Don’t be bitter – its just a bitter

A pint of bitter, frolicking with
some young hops

Bitters are one of my favourite styles of beer – I find the malt:hop balance more appealing than that of an IPA, they are sessionable, and the variety of malt, hop and yeast flavours which can be incorporated are nearly unlimited. Hop character can span from subtle to IPA-like; malt character from a touch more than an adjunct lager through to meaty and bold. And then there are the yeast – some are nutty, others fruity, and yet others bring out the malt or the hops, but picked correctly the yeast are what make the beer. In the past I always had at least one bitter available, on tap or in bottle, although recent insanity has prevented this frequent brewing of bitter. In fact, to squeeze this brewday in, I ended up brewing at night. I should have named this brew “1AM Bitter”, as that is the time when the brewing of this beer was completed…

…or maybe “skunky standoff bitter”, because my plan to sit on the deck and watch movies on my laptop while I brewed didn’t come to fruition as I instead spent most of the evening trying to keep a skunk out of our yard – a successful attempt as evidenced by the aroma coming off my neighbours dog the next morning (Smelly dog bitter? Angry neighbour bitter? Blackstripe bitter? Damn, naming beers is hard).

Rather than posting separate brew-day and recipe posts, I’ve put everything together into a single post…we’ll see if this becomes my preferred format for the blog.



Brewed late at night…
  • OG: 1.046
  • FG: 1.010
  • ABV: 4.4%
  • IBU: 26 IBU


  • 4.00 kg Marris Otter
  • 0.23 kg Aromatic Malt
  • 0.23 kg Caramel 120L
  • 0.11 kg Special Roast


  • 34 g (20 IBU) EKG, 60 min
  • 14g (5.1 IBU) EKG, 20 minb
  • 14g EKG, Flameout

Yeast & Other

  • 1 tsp Irish moss, 15 min
  • Wyeast 1469 (West Yorkshire Ale)


  1. Single-infusion mash for 60 min at 66.1C, batch sparge to collect a total of 28L
  2. Boil for 60 min, adding hops and Irish moss at the indicated time
  3. Cool and oxygenate well, ferment at 18-21 C for 7-14 days
  4. Keg & carb, add gelatin to clear

Tasting Notes:

Appearance: Crystal clear, modestly carbonated, light-brown body with amber highlights. Head pours thick and creamy, and lasts for several minutes.
Aroma: Toasty malt note with some raisin/date-like fruit aroma. Subtle “spicy” note from the aroma hop addition.

Flavour: Strong malt character, mostly toast and stone-fruit, but with a touch of caramel malt sweetness. This is complemented by the yeast, which provides a nut-like ester quality that fits nicely with the toast of the Marris Otter and Special Roast malts. The strong malt note is nicely balanced by a decent hop bitterness, plus some raisin/date-like fruit notes provided by the C120 and yeast. The hop flavour addition is not overt; a subtle spice note is present, but not dominant. Finish is dry, with a lingering hop bitterness and touch of stone-fruit sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body, whetting when you drink it but with a dry finish. Carbonation is on the high end for the style, but its the way I prefer it. No astringency or drying sensation.

Overall: A good pint of bitter; sessionable but with a ton of character. This is one of the only recipes I have that makes a frequent return to my brewhouse, and the reason for that is that this recipe makes – to my mind – the ideal bitter. The fact it goes from grain to bottle in 7-10 days doesn’t hurt either.

4 thoughts on “Don’t be bitter – its just a bitter

  • June 20, 2016 at 11:47 AM

    Cool – I wish I could work some of this into my own teaching, but I'm stuck with more classical microbiology.

    As for hop-resistant lactobacilli, they are few and far between. White labs WLP677 (Lactobacillus delbrueckii) and Wyeast WY5223-PC (Lactobacillus brevis) are reputed to be resistant to up to 20 IBU, although in my hands both usually clunk out around 10 IBU (which is still fairly resistant; some lacto's keel over if you wave a hop cone over the brewpot).

    You may also be able to culture you own off of grain; prepare (from DME) a 1.040 wort, hopped to 10-15 IBU, and throw in a handful of uncrushed malt. Hold at 42-44C, without aeration, for upto a week, checking pH daily. If the wort acidifies to below 3.5 chances are you've found a hop-resistant lacto. Some of this resistance tends to be inducable (e.g. expression of ABC transporters and alterations to the membrane lipid composition), and much of it is plasmid-encoded, so you may find that resistance increases over time and that it can be transfered between strains.

    Good luck!


  • June 17, 2016 at 10:14 PM

    Hi Bryan,

    I'm a microbiologist and college professor. I'm mentoring a student interested in microbiology and beer. We're planning a project that looks at stress response and its relationship to hops tolerance in lactobacillus. I've been looking for strains of lactobacillus that have a high hops tolerance, but I haven't been able to find any in the regular strain databases such as ATCC. A friend of mine in the brewing community put me on to your blog. I've been enjoying your scientific approach to beer! Do you know where I could source some high-hops lacto strains?



  • June 6, 2016 at 11:52 AM

    I don't see any reason why melanoidin would not work – AFAIK, the two malts are the same (or at least, very similar) malt produced by different manufacturers. In my experience, melanoidin tends to give a richer malt character than aromatic (more-or-less a munich versus vienna malt character), so you may want to roll back the mount used slightly, or bump up the bitterness a tad, to compensate.

  • June 5, 2016 at 8:07 PM

    Hi Bryan,

    Thanks for the recipe. I'm going to try it pronto. I don't have aromatic malt, would melanoidin work instead?
    In my bitter, I use jaggery (date palm sugar) to keep it dry and give a little flavour, about 250 grams for 23 litres.
    Long time reader of your blog, and really enjoy it.

    All the best. If you are ever in Ottawa, I'll buy you a pint or two.



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