British Brewer

Recreating the perfect British Pint

Archive for the 'Beer Styles' Category

18 March

Christmas 2010 Kits Review

I know we are approaching the cusp of Spring but I have not been posting for a while and thought it was time to write-up my Christmas Kit reviews.  I actually still have some left in the cellar but most is gone and we have more than enough experience with them to provide the feedback.

As regular readers know I am a fan of Northern Brewer and the kits they regularly produce. They are continually innovating, I fully intend to order something from their new “Pro-Series” in the near future.

With my parents coming for Christmas and staying over 2 weeks I knew I would have to stock up on the ale and started planning back in October 2010, brewing every weekend for over a month.  Here was the final list of Christmas brews.

  1. #8: Belgian Strong Dark ale brewed with Wyeast Belgian Abbey Ale II. A fine example of a dark ale brewed in the Trappist fashion.  I still have half a case left as I wanted to experience first hand the effects of aging.  The brew came out of the fermenter very clear, a lush rich burnt brown colour.  After 1 month of aging the palate was a little sweet but after nearly 5 months aging tastes of dark chocolate and caramel are coming out offset with the spice of the Abbey Ale yeast.  Defintely not a session brew but a good drop nonetheless but drink sparingly the ABV is high, mine came in at over 9.5%.
  2. British Imperial Mild: Part of the Northern Brewer Limited Edition Series for Q4 2010 the Imperial Mild is a play on old British Mild recipes where a mild designation meant “not sour, stale or aged”.  The choice of Wyeast Ringwood Ale yeast delivered the fruity esters to an otherwise smooth classic pint.  It was probably my favorite of the list though did not age that well. The first month delivered a level of estery fruit tartness that recalled Apple Jolly Ranchers, which worked really well. 2 months was the peak for this beer, a well rounded malt/hop ale with the earthy fuggle hop balancing nicely with the Dark Crystal Malt.
  3. Dundalk Irish Heavy: A clone of a classic Irish Ale and another NB Q4 Limited Edition brew, no longer linked to on the NB site.  This kit was probably my least favorite. The Wyeast British Cask ale (a past limited edition yeast from Wyeast) provides a nice dry crisp flavour with the speciality grains giving the deep red brown colour and copper penny brown flavour. The ale was not overly hopped and appeared a little off balance.  The kit peaked at 2 months in the bottle.  Not a bad drop and we finished the whole batch but not something I will look to repeat.
  4. Brakspears Best Bitter: This was the Christmas keg session brew and a recipe we have made before. Originally a limited edition from NB based on the Wyeast limited edition Thames Valley II yeast sourced from the defunct Brakspears Brewery in Henley on Thames and now brewed under license by Marstons.  I took the recipe and made some changes to create the final recipe. I replaced the yeast with Wyeast Thames Valley and the result was a crystal clear accurate replica of the original Henley brew, my dads favorite beer.  It is hard to believe this ale is under 4.0% ABV. The recipe produces a clean, crisp with surprisingly complex malt and hop flavour for such a low ABV. Serves well from the keg and was finished during Christmas week 🙂

The Brakspears and Imperial Mild were the clear winners this Christmas. We are still enjoying the #8 especially as the flavour profile continues to develop.  We were all a little tired of the heavy ales by the end of the season which probably accounts for the IPAs and session keg brews I have done since.  I also worked on a lighter seasonal brew, the Samuel Smiths Winter Welcome which came out a winner and we will review in the next post.



22 April

Meat Beer

So I was reading my favorite Beer history blog, Zythophile, and I see this post on Meat Stout. I was intrigued and fascinated in the same way I am when examining the many dead, skinned “gifts” my cat leaves on the front stoop.  So I read on. Its a great post covering the history of “healthy” stouts containing meat. A meal in a pint, the true liquid lunch.

I know I like to brew classic British Ales but I am not sold on this. I have a feeling my very English Mother would jump at the chance. What is it about English Mum’s and their love of offal. My mum loved brains, liver, kidneys, tripe. Her face would light up at the thought. So the post links to a recipe for Offal Ale which I will dedicate to her.

