Timeless Style – Brewing an ESB

I forget about certain styles of beer, sometimes. In my obsession with exotic Belgians, rich Stouts, big Scotch Ales, malty Lagers, and so on, I often ignore the relatively simple Pale Ales, Brown Ales, Bitters, etc. And then something catches my eye in the store, perhaps a new version of a classic, and I know I need to go back to basics and brew something timeless and uncomplicated.  This morning’s ESB recipe is based on the classic English pub-style Extra Special Bitter – a bit more than a pale ale, a little richer, a little bigger, but still pretty simple to brew and to enjoy.

Tower Bridge ESB


  • 7-1/2 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1/2 lb. 20°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 lb. flaked barley
  • pinch (about an ounce) chocolate malt
  • 1/2 oz. East Kent Goldings pellets @4.5% aa
  • 1 oz. East Kent Goldings pellets @5% aa
  • 1/2 oz. Fuggles pellets @4% aa
  • 1/2 oz. whole Fuggles hops @5.7% aa
  • White Labs Essex Ale Yeast WLP022
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

The night before brewing, crush malt.
Heat 13 quarts water to 164-166°F. Mash in crushed grains and flaked barley, hold at 152°F for 75 minutes. Heat 13 more quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 24 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil, add 1/4 oz. of the 4.5% EKG hops. Boil 45 minutes, add the 5% EKG hops. Boil another 15 minutes (60 so far), add the Fuggles pellets. Boil another 15 minutes (75 to this point), add another 1/4 oz. of the 4.5% EKG pellets. After a total boil of 90 minutes, shut off heat and add the whole Fuggles. Steep 5 minutes or so, remove the whole hops and chill. At 80-85°F, take a hydrometer reading and pour the wort into your sanitized primary fermenter. Pitch the Essex ale yeast, seal and ferment at 60 – 65°F for 7 – 10 days. Rack to secondary, condition at 50 – 60°F for 10 – 14 days. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age 10 days or so.

OG: 1055
IBU’s: 34

A note on the hops: You will notice that the EKG hops I used had two different alpha acid values. Not unusual, each harvest can vary as much as 20 – 25% in acidity. Factors affecting this include soil, rainfall, and general climate.

This beer may test your patience. It seems so simple, looks so easy to brew, and will appear to be ready to drink fairly quickly. But let me tell you a story. I brewed an ESB similar to this one about 10 months ago. When it seemed ripe, I tried it. Carbonation was fine, color was good, nice and clear… then I tasted it. Gasp – seemed to be solid hops. Way too bitter, dry tasting, no malt at all… I was disappointed, to say the least. Well, of course, I never throw anything out until I am really certain it is of no value. A couple months later, I tried another one. Better, the hops had mellowed, the malt had snuck forward, it was much smoother. Another couple weeks went by, and I tried another. Now it was more like an English IPA, not huge like an American style IPA, but nicely hopped, somewhat malty. Worth hanging on to for a while yet. Now I have about 15 bottles left and it has really become a nice session beer, mellow, balanced and smooth.