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Style of the Week: Ordinary Bitter!

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June 3, 2016 by fhsteinbart


ordinary bitter

Here we see a typical Ordinary Bitter served in a Nonic glass.

At least several times a month I get asked the same question: what’s the difference between Bitter and Pale Ale? Most British brewer’s will say that Bitter is served as a draught, while Pale Ale is the bottled version. Both are the same beer in my humble opinion, yet the differentiation still persists to this day! While the different substyles are largely separated by Original Gravity (OG), I’ve had some beers that were more bitter tasting at the lower end of the OG side than their stronger siblings. This is because as the OG increases, so does the Terminal Gravity or TG. What really is important though is the ratio of bitterness to gravity or BU:GU. Typically the range of BU:GU in the Bitters and Pale Ales of the world is clustered around 0.75:1, or that these beers have a bitterness that is 75% of the OG. So a 1.036 Ordinary bitter would have a bitterness of 27 IBU’s, and the highest ranged Bitter (aka Extra Special Bitter or ESB) would be somewhere around 40 IBU’s. Yet both of these beers will NOT taste even remotely similar, as the Ordinary Bitter would taste more bitter than the ESB, even with an extra 13 IBU’s, thanks largely to the dryness of these beers as compared to their bigger siblings which have a much higher TG (1.015 vs. 1.009) usually and customarily. Below is a recipe of mine that makes a really nice Ordinary Bitter, which when properly made will make you think that you’re drinking a much bigger beer, despite it’s low gravity and attenuation.

 

Extract:

  • 4 lbs. Light DME
  • 1 lb. Medium British Crystal Malt
  • 1½ oz. Goldings Hops (Bittering)
  • 1½ oz. Fuggles Hops (Flavor)
  • 2 oz. Goldings Hops (Aroma)
  • Whirlfloc tablet or Irish Moss
  • ¼ oz. Calcium Chloride Salts in the boil.
  • Wyeast 1968, WLP002, Imperial Pub, or Safale S-04 yeast

Instructions:

  • Heat 2½ gallons of water to 155°F.
  • Turn off heat and add DME, stirring until fully dissolved, and steep specialty grains for 20~30 minutes.
  • Add water to volume, return to heat, bring to boil for 10 min.
  • Add bittering hops.
  • At 20 minutes remaining in the boil, add the flavor hops.
  • At 15 minutes remaining in the boil, add a Whirfloc tablet.
  • At 7 minutes remaining, add the aroma hops.
  • After boil has finished, turn off heat, then cool wort by placing kettle in an ice bath or use a wort chiller (0 min).
  • Add mixture to fermenter, removing hops, and bring total volume to 5 gallons using non-distilled bottled water or filtered tap water.
  • Aerate unfermented wort (shaking works well).
  • Pitch yeast and ferment at 68° F until completed (about a week).
  • Allow to age an additional four to six weeks before packaging up as usual.

All Grain:

  • 6 lbs. Pale Ale Malt
  • 1 lb. Medium British Crystal Malt
  • 1½ oz. Goldings Hops (Bittering)
  • 1½ oz. Fuggles Hops (Flavor)
  • 2 oz. Goldings Hops (Aroma)
  • Whirlfloc tablet or Irish Moss
  • ¼ oz. Burton Brewing Salts in the mash and in the boil.
  • Wyeast 1968, WLP002, Imperial Pub, or Safale S-04 yeast

Procedure:

Infusion mash at 156°F for 1 hour, using a standard (1.33 qt./lb.) mash. Sparge to 6.5 gallons of wort, and bring to a roiling boil. Add the bittering hops 15 minutes into the boil. At 20 minutes remaining, add the flavor hops. At 15 minutes remaining add the Whirlfloc tablet or Irish moss. At 7 minutes remaining in the boil, add the aroma hops. At 0 minutes (knockout), cool the mixture by placing kettle in an ice bath or using a wort chiller. Add mixture to fermenter, removing hops, and aerate unfermented wort (shaking works well). Pitch yeast and ferment at 68°F. Gravity may vary depending on system efficiency, so adjust accordingly, using malt extract if needed.

Package up as usual; bottled versions should use 100 gms. corn sugar (approx. ¾ cup), or kegged to 20 psig, and allow two weeks to come into condition. Serve at 50°~55°F in a nonic glass, or in a dimpled pint mug, so share, and enjoy! This beer will continue to evolve and change over the coming months, so make enough to last you through your next brew.

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