Boat Bitter

After grinding over easily-avoidable rocks and missing hooksets due to the effects of 7% American IPAs, fly fishermen in central Minnesota invented the ordinary bitter as a more temperate all-day beer with which to fill their drift boat coolers [citation needed].

Or maybe this brew session came about because we can’t get Marston’s anymore. Or maybe it’s because Chip Walton needed a beer turned around in 12 days. Maybe somewhere between 60 and 75% of all the above is factual [citation needed], but in any case, here’s what went down:

Boat Bitter
Target OG: 1.036



  • 152F for 75′
  • 170F for 10′

nb: My brewing water being quite low in mineral content and desire for that minerally English bitter flavor being high, I added CaSO4 (gypsum) and MgSO4 (Epsom salts) to approximate Burton water.


  • First Gold (whole, 8.6% aa) at 60′ to 29 IBU
  • First Gold (whole, 8.6% aa) at 15′ to 6 IBU
  • First Gold (whole, 8.6% aa) at 0′, at a rate of 2 grams/gallon


The goal is to get this into kegs, drift boats, and Chip Walton within about 8 days, and will use finings and force carbonation to get us there. Tasting notes to follow, brew session documentation via Chop & Brew in the works.

48 thoughts on “Boat Bitter

  1. Hmmm. I think I might have to make this since I have been missing a lot of hooksets lately. Yeah I will blame the beer, it totally was the beers fault.

  2. Any chance of a reunion of Walton, Dawson and Keeler? You guys got me into brewing. I guess two out of three ain’t bad but ,an I miss the Cobra !

  3. Any thoughts on kicking the OG up to 1.040 or so and mashing that at a higher temperature – say, like 158F to 162F? Just concerned about body – my bitters can seem a bit watery at lower mash temps…just thinking out loud….

    • Glad you asked, Gerald!

      Here’s what I am going for: well under 4% abv; very pale, light & dry; fruity and minerally, but mainly hop-bitter – more of the Burton (e.g., Marston’s or the like) school of ordinary vs. a sweeter, more caramelly, more plush London style (e.g., Fullers or the like).

      I went down the road of high mash temps for low-gravity English styles early on in my brewing career and ended up not liking the balance, especially in conjunction with lower-attenuating strains of yeast. I’ve since come around to much lower mash temps for these beers, and then manipulating through yeast selection, sugar adjuncts, crystal malts and water profile to line up just so.

      It’s pretty hard for a beer to be too dry for my tastes, and IMO (here comes the soapbox!) a style with a ceiling of only 1.040 and 3.8% abv shouldn’t be shy about being light-bodied, but make a strength out of it. It shouldn’t taste like an ESB; same for Scottish 60/- and mild – they’re at one end of a continuum of flavor and texture intensity. But I hear you – it’s tough when palates are habituated to American craft beers. Warmer serving temps and lower CO2 help these kinds of ales from seeming thin; plus I think the big-size flavor of a good UK base malt helps too.

  4. My water is magnesium poor (i.e. < 3-5 ppm), so I always add a titch of Epsom salt to my brewing liquor. I sometimes worry about doing that because Mg can be a downer, quite literally, at elevated concentrations. I make sure to keep a watchful eye on my beer-loving buddies when they drink my homebrew just in case they feel the urge to void their bowels! No problems yet, but here's to jinxing myself. *clink*

    Anywho, thinking about sulfate salts here, I want to get your take on chloride:sulfate ratios when adjusting brewing liquor? Brown ales of all sorts were problematic for me because my liquor profile quite frankly sucked for many years. My brown ales always tasted thin, regardless of recipe, and they lacked the rich character I was accustomed to from British commercial examples. I later discovered that the chloride:sulfate ratio was the solution to my problem. I parsed out both gypsum and CaCl2*2H2O into my mash water and the resulting beer was much closer to my desired target.

    • Heh! Clink indeed … 12 grams in 10 gallons hopefully won’t create an impact on the bacterial load of the watershed.

      It sounds like I’m starting with more of a blank slate than you in terms of brewing liquor, DK – St. Paul water is low in pretty much everything. I really only bust out the sulfate salts for UK IPA/pale/bitter ales or Dortmund lagers, and my go-to is CaCl – mainly for the mash performance and clarity enhancements of Ca, but the chloride has had the happy effect of reducing marital strife (as did self-inflating camp mats a few years ago): see, I like sleeping in tents and really dry beers, but the wife likes mattresses and the rounder mouthfeel provided by Cl even at low FGs …

      • The British bitter, by far my favorite style to homebrew and then drink. Kris Englands crouch vale clone is killer, but anything with so little alcohol and so much flavor is IMO always worth having around.

        Dawson, I know you have a nitro setup, but have you ever served a bitter through it? I’d like to replicate the cask ale (sac relig to CAMRA I know) feel at home without investing in casks or pins etc. Does it come close or is the nitro setup best left to black beers?

        • I know you have a nitro setup, but have you ever served a bitter through it?

          Yes – it works just fine, especially if you’re into the Boddingtons/Greene King Abbot/Old Speckled Hen/other brands in cans with widgets. Does it come close to cask? Not really … I find it mutes the hops a lot more than gravity or pump dispense. I personally like nitro better for low-grav dry stout and maltier UK and Scottish styles.

