I’m known for brewing English style beers. In recent years I have had some success with them and have a few gongs on the wall and have had a hand in a couple of trophies. The last time I brewed an ESB for competition it earned a silver, I was stoked, but obviously I could do better. So recently I undertook a relatively scientific trial brew experiment. In my opinion there are a few reasons why ‘new world’ bitters often don’t compare to English ones. First yeast choice, so often new world brewers use clean neutral American ale yeasts coupled with cool fermentations leaving their beers uncomplicated and frankly a little boring. Then there is the use of unusual hops. New world hops are perfectly acceptable in a bitter but they should be hops that give characters that are complimentary to the lightly toffee and caramel malt backbone that these beers demand. Finally there is the fear of adjuncts born of The German Bread Purity Law and homebrewer experiences with excessive cane sugar additions.
It was this last point I wanted to explore. So I put together a base ESB recipe using NZ Mild Malt , English medium crystal and a touch of cane sugar, Pacifica hops and Wyeast 1968 yeast. I then added flaked maize to one batch and torrified wheat to the other. I brewed both in the same day and then set about exploring the differences.
On the Brewday
On the day I found the flaked maize batch much harder to clarify coming out of the mash tun. Small particles of maize seemed to escape through the grain bed. The wheat batch on the other hand ran clear with ease. Both cleared well in the kettle.
The maize mash smelt crazy, very reminiscent of Mexican food. Torrified Wheat smelt normal.
Both brews hit an OG of 1.060.
The wheat batch attenuated a little further clocking in at 6%abv as opposed to the maize at 5.8%abv. The wheat batch displayed slightly better head retention and lacing. Flavour wise the maize batch seemed somewhat rougher and less refined than the wheat which had a lovely combo of esters, marmaladey hops and rich malt. However this could easily be due to fermentation differences rather than the adjuncts used.
My conclusion partly scientifically and partly brewers gut feeling was that the maize hadn’t added anything to the beer while the torrified wheat had given the beer better head retention.
Another observation from the brews was that Pacifica hops work really well in an ESB, although they perhaps need some other varieties to add complexity.
I will be brewing a modified version of my ESB for Waikanae and Beervana/BrewNZ Week at the Fork and Brewer in Wellington on Thursday the 13th of June. Pop in and have a look during the day if your interested. Cheers