WLP023: Burton Ale (pt. I)

by kmosullivan

Bitter Ale

Those of you keeping track at home will note that I have been focusing on traditional British styles recently. On the hunt for a reliable yeast that I can use for a variety of styles, I have tested a handful of different strains: WLP002, 005, 007, 013; S-04; probably others. And then there is WLP023. White Labs’ description is enticing:

From the famous brewing town of Burton upon Trent, England, this yeast is packed with character. It provides delicious subtle fruity flavors like apple, clover honey and pear. Great for all English styles, IPA’s, bitters, and pales. Excellent in porters and stouts.

Sounds pretty great, right? I’ve had a few experiences with the Burton Ale yeast over the past few months, and overall was more or less nonplussed with it — I never was quite able to make it work for me.

Recently, I made a six gallons of 1.040 Bitter to build up yeast in preparation for an Old Ale I was planning and decided to give WLP023 another try. I ended up getting pretty good attenuation and a dry-ish beer with pronounced bitterness. It came through a little thinner than I expected (a low mash temp and a pound of honey will do that), but the FG really wasn’t that low. What really intrigued me about the beer, however, was the ester profile. I couldn’t quite place it — I certainly didn’t get apple or pear; truth be told, I didn’t much care for it and I wrote it off for the first dozen bottles or so.

Then, as I was nearing the last bottles of the batch, I placed it: Pineapple. All this time I was searching for pear-fruit esters and finding something else. Once I identified what it was I was smelling and tasting (and addressed it not as a defect, but simply as something different), the beer totally clicked for me. Here’s the recipe, which is based on one I found for a Camerons Strongarm clone in Graham Wheeler’s Brew Your Own Real Ale:

7 lbs Maris Otter
6 oz. Crystal 90
4 oz. Black Malt
1 lb Honey (the recipe calls for invert sugar, but any easily fermentable sugar will do)

1 oz. Target (9.8%AA) – 60 min
0.5 oz. East Kent Golding – 10 min
0.5 oz. East Kent Golding – 1 min
1 oz. East Kent Golding – Dry hop (1 week)

0.8 L starter of WLP023; Fermented at ~65F (ambient temp)

OG: 1.045
FG: 1.012
ABV: 4.3%

Bitter Ale 2

I have been on the prowl for an English yeast that I really love*; and while this is not it, I will say it is distinctive and worth a glance.

I would be interested to hear others’ experiences with this — Any recipes in which you have used WLP023 to great success?


* I have since fallen in love with WLP013. More on that soon…