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ESB Brew

January 30, 2011


The brew shop didn’t have Caramalt, so I substituted the Belgian Cara 8.  I don’t think it’s really an appropriate replacement, so hopefully I can pin some of the shortcomings on that.

Brew Day (1/30/2011)

  • Mash might be a little thick.  This is consistent with – though not as thick as – Designing Great Beers, but I wasn’t planning on following that advice for this brew (since I’m using Jamil’s recipe and it doesn’t have a thick mash).


BeerSmith Recipe


This brew took off like a champ.  In less than 7 hours there was pretty good activity and in less than 9 it was chugging along really well.  By the end of the first day, the krausen had traveled out the top of the fermentor and into the blow-off jar.  Luckily I was using a make-shift blowoff tube because I was out of airlocks.  The fermentor was filled pretty darn close to 5 gallons since the bottling bucket had ~4.8 gallons when I was letting this settle and the starter was almost 1/2 a gallon (~2 liters), so after the gunk was left behind in the bottling bucket (probably more than 1/2 gallon), the starter should have brought it back up near 5 gallons.

After ~2 days, activity really slowed down and I decided to put the house thermostat back to its energy-saving setting (where it drops down to 62 F when we’re sleeping or out of the house).  My Wee No ‘Tweener consistency brew had been left in the house at this setting for several days before kegging and it registered ~62 F when I kegged.  I figured this was safe – putting the thermostat back to normal – since primary was clearly about over, but it just so happens that the same morning that I returned the thermostat, I was listening to Jamil’s Foreign Extra Stout show walking into the lab, when I heard him say that you need to kick up the temperature a few degrees when activity slows on the english yeasts to get the last few points out of them and get them to clean up diacetyl.  Unfortunately, it spent the whole day at 62 F in the house, but that evening I transferred the fermentor to my cooler with the aquarium heater set to 72 F.  The next day, I noticed intermittent bubbling, but I’m not sure if it’s just from me disturbing it (because my purpose for checking on it was to mix the water), from CO2 coming out of solution from the higher temperature, or actual continuing fermentation.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a little of all, but I’ll try to keep it in mind for future brews (like my Oatmeal Stout soon).  I think I’ll go back to the aquarium heater in the cooler, but in my closet this time (as keeping it in the fridge outside was causing some condensation and ice issues) for future brews so I don’t have to mess with the whole house temperature.

Sample at 1 week, 1 day

SG:  1.012

I had forgotten what a good ESB smelled like, but I was immediately reminded when I smelled this.  Also, it was very clear and a pretty nice color (maybe a little less golden than I’d like, but still nice).


Initial Impressions

Appearance – Nice white, fluffy head that dissipates fairly quickly to a thin layer that has a lot of staying power.  Considering I didn’t have any carapils, I’m pretty happy with the result.  A little bit cloudy, though nothing appears to be floating, chill haze perhaps?

Aroma – Strong caramel with some fruity esters.  Low to no hop aroma.

Mouthfeel – Pretty full

Flavor – Nice, but a little on the sweet side and something seems to be lacking.  Pretty fruity, caramelly, very subdued bitterness, very malty.

Overall – This is a really nice – albeit very malty and a little sweet – beer.  Without judging it strictly as an ESB, it’s a nice tasting beer.  I won’t be upset drinking it and I think people that aren’t beer geeks will like it pretty well.  As an ESB, I don’t know that it hit the mark, though.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had a good ESB, though so I’ll have to pick one up when I can and compare.  Unfortunately the local bottle shop wasn’t carrying their spring seasonal beers yet (which apparently is what they’ve decided an ESB is).  I plan on bottling a good bit of it, though (have to clear keg room for my Munich Helles and Oatmeal Stout soon) so I should be able to keep quite a bit of it around for tasting once I get the ESB flavor back in my head.

Later Impressions (pre-NHC)

Once my kegs ran out of Stout and Munich Helles, I turned to my small supply of bottles.  In pretty short order, all of this beer’s supply was gone (except the 4 bottles I may need for the NHC competition).

The one word that keeps coming to mind about this is “softness.”  It’s a really “soft” beer.  I’m not sure how much that has to do with water or Cara 8 or something else (though it’s not carbonation, because that character didn’t change with carbonation).

I really like this beer.  I don’t believe it’s bitter enough for an ESB and I’m wondering if the Cara 8 provided a little bit of a sweet-ish flavor (though that’s not an entirely accurate description) to it that’s inappropriate, but it’s an excellent drinking beer for me.  I think I’ll re-brew it just for me, as exactly as I can before I try to make it more ESB-like.

Elaboration of Cara 8 effects:  As I mentioned above, it has a sort of sweetness and softness, and I wonder if it’s related to the Cara 8.  It seems somewhat in-line with a Belgian character to me.

More on “softness”

While researching in an attempt to re-brew this with my ESB Re-Brew, I came to the conclusion that what had mainly created the odd (yet delicious) character of this beer was probably too high of a chloride-to-sulfate ratio.  When pre-boiling, I added a lot of gypsum (16 g) and a bit of CaCl2 (1 g).  I’m pretty sure the gypsum didn’t dissolve (as it’s not supposed to in neutral water – even getting less soluble at higher temperatures).  Add to this, my 3 g CaCl2 addition in the mash and I ended up with a beer on the “highly malty” side of the malt/bitter balance (214 Cl : 17 SO4).  I think the Cara 8 may have contributed a bit also, but I think that’s relatively minor compared to the crazy chloride-to-sulfate ratio.

NHC Regional Evaluation

Final Assigned Score:  26.5

Overall, this beer did better than I thought it would.  The judges did notice that it was overly malty and/or sweet and suggested it could use more hops to balance.  Another common theme was that it was too thin.  I’m a little surprised to hear that, but they were consistent in mentioning it.

Judge Summaries (scoresheets):

First Judge:  This judge noticed some oxidation issues with the beer, but other than that, the too-malty balance, and the thinness, seemed to like it.  Contrary to judge 2, thought it might be a little too carbonated.

Second Judge:  Again commented on too-malty balance and thinness.  No mention of oxidation, but passing mention of “low musty aroma.”  Not sure what that is, or if it can be confused with oxidation.  Commented that it was under-carbonated.  Since the judges disagreed on that, I don’t think I’ll worry about carbonation for now.  This judge recommended an increase in caramel malt to improve body.


This beer got a Bronze certificate in the 2011 NHC Regional competition.


From → Ale, All-Grain, Brews

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