Somewhere deep down I know I have to brew one of these, it has completely caught my imagination.  A heavy dark, may Old Pancreas or Liver Stout, Brains Best (actually there really is an ale called Brains, ewww, no it can’t be)

28 January

Brown Ale

For those of you who are regular readers you know we have spent the last 8 weeks or so looking into classic British Pale Ale recipes such as Fullers ESB, Pride, Flowers, and Wadworth 6X.  Next up we will be focusing on Brown Ales and their big brother, Old Ales (which we covered in a previous post). I hope to get some great recipes together and have been hard at work researching the best ones to try out.

But before we move on this post is for those of you that enjoy a glass of brown ale or two (its my wife’s favorite ale) whether its Smuttynose Old Brown Dog or a Newcastle Brown from back home in the UK.  I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight a little of Brown Ales rich history, which dates back to 1600’s Britain, before getting into some recipes.

But first, what is Brown Ale?  The BJCP classification of English Brown Ale encompasses the Northern and Southern English varieties along with Mild Ale. The Southern Brown Ale is described as:

A luscious, malt-oriented brown ale, with a caramel, dark fruit complexity of malt flavor. May seem somewhat like a smaller version of a sweet stout or a sweet version of a dark mild.

with the Northern:

Drier and more hop-oriented than the southern English brown ale, with a nutty character rather than caramel.

Whatever the classification Brown Ales have a cult following and are among one of the most popular styles for homebrewers, following stouts and porters.

The term Brown Ale was first used by brewers in the late 1600’s London to describe the beverages they sold at the time such as Mild Ale, a lightly hopped sweet beer made entirely of brown malt.  This type of beer died out in the early 1800’s with brewers moving to pale malt which proved cheaper due to higher sugar yields and is still used by modern brewers today.

The term “Brown Ale” was revived again in the early 1900’s by the London brewer Mann, who create Mann Brown Ale (still available today and brewed under contract by Thomas Hardy Burtonwood).  By the 1920’s Brown Ales were very popular again with large brewers such as Whitbread began brewing strong browns, far stronger than the modern browns brewed today with an ABV of over 5%. The popularity of Mann Brown and Whitbread Double Brown continued through WWII at which point breweries began to produce weaker, cheaper Brown Ale (I suspect due to rationing and the economic conditions of the time) all but wiping out the expensive, more premium forebears. Today, with the exception of homebrewers, the strong Brown Ales are hard to come by, being replaced with Porters, Stouts and Old ales.  Great examples of Northern English, strong, Brown Ales would be Samuel Smiths Nut Brown Ale and Newcastle Brown.  Mann’s Original Brown Ale would be a good Southern example.

It is actually in the USA that Brown Ale has seen a resurgence, mainly from the legion of homebrewers like myself who like to brew strong flavoured, robust ales. The grass roots movement has not gone unnoticed by the micro-brewers who have developed a broad array of full-bodied Brown’s for the American public. American Brown Ales tend to be drier than either of their English counterparts, with a slight citrus aroma and bitterness due to American varieties of hops used.  Popular American varieties include Petes Wicked, Smuttynose Old Brown Dog, Sam Adams Brown and Brooklyn Brown. A whole host of Brown Recipes are available online also.

So my quest will be to recreate a selection of Old and Brown Ales in the coming months and I welcome any suggestions for brands you would like me to try.  I fully intend to attempt at least Samuel Smiths Nut Brown and possibly a Smuttynose.  Should be fun. Would love to get a Brown and an Old onto my completed recipes page.

06 January

Old Ale

Theakston Old PeculierI must say to have a liking for “Old Ales”, when I was a young man in England I was partial to Theakston’s Old Peculier. It was, and still is, a warm, malty ale with a big heart and fruity finish. Not a session brew by any stretch, but something to warm the bones on a chill winter night.

The Old Ale has a long history reflecting. not only the history of beer making in Britain, but a glimpse of the social history of the country also.  Back in the 1800’s, before the time of the industrial revolution, stock ales, matured in oak casks, were served as a complement to mild ales, often with the landlord serving the customer a blend of the sharper stock ale with the fruitier, sweeter mild ale to the customer’s taste.  The breweries caught on and began to produce their own stock ales, which became known as “Old Ales” due to the length of time they were conditioned in the cask. Old Ales were also considered the “top shelf” ale with the workers drinking the weaker common or mild ale during the week and then cracking the Old Ale on pay day.

