Happy February, friends! We’re starting out this month of love, candy, and frigid temperatures with a very special guest post from our friend, Amanda. Enjoy!
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Cheers from Salt Lake City! I’m Amanda, friend and fan of the Barley Babes. I just moved to Utah a few months ago and have been trying to keep my craft beer obsession alive in a relatively “dry” state. Beer import is restricted, nothing on draft in the entire state can be over 4% ABV, and full-strength beer is only sold at state-run liquor stores. Despite this, SLC has some awesome local breweries such as Epic and Uinta, and there are gems to be found at the liquor and grocery stores if you look hard enough.
In order to get our fix of full-strength beers, my boyfriend Matt and I recently started to homebrew. I highly recommend trying this out if you want a more intimate understanding of your beer. As a beer lover, it is so neat to smell the hops and malted barley, and to steep the grains and watch water turn into bubbly, brown wort.
Our first brew attempt was an ESB, an Extra Special Bitter, which is an English style ale characterized by toasty malt and often fruit flavors. Despite the name, ESB tends not to be very bitter. It is usually around 5% ABV, dark copper or amber in color, with low carbonation. We used the Beer Nut’s ESB malt extract kit, but more experienced brewers often choose their own grain, malt, and hops.
To debut our homebrew to our friends, we decided to put together an ESB tasting. However, we could only find one ESB at our local liquor store, so we expanded our tasting to English-style pale ales. Surprisingly, we came up with a pretty cohesive group of beers. We paired our bitter ales with Jarlsberg, Havarti, and Asiago cheese, crackers, and homemade French fries (my attempt at English “chips”). The result was bloody brilliant.
We did a blind tasting of Firestone 31 Pale Ale, Anderson Valley Belk’s ESB, Bass Pale Ale, Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Samuel Smith’s India Ale, and our homebrew. The nearly-unanimous favorite was Anderson Valley Belk’s ESB, which is a true Extra Special Bitter ale. Pours pale orange with nice head formation. Spiced, boozy nose with notes of biscuit and sweet fruit. Orange, hop resin and sugar on the palate balanced by bready malt. Sweetness nicely cut by bitter hops.
A beer that stood out and surprised us was Samuel Smith’s India Ale. Pours clear and golden with a nice lacy head. Aromas of raisin and butterscotch, reminding us of a Belgian ale. The initial flavors are buttery caramel, biscuit, and candied fruit. Clean finish with pleasant bitterness. Mouth feel is smooth and gooey.
Our homebrew generally scored in the middle, with most of us ranking it 3 out of 6. It pours a cloudy chestnut brown with a nice lacy head. The nose is very sweet, with notes of honey and musk. The toasty malts represent the style well, but could use more bitter hops to balance the sweetness. Slightly filmy mouth feel. Overall, a tasty if not unrefined ESB.
For the quintessential representation of the style, I recommend Fuller’s ESB. It pairs well with fried food, and anything British, so put on some David Bowie or a Harry Potter movie, pour yourself a tall one, and have a jolly good time! Thanks for reading.
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Thank you for sharing your first homebrewing experience with us, Amanda and Matt! Sounds like it was a huge success. If only those strict Utah alcohol laws didn’t prevent you from shipping beer to other states… 😉