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Recipe: Traditional British Bitter

Unlike the last recipe we did, this week features a style that, although has certainly evolved over the centuries, is still brewed consistently. It is a style that has been lovingly passed down in England from brewer to brewer, who made occasional adjustments for local and cultural changes but kept the basic idea of the beer alive. It is the British Bitter.

What is a British Bitter?

According to the Beer Judge Certificate Program (BJCP), English Bitters covers a spectrum of pale, bitter beers that range in strength from 3.2% to 6% ABV. They are pale to amber-colored, moderately to highly bitter and easy drinking.

The most important thing that sets this style apart from an American Pale Ale or IPA is that the flavor should feature the malt.  Bready, toasty, biscuity flavors should dominate with maybe some slight caramel or toffee flavors as well. The hops are there for bitterness and balance. That’s it. Okay, maybe they can present some light, herbal, woody aromas but they are not meant to be prevalent.

So What Is An English Pale Ale Then?

Depending your definition, that’s what we’re brewing. The BJCP doesn’t recognize a style called British Pale, rather Pale ales fall under the heading of Bitters or IPAs depending on their relative strength. 

For this brew, we shall be cooking up a Strong Bitter I call Vicious Upon Trent



I don’t normally go into water chemistry on this blog because that’s a whole, long, crazy-making discussion.  Plus it varies from water source to water source so anything I write here using Boise City water may not translate. But the water such a well-known and integral part of the story for this style, that I feel remise not mentioning it. 

As I mentioned in our history of IPA, the water in Burton Upon Trent, where the British Bitter gained notoriety, is legendary. Plus, the water content is extremely well documented, so why not use the most famous water profile in the history of brewing?

The best and most reliable way to do this is, of course, to start with distilled water and add the minerals until it could have been pulled from the River Trent itself. Of course not everyone has the time or inclination to build their water. So for the brewer that would like to get sorta close, two or three teaspoons of Burton Water Salts will help. It won’t be the same, but it’s a start.

The River Trent. Just Add Water.


Just like our last recipe, I think you have to start with a base of Maris Otter. I mean, yes, you could go with American Two Row but it lacks some malty fullness. The rich bread flavors fall short and you’ll actually be able to feel your beer silently judging you from your glass. So start with Marris Otter. Like ten pounds. or be prepared for a life of shame.

Next, some caramel malt. Not a lot, we’re not going for a lot of sweet toffee flavors. In fact, we want this to finish rather dry. So just a hint. Like under 10% of the total grist. So let’s say 12 ounces of crystal 40.

I also like to add a little something for a little malty complexity. Something that gives it an unidentifiable… well… something.  Unidentifiable… shut up.

Anyway, I’m a fan of Victory malt for it’s toasty, nutty flavor so let’s toss a handful of that it. Like 8 ounces.


Well, last week I had a bit of a love affair with Golding Hops, so why not keep it going? Let’s throw in some Goldings!

In this case, theres no reason to get fancy with the hop additions. No first wort, whirlpool, mash or any kinky stuff here. This is the hop equivalent of the missionary position. A bittering addition at 60 minutes, a flavor addition at 30 and an aroma addition at 15. It’s tradition, Damn it!


Pretty much any English strain will do. Safale 04 or Nottingham if you’re into dry yeast. Or the multitudes of options in liquid varieties. If you’re asking me, and why not, we’ve gotten this far together, I like WLP005 as it tends to accentuate the nice, toasty malt quality of Marris Otter. Failing that, WYeast’s 1968 for the same reason. 

But again, just about any British strain will do. If it sounds vaguely british-esque, it’s probably okay. 


This is pretty much as standard brew as one can get. Add your minerals to your water, mash at 152 degrees, sparge, add hops at 60, 30 and 15 minutes, pitch yeast and wait a couple weeks.

Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy.

Wait, don’t actually put any lemon in. Wierdo.

Keg or bottle after fermentation, sit back and enjoy this highly drinkable, classic.

And while your English Bitter brews we will move on with the evolution of the India Pale Ale next week.

