Brew Day: ESB ’55

Growing up in NYC, your first craft beer experience tends to be through Brooklyn Brewery.

My mash tun, the crushed grain, and a freshly washed carboy.

Whatever opinion you might have of them these days, the fact remains that for many years they were one of the only voices for good and (arguably) local beer in the city. I’m not a huge fan of  their flagship Brooklyn Lager – it tastes a little under-fermented to me most of the time. And I’m also not a fan of anything they put out in cans or 12oz bottles – that stuff is contract brewed outside of the borough somewhere and tastes totally different and totally inferior to the real stuff. That said, I’m still proud to say that Pennant Ale ’55, their english-style bitter, is one of my favorite all-time beers. It’s nothing over-the-top, nothing dank or ultra hoppy or roasty or caramelly(?), it’s just a supremely well-balanced easy-drinking ale. It’s copper in color, with the slight citrusy bite of American aroma hops followed by the grainy biscuit character of english malts. It’s a complex beer masquerading as a simple one. It’s really good. Try it.

The crush — Maris Otter, a little Crystal and some Biscuit Malt.

My girlfriend’s brother (also a homebrewer) is getting married in August, and as we’ve had many in-depth discussions (read: drunken ramblings) about the finer points of our shared hobby, he invited me to brew up a few batches to be served at the reception. As I was considering which styles would suit a New England summer wedding, my beloved Pennant Ale came to mind. Total crowd-pleaser.

Mmm … you can almost smell it.

This was about as clear as I’ve ever gotten the first runnings.

In formulating the recipe, I started with this clone published in BYO magazine. I decided to dial-back the gravity a slight bit (more on that later) and tinker around with the bitterness. I wanted something a little more on the session-side than the original in order to not scare anybody away on a hot Vermont afternoon.

Lots of Kent Goldings, as well as some Summit at the end of the boil.

My LHBS also didn’t carry any fresh English Ale Yeast (WLP002), so I opted for the higher-attenuating WLP005 British Ale. I ended up with the recipe posted here. On the brew day, I underestimated my efficiency and ended up with an original gravity of about 1.056, which is identical to the OG of the clone brew! With an estimated FG of 1.015, this puts me at about 5.5% ABV. Oops, I guess granny’s gonna get drunk after all.

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