The Quest for the Perfect Bitter

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An Ankoù

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Before America was discovered, about 20 years ago, we had bitter, stout, mild, brown ale, lager and foreign beer. You either drunk bitter or lager- I don't recall any of my age group drinking mild, and brown was Newkie, never Forest. I was and always have been a bitter man and yet this is now a minority style and, as far as I'm concerned, one of the hardest styles to get right. I also have this (probably false) memory of the perfect pint of bitter with a decent, tight head, light in colour, not too strong 4-4½% and a pervading bitterness with a distinct but not over dominant aftertaste of English hops. The quality of a particular brand also had a lot to do with "the way it was kept" by the publican. Since moving to France (where bitter is unknown) I've been trying to recapture this perfect bitter. I've had some coming close but none of them are spot on. I suppose bottling a beer which I'd always had on draught doesn't help much either. Any thoughts or observations on this quest would be gratefully received.
 

chthon

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Since I am also interested, and I have brewed a couple of light Belgian beers for propagating Westmalle and Chimay yeast, but also in the meantime experiment a bit with hops. And a couple of years ago I brewed a light AK ale.

The question arising from these brews is: how to let such light beers taste a bit less watery? Add cara/crystal malts? Or add more flavour hops?
 

trueblue

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Bitter will always be best as a draught beer, basic malt bill mainly pale malt and crystal, English hops Fuggles, goldings or challenger and a good top fermenting yeast all drank fairly young.
 
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I agree with Trueblue bitter should be kegged it never tastes the same from a bottle. Buy a keg preferably a corny. Stick to a small number of recipes as your goto brews. My goto bitters are

Summer Lightning
Tribute
Jail ale
Otter ale.

My occasional bitters are

Sea Fury
Cockerhoop
Yorkshire Terrier
Waggledance
 

An Ankoù

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I agree with Trueblue bitter should be kegged it never tastes the same from a bottle. Buy a keg preferably a corny. Stick to a small number of recipes as your goto brews. My goto bitters are
e others
Summer Lightning
Tribute
Jail ale
Otter ale.

My occasional bitters are

Sea Fury
Cockerhoop
Yorkshire Terrier
Waggledance
I'm not sure kegging under pressure is any different to bottling, but I don't have any kegs so I don't know. I find pouring from a litre bottle into a jug and serving from the jug gets rid of the a lot of the excess carbonation. Now I love Hopback Summer Lightning. It's a gorgeous pint and I've drunk gallons of it. I know Otter ale- a bit sweet for my liking and Waggldance is a honey beer. I've heard great things about jail ale, but have never tasted it. The others, I don't know. I've had the Jennings one, but I can't remember what it was like.
 

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Missing from @trueblue list, is water. Too bland, devoid of minerals, water is the downfall of many a brew.

Things that should be cask beers served from bottle, I prefer to carb on the low side so that I can pour them vigorously into a pint pot. So it is pretty much glugging out of the bottle as I pour. I think picking up oxygen at dispense makes a difference, a bit like wine/tea tasters swirling and then sucking air in as they taste.
 
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Before America was discovered, about 20 years ago, we had bitter, stout, mild, brown ale, lager and foreign beer. You either drunk bitter or lager- I don't recall any of my age group drinking mild, and brown was Newkie, never Forest. I was and always have been a bitter man and yet this is now a minority style and, as far as I'm concerned, one of the hardest styles to get right. I also have this (probably false) memory of the perfect pint of bitter with a decent, tight head, light in colour, not too strong 4-4½% and a pervading bitterness with a distinct but not over dominant aftertaste of English hops. The quality of a particular brand also had a lot to do with "the way it was kept" by the publican. Since moving to France (where bitter is unknown) I've been trying to recapture this perfect bitter. I've had some coming close but none of them are spot on. I suppose bottling a beer which I'd always had on draught doesn't help much either. Any thoughts or observations on this quest would be gratefully received.

Hi An,

Would you like to share your favourite bitter recipe to-date and if you can, describe how it falls short.
 

An Ankoù

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Since I am also interested, and I have brewed a couple of light Belgian beers for propagating Westmalle and Chimay yeast, but also in the meantime experiment a bit with hops. And a couple of years ago I brewed a light AK ale.

