Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Recipe and Tasting Notes: ESSB (Smoked ESB)

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: ESB / Smoked Beer
Brewed: 12.11.2011
ABV: 5.3%

I'd been wanting to try my hand at a smoked beer for some time, and I'd been thinking about brewing an ESB for a while too. At some point, for some reason, I decided to just combine the two and brew a smoked ESB. I had a little under a pound of cherrywood smoked malt at my disposal (which I had purchased just to use a few ounces in my Belgian Rye), and I thought would compliment the smooth, crisp malt and hop character of an ESB. Many brewers go for strong, dark beers when doing something smoked — porters, most of the time — but I was in the mood for something a bit lighter anyway.

I'm happy to say that even though I probably wouldn't want to drink this (or brew this) on a regular basis, it's definitely one of my best batches so far. Maybe even my best batch, on a technical level. Cherrywood smoked malt gives a unique flavor compared to other smoked malts, and I kept a fairly light hand when adding it here. In other words, this doesn't taste like bacon-flavored beer, as many smoked ales do. And thanks to the relative mildness, the cherrywood really meshes well with the clean, slightly-fruity British style beneath it. Cherrywood malt has an interesting character — strong, even dominating, yet not as aggressively smoky, with a hint of sweetness and cherry. The malt base is clean and smooth, as I like it; there's a suggestion of sweetness without any of the sticky clingy richness that I hate. Since last fall, basically every one of my homebrews came out sweeter than I like 'em — but this is the exception.

ESBs are meant to balance their mild malts with hops — ESB stands for "extra special bitter," after all. I think the bitterness is probably right where it should be, even though its 46 IBU is probably a tad higher than most traditional versions of the style would've had. The smokiness seems to cover up most of the hop character, and while the hops probably keep it balanced, that just makes it taste balanced — not bitter. That's not a bad thing, but I have trouble trying to 'ignore' the cherrywood and just assess this as an ESB. More hops wouldn't be to-style, but cherrywood smoked malt certainly isn't either, anyway. On the other hand... I think this is fine the way it is, too.

As happy as I am with this brew, it's not without flaws. Every now and then — not in every sip, or even necessarily every bottle — I'll catch a hint of some off-flavor that I've narrowed down to two possible things: 'extract twang,' or my untreated NYC water. It's a vaguely sweet and tangy flavor that's hard to describe, but I've noticed it in a few of my other brews, particularly the less-hoppy ones. I haven't done enough research into water treatment to know whether NYC water even requires it, but I'm going to try to fix this with my next batches.

Which leads me to one last thing, a minor brewing-process note that probably isn't important to anyone but me. This was, in fact, my first batch with my newly constructed 7-gallon Igloo cooler mash tun. Hooray! So I am, in fact, on my way to brewing small All Grain batches, but I wasn't expecting to make the transition so soon and thus am still working through a bunch of extract I bought a few months ago.

3.75 Gal., Partial Mash
OG: 1.054
FG: 1.014

56 % Maris Otter
8.8 % cherrywood smoked malt
7.6 % C40
2.9 % special roast
22 % extra light DME

Hop Schedule-
46 IBU
0.5 oz Perle FWH
0.5 oz Perle @20
1.0 oz EKG @5
0.5 oz Palisade @0

Safale S-04 Ale Yeast

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