A Beer On A (Secret) Mission

A few weeks back, one of my fellow home brew club members asked me what was probably intended to be a quick casual question.

“Ever tried first wort hopping?”, Ben asked me.

Umm, no. Sort of familiar with the concept, but never done it, not even sure of all the technical aspects. Half an hour of online searches, blog readings, and forum discussions later, I had a recipe.

Now, the idea of FWH is primarily reserved for beers like Pilsners, apparently, but more and more brewers, home- and otherwise, are finding that it adds to many different beer styles. In a nutshell, you add a certain percentage of your hops (usually the late-addition flavoring hops) to the wort as it comes out of the mash-tun, well before the boil. Instead of boiling the hops and extracting bitterness and flavor that way, you let it soak at a lower temperature, creating different isomers and (in theory) preserving flavors and aromas that would otherwise be broken down and boiled away.

Well, if we’re talking bitterness, hop flavor and aroma, that says to me: IPA. So instead of trying for a late-season Pilsner, I opted for an English IPA. No idea if I did it right, but we’ll find out down the road. Here’s how it went.

Her Majesty’s Secretly Served Ale
5 gallons, all-grain


  • 9 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1 lb. 30°L crystal malt
  • 1 oz. whole East Kent Goldings hops (@5% aa)
  • 1 oz. whole Fuggles hops (@4% aa)
  • 1 oz. UK Challenger hop pellets (@7.8% aa)
  • White Labs Dry English Ale yeast (WLP007)
  • 1 oz. whole Bramling Cross hops
  • 2 oz. “heavy toast” oak chips
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 168°F. Mash in crushed grains, hold 75 minutes at 155°F. Heat another 14 quarts water to 172°F. Place Goldings and Fuggles hops (in mesh bags) in kettle. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts sweet wort. Heat to boiling, removing hops at about 180° (but at least before boil begins). Boil 30 minutes, add Challenger hops. Boil 30 minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, pour into a sanitized fermenter. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast, seal and ferment warm (70°F) for 8 to 10 days. Steam oak chips for ten minutes (in a vegetable steamer), bake on a cookie sheet at 350°F for ten minutes, then place in the bottom of a sanitized fermenter. Add Bramling Cross hops. Rack beer onto oak and dry hops. Age warm (75 – 80°F) for three to four weeks. Prime with corn sugar and bottle. Condition cool (45 – 50°F) for four to six weeks.

OG: 1062
IBU’s: 58 (est. based on 10% less utilisation for FWH addition… but I don’t know effectively how to calculate this!)

Notes on style: This is an English IPA. It is light golden in color, not amber like an American IPA. It will finish at about 6% abv, comparatively lower in alcohol than its American cousin. The hops are English, the yeast is English. Not an extreme beer, but a balanced, mellow, kinder, gentler beer. Shaken, not stirred… Dry-hopped and oaked to (hopefully) duplicate the legendary flavor of those beers shipped to India through the tropics and the antipodes…

Alternate brew: Partial mash brewers can do the exact same procedure, of course, but extract brewers may find it a bit more challenging. Here’s what I would do. Assuming you add your extracts to the kettle after bringing the water to a boil, I would let the wort cool back down to 150°F or so after adding the extracts, placing the first wort hops in the kettle and steeping them (with no additional heat) for about 30 minutes. Remove the hops and proceed to boil as usual.

Ain’t That Peculiar…

When I began my foray into homebrewing and seeking out really interesting beers to brew, and especially once I was doing the research for North American Clone Brews, I used to frequent a real hole-in-the-wall package store. This store sometimes felt like something out of Deliverance – the customers were usually in camo, truck-insignia baseball caps, etc., and I’m sure the store did much more business in chewing tobacco than in good beer. Nevertheless, they had a cooler and a small shelf in the back that almost always contained a real treasure or two.

One of the most astounding treasures was an English Old Ale from the Theakston Brewery, Old Peculiar. Great name, great bottle, great label. I hoped for a great beer, but didn’t know quite what to expect. Approaching the counter with an armload of single bottles, I saw the woman at the register roll her eyes – “here he comes again, each bottle’s a different price, I have to ring them in one at a time and consult the price list for each one…” – she was never happy to see me.

On the particular day that I found Old Peculiar for the first time, she looked at the bottle, turned it around, tipped it toward me so that I could see the price tag on the cap. “He’s pretty pricey, Mr. Peculiar”. She found that immensely humorous.

I went back for more a couple weeks later, and have enjoyed that beer, and that style, ever since. Eventually, distribution of Old Peculiar became a little more mainstream, and  I began to find it in six-packs in my local grocery store. So I guess I wasn’t the only one enjoying it. When I can’t find it, I can at least brew a reasonable facsimile.

Old Peculiar Clone
5 gallons, all-grain.


  • 8 lbs. pale malt
  • 1 lb. toasted pale malt (375°F for 15 minutes)
  • 1/2 lb. roasted barley
  • 1/2 lb. dark crystal (165°L)
  • 8 oz. dark unsulphured molasses
  • 1-1/2 oz. Fuggles hop pellets @4%
  • 1 oz. Whitbread Gold Varietal hop pellets @5%
  • White Labs English Ale yeast (WLP002)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Toast 1 lb. pale malt, crush along with rest of grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold 90 minutes at 152°F. Heat 13 more quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 26 quarts sweet wort, add the molasses. Bring to boil, add 1 oz. Fuggles, boil 30 minutes. Add WGV pellets, boil 15 minutes and add rest of Fuggles pellets. Boil 15 minutes (60 total), remove from heat and chill to 80°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pour into a sanitized fermenter, pitch the yeast and seal. Ferment 10 – 14 days at 65 – 70 °F, rack to secondary and age cooler (55°F) for 14 – 20 days. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition 6 to 8 weeks.

OG: 1070
IBU’s: 31.5

Notes on style: Old Ales were often just that – leftover milds, browns, porters, etc. put back in the cellar when no longer fresh, sometimes even blended together. Old Ales often developed a sour acidity, due to bacterial infection (Brettanomyces, et al), which became a little part of their typical profile. Some innkeepers went so far as to blend fresh pale ales with old ale as their customers had developed a taste for the sour beer. Modern old ales are brewed just as stronger ales, not as strong as a barleywine, but bigger and more full-bodied than pale ales and bitters. They age well, and can be kept in the cellar for up to 2 years in most cases.

Notes on the brew: My original recipe called for the use of treacle in the kettle instead of molasses. I used to carry Lyle’s Treacle (and Golden Syrup) in tins, imported from England, in the Seven Barrel Brewery Home Brew Shop, but I was unsuccessful in finding it when preparing to brew this beer. Treacle is a dark molasses that doesn’t usually have the same intense burnt-sugar flavor that molasses can have, but in small quantities in a brew like this, it isn’t an absolute requirement. Theakston brews theirs with Fuggles hops only, I decided to change some of them to WGV, just for more complexity.

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.