Beer Advocate describes Extra Special (or Strong) Bitter (ESB) as:
…essentially more aggressive and more balanced Bitters, both in alcohol and hop character, but nothing overpowering. Color range will be similar, though leaning towards the darker end of the scale; dark golds to copper. Low carbonation. Malts tend to be more pronounced, often toasty and fruity, with maybe some notes of diacetyl. And despite “bitter” being in its name, ESBs are not really all that bitter. The key to an ESB is balance.
When Shawn, my brewing buddy, suggested that we brew something other than a “typical San Diego strong ale” like Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, or Double IPA, ESB is what came to mind. After living in England for six months, drinking many a pint of, just below room temperature, cask-draught, ESB in many a pub, I’ve developed a sentimental and nostalgic attachment to ESB. I was also inspired by New English Brewing, a newish San Diego brewery that I think does a tasteful job of melding traditional English ale styles with subtle San Diego influences.
We hope to soon (perhaps in the next batch) make the jump to all grain brewing. So this ESB will likely be a bridge between the malt-extract and all-grain domains. The ESB recipe we worked from came from The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, which conveniently includes recipes for both malt-extract and all-grain processes.
Now, I’ve always boiled a full 5 gallons; I’ve heard of people boiling less and then adding cold water at the end of the boil to help chill the wort, but I always dismissed this as an inferior cheat. Also, I’ve always boiled all of the malt extract for fear of insufficient pasteurization. Shawn, however, has approached brewing with fresh eyes and is a very diligent researcher. He came to the conclusion that, at least for malt-extract brewing, a low-volume boil may be best and it may be better to only add half of the malt extract at the beginning of the boil. The basic idea, as I understand it, is that steeping relatively small amounts of specialty grains in a full 5 gallons of water can lead to over-extraction and, thus, off flavors (tannins?). And, perhaps more importantly, boiling all of your malt-extract for a full 60 minutes can lead to over-caramelization because presumably the stuff has already seen quite a bit of heat while it was being extracted from the grains and condensed down to a syrup during production. It actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it, and he’s shown me various blog postings where people have scientifically demonstrated through varying their process in multiple batches, that this late extract addition can give lighter, brighter beers with less of the over-caramelized darkness that I associate with homebrew.
So, in summary, we steeped our grain tea with 2 gallons of water, then added another gallon of water and half of our malt extract at the start of the boil. At the end of our boil, we turned off the heat and added the rest of the malt extract, letting it sit 10 minutes to pasteurize. Then we added another ~2.5 gallons of water to bring us to 5 gallons. When we added this cool water at the end we ended up at about 160degF, so we still used our ice-bucket hybrid counter-flow type chiller to get us the rest of the way down to ~70degF, but we were able to do this with very little ice and without limiting the rate of wort flow through the chiller.
Now it’s in the fermenter, happily bubbling away, so we’ll see in a couple weeks whether this new process is any good. The wort looked and tasted nice (as far as unfermented wort goes), so I’m optimistic.
One of my favorite parts of brew day, is going home with a growler of the last brew we made, and the spent grains. I figured out that an unoccupied baby seat is the safest way to restrain a full growler. I’m not sure what the State of California has to say about this though.