Thursday, May 19, 2011

Brewing up an English Extra Special Bitter (ESB)

   An English Extra Special Bitter or ESB is really an English pale ale.  By 1830 pale ale and bitter were synonymous terms over in England.  The English verity of pale ales are often less hop-focused, lower alcohol session beers.  I decided to brew this style frankly because it's one of the few common styles that I haven't attempted to brew yet and I wanted to make more of a session beer.

Pre-Heating the Mash-tun and the strike water
I decided to go for a thick mash at 1.13qt/lb and a target mash temp of 154*F for 60 Min mash.  I calculated the strike temp for mash-in at 167.45*F.  I ended up hitting my target temp and successfully held it there for the full 60 mins. with the help of boiling water additions along the way.  I have had good luck with thick as opposed to thin mashes.  Seems like I get better efficiency that way.  I also opted to do my normal two rounds of batch sparging this time around. 
Brew day often times is hard on the appetite because you can't really go anywhere for 6 or 7 hours and my kitchen is an absolute mess while brewing and next to impossible to tend to anything cooking.  So my loving wife called in a delivery and of course where there is pizza there is beer (Maibock).
After a 60 min. mash it's time to re-circulate the mash until the runnings are clear then into the brew kettle.  This brew I decided to do some First-Wort Hopping (FWH). This is where you steep your bittering hop addition in the first runnings from the mash-tun.  So basically just adding your bittering hops earlier in the process.

After running two rounds of batch sparges I collected 8.25 gals of wort into the brew kettle and started the boil.  I also started the process of cooling off a sample to test for mash efficiency.  I ended up getting 79% efficiency on this batch.  I was estimating 75% so my expected numbers ended up looking close.  My SG after mash-out was 1.042 with 8.25 gals.  My plan was to boil for 60 mins and then further if needed to end up with 6 gals in the kettle.  Estimating 0.5 gals loss due to trub resulting in 5.5 gals in the fermenter.

Starting boil - hot break starting to show
Wyeast Thames Valley II
All-in-all this brew day went smooth and quick, but there was a small hiccup.  I have two propane bottles for convenience (if one empties I can use the other to finish the boil).  I picked up a second one once I had the unfortunate experience of running out of juice during the last 15 mins of the boil and too many beers in my system to drive for a refill.  Well so this time it looks like I had forgotten to get one of them filled prior to planning this brew day.  Fortunately for me this became apparent while trying to reach boiling so I took that opportunity to pick up a refill.  The key ingredient, to really any beer, but especially the ingredient that makes similar beers different is the strain of yeast used.  On this beer I decided to go with a liquid yeast (Wyeast Thames Valley II).  This is one of Wyeast private collection English strains that is used alot in ESBs.   
Top: Just dropped in the wort-chiller, Bottom Left: recirculating ice water bath, Bottom Right: Cold Break
Typically I sanitize my wort-chiller in Star-San for 30 mins prior to dropping it into the boiling wort.  Some people choose not to do this because the boiling wort will sanitize the chiller itself.  I choose to pre-sanitize because the copper tends to oxidize and I don't want that coming off into my brew.  So I sanitize it not so much for sanitation purposes but more for just cleaning all the oxidation off of it.   I start off with just tap water from the hose in the chiller and then after I get below 100*F I reconfigure my pump and start circulating ice water for the remainder of the cooling process.  This allows me to get super fast cool downs producing lots of cold break as seen in the above picture (bottom right).  With this brew I ended up going from 212 to below 70 in about 20 mins.
Transferring to the fermenter and adding oxygen
OG of 1.059
 After transferring to the fermenter I pulled a sample to measure the OG.  My OG on this beer was 1.059. I use a aquarium air pump with a HEPA filter and a diffusion stone attached to pull oxygen back into the wort before pitching the yeast.  This helps ensure a healthy environment for the growing yeast.  Oxygen is needed at the beginning during the growth stage of the yeast.  After the yeast have multiplied to sufficient numbers to tackle the job of eating all the maltose then any added oxygen would just taint the taste of the finished product.    
6.5 gal carboy in a wine chiller that I converted to a temperature controlled fermentation chamber 
 So off to the fermentation chamber with the temp control set to 63*F.  At this point I left for the weekend and came back 3 days latter to find that fermentation had not started.  Usually 3 days in I start to see at least some signs of fermentation such as at least a low kraeusen layer forming.  My first thought was that the Wyeast pack that I received must have been old and I probably should have made a yeast starter for this beer.  At that point I planned on calling up the home brew supply store that I purchased the yeast from and asking for them to send out more yeast to replace the defective yeast.  I ended up bumping the temp up a few degrees to 68*F and next day there were signs of fermentation.  So this is just a lesson in RDWHAHB (Relax Don't Worry Have A Home Brew).


Well, RIP ESB.  After a week of sampling and contemplation, I have decided to give this batch the dump.  This will be only the second time I have ever dumped a batch.  Turns out that the package of yeast I used was old and weak.  I would have needed to pitch triple the amount or had made a starter with this yeast.  With the yeast being stressed it created a cloudy product (That won't clear) that taste as best I describe it like a Moldy/Musty rag.  All is not lost because I did shed some light as to the reason for previous failed batch.  So brewing lesson of the day:  Check the date on the yeast and be sure to pitch the proper amount of yeast.