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1933 Lees Bitter Clone 1.0

Finished bottle with simulated vintage label
A couple of years ago, I received Robert Pattinson's book The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer. as a gift from a family member.  The first of the recipes that caught my attention (and I really can't tell you why) was the 1933 Lees Bitter recipe.  I tried to brew it once, earlier in my brewing career, and ended up tossing it out because the caps I used didn't seal properly on the bottles. This left the beer flat and oxidized.  This is my second go at the recipe.  It is a simple recipe, the ingredients aren't too expensive, and the process straightforward.  It also sounds like a fairly easy beer to drink, a good one for the upcoming summer months.

I recently lost a whole lot of my homebrew to an infection that went undiscovered for months.  I'm fairly certain the infection came from a bottling wand used on the infected batches. I replaced it and used the new one to bottle my recent Belgian Dubbel. If that batch is clear of infection in 2-3 months, then the corresponding fermenter has a clean bill of health. If not, it gets tossed too (it's a PET one anyway, so not expensive to trash).  For this batch, I'm using a brand new fermenter. If it is cleared of any infection, then I was probably correct about the bottling wand.


5 pounds of Munton's 2-row Pale Malt
4 ounces of Lyle's Golden Syrup (for "No. 1 Invert Sugar" in the recipe)
0.35 ounces of Northern Brewer hops @ 9% AA (60 min. - sub for Brewer's Gold)
0.20 ounces of Saaz hops @ 5.4% AA (30 min.)
1.5 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer (mash)
1/2 tsp. Gypsum (my choice, added to mash water)
1/8 tsp. Brewtan B (added to mash water)
1/4 tablet Whirlfloc (20 min.)
1/4 tsp. Brewtan B (added to boil, 15 min.)
1/4 tsp. Yeast Nutrient (15 min.)
1 packet of Safale S-04 English Ale Yeast (a substitute for Wyeast 1318)
7.4 liters Mash Water (8.4 cm. deep in Brewie+)
7.0 liters Sparge Water (8.0 cm. deep in Brewie+)

I didn't have Brewer's Gold but since it's only being used for brewing, I went with German Northern Brewer as a substitute.  I had some Czech Saaz hops I could have used, but I wanted to get rid of the US Saaz, so I used that instead. The amounts used in the original Lees recipe would have resulted in about 12 IBUs, so I adjusted the amounts to bring the bitterness level more in line with the style. I was afraid 12 IBUs might have been too cloying.

Additional characteristics and notes (actual values where available):
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons estimated (2.5 gallons actual)
  • BJCP Category:  11.C Strong Bitter
    (I chose that category because of the 5% ABV)
  • Original Gravity: 1.049 SG estimated (1.052 SG actual)
  • Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.036 SG estimated (11.8 Brix actual, 1.049 SG approx.)
  • Pre-Boil Volume: 13.4 liters estimated (13 cm. deep, 11.4 liters actual)
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 SG estimated (1.010 actual)
  • IBUs: 34
  • SRM: 5.0
  • ABV: 5.03% 
  • BU/GU Ratio: 0.693 estimated 
  • Fermenter Used: Spock
  • Bottling Wand Used: First stainless steel one
  • Carbonation Method: 3 Brewer's Best tablets per bottle
  • Fermentation Temperature: 68F
(For those who are wondering, measuring wort depth in the Brewie+ is a good way to estimate mash water, sparge water, pre-boil, and post-boil volume. Brewie+ support indicates that if you measure wort depth in centimeters and multiply the depth by 0.88 you'll obtain the approximate volume of liquid in liters. If your machine loads more or less water than expected, you can use this to know when to add or remove water from the kettle.  I use pounds and ounces for grain measurement because that's how most of us in the USA order it from homebrew shops.)

Mash Schedule

I decided to dissolve the Lyle's Golden Syrup in with the mash/sparge water to avoid the need to add it later in the boil. This would also allow it to caramelize during the boil with the other sugars from the grain, hopefully resulting in a greater depth of flavor.

