Ordinary Bitter for Ordinary Beer Folks

Ordinary bitter is one of those beer styles that is ubiquitous in every corner pub of Britain, but it’s a rarity in American craft beer scene. You’ll see a lot of ESB style bitter around, but what I’m talking about is the low alcohol, sub 4% ABV ale. (ESB is actually a trademark of Fuller’s)

I asked Brieux Carre, one of the breweries in New Orleans, why they didn’t brew more of their bitter (Fancy Daan, named after one of the local homebrewers who appreciates beer that tastes like beer, i.e. bitter/helles/cream ales/pilsner etc.). The short answer was that it didn’t sell well. Other beer styles that don’t sell well, you may venture a guess, are beer that tastes like beer! (In my opinion anyway)

The only way to drink a lot of bitter is to either visit Avenue Pub, or brew it yourself! I always told people I am not a beer snob, I am one of the ordinary beer folks! People assume that I am a beer snob because I brew my own beer. I don’t want to drink a hazy 7% NEIPA all day at a crawfish boil! The same applies to watching football, or tending to my smoke brisket on a hot summer day, etc. I’ll drink Coors Light all day for that, or I’ll drink a homebrew bitter (or helles/pilsner/cream ale), a beer that tastes like beer and a beer that won’t get me drunk after 2 pints.

Since it’s a low alcohol beer with 10 deg Plato or lower original gravity, you should expect the mouthfeel of the beer to be on the thinner side. In my opinion, we should not go crazy on higher mash temperature to preserve the body of the beer, but we should always use high quality ingredient, i.e. Maris Otter, the Bentley of British malt. I love Crisp Gleneagles MO because it is floor malted. That makes the malt so flavorful. The beer can be dry but not at the expense of flavor. Since it’s called bitter, it has to be bitter too! Hops should be evident and should balance the biscuity malt. Use traditional British hops like Fuggles or EKG. You can substitute with Willamette if you’re going for the same profile (earthy/spice/floral), or you can give it an American twist and add some Cascade (grapefruit marmalade when used with Willamette). I wouldn’t use hops that accentuates fruitiness like what are used in NEIPA. You still want to be able to taste the subtle English yeast fruity esters. I like to use some Victory malt (<5%) to boost the flavor, and just a touch of dark malt (chocolate/carafa/black patent, anything >400 srm) to adjust for color. Crystal malt 40 to 60 range should work too in the place of Victory malt.

Yeast choice for me is S04, a vigorous fermenter, high floc, and slight esters. I love dry beer, so I would go for WLP 007 too. I tasted a homebrew bitter fermented with West Yorkshire Ale yeast and that was awesomely dry and flavorful!

I recently brewed one with Crisp Gleneagles MO/Caramunich III/Carafa II with Southern Promise hops/S04 yeast. Not entirely British, but the LHBS ran out of a lot of stuffs due to change of ownership. Grain to glass in a week! I drink it so fast that I need to brew another batch!

3.8% ABV 38 IBU


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