Hey readers, I’m back with a review of Big Al’s Brougham Bitter, a perennial favorite of Emerald City Supporters (ECS), the “largest soccer [football] supporters club in Seattle”. If you need a reminder about who I am and a rehash of review intentions, you can find them here.
Big Al’s Brewery was founded in 2008 by Alejandro Brown and is located in Seattle’s White Center neighborhood. They list six year-round beers and two seasonal releases on their website, a Summer Ale and a Harvest Ale. Brougham Bitter might be considered their flagship beer, if you measure by the number of ECS members who drink it. Big Al has his roots in homebrewing, and he pays homage to this legacy by devoting a page on the brewery’s site to the hobby.
The Brewer: Alejandro Brown
I contacted Alejandro “Big Al” Brown via their website, and he responded almost immediately, agreeing to my standard interview. I can’t thank Alejandro enough, as I know this is a very busy time of year for him, and he still found a way to provide me with the answers below.
Q: What first got you interested in brewing beer?
Drinking it! No, seriously…drinking it!! I fell in love with the beverage when I was very young, about 11 I think. I was the kid stealing sips of my dad’s Bud when he wasn’t looking. I’m a hands-on guy; I build, I fix, I create. It was a natural thing to take up brewing when the time and resources became available. I knew after my first homebrew session I was going to do this for the rest of my life.
Q: What is your favorite brewing memory?
Memories. Homebrewing on Sundays with my friends. Every single one of them can be called my favorite brewing memories. Four or five of us would get together and drink and make beer. It’s what I miss most about homebrewing now that I brew professionally: The social side. That’s probably why we brew Local Hero, to never forget homebrewing is where it all started, and brewing with other people is a beautiful thing. [Editor’s Note: Local Hero is one more way Alejandro continues to support the local homebrewing community. Read more in his blog.]
Q: What is your favorite style to brew and why? To drink?
Can’t say I have a favorite. My best answer would be a style I never brewed before. Same goes for drinking it. I like to learn and experience as much as beer has to offer so new new new is what I’m after.
Q: What is the single-most important variable to you in your brewery/process?
It’s all about the fermentation! Temp, lag time, yeast, it’s all about a good, thorough, and fast fermentation. A great recipe can create garbage with a bad ferment, and the simplest recipe can create amazing beer when the fermentation goes perfectly.
Q: Do you have any tips (process, OG, FG, special ingredients) for homebrewers wanting to clone Brougham Bitter?
ESB, C[rystal]40, C[rystal]120, Victory, Wheat and a lil black barley. Fuggles and Goldings, Irish yeast. OG – 1.054, FG 1.012, IBU 25, SRM 13. The most important part: Play ECS Chants on YouTube while doughing in.
Q: Brewer question of the month: What did you find to be the most challenging obstacle to becoming a professional brewer?
Learning how to work with such big equipment. How do you clean and sanitize a 1000 gallon tank? How do you move 465 gallons from one tank to another? It’s all the same really, just the logistics of working with so much more beer.
Q: What was the brewery’s vision for Brougham Bitter when you began developing the recipe?
To create a beer that the Emerald City Supporters would be proud to call their own. An English style bitter that so many football supporters enjoy at the matches in England, where football was born.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to change about Brougham Bitter, or has the original vision been achieved?
I am very happy with the beer as it is right now. As a matter of fact, I’m getting thirsty…
Q: Where can readers find your beers in WA, OR, ID?
We are on tap at fine craft beer establishments all over WA and Or. We currently do not distribute to Idaho. We hope to be bottling by the end of 2012. [Editor’s Note: You can find the brewery’s complete list of serving locations here.]
The BJCP Style: Special/Best/Premium Bitter
WARNING! I copied the next few paragraphs from the Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guidelines. I’ve edited them some to make them a little more accessible for the average beer drinker, but if you’re not into beergeek speak, by all means, scroll down to my review. If you do read them, recall that each component of the five main aspects (aroma, appearance, etc) are given in descending order of presence in the beer.
