It’s all very well brewing fancy IPAs and delicious Coffee Porters, but the one thing my homebrew cupboard was missing was a good session bitter. I also had an alarming quantity of Bramling Cross hops from the garden.
When I bought myself a hop plant, I didn’t really appreciate the volume of hops that a single plant can produce. The weight alone doesn’t sound huge; this year’s crop is a little over 2 kilos but the sheer volume is astounding. That’s a 5 gallon fermenter full of hops, and there’s still a few handfuls of cones on the plant.
With this in mind, I decided to brew a single-hop Best Bitter, using my Bramling Cross. This highlighted another problem with home grown hops – I have no idea what their bittering qualities are.
Hops you buy always have an alpha acid percentage on the packet; simply put, this is a measure of how bitter they are, which in turn allows you to put together your recipe. When they’re fresh from your own garden, however, there’s no easy way to check.
I made an assumption that my hops were averagely bitter for the variety (6.5% AA) and came up with a fairly basic recipe that should be close to a “standard” bitter – 3.7% ABV, and an IBU of 27.
3400g Pale Malt
300g Amber Malt
200g Crystal Malt
30g Bramling Cross hops for the full boil
20g Bramling Cross hops for the last 15 minutes
The brew day itself was fairly trouble-free; mashing at my normal 65°C for an hour, a quick batch sparge and then a one hour boil – I reduced both mashing and boiling times from 90 to 60 minutes a few brews ago, and it doesn’t seem to do the beer any harm.
I managed to hit the recipe target gravity of 1.036, and pitched some Nottingham yeast once everything was cooled off.
Things started to go a little wrong when it came to bottling; for some reason I decided to skip the priming sugar, assuming that there would be enough residual fermentation to put at least a little condition into the beer. I honestly can’t imagine why I decided that, because it’s not exactly complicated to add a cupful of sugar to your beer before bottling – especially as this was a relatively low strength session beer that really didn’t need to spend a couple of months conditioning in the bottle before drinking.
The practical upshot of this error is that the first few bottles I opened were pretty flat and, if I’m honest, disappointing. So I did what I always do with disappointing homebrew – I stuck it in the cupboard and forgot about it for a couple more months.
Time has improved things to an extent; it’s a decent mid-amber colour, and although there’s little or no head to be seen there are a few rising bubbles.
The nose is simplistic; light toffee, with just a hint of blackberries underneath and a tiny metallic tang.
In the mouth, the fizz is gentle but just about there. There’s a slight sugary sweetness, leading into a gentle, blackcurrant bitter finish. It’s light-bodied, to the point of being slightly watery, and there really isn’t a great deal of flavour going on – not helped, certainly, by the length of time it’s been sat conditioning.
Overall, it’s not a bad beer. It actually reminds me of many a small regional brewer’s Best Bitter, so I suppose in that sense I’ve achieved my target. But it definitely needs tweaking, with more body and more flavour.
At least I have a few kilos of hops to work through as I develop this one!