The question arising from these brews is: how to let such light beers taste a bit less watery? Add cara/crystal malts? Or add more flavour hops?
A week beer shouldn't taste watery. Adding caramalt and crystal malts improves the body and mouthfeel but also makes them sweet; too sweet for me. I think the trick is to mash at a relative high temperature, to leave some dextrins and maltotriose, and then use a low to medium attenuating yeast. Of course, if you're using the brew to grow a yeast then you're stuck with the properties of the target yeast.
 

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I'm with you on this quest, I was brought up on Bitter and go along with your observations. In the seventies living in Derby it was either Draught Bass or Pedigree, both sadly lacking these days but in the dark days of the growth Keg beers it was the only choice we had for most of the time.
I have less than a years brewing experience, though did throw myself in at the deep end and went straight for AG and water chemistry, after searching for a decent bitter I decided to have a go at developing a recipe based on 5 Points Bitter as seen in THIS VIDEO only I would have to bottle it.
Anyway I went with the following recipe:

Targets
Batch size 21 Litres
ABV: 4.3%, OG 1.045, FG 1.012, EBC 17.3, IBU 39

Fermentables
3.6Kgs MO - 87.5%
170g Amber - 4.2%
170g Crystal 220 EBC - 4.2%
170g Wheat Malt - 4.2%

Hops
50g Fuggles @ 60
25g [email protected] 15
25g Fuggles @ 20 min hopstand at 80C

60 min mash at 68C

Yeast
WLP013 London Ale

Water Profile Target pH: 5.22
ca: 141 Mg:27 Na:23 Cl: 101 SO4:291 HCO3 53

BIAB with batch sparge

Fermentation
4 days @ 19C, 1 day @ 20C , 9 days @ 21C

I have brewed this 3 times now and always enjoy it, carbonated at 1.8 and it is better having been stood for a few minutes before drinking. Of course there is always room for improvement and I will be following this thread closely, I would really like to try it as a cask version as in the video and I must try the original one day if I am ever down that way.
 

An Ankoù

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I'm with you on this quest, I was brought up on Bitter and go along with your observations. In the seventies living in Derby it was either Draught Bass or Pedigree, both sadly lacking these days but in the dark days of the growth Keg beers it was the only choice we had for most of the time.
I have less than a years brewing experience, though did throw myself in at the deep end and went straight for AG and water chemistry, after searching for a decent bitter I decided to have a go at developing a recipe based on 5 Points Bitter as seen in THIS VIDEO only I would have to bottle it.
Anyway I went with the following recipe:

Targets
Batch size 21 Litres
ABV: 4.3%, OG 1.045, FG 1.012, EBC 17.3, IBU 39

Fermentables
3.6Kgs MO - 87.5%
170g Amber - 4.2%
170g Crystal 220 EBC - 4.2%
170g Wheat Malt - 4.2%

Hops
50g Fuggles @ 60
25g [email protected] 15
25g Fuggles @ 20 min hopstand at 80C

60 min mash at 68C

Yeast
WLP013 London Ale

Water Profile Target pH: 5.22
ca: 141 Mg:27 Na:23 Cl: 101 SO4:291 HCO3 53

BIAB with batch sparge

Fermentation
4 days @ 19C, 1 day @ 20C , 9 days @ 21C

I have brewed this 3 times now and always enjoy it, carbonated at 1.8 and it is better having been stood for a few minutes before drinking. Of course there is always room for improvement and I will be following this thread closely, I would really like to try it as a cask version as in the video and I must try the original one day if I am ever down that way.
Thank you Galena., That looks a great recipe and I'm going to give it a go. Not least because of your recommendation, but also because it's not overloaded with crystal malt, which would otherwise make it too sweet. I'll let you know how I get on.
 

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Thank you Galena., That looks a great recipe and I'm going to give it a go. Not least because of your recommendation, but also because it's not overloaded with crystal malt, which would otherwise make it too sweet. I'll let you know how I get on.
Cheers, I'll be interested to hear how it goes and whether you tweak it or brew as it is, I have the latest batch 2 days in the bottle carbonating right now.
 

