So I've had this crazy idea for a while. I like beer. I like earl grey tea. Why not combine the two? The thing that makes Earl Grey tea distinctive is bergamot, which is a sorta orange-like citrus fruit. Very nice aroma and flavor, as evidenced by the famous earl grey tea. I love a little citrus in my beer, so my first thought was that I should just go out and buy some bergamot oil, and add a tsp or two to the wort towards the end of the boil. Unfortunately, food grade bergamot oil is not as common as I thought. Everything I found was for aromatherapy or skincare - for external use only. Now, I didn't exactly want to make tea beer, but it looks like that's what I'm going to end up doing. And in fact, I had some Stash Double Bergamot tea laying around, so I figured I could use that to impart some bergamotty character (with the tea hopefully being drowned out by all the malt and hops and whatnot).
The next question was what to use for the base beer. In looking around, I see that I'm not the first person to think of this idea, but other folks seemed to be doing this with something like a Belgian Wit beer. This would certainly highlight the bergamot and tea flavors in the finished product, but I didn't want a beer dominated by those flavors, so I looked around at some other options. Since I was making an Earl Grey beer, I thought I should try to use an English style as the base. This was also in keeping with my recent affinity for lower gravity beers (or, at least, non-face-melting beer), and I eventually settled on the English Bitter style. The name is a bit of a misnomer - these are not super-bitter beers, though perhaps there's more hop character than usual for low ABV styles. Still, it seems like a beer that would take on the nice flavors of the bergamot and tea without being overwhelmed either way. In searching around, I found this nice kit from Northern Brewer called The Innkeeper, which sounds rather awesome. I added in some of my tea and, for good measure, some Bitter Orange Peel that I had leftover from previous beers. Here's the final recipe:
Beer #8: Earl Grey Bitter
March 10, 2012
4 Bags Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey Tea
0.25 lb. English Extra Dark Crystal (specialty grain)
0.25 lb. Belgian Biscuit Malt (specialty grain)
3.15 lb. Pilsen LME
1 lb. Pilsen DME
1 lb. Corn Sugar
1 oz. US Fuggle (Bittering @ 5.2% AA)
1 oz. UK Kent Goldings (Bittering/Flavor @ 5.8% AA)
1 oz. Styrian Goldings (Aroma)
1 tsp. Bitter Orange peel
Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale
It's a mildly unusual recipe to start with and I'm adding my own unusual elements too. Here's to hoping it turns out well. I started by bringing 2.5 gallons of water to around 150°F - 155°F, then I began steeping both the specialty grains and 3 of the tea bags (I was reserving one for the end of the boil). My hope was that adding the tea this early in the process would yield an interesting, but not overpowering flavor to the beer (after all, I imagine a lot of the character will be lost in the boil). I only steeped the tea for about 5 minutes, leaving the grains to steep for another 15 or so minutes.
Brought the mixture to a boil, added all of the malt extract and corn sugar, waited (again) for it to return to boiling, then added the Fuggle hops. The strangest thing about this recipe is that the second hop addition comes a mere 15 minutes later. This seems like it would provide more bittering than flavor, but I assume both will be present in the finished product (normally flavor hops are added no less than 30 minutes into the boil, as the flavor compounds are lost after long boils). Finally, with about 5 minutes left, I added the Styrian Goldings. About a minute later, I added the last teabag (though I didn't keep it in the whole time - in retrospect, I should have probably just made a cup of tea separately, then poured it into the boil). And while I was at it, I threw in some bitter orange peel, just to amp up the citrus a bit (in case the tea didn't provide it).
Off to the ice bath for cooling, which is something I think I've got a better handle on these days. I think some of the issues with my early beers were partially due to poor temperature control. And I'd guess that part of the reason my last few batches have come out so much better is that I've gotten much better about cooling the wort in an ice bath (I use much more ice now, basically, and it helps that I'm doing this during late winter, when I can open my windows and drop the room temperature quickly). Anyways, got this stuff down to about 80°F - 90°F, strained it into the bucket, and topped off with some room temperature and cold water, bringing final volume up to 50 gallons.
Apparently one of the things that makes this recipe distinctive is the yeast, which seems to have relatively low attenuation (certainly lower than the American and Belgian yeast strains I've been using of late), but given the relatively low gravity nature of the recipe, and the sizeable simple sugar addition, I think the result will still be dry enough. The yeast was packaged on 1/16/12, so it's relatively fresh.
Original Gravity: 1.042 (around 10°Bx). I got sick of using my hydrometer, so I invested in a fancy new refractometer. Unfortunately, I got the variety that only displays measurements in Brix, but the conversion is somewhat straighforward and I have an easier time reading this than my hydrometer. The gravity came in a little below the target, but it should be fine. If all goes well, this should produce a beer at around 4% ABV (maybe even less). Given the alcohol and simple sugar addition, I'm looking at a light (in body, not color), quaffable beer. Fingers crossed.
I plan to bottle in about two weeks time (could probably do so earlier because of the low gravity, but I'll keep it at two weeks). Since the style isn't supposed to be heavily carbonated, I'll probably end up using less priming sugar than usual, maybe 2-3 oz (as opposed to 5). Next up in the brewing adventures will be a Belgian style dubbel, though I need to do some work to figure out a good recipe for that one. After that, who knows?