Fall Update: Brewing English Ales, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Malt

Time for another catch-all post, this time focusing on a new love of mine: English styles.

English Ales: Tasting Paddle

Special Bitter

I decided that I wanted my first all-grain batch to be a style that was not overly difficult to brew. However, I found that one can always find ways to make a mess of things — but that’s all part of the joy of homebrewing, no? In this case, I was working with Jamil’s recipe for an Ordinary Bitter from Brewing Classic Styles. It is an easy beer to brew and I was curious to try a proper Bitter, which (to my knowledge) I had not had. I went to my LHBS to procure the grains and misreading the scale ended up with much more Special Roast than I had intended. Now, Special Roast imparts a sort of tangy sourdough character to a beer, which when done right lends it an interesting (and, I’m told, authentic) biscuity quality.  However, with it being out of ratio, the sourdough tang easily took over. I suspect that I also miscalculated my other specialty grains, which in conjunction with a surprisingly decent efficiency gave this beer the gravity of a Special Bitter rather than an Ordinary Bitter. Unfortunately, I did not discover my error until after I had bottled and tasted the beer — way too late to adjust the hop schedule.  To my palate, it ended up out of balance and too tangy. Interestingly, the guys at my local homebrew club loved this beer. Go figure.

Lesson learned: Measure twice, crush once.

Spiced Pumpkin Ale

One of the things I look forward to ever year is the oncoming of the holiday spiced ales. Much like Egg Nog, every year I buy up all the Pumpkinator, Punkin’ Ale, Pumking, and whatever else I can get my hands on, and then promptly burn out on the style until next year. This year, I decided to try my hand at brewing my own Pumpkin Ale. After searching around the Internet for recipe ideas, I hit upon one that seemed vetted and successful. It is more or less a clone of Dogfish Head’s Punkin’ Ale, which has a Brown ale as its base (though not technically an English Brown — I am going to sneak it in this post anyway), with additions of baked pumpkin, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. I baked the canned pumpkin the evening before and steeped it in a bag as the water came to strike temp. This seemed to be more than enough time for the pumpkin to produce a rich color and some fermentables too (you don’t get much flavor from the pumpkin itself). Doing it this way also prevents the pumpkin mush from clogging up your brew system. The rest of the brew day went pretty smoothly. When it came time for bottling I found that the 1.5Tbs of spice I added 10 minutes before flameout had mostly boiled off and had produced only a soft hint of spice, where I was looking for a more bold flavor. I simply added another 1.5 Tbs to the bottling sugar as it boiled. In hindsight, this was perhaps a bit overzealous. Next year I think I will move the spice addition in the boil to flameout and cut down the bottling addition to 1 Tbs. I found that the downside to adding spices at bottling is that they tend to lay on top of the other flavors, as opposed to blending and integrating. That being said, I was very pleased with how this beer came out and am inspired to incorporate spices (albeit more subtly) in other brews. More on that below.

Newhouse Porter

I was in New York for a wedding and put in a respectable session at the historic McSorley’s Old Ale House, where you have two options: Light or Dark. The former is an Amber Lager and the latter a Porter (what they call a Stock Ale). They come in small pours, one for $3 or 2 for $5, and are impressively delivered by barmen who carry upwards of two dozen of the small mugs in one go. It’s incredible. The beer is respectable, but it’s not revelatory. The experience, however, is. The place is full of history and it is easy to get swept up in the adopted nostalgia of it all. Afterall, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt drank here! The decorations on the wall are older than your parents. You get the idea.

So it was that after a few mugs of their Stock Ale, I started to ruminate about the pubs of yore that, like McSorley’s, had their house beers and that’s what you drank. No exotic casks. No tap takeovers. No frills. Just beer. It helped that I had recently discovered the variety that exists within the bounds of a Porter and had been reading up on the history of the style. So I decided to give it a go — to design a light, refreshing, yet roasty and fortifying ale that would serve as one of our own “house beers” — something to have on tap year round, a crowd-pleaser.  Brewed in honor of our moving into a new home, the recipe for our Newhouse Porter is all British malt, including a healthy dose of Brown Malt (common in more historical recipes) and a pinch of Black Patent (I’ve read somewhere that one uses Black Patent for Porters, Roasted Barley for Stouts). I mashed at 152F and fermented around 67F.

7# Maris Otter
1.5# Brown Malt
1# Crystal 60
4oz Black Patent

1.5oz EKG (60)
0.5oz EKG (15)
0.5oz EKG (5)


Cardamom Brown Ale

After you have been homebrewing for a while, you start experiencing flavors differently. You might be eating a muffin and think to yourself, “What is that spice? I think I could use that!” After my first spiced ale experiment, I thought it might be fun to see what one could do with these different flavors. I had a hunch that Cardamom could lend an interesting complement to a malty brown ale and decided to give it a try.  As with any spiced ale, the key is restraint. A heavy hand on the spice rack is what gives these beers a bad rap.  Done well, and you offer just a hint in the background; Done poorly, and you will ruin that spice forever after. My hope with this beer was to achieve the balance that one encounters in spicing Saisons: If you can single out or identify the spice, you have added too much.

We just bottled this up last nite, and I’ve got to say it tasted pretty good. Tasting notes to follow in due time.