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up here in scotland we had lager or heavy and that was pretty much it.
continental interlopers did appear but bitter never did as far as i'm aware. i'm presuming that means it's heavy pretty much.
my local had sweetheart stout (for the ladies) and special brew (sometimes for the ladies) in bottles but that was exotic circa 1990.
 
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From a drinking perspective, well kept cask bitter is world's better than bottled. The whole bottling process, even if bottle conditioned, seems to strip some of the essential character from the beer. Since the pubs shut, I've bought less and less bitter from the shops. They are all a bit meh and the hoppier styles seem to respond much better to the packaging process. I'd kill for a proper pint of bitter though.

As for brewing, my limited efforts at brewing a bitter chime with @An Ankoù 's OP. I'm not sure what the issue is but I wonder if it is a combination of yeast (I have only used dry strains) and bottling that has resulted in quite boring beers?
 

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Perhaps I could append my query to this thread. I am looking to tweak my 'house bitter', basically to get rid of the 'sugar crutch'!

I use a very simple recipe, just pale malt with some flaked barley and crystal, and normally Goldings hops, although I have used others. With the quantities I have, I generally use 500 g of brewing sugar in the FV. Which has always give me a perfectly acceptable beer. But now I'd like to eliminate the sugar and replace it with grain, because it's not a true 'all-grain' brew in my book if it has sugar in it. So the question is what do I replace it with? Maybe something to add a little 'interest', without getting too carried away, if you know what I mean. I have in the cupboard some Munich, and some Caramalt, amongst others. or I could just increase the pale malt. What would you guys suggest?
 

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Perhaps I could append my query to this thread. I am looking to tweak my 'house bitter', basically to get rid of the 'sugar crutch'!

I use a very simple recipe, just pale malt with some flaked barley and crystal, and normally Goldings hops, although I have used others. With the quantities I have, I generally use 500 g of brewing sugar in the FV. Which has always give me a perfectly acceptable beer. But now I'd like to eliminate the sugar and replace it with grain, because it's not a true 'all-grain' brew in my book if it has sugar in it. So the question is what do I replace it with? Maybe something to add a little 'interest', without getting too carried away, if you know what I mean. I have in the cupboard some Munich, and some Caramalt, amongst others. or I could just increase the pale malt. What would you guys suggest?

Well, the sugar’s not really adding anything except for ABV, so I’m not sure replacing it with anything other than an equivalent amount of your base malt, will do anything but alter your finished beer (which could be good or bad). I think the idea that adding sugar is not really AG will also cause a little controversy. Replacing it with speciality malts is something you’d just need to experiment with.

Saying that, the Munich is not a bad call to add a bit more character without overwhelming your tried and tested recipe. Maybe look at up to 10% Munich with any other extra malt needed just made up with your standard pale.

Or, if you’re not entirely down on sugar additions, maybe look at making your own invert sugar (which gets you a bit more involved and not just pouring a bag of sugar in your wort).
 

moto748

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Thanks, I think I'll go with that. I remember a comment from a poster here the other day to the effect that "a bit of Munich improves any beer" athumb.., so reckon I'll give it a try.
 

An Ankoù

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Perhaps I could append my query to this thread. I am looking to tweak my 'house bitter', basically to get rid of the 'sugar crutch'!

I use a very simple recipe, just pale malt with some flaked barley and crystal, and normally Goldings hops, although I have used others. With the quantities I have, I generally use 500 g of brewing sugar in the FV. Which has always give me a perfectly acceptable beer. But now I'd like to eliminate the sugar and replace it with grain, because it's not a true 'all-grain' brew in my book if it has sugar in it. So the question is what do I replace it with? Maybe something to add a little 'interest', without getting too carried away, if you know what I mean. I have in the cupboard some Munich, and some Caramalt, amongst others. or I could just increase the pale malt. What would you guys suggest?
Many "authentic" brewer's recipes included some sugar. But if you want to go all malt, just replace the weight of sugar with the same weight of pale malt plus 20%. Expect your beer to be a little more full bodied. If you replace it with Munich or caramalt then you'd be changing the recipe quite radically. Munich might be a nice change, but 500 g more of caramalt might make your beer unrecognisable.
 
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