          There was an excellent article in the most recent issue of Zymurgy about real ale-style dispensing with corny kegs, that included a buildup of a “cask breather” that seems rad and would make that cask effect much more accessible to the average kegging homebrewer. I’m going to try it out as soon as I can string together enough consecutive hours – will keep you all posted.

          • Dawson,

            Were you able to get the “cask breather” set up? If so, how did it work for you. I have access to our clubs engine, and would like to put a porter and/or brown on it this fall/winter but wanted to try that setup you mentioned from Zymurgy.

  5. Have you found a British Pale Malt you like more than the Warminster Floor Malted MO? I haven’t – love that stuff. In my lower %’tage crystal bitters I have found that the Warminster MO gives the bitter an almost lager-like character that is surprisingly pleasant (at least with WLP002).

  6. Does such a quick turn around sacrifice the quality at all? I always do 21 days in primary before bottling (irrespective of style) on the advice that leaving it longer allows the yeast to ‘clean up’ the beer. Can I really bottle my 4% ales after just a week without losing anything?

    • As I love to say (and as I find more and more true the longer I homebrew) – YMMV.

      This kind of turnaround is pretty common in commercial ale brewing, and in my experience it’s certainly possible at home (see also: Drew Beechum’s article “Express Beers” in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Zyumurgy), but is highly dependent on variables like yeast selection, pitch rate, ferm temp, and especially gravity. In a low-gravity wort with an ale strain that isn’t prone to lots of diacetyl, that “cleaning-up” phase can be finished in days. And unless the beer is intended to be served hazy, kegging tends to work better than bottle-conditioning for this fast turnaround, since you can fine and/or crash-cool to drop the yeast, then force-carbonate the bright beer.

      • Further anecdotal, specific to this batch: within 72 hours of pitching, the SG was within a couple points of the expected TG, diacetyl was low – going to dose it with finings tonight and keg tomorrow, 8 days.

        • Thanks Mike. Good point about “YMMV”. I think like many homebrewers I’m prone to following rituals and folklore passed around as fact, without excercising my own judgement. I’ve never considered that the length of the “cleaning up” would be dependent on the variables you mention, but of course it make sense.

          I currently have a 1040 beer that’s been 10 days in the fermenter, tasting great, so I’m going to step outside my routine and get to drinking it quickly.

          • Yep. I bet you’ll be fine with your batch … mine has been on tap for a few days now, and while I’m sure a little extra time wouldn’t have hurt it, it was definitely presentable at 10 days.

  7. I’ve been wondering whether you bought Keeler a 12 pack of cans of Cascadian Dark Ale from Budweiser (BTV Episode 10 @21:40) 3 years was July 7. St. Louis needs to pick up the pace.

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    • Sure – for a 10 gallon batch, I used 22 gr gypsum and 12 gr Epsom salts (targeting the Burton-upon-Trent H2O profile and dosed out with the water calculator feature in Beersmith).

    • I’d try 1099 – or, FWIW, MoreBeer currently has 1026 in-stock at their PA facility (which as I know from a recent order is a 2-day zone from the TC).

      Update: also FWIW, I believe the local availability issue has been fixed. ; )

  9. Another question about 1026. I am brewing a Mild with a SG of 1.036 and I am a little concerned with the 1026’s attenuation being around 75% that it may end up a little more thin than I want. I am planning on mashing at 154 and the grain bill is around 20% specialty grains. Would you stick with 1026 or go with 1028?

    • Typical AA% on 1028 isn’t much different, and with a mid-150s mash rest and 20% specialty grains I personally wouldn’t worry about it getting overattenuated.

      • I don’t know why I typed 1028, when I meant to type 1968. The C&B episode got me interested in 1026, but not sure it is the right fit for this beer.

        • Gotcha. Then it is a significantly lower AA% range, and if a high FG is important to your vision of a mild, then that’s probably a safer choice, although like I said before, with the mash temp and grist composition I personally wouldn’t worry about 1026 thinning it out too much. Comparatively, 1026 will throw way, way less diacetyl than 1968 but take a bit longer to drop bright; probably emphasize the malt less (may not be a bad thing w/ 20% spec grain) and may be a bit less estery. Hope this helps – let us know what you ultimately go with and how it turns out!

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  11. Nice work!! Brewed this bad boy around 12 days ago. been drinking well since two days ago. Had to sub in 1099 but I’m loving this beer.

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  13. Do you adjust your mash thickness for these sorts of British beers (~1qt/lb)? Or are there other, more important factors to teasing out that good bready, malty flavor? This is one of my favorite styles. Thx.

    • I do not (although a thicker mash like that would promote alpha amylase activity and make for a nice dextrinous profile). Based on past experience with this malt, I think the bready/malty flavor I get is due to the floor-malted MO in combination with yeast character and freshness.

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  16. Thinking of trying this out again using Wyeast 1944. In that little video you did on the yeast at your former employer, could you give me a rundown of the poor man cask set up by chance?

    • IIRC, it was just the old low-fi standby of switching the gas and liquid dip tubes and basically doing gravity dispense with the keg on its side, with the liquid post/gas dip tube assembly at the lowest point. If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a great piece in the Dec. 2013 BYO on a scratchbuilt cask dispense system for corny kegs.

    • Scratch that, just got the recipe as you have it up there. shop didn’t have first gold, but had EKG… so here is to hoping!

  17. MD: On Chip’s website, the mash rest indicates 60 minutes and yours is 75. Just curious if there is a definitive time. Also, if I use first gold pellets, what would you recommend for quantity? Thanks.

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