Carolina’s Bitter Tears – English Ordinary Bitter

After brewing two English Ales in a row (the porter and the oatmeal stout), I decided to continue on the English kick and work my way through these beers first. My goal is to brew an example of each beer style recognized by the BJCP, so I figured I needed to approach it systematically. I decided to start with the lightest English Ale – the ordinary bitter, also known simply as a bitter.

Researching the Ordinary Bitter Style

As with any beer recipe I’m about to make the first place I looked was the BJCP style guidelines. Here’s some highlights for the English Bitter style:

“Low gravity, low alcohol levels, and low carbonation make this an easy-drinking session beer…

…Low to moderate malt aroma, often (but not always) with a light caramel quality…

…Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts. May use a touch of dark malt for color adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn, or wheat. English finishing hops are most traditional, but any hops are fair game; if American hops are used, a light touch is required. Characterful British yeast…

…Emphasis is on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.”

Looks like Ordinary Bitters are brewed with mostly a good pale English malt (I chose floor malted Maris Otter) with some Crystal, Biscuit or other thrown in to provide a little malt character but not too much. I settled on a darker UK Crystal (70-80 Lovibond) for around 10% of the grain bill. After reading elsewhere about hopping this style, I went with Kent Goldings and only chose a bittering addition with no late additions. I like hops as much as the next guy but it sounds like traditionally this beer did not have any aroma hop additions and instead focused on minimal hop aroma.

Another note on the Ordinary Bitter is how crucial the cold side of the brewing process is to this beer. It would not be doing the style justice to throw this into a corny keg, force carbonate to 2.5 volumes and serve it cold. An Ordinary Bitter is an English pub session beer meant to be cask conditioned to a low carbonation and served at cellar temperatures around 55°F. I don’t have a cask and would have difficulty draining all 5 gallons in one go even if I did, so I decided the appropriate way to finish this beer was to bottle condition to an ideal carbonation level of 1 volume of CO2. Full recipe is below.

Brew Day

So the recipe described above and listed below was what I planned on making, however my brew store had other ideas. I went on the day before brew day (shame on me for procrastinating) and they were out of the Maris Otter. They also did not have enough of Golden Promise or ESB Malt to fill out the grain bill. The result was a hodge podge of 3 lbs of Golden Promise, 1 lb of ESB Malt and 3 lbs of German Pale malt. I’m hoping this will turn out and give the beer some complexity it would have lacked otherwise.

Another thing I did differently was brew an oversized starter so I could harvest yeast for the next batch (an Extra Special Bitter) from the starter while it is still unhopped and unstressed. I got this idea after thinking about the process of harvesting and washing yeast after fermentation and how much easier it would be to do it from the starter. Then I found a nice article on the Brulosopher website describing this exact practice. It seemed to work great, we’ll know for sure after the next batch.

The final thing I was going to try this brew was at the cooling stage. While researching and doing lots of math for an upcoming post about immersion chillers and relative effectiveness I learned that wort transferred heat much better when it was in motion. I’ll go into detail with this in a later post but it’s not just a little bit better, it’s like 10 or more times better than if it’s undisturbed. I’ve previously tried stirring and it’s just a pain with the immersion chiller in there, so instead I decided the best thing to do would be to use a special paddle drill attachment (affiliate link). This attachment is normally used to degas wine but I figured as long as I moved it closer to the surface there would be plenty of oxygen introduced and it might also aid in aerating the wort for the yeast. Since I’ve made a few batches of wine, I already had this attachment so using it cost nothing more for me.

Yeast starter and harvested yeast.

Yeast Starter and harvested yeast from starter for next batch.

First runnings of the ordinary bitter

Collecting first runnings.

Collecting the wort

Collecting the wort.

Exactly 1.700 oz, pretty lucky today

1.700 oz of Kent Goldings, right on the money! Pretty lucky today!

Moving wort with drill attachment.

Moving wort with drill attachment.

Very effective whirlpool.

This was very effective at circulating wort and had a significant effect on cooling. Much easier than trying to vigorously stir with a spoon while the chiller is in there.

View of the entire cooling operation

View of the entire cooling operation.

One last shot of the stirring

One last shot of the stirring.

So how did everything go?

Really very well. The chilling was outstanding with the stirrer. I can’t say that enough. My chilling time this batch was 1/3 the time of the previous batch. With the whole setup of ice water and recirculating pump combined with the stirrer I dropped the temperature of the whole 6 gallons to 60°F in under 10 minutes. Yes 60°F, apparently it was so efficient that not paying attention for an extra minute dropped the temperature that much. I had excellent cold break and the wort came out clearer than I’ve ever seen. The main factor here was the stirring. Last batch with everything in place except the stirring, it took 25 minutes to get the batch down to 70°F. I’ll explain this with math in a post on cooling I plan to do soon, but in the meantime if you’re not stirring your wort while chilling you need to start!

The drill attachment worked well for this since it was not constantly bumping into the chiller. If you don’t have this attachment a spoon will work just fine, you’ll just have to take care not to bump the chiller and you won’t be able to circulate as quickly. The drill attachment also did a fantastic job of aerating the wort by raising it up and down in the wort (carefully!). The resulting fermentation was very strong so this is definitely something I will work into my routine from now on. I was amazed with the difference that this made. Prior to stirring I was investigating bigger, better chillers since I was not happy with my current cooling times. This eliminates my need to buy a much bigger chiller and allows my 25′ 3/8″ chiller to work perfectly.

Other than that, harvesting from the starter seemed to work well. The wort tasted fine and I hit my target original gravity for this bitter of 1.038. This beer is busy fermenting away. Extra bonus: I got to keep the name since the Broncos actually won the Super Bowl!

Carolina's Bitter Tears - Recipe Details

Batch SizeBoil TimeIBUSRMEst. OGEst. FGABV
5.5 gal60 min30.9 IBUs8.7 SRM1.0381.0103.7 %
Actuals1.0461.014.7 %

Style Details

NameCat.OG RangeFG RangeIBUSRMCarbABV
Standard/Ordinary Bitter8 A1.032 - 1.041.007 - 1.01125 - 354 - 140.8 - 2.23.2 - 3.8 %


Pale Malt, Maris Otter7 lbs90.32
Caramel/Crystal Malt - 80L12 oz9.68


NameAmountTimeUseFormAlpha %
Goldings, East Kent1.7 oz60 minBoilPellet5


Whirlfloc Tablet1.00 Items15 minBoilFining


English Ale (WLP002)White Labs67%65°F - 68°F


Mash In148°F75 min

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