29 May Behind the Brew: For Bitter or Worse
A few weeks ago, South Bend Brew Werks and its Maestro, Andrew Elegante, were featured for their significant and unorthodox approach to brewing as a means of community development.
While interviewing for that story, however, I learned of a yet another way SBBW will be carrying out this goal: by hiring guest brewers from the community to brew in-house.
Two weeks ago, I got the chance to bring one of my own recipes to the Werks.
I was thrilled for the opportunity to step in as a guest brewer at SBBW, and I already knew that my first batch would be modeled after one I brewed for my wedding: “For Bitter or Worse Extra Special Bitter.”
Personally, I underestimated this style of beer, and it quickly became my favorite. Before I made a batch for myself, I had always considered it to be an amber ale with British ingredients.
It turns out I was only half right. It is certainly comparable in malt and hop content to an amber, but it also has delightful roasty and toasty flavors that gain complexity as the beer ages. My first batch unintentionally sat for six months before kegging, and after the first sip I was hooked on Extra Special Bitters.
Those toasty flavors became more and more pronounced with each new edition of the recipe–and I can’t seem to get enough of that flavor profile.
The 5-gallon batch I brewed for my wedding (which gave me the idea for the name “For Bitter or Worse”) was the 3rd generation of the recipe, and each batch kept getting better with every ingredient adjustment. I’ve always felt that this was a recipe I’d like to put on tap at some point in my life, so it was a no-brainer when I had to decide what my first batch would be for SBBW.
But transferring my original recipe to a production brewery system made me nervous. Apart from recalculating the amount of each individual ingredient, I also had to make a few sacrificial substitutions to the grain bill based on what the brewery had access to.
Meanwhile, I’m a homebrewer. I’m accustomed to smaller systems; mashing in a 10-gallon cooler, constantly worrying about my mash efficiency and what ways to enhance it, and waiting forever and a day to cool the boiling wort down to a fermentable temperature.
The bigger system proved a lot more forgiving than I expected–and there was awfully less heavy lifting than at home.
Well–more like a slightly bigger bicycle than I’m used to.
During the mash, the toasty aromas of the biscuit malt filled the brewhouse. It’s difficult to describe the delightful smell of the mash to someone who hasn’t been around a brew kettle, but glorious is an understatement.
Once I started lautering, I got to see the deep amber color of the first runnings in the transfer tubing. And of course, it’s always a little fun to skim and sip some of the very sweet wort for a little taste. Above all, what I love the most about this recipe is the very up-front biscuity, toasty flavor and nose at all points in the process–both before and after fermentation.
I saw a thick, creamy head that capped the wort in the boil kettle resembling photographs of Jupiter’s landscape, which faded away as the gentle rolling boil developed. And after a few relatively small hop additions to an hour-long boil, I was left with 45 gallons of beer to contend with.
I’m usually very patient, but after five hours of brewing all I could think about was how eager I was to taste this batch on SBBW’s taps. I’m such a sucker for a very strong toasty flavor in this recipe, but I predict this particular batch will remain evenly balanced between hoppy and malty. The toasty flavor will still be front-and-center, and quite pronounced, but I think it will be a little easier to pick out the other flavors in the background.
With my inaugural batch completed, I’m plotting my next recipes with more of a focus on mild experimentation on traditional styles. At home, I’m making some 1 gallon test batches that I will eventually brew on the bigger system, and I’m currently debating between a basil pale ale and a rose & hibiscus amber.
For Bitter or Worse should hit SBBW’s taps in August or September, depending on how long I can wait. Considering that this particular batch only gets better the longer it ages, I suppose I’ll just have to gather all the patience I can muster.
In the meantime, I’ll happily (and hoppily) brew future batches for the Brew Werks. Stay tuned for future recipes!