September 2, 2013

STD ESB -- A Beer Designed for the Cask

When I first started thinking about using my party pig as a cask last year I intended to try out an ESB recipe I had bought the grains for back in 2011. I retooled the recipe to adopt to cask conditions instead of bottling. 2012 ended up a busier year than expected so I am finally getting around to brewing the ESB and shoving it in the cask. A warmer fermentation will increase the prominence of the yeast character. The malt character is driven by a maris otter backbone and a light blend of crystal malts. Flavor and aroma hops are all EKG.

Extra Special Bitter - ESB

An extra special bitter, or ESB, is at or near the top of the ladder for traditional English pale beer styles that run the range from mild, bitter, special bitter, extra special bitter and sometimes up to premium bitter. The English brewing industry historically has not accepted strict uses of these terms (like the brewing industry of every other country) so in spite of the American beer drinker's rigid adherence to style guidelines the English beers do not always fit perfectly in those molds.

ESB is generally within the realm of what is also sold as English pale ale. It is hoppy in flavor and aroma but lacks the hoppy bitterness of American pale ales. The malt character plays a strong role, with dark crystal malts and brewing syrups introducing chocolate, raisin, stone fruit, molasses and similar dark malt flavors. Many people add Special B to their recipes to get that raisin-like flavor but that is probably not the traditional English approach nor is a prominent raisin character necessary. The yeast will also add some flavor, unlike American pale ales. English strains fermented in the upper 60s will add bready, slightly sour and fruity notes that help create a beer that has a lot of complexity while remaining easy to drink. When I think ESB I automatically expect the hop character to be entirely or almost entirely East Kent Golding. However, not all ESBs are EKG-only beers. It's common to find ESBs with Cluster, Challenger, Northern Brewer, Fuggles and other Golding variants like Styrian Golding. Unlike American pale ales, which have simplified malt bills and little to no yeast character, ESBs do not require complex hop character to create an interesting beer. ESBs have more flavor and aroma contributions from the yeast and malt.

Designing the beer for the cask/party pig

Most brewers do not design beers differently or alter beers when putting them on cask. There is nothing wrong with that. However, cask ale tastes and smells different from draft and bottles (albeit to a lesser extent when the bottles are gently carbonated) due to the lower carbonation, warmer temperatures and eventually oxygenation. Probably the biggest difference I notice is that bitterness mellows under those conditions, even when the cask is fresh and oxygen has not had the opportunity to work on the hop character. (That's why cask is my favorite way to drink IPAs.) Knowing that the beer is only going to go in cask creates an opportunity to think about how that beer will pour from the cask and tweak the recipe to maximize the benefits of a cask pour.

For a beer like an ESB, it's going to lose most of the bitterness but keep all the hop flavor and aroma. I didn't want to completely lose all of the bitterness and let the beer drift towards cloying, so I have bumped up the bittering charge to the higher end for ESBs to keep a more balanced profile in the cask.(Additionally, the EKG I have are pretty old, so I would be surprised if they are even contributing half the IBUs BeerSmith says they should.)

Here comes the ESB recipe

Recipe Details

Batch size: 2.5 gallons
Anticipated OG: 1.051
Anticipated FG:  1.014
Anticipated IBU: 50.2
Anticipated SRM: 10.3
Anticipated ABV: 5%
Anticipated efficiency:  72%

Grain bill

89.3% 4lb 4oz Maris Otter [3 SRM]
5.3% 4oz C40 [40 SRM]
2.7% 2oz Aromatic malt [26 SRM]
2.7% 2oz C120 [120 SRM]

Mash & Sparge

Water profile: Bru'n water amber bitter profile starting with RO water
Mash water volume: 6.19qt (1.54 gallons) at 169F infusion for 60 minute mash at 154F
Sparge water volume: 2.18 gallons at 180F

Mash water additions:

0.5g gypsum
0.9g epsom salt
0.2g canning salt
0.5g calcium chloride
0.2g chalk

Sparge water additions:

0.7g gypsum
1.3g epsom salt
0.2g canning salt
0.7g calcium chloride
1.2ml lactic acid

Boil schedule: 60 minute boil

60 minutes: 0.3oz Belma [12.1% AAU] 26.2 IBU
20 minutes: 1oz EKG [5% AAU] 24 IBU
10 minutes: 0.5 tsp Irish moss
Flameout: 1oz EKG [5% AAU] 0 IBU


Repitch 50% S04 slurry from prior 2.5 gallon batch
Ferment 10 days at 67F
Cold crash 3 days
Dry hop 1oz EKG for 3 days at room temperature
Package in party pig with 2oz table sugar
Carbonate 2-3 weeks

Brewday notes:

First runnings gravity: 1.0817
Pre-boil gravity: 1.041
Post-boil gravity: 1.051
Volume: 2.75
Measured efficiency: 76.8%

Fermentation notes:

FG: 1.010

Taste at gravity reading kind of bland; Yeast flavor is very noticeable but pleasant. Hop flavor not very bold. Not as caramel/malty as I had hoped. Definitely not 50 IBUs. As I suspected, the hops were pretty old and not adding too much flavor. Hopefully the beer will pick up some life after dry hopping and carbonation.

9/17/13: Packaged about two gallons in party pig-cask with two ounces of priming sugar. Beer seemed substantially more cloudy than it did before dry hopping although the beer was cold and had not been moved as much prior to dry hopping. More pronounced bitterness but likely from roused yeast and other trub material. Plan to let beer carbonate for 2-3 weeks until pig feels pressurized. Chill for 24 hours and serve. This will be the first test run of the pig repressurizing with CO2. More on that later.


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