The original Lees recipe indicates an underlet mash at 156F. That's not too different from what my system does, heating both from the bottom and as wort flows around to the top of the grain bed. It will have to be good enough.
  • 10 minutes Mash In at 104F
  • 30 minutes Mash Step 1 at 152F
  • 40 minutes Mash Step 2 at 156F
  • 20 minutes Mash Out and Sparge at 168F
Post-mash and pre-boil, volume should have been 13.4 liters. It actually came out around 11.4 liters, so I added a liter of water to bring it to 12.4.  A gravity reading came up at 1.049 SG after conversion from Brix and a refractometer adjustment, so I'll likely need to dilute it more after the boil with distilled water.  I'd rather do that than over-dilute it before the boil (since it's not possible to extend a boil with the Brewie+ once the recipe program is underway).  The good news is that I discovered an error in my sparge water calculations that should resolve the issue moving forward.

Boil Schedule

The original Lees recipe used a 90-minute boil, so I am sticking with that:
  • 90 minutes: No hop additions
  • 60 minutes: Add Northern Brewer bittering hops
  • 30 minutes: Add Saaz (US) flavor hops
  • 20 minutes: Add Whirlfloc
  • 15 minutes: Add Yeast Nutrient and Brewtan B 
  • 00 minutes: Chill to 68F
Fermentation Plan

The Safale S-04 strain is known for producing a mild tartness if it is allowed to ferment at too high a temperature. The book does not advise on fermentation temperature for the recipe, so that's apparently going to be up to me.  I know from experience (and a past recipe using S-04) that fermenting near the upper end of its 64-75F range will result in a clear sourness, which I do not want in this beer. My plan is to ferment it at 64F and allow it to run longer than normal, then give it some time at 50F to "lager" a bit and mellow out before bottling.

Trying the S-04 yeast at 64F will also prove instructive for another recipe I've been trying to perfect. Some time ago, I bought a bottle of Coniston's Old Man ale, an English brown ale. The beer had a very mild tartness to it, which I had attempted to reproduce. However, I think I fermented it for too long at too high a temperature and the tartness was pronounced in my beer, versus restrained in the Coniston version. If this beer exhibits a very mild tartness, I think I will be a step closer to perfecting the Old Man Ale clone.

My plan will be to bottle it with 2 or 3 small carbonation tablets, which equates to low or very-low carbonation, consistent with an English cask-conditioned ale.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

05/20/2019:  I have used an Excel spreadsheet to help me calculate mash and sparge water volumes. I realized today that the template I'm using contains a calculation error and this is causing me to end up with too little wort at the start of the boil.  Specifically, I was not removing grain absorption from the mash water before calculating the amount of sparge water needed to reach the target pre-boil volume.  As a result, I tended to come up 1-2 liters short at the start of the boil. While this is easy enough to correct ("just add water") I'd rather not have to manually correct it. I think I've got the spreadhseet sorted now, so that future batches should turn out OK.

The gravity post-brew came out around 1.060 SG, but the volume was below the 2.5 gallons I expected, so I added distilled water to the fermenter to bring the volume up to the desired amount. This dropped the gravity from 1.060 SG down to 1.052 SG. I considered adding more distilled water to bring the gravity down to the intended 1.049 SG but thought better of it.  The initial wort temperature was 70F, which was much higher than I wanted, so I waited for it to drop to ambient basement temperature. Then I'll pitch the yeast and let the fermentation temperature control system get it down to 64F (hopefully before the yeast really gets going).

09:00PM:  The yeast has been pitched and the fermenter sealed up in the temperature control setup, with the temp set to 64F.  The full package of S-04 was used.According to the yeast calculator on Brewer's Friend, this should be enough yeast to handle the batch with a little to spare.

05/21/2019: Gravity is down to 1.043.

05/22/2019: Gravity is down to 1.018.

05/23/2019: Gravity is down to 1.011.

05/24/2019-05/29/2019: Gravity has held at 1.010 SG, with one or two blips at 1.009 SG.  It should be ready to bottle now.

06/01/2019:  The beer was bottled today, using 3 small carbonation tablets per bottle (with some bottles being given 2 drops for comparison's sake later). Yield was 24 12-ounce bottles and one 16-ounce  bottle. The yeast was disposed of, and the fermenter left to soak for a few hours with PBW to ensure that it's as clean as possible.


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