Tasting Notes: English Premium Bitter (Beer #31)

March 19, 2012

I usually like to post these notes as “First Tasting” and “Follow-up Tasting,” but in the case of the English Pale Ale that I brewed in mid January these notes aren’t really “first tasting.” I’ve drank plenty of this beer, but I didn’t take notes until February 29th. Here are those notes that have been sitting on my computer desktop for a few weeks…

Deep copper to amber in color. Nearly clear, slight haze. Thinnish off-white head that lasts for a minute or two before falling to a ring around the glass.

All aromas are very light, subtle. Not an in-your-face beer. Smells of toast and caramel malt. Light earthy hop aroma. Slight oxidized wet paper character. Subtle fruitiness – pear and dried fig. No diacetyl*.

The flavors, like the aromas, are subtle. A raisiny crystal malt character is backed up by an earthy bitterness. Light fruitiness that’s hard to describe precisely. The combination of light crystal malt and earthy hops combine to form a iced-tea-like flavor. No diacetyl*.

Medium-light body. Moderate carbonation. Something of an acidic bite on the tongue. No astringency.

Overall Impression
I believe this beer is well brewed and matches the BJCP style well. Unfortunately I do not know the style that well as Bests are hard to find in the US. A group of serious homebrewers tasted the beer recently and all suggested it was a good example. It’s not the most interesting beer and the characteristics are subtle, but it is a session beer. It won’t make anybody stop their conversation at a party to declare it’s awesomeness, but it also won’t draw any derision. The pints should flow without much being said about it one way or the other. Which is acceptable for a session beer that took the scenic route to being ready to drink.

* It is worth expanding on the “No diacetyl” comment in the flavor and aroma notes. When this beer was young it reeked of butterscotch. Tasted like it, too. I took a liter of it to the January TRASH meeting in a bottle labeled “bitterscotch.” Werther’s Original in a glass it was.

What caused the overwhelming diacetyl character? I used WLP1968 – London ESB Yeast – a strain known to throw diacetyl, one that requires a D-rest to clean up before the beer is ready. Only I didn’t do a D-rest. I fermented straight-through at 68°F for five days then crash cooled and kegged it up, locking in all the butterscotch. I thought the beer was ruined, but one of the best brewers I know suggested I try krausening it with a fresh pitch of yeast. What could it hurt? I let the keg warm up to room temp (it was already carbonated and on tap at 40°F) and when a batch of APA was done fermenting I harvested a slurry of 1056, pitched it into a starter and when the starter was at high-krausen, I pitched it straight into the keg of Bitter. A week later the 1056 was done and the beer was clean and diacetyl-free. Lesson learned.’

The beer was tasted a couple weeks later at a brewers’ gathering and the same guy that suggested krausening it said it tasted like a medal winner to him. Was he right?…