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!
This post was originally published 24th September, 2014. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.