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English Ordinary Bitter Tasting and Notes

This post is about a style that’s near and dear to my heart, English Ordinary Bitter. Bitter is a low gravity, fast fermenting, unpretentious brew.  It’s the style I chose to cut my teeth on when I started all-grain brewing many mashes ago.

This week, we do a tasting of John’s latest rendition of English Ordinary Bitter.

Look at any beer rating site and you’ll see within the top 10 “best beers” and you’ll see 9 monster IPAs and maybe one Russian Imperial Stout. They are all big, complex, and boozy brews.

These Brew Dudes love these beers as much as the next guy. We quest to find the best ones and the newest ones on the shelves at our favorite bottle shops.

You can call me a wimp if you will, but I rarely want to sit down and drink those in round. I appreciate the big beers but I think having a good session beer, one you don’t have to think about, is a good thing.

Not just a good thing – a great thing.

The entire English Bitter category is just that. There is a nice malt driven body with some toasty, bread-y notes. A subtle earthy and spicy hop presence that balances real well with that grist. Sometimes you’ll get some toffee or caramel flavors but those notes should be restrained as well. You have to really search for these flavors in a good session beer, mostly because they are all in concert with each other.

When we tasted John’s example, it was clear he was off to a good start.

In the literal sense, his yeast had dropped out very well and his fermentation was very clean. Perhaps a little too clean as the beer lacked a touch of ester quality that you normally get from a good English yeast strain.

His malt bill had produced a great English Ordinary Bitter color, light orange to a deep golden hue. The Maris Otter malt was very nice but for some reason in this brew I felt like there was a need for a bit more biscuit kick to drive that bread note home. A blend of caramel malts at a slightly higher percentage would have worked here too.

The best part about English Ordinary bitter is they are fast to ferment. Single infusion mashing is more than adequate in this style. You can very easily tweak the grist bill several times to dial in the perfect session beer for your liking. No waiting 30 days for that big Russian Imperial Stout to ferment or taking several weeks of different dry hopping schemes for your Double IPA.

Just mash, ferment, carbonate and drink.

Have you tried English Ordinary Bitter? Let us know in the comments.


Carbonator Cap


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  1. brewella deville

    I’m trying to narrow down an Ordinary Bitter myself. I’ve finally found a malt/hop/ yeast combo I like. What level of sulphate are you shooting for in a bitter? I noticed a huge improvement in my American Pale Ales when I pushed the sulphate levels above the 200 mark. Should I be looking for the same sort of level in a smallish beer like an ordinary bitter? Never having tried any authentic British bitters I’m not looking to clone any particular beer, just trying to find a nice little session beer to keep around the house.

  2. Bryan

    This was one of my first all grain homebrews. I was very pleased with how it came out – very malty and easy drinking.

    If you’re looking for something to compare to, Fuller’s London Pride is a classic example and actually the Goose Island Honkers Ale is a very solid attempt.

  3. Hi Bryan – thanks for the info. I tasted Fuller’s London Pride in comparison with what I brewed. The age on the Fuller’s bottle was apparent so it was hard for me to understand the pros/cons. I will seek out the Honkers Ale – thanks and Brew ON!

  4. Hi Brewella – yeah, I think pushing the sulfate levels beyond 200 is a good place to start. Our water is very low in sulfates. I just looked up Burton on Trent’s water and it had sulfates at 800 PPM. We have played around with water chemistry a little bit but with not a lot of luck. I think I need to brew this recipe again and try some brewing salt additions to see if I can change the hop profile of this beer.

    I like my beer but I am trying to make it taste more like what I had in London pubs. It was a much different experience.

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