English Bitter Recipe

English bitters are a staple of many home brew repertoires as a result of their flavourful character and endless variety.

They are also great training brews because they contain relatively few ingredients and don’t deviate much from basic brewing processes.

This simple recipe is for a tasty and refreshing best bitter.

english bitter recipe

In England, bitter is a generally used term that describes a variety of beer types.

Historically it defined an ale in relation to other styles such as mild or stout, both of which tend to use less hops (and are therefore less bitter).

Commercial breweries often have several grades of bitter including ordinary, best and special, but these terms are fairly subjective.

My English bitter recipe produces a regular beer that’s not too strong but has a surprisingly spicy taste that’s very moreish.

It’s Not All Malted Barley

Many English bitters are characterised by the addition of non-barley grains such as maize.

Following in this tradition, this recipe includes polenta which lightens the beer’s body as well as influencing the taste.

You could substitute any other cornmeal type product, but make sure it’s not too fine or it will clump together and make wort extraction difficult. If you can get hold of it you could use flaked maize, a more typical brewing product.

As the name suggests this beer is reasonably bitter, but not in an overpowering way. English bitters don’t tend to have an especially hoppy taste due to most of the hops being added early in the process, for bittering.

In this particular recipe, the residual taste of the Kent Goldings hops added at the end is mellow and refreshing.

English Bitter Recipe

Fermentation Period
16 Days

Recipe Volume
16 litres

Start Volume (Brew in a Bag)
21 litres

Pale Ale: 3 kg
Crystal 60L: 0.36kg
Polenta: 0.36kg
(O.G. 1.042)

Mash Time
70 mins

Mash Target Temperature

Fuggles (4.8%): 20g for 60 mins
Kent Goldings (5.3%): 10g for 60 mins
Kent Goldings (5.3%): 10g for 15 mins
(29 IBUs)

Danstar Nottingham Ale Rehydrated in 200ml water at 35°C for 30mins

Assumed efficiency: 60%

Recipe Notes

The recipe is fairly straightforward so there are no special instructions.

Just use the standard brew procedure. It was devised as a brew in a bag beer but should work equally well with standard all grain techniques.

To make the beer less cloudy you could add a clarifying agent such as Irish moss, although this isn’t necessary for the beer’s flavour.

In fact, I’ve achieved excellent clarity without any special additions.

English bitters usually have low levels of carbonisation so if you’re aiming for an authentic brew add slightly less priming sugar than you normally would.

70g of brown sugar boiled in 475ml water works great for the recipe quantities described above.

I hope you have fun brewing this tasty English bitter recipe.

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  1. Shawn Oliver

    Why would you add ANY corn product to a beer…

    A bitter should be a Real Ale.

    Not a top fermenting coors light.

    • John

      With this particular recipe I was aiming for a typical English bitter, along the lines of Fullers London Pride. I don’t consider the use of maize to be contrary to this tradition or against the principles of real ale. In fact, Fullers have used maize in many of their bitters.

      In small quantities it lightens the beer and makes the wort more fermentable, resulting in the dry finish common in most bitters.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. R F

    How much yeast (in g) did you use for this recipe? was it one 11g pack?

    • John

      Hi RF,

      Yes, that’s right.

  3. R F

    Thanks John, I split this recipe down & made a 4.5L batch, (well ish, excluding what I spilled on the floor…) Just opened the first bottle, it’s come out great – very happy with my first attempt at homebrew :)

    • John

      That’s great. Glad it turned out OK.

  4. London

    Can I use all golding as I can’t find any fuggles or suitable substitutes.


    • John

      Yes, there´s no reason why not.

  5. Don aka Echo

    John, I was Stationed in the UK for 8 years, during the 80’s.

    I tried about 600 of the UK’s beers. I really liked the Pale Ale’s and Bitter’s. Trophy and New Castle being my choice. I thought that the Water in the UK was part of it’s taste. And until now I didn’t know I could make a Homebrew “Bitter”.

    I guess times have changed.

    And may have a shot at Doing a “Bitter”.

    • John

      Don, I hope you give it a try.