma you can add a small amount (less than 1/2 ounce), for a 5-gallon batch, around 15 minutes before flameout. An optional, second addition at flameout is a possibility but use a light hand. Don’t overplay the flavor/aroma character. Remember, both flavor and aroma are supposed to be moderate to low. A small amount of dry-hopping is sometimes applied during cask conditioning. If you want to dry-hop your best bet is to leave out any flameout aroma additions and, instead, use that same amount as a dry-hop addition. Water If you have soft water or high bicarbonate (above 50 ppm) you’ll want to think about adjusting it. High bicarbonates can detract from the crisp bitterness you’re looking for. To get rid of bicarbonate you can either boil the water beforehand, dilute it with distilled water or do a combination of both. Then, if your water is soft, add in a small amount of gypsum or Burton water salts. Water treatment is all well and good, but it’s important not to get carried away. Only treat if your water has one of the two conditions mentioned. There’s little reason to try and match Burton-upon-Trent water exactly. Ray Daniels points out in Designing Great Beers that of the National Homebrewers Competition (NHC) second-round bitters and pale ales he had information on, 60 percent of those did no water adjustment and many others went with a single teaspoon of gypsum. The Mash Your use of well-modified malt in this style means a single infusion mash is all you’ll need. Mash at about 152oF with a thicker mash of 1 to 1.5 quarts of water per pound of grain. This slightly thicker mash will favor long-chain sugars and help with body. Mix your grain and water until you have a uniform temperature then let it sit for 60 to 90 minutes. Once complete, raise to 168oF for mash out and sparge with 170oF water. Collect enough in your brew pot to accommodate a 60 minute boil. Boil The boil is a straightforward 60-minute affair. Once you’ve got a rolling boil going, drop in the bittering addition and start the 60-minute timer. Be sure to leave the lid off so that that unwanted volatiles can escape. Add any other hop additions at the appropriate time. Yeast Selecting British ale yeast probably goes without saying, but there are a couple of other things a good Ordinary Bitter yeast should have. You want a yeast that will not completely attenuate. In Brewing Classic Styles, Jamil Zainasheff suggests yeast that attenuates to around 70 percent. You also want a yeast that will produce a noticeable fruity ester profile. WHITE LABS WYEAST DRY ORGANIC English Ale Yeast (WLP002) West Yorkshire Ale (1469) Safale (S-04) Imperial Yeast- Pub (A09) British Ale Yeast (WLP005) London ESB Ale (1968) Danstar (Windsor) For such a low starting gravity you’ll only need one packet of liquid yeast or about half an 11-gram packet of dry yeast. You can probably even get away with no starter for liquid yeast unless you’re unsure of its freshness and viability. If using dry yeast, don’t forget to rehydrate as per the instructions. Fermentation and Bottling Cold crash your wort down to pitching temperature. Aerate/Oxygenate the wort. Remember that cooler fermentation temperatures will produce fewer esters, while higher temperatures will produce more esters. A pitching temperature of 65oF will work well for most yeasts. You may also want to let the temperature rise to near 70oF as it gets close to the end to help deal with diacetyl. Once it’s finished, package it. Traditionally, this style’s carbonation comes from a secondary fermentation in the cask or bottle. The carbonation levels are quite low; just enough to help with mouthfeel. But get too much and it’ll be overly harsh. Use an amount of priming sugar that will yield 1.5 volumes. Ideally, you’d even prime your keg instead of force carbonating. If kegging and force carbonating aim for even less; about 1 volume. And use only the bare minimum CO2 when dispensing. Ordinary Bitter is best fresh, so start enjoying your work as soon it is finished bottle conditioning. Serve this style at between 50 and 55oF. You may be thinking, “who wants to drink beer that’s flat and warm?” But, just as the low carbonation contributes to a certain mouthfeel, the warmer temperature allows the full range of nuanced flavors to shine.