Aroma: The best examples have some malt aroma, often (but not always) with a caramel quality. Fruitiness should be mild to moderate. Hop aroma can range from moderate to none. Hops from the United Kingdom are typically used, but US hop varieties are acceptable. Generally no diacetyl is detectable, although very low levels are allowed. [Diacetyl is a natural product of fermentation, and can be detected as a buttery or butterscotch aroma or flavor. It can be acceptable in some beer styles, but is often considered a flaw.]
Appearance: The color of this style should be medium gold to medium copper. It should have good to brilliant clarity. The head should be low to moderate, and white to off-white in color. It may have very little head due to low carbonation.
Flavor: The Special/Best/Premium Bitter style should have medium to high bitterness. Most have moderately low to moderately high fruity esters. Hop flavor should be moderate to low, and characteristically is earthy, resiny, and/or floral due to the UK hop varieties typically used, although US varieties may be used. Bitters usually have low to medium maltiness with a dry finish. Caramel flavors are common but not required. Balance is often decidedly bitter, although the bitterness should not completely overpower the malt flavor, esters and hop flavor. Generally no diacetyl is detectable, although very low levels are allowed.
Mouthfeel: Bitters are usually medium-light to medium in body. Carbonation is low, although bottled and canned commercial examples can have moderate carbonation.
Overall Impression: This style is a flavorful, yet refreshing, session beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.
Comments: More evident malt flavor than in an ordinary bitter, this is a stronger, session-strength ale. Some modern variants are brewed exclusively with pale malt and are known as golden or summer bitters. Most bottled or kegged versions of UK-produced bitters are higher-alcohol versions of their cask (draught) products produced specifically for export. The IBU levels are often not adjusted, so the versions available in the US often do not directly correspond to their style subcategories in Britain. This style guideline reflects the “real ale” version of the style, not the export formulations of commercial products.
Let me start this review with saying that my beer drinking environment was not optimal, but I hope it doesn’t impact the experience I’m trying to provide you, the reader. I reviewed this beer sitting in a hotel room, using sub-optimal glassware, as you’ll see in the picture. Lighting was dim to say the least, and it’s hard to say what effect this may have had when combined with the tint of the glass I used for this beer. I can say that the clear growler in which I bought the beer provided a similar color, so I would guess lighting was more of an issue than glass color.
Appearance: The beer poured a clear, deep copper with a thick off-white head that dissipated within a few minutes. Lacing remained around the edge of the beer throughout the drink, but (and it could have been the glass) it did not really adhere to the walls of the glass.
Aroma: The primary aroma from this beer was the malt. It was very biscuit-like with just a hint of a dark fruit, followed by some slightly noticeable sweet notes reminiscent of caramelized sugar—the kind of caramelized sugar aroma you’d get from a toasty bread crust fresh from the oven. I could detect some very light floral notes, that are likely hop-derived, but the hop aroma is very low to the point of being almost undetectable.
Flavor: The star of the flavor show was the malt. I got a lot of biscuit and bread crust flavors, followed by a mild hop bitterness in the middle of the palate. The beer finished with a mild toffee or dark caramel note that was slightly dry. There were no significant yeast esters to note, but those present were very mildly fruity. There was only a barely detectable hint of alcohol. This beer had a very straightforward, clean, and satisfying malt profile.
Mouthfeel: It presented with a medium-light to medium body and a fine, low level of carbonation. The finish was somewhat dry, despite the expectation of sweetness that might have been caused by the caramel notes in the aroma.
Overall: What I really liked about this beer was the aroma. I could have sat around huffing this beer for a long time, if I hadn’t needed to write something about how it tasted. It looked great in the glass despite being darker than the style guidelines specify (Alejandro’s SRM of 13 is right-on for the style, but for some reason, my sample presented much darker). The flavors were bready and biscuit-like, and the sweetness from the malt reminded me of a great loaf of artisan whole grain bread. The head was tantalizing, and it dissipated quickly enough to let the malt aromas come through. In summary, I would buy this beer again and again, just for the olfactory experience. It is definitely a session beer, and after finishing a growler, I can see why it is such a favorite of Seattle soccer fans.