To understand the process used to brew an historical Old Ale one has to understand a little of the All-Grain style of brewing, something I hope to get time for (and money for some neat equipment) later this year.  For our recipes created to date we have substituted the base malt with some form of Malt Extract, e.g. DME.  In the case of All-Grain brews the barley, typically Marris Otter or English 2-Row, are steeped in warm water for an hour or so to extract the sugars. Next the water, now called wort, is drained into the brew kettle (the first runnings) ready for the boil, a process known as “mashing“.  Imagine brewing a cup of tea but instead of using a tea bag in a tea pot you have 100 lbs of grain in a steel mash tun.  As the water is run off many of the sugars are left behind, attached to the grains, so more hot brew water (know as liquor) is used to rinse the grains and allowed to filter slowly into the kettle until enough wort has been collected to begin the boil, a process known as “sparging“. Think brewing a teabag for a 2nd time.

So back to the pre-industrial revolution brewery. To make Old Ale the brewery would take only the first runnings from the mash and brew a really strong, rich, high alcohol, brew (first teabag).  Due to the high alcohol content the ale was left to condition for long periods of time in oak casks gaining almost sour, lactic acid flavour from the continuing fermentation in the cask. The breweries would then sparge the grains with enough liquor to create a second batch of weaker ale, known at the time as “Common Ale”, a process known as “parti-gyle” brewing (the second teabag).  If the first runnings created a particularly strong brew a rinse was used to create a “Small Ale”.  This process is still used by the Belgiums today to brew the Tripel, Dubbel, and Blonde (old, common, small).

Old Ales are still brewed today but using more moden, efficient methods.  The strength and character vary widely with Old Ale filling the gap between brown ales, porters and barleywine including winter warmers, dark milds, and lower gravity barleywines. Some popular brews include Old Peculier, Fuller Vintage Ale, and J.W. Lees Moonraker.

I have brewed the New Old Ale recipe from Northern Brewer, voted my #1 brew of the year for 2009, and a VERY popular drink at my house and with friends.  I plan to investigate a couple more Old Ales over the year, starting I hope with my favorite, Old Peculier 🙂

05 December

Beer Styles – Creating your own English Pale Ale recipe

I noticed in my first recipe post (here) that I inserted jargon around beer style categories and used acronyms such as BJCP without actually giving any detail as to meaning and importance. My bad, but it got me thinking that a write up on beer classifications would provide a great framework to begin discussions around recipe creation as we begin to build and review different recipes.



The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is a non-profit organization whose purpose (taken from their website):

…is to promote beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and to recognize beer tasting and evaluation skills. We certify and rank beer judges through an examination and monitoring process.

The BJCP was founded in 1985 and has administered the Beer Judge Examination to 5,299 individuals worldwide. 3,126 are currently active judges in the program, with 481 holding the rank of National or higher. Since we started keeping detailed records, our members have judged over 510,871 beers and we have sanctioned over 3,805

For the current year (2009), 58 exams have been registered. Exams have been given to 570 examinees. Organizers have registered 310 competitions. More detailed statistics can be found in the Database Reports section of the website. competitions.

(My italics) By creating a set of standards for judging beer the BJCP has created a defacto standard for classifying beer now used by almost every homebrew calculator, book, website, and in almost all beer competitions.  These classifications provide a great starting point for the new homebrewer to begin researching their own new recipes.

Each style listed by the BJCP contains a number of sub-categories outlining general characteristics, guidelines, and requirements an ale is assessed against when placed into competition.  These guidelines include aroma, flavour,  appearance, and mouthfeel.  Assessment requirements include Specific Gravity (OG & FG), colour (SRM), bitterness (IBU’s), and Alcohol By Volume (ABV).  A recommended range of values is provided for each of the above.  These guidelines therefore provide an excellent place to start when beginning to craft your own recipe.

