Check out the rest of my recipes in the index.
I have been doing a bad job writing up recipes recently, I let a few get by me while I worked on my big sour mash and lacto starter posts. In an effort to not lose momentum by agonizing about things left behind lets just leave those write-ups for the re-brews.
Speaking of re-brews, I have mentioned before I am a big fan English style pale ales; it is one of the few styles I revisit frequently as I attempt to perfect my technique. While not the hop bombs that American ales tend to be, English ales are packed with malt and yeast character that make them supremely drinkable, even better that they tend to be very sessionable. In my mind a good English style ale is dependable, full of character, and always by your side–just like a certain four-legged companion!
In honor of my (not so) Miniature Long-Haired Dachshund–Professor Snugglesworth–I have named my English pale ales after him: Good Boy Bitter, Bestest Boy Special Bitter, and Extra Bestest Boy ESB. When they are on tap I certainly want to fetch them again and again!
Extra Bestest Boy
Many of my English pale ales tend to share similar recipes, mostly varying in original gravity, hop additions, and yeast varieties. After reviewing many contemporary and historic English pale ale recipes it is apparent to me that many of them are very straightforward: English Pale Ale malt (I prefer Maris Otter), some English Medium Crystal malt (English crystal frequently comes in Light, Medium, and Dark varieties), and maybe some biscuit type (Victory is a common US variety). The key flavors you are looking for are toasty/bready and caramel, so do not bother with any malt outside that range; I find ~10% Medium Crystal and ~5% Victory get me the character I am looking for. Otherwise, as a homebrewer do not feel compelled to use adjuncts like flaked maize or sugar, cutting corners only saves us a few cents and you will be glad you went all-in on the high quality malt. While you are at it, opt for authentic English malts if you can find them, I find the flavor is hard to replicate and very much worth the extra cost.
For hops, the official guidelines state that just about any variety is acceptable, but I am all about the East Kent Goldings (I am a sucker for floral hop character). Fuggles will work well too if you prefer the earthy character they impart and I often find that a blend of EKG and Fuggles is something really special. The guidelines also state that bitterness should be the key focus for any English pale ale, but being an American I tend to sneak in a little extra late hop character, which no one ever seems too upset about 😉
Unlike many American styles, yeast plays an integral part in the character of an English pale ale; a clean English pale is, well, no English pale at all. Thanks to hundreds of years of selective breeding and cultural preference many English yeast varieties are renowned for being:
- Fruity – I frequently get pear and cherry notes.
- Highly flocculant – raise temps at the end to prevent diacetyl bombs.
- Great top-croppers – make sure you have a blowoff tube!
Just about every yeast manufacturer has a dozen or so English strains available, so experiment with the different varieties until you find the one you like best, I am partial to WLP023 Burton Ale myself. Be sure to check the strain’s specific recommendations, but I frequently pitch at 68ºF for English strains, free rise to 70ºF, and finish at 72ºF to squeeze out ester character and ensure complete attenuation.
So there you have it, Extra Bestest Boy is just my ESB-strength version of an English pale ale. This time around I am playing around with the Platinum WLP022 Essex Ale just to see what kind of character I can squeeze out of it. Just remember to keep it simple, you might be surprised how complex the character will be!
Follow along with the BJCP guide for ESB.
Lightly toasted bread smeared with cherry preserves. There is a moderate floral, almost tea-like hop character in the backgound, but the malt and esters are definitely front and center. Originally there was an assertive minerally character, but it has since faded.
A crystal clear red/orange amber color. It pours about a half-finger of rocky, off-white head that slowly fades to a thin, lasting film. I intentionally carb to the low side (<= 2 vols) for my English style ales, so this is within specs.
A minerally cherry character bursts forth followed by lightly toasted bread and then some floral tea-like hop character. Caramel character is present, but in balance with the esters and bitterness. A moderate bitterness lingers on the back of the tongue, but it is not harsh, though it is slightly vegetal. Otherwise clean with no diacetyl or sulphur character.
Medium-full bodied and low carbonation gives a satisfyingly full presence in the mouth. Perhaps a light alcohol warmth, but it is comforting instead of harsh. A slight cherry pit like astringency which seems appropriate given the cherry ester character.
I think this ESB turned out really well, it hits all the English notes I was looking for and is super drinkable (I just realized I had about two and a half pints without even realizing as I wrote this article). I am not 100% sold on the WLP022 Essex Ale strain, the fruitiness was a little harsh for the first month or so, but has since mellowed out to a really nice cherry character. Given its higher than average attenuation and long mellowing time I would think it would be really good in an English Barleywine or Old Ale. Otherwise, the malt bill is rock-solid and I am pleased with the hop character. Next time I will maybe move a hair of late hops further back in the boil to enhance the bitterness, but otherwise I think it is pretty close to solid. I will be making this again soon!
Not to toot my own horn, but one of the notes I got from my NHC scorecard was “Great job. Big fan of these and this is the best we have had.” Never mind the fact that this didn’t end up placing 🙂
As a bonus here are a few shots of Professor Snugglesworth derping around at the beach 🙂
Check out the rest of my recipes in the index.