Given the focus of this blog lets focus on the various categories of British ale. A complete style guide can be found here.  Arguably the most popular British Ale style is “Category 8 – English Pale Ale”.  English Pale Ale is broken down into 3 sub-categories:

  • Standard/Ordinary Bitter
  • Special/Best/Premium
  • Extra Special/Strong Bitter.

It is not uncommon to hear the phrase “A pint of Best”, or “pint of your Ordinary” in an English Pub.  Each brewery would typically have one of each of the 3 categories, each with its own unique flavour, aroma, colour and strength.


Vital Statistics: OG 1.032 – 1.040
IBU 25-35 FG: 1.007 – 1.011
SRM 4 – 14 ABV 3.2 – 3.8%

So lets translate the above table into English.  With a recommended ABV of 3.2-3.8% these styles of ale are low alcohol making them light and easy to drink.  The low alcholol level accounts for a lower OG.  With a FG around 1.007 most of the sugars have been converted into alcohol and with IBU’s in the high 20’s-30’s give these ales quite a dry and bitter taste. A higher ABV would smooth the bitterness out but this is not the case here.  The SRM dictates a light yellow to copper colour so a light Crystal Malt may be used giving us a hint of caramel flavour.

Some commercial examples of Ordinary Ale include: Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter, Adnams Bitter, Young’s Bitter, Greene King IPA, Tetley’s Original Bitter, Brakspear Bitter, Boddington’s Pub Draught (All good session beers and great with pub food).


Vital Statistics: OG 1.040 – 1.048
IBU 25-40 FG: 1.008 – 1.012
SRM 5 – 16 ABV 3.8 – 4.6%

As the above table highlights a pint of Best is very similar to the Ordinary. The similar bitterness profile combined with the higher ABV leaves a smoother, more balanced malt flavour but with the bitterness still coming through. A high FG still gives a dry ale but not as dry as the ordinary and the darker colour (gold to copper) provides for potentially more crystal malt or a darker strain and a stronger caramel flavour.

Some commercial examples of Best Bitter include: Fuller’s London Pride, Adnams SSB, Young’s Special, Shepherd Neame Masterbrew Bitter, Ruddles County Bitter (all have been personal favorites of mine).

Extra Special/Strong Bitter

Vital Statistics: OG 1.048 – 1.060
IBU 30-50 FG: 1.010 – 1.016
SRM 6 – 18 ABV 4.6 – 6.2%

Strong Bitter is most commonly served as an ESB and is probably my favorite overall English Pale Ale category.  This ale is the most balanced in flavour between hop and malt thanks to both the high OG and IBU.  The deeper golden to deep copper colour gives a richer caramel taste with the opportunity to use some of the darker or roasted malts in small quantities giving a nuttier, biscuit like quality.  This category provides the greatest flexibility to the brewer given the wide range of values which is reflected in the wide variety of ESB’s on the market.

Some commercial examples of ESB include: Fullers ESB, Adnams Broadside, Shepherd Neame Bishop’s Finger, Young’s Ram Rod, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale, Bass Ale, Whitbread Pale Ale, Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Marston’s Pedigree, Morland Old Speckled Hen, Greene King Abbot Ale, Bateman’s XXXB, Shipyard Old Thumper.

Bringing it all together

So now its our turn to figure out our own British Bitter recipe.  The easiest way to begin is to use a brewers calculator, such as the one found at, and construct a recipe.  As we add ingredients the calculator updates SRM, IBU, ABV, OG and FG helping us structure the perfect ale.  To check whether your ale conforms to your chosen category simply select your style in the calculator and it will  compare your recipe against the BJCP guidelines and provide the appropriate feedback.

Remember as we are only focused on extract based recipes for English Pale Ale use Light Dry Malt Extract as the base malt with maybe some Amber DME for a darker colour. For specialty grains play around with the various degrees of Crystal malt for colour and flavour, maybe a small amount of black or toasted malt such as Victory for nutty overtones.  For hops Fuggles, Target, Kent Goldings, and Williamette are all good places to start. To get going and perfect your own brew.

Of course there is no substitute for actually trying one out.  So give it a shot and please post recipes in the comments or email me with a description and I will post them.