Vicious Upon Trent

Strong Bitter: BJCP 11C

  • 10lb Marris Otter Pale Malt
  • .75lb (12oz) Caramel/ Crystal 40L
  • .5lb (8ox) Victory Malt
  • 1oz Goldings, East Kent 60 min
  • 1oz Goldings, East Kent 30 min
  • 1oz Goldings, East Kent 15 min
  • London Ale Yeast (WLP013)
  • Estimated Original Gravity: 1.055
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.015
  • ABV 5.3%
  • IBUs: 35.9
  • Color: 8.8 SRM

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Profiles Of Hoppiness: Goldings Hops

“The ‘Golding’ has, of late years, been in high repute. It was raised by a man still living, Mr. Golding, of the Malling quarter of the district; who observing, in his grounds, a hill of extraordinary quality and productiveness, marked it, propagated it, and furnished his neighbors with cuttings from its produce.”

-William Marshall, The Rural Economy of The Southern Countries, 1798

Since we are getting deep into the history of the IPA, it seems only right and proper (proper and right) to talk a little more about their signature ingredient. Namely, the hop. 

In my last segment, I talked about English bitters. In one of those strange convergences of history, pale malt began to rise in popularity right around the time of another discovery; namely the Goldings Hop.

Goldings Hops:

The above passage is probably the first mention of Goldings hops in history which makes them, at least, about a quarter millennium old. And yet, to this day, the Goldings is still considered one of the quintessential British Hops (along with Fuggles cultivated around the same time strangely enough).

Along with some of the ‘noble’ varieties (Hallertau, Saaz, Tettnang, or Spalt) Goldings are likely one of the oldest cultivated strains of hops still available today.

Hoppy History:

The snippet above pretty much has all the information we currently have about the origin of the Goldings strain. The man who gave his name to the hop was growing a type of hop known as ‘Canterbury Whitebine’, a semi-wild hop variety that seems to serve as a sort of ‘missing link’ between modern cultivated hops and their wild ancestors. 

Brewers in Burton Upon Trent specifically loved the hop’s floral, spicy, lemony flavor as well as it’s clean, earthy bitterness. A few sources point to the Goldings hop as the hop used by Hodgson in his pale ale as well as the hop he used as a dry hop in the barrels heading for India.

Goldings is also, literally, the mother and grandmother of nearly all British hop varieties and more than a few U.S. ones in including Brewers Gold, Chinook, Northern Brewer and the now much-loved Citra. In a sense, given the proliferation of the latter hop, modern hazy IPAs owe a cursory nod to this ancient ancestor.

Brewing With Golding

Home-brewers in the U.S. are likely to run into three varieties of Goldings hops. The first are usually simply labeled ‘Goldings’ Or ‘U.S. Goldings’ which, as one might assume, are grown in the United States. Hop growers in British Colombia began experimenting with British hops in the late 1800’s and found that Goldings fared especially well in the Pacific Northwest. The hop fields have since migrated southward and most Goldings hops are now grown in Oregon and Washington.

East Kent Goldings:

Goldings are, to date, the only hop that have a Protected Geographical Indication from the European Union. Meaning that like champagne and parmigiano-reggiano cheese, East Kent Goldings have to be grown in… well, East Kent. The distinction is due to the idea that Goldings hops grown on their home turf yield specific flavors and aromas that cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world. In other words, Goldings hops grown in East Kent are inherently better.

I’ll leave the debate as to the validity of that claim for home brewers deep in a drunken geek discussion. But it’s enough to know that there is at least a perceived distinction.

Styrian Goldings:

Are, strangely enough, not Goldings at all but a breed of Fuggles. Nobody seems to know the origin of the name other than it’s one of those things that we got wrong many many years ago and we’ve just refused to correct it. 

Flavors and Aromas:

Goldings are known for their earthy, spicy, floral characteristics. East Kent Goldings specifically are said to have an especial pronounced lemon-citrus aroma that may explain why a good deal of ‘citrus hop’ owe their lineage to this hop.

Goldings make for a good dual purpose hop. Its clean, understated bitterness makes it an good choice for traditional English-style porters and stouts. But, of course, it is also an essential ingredient when brewing a traditional English Bitter.

And next week, we will throw out a recipe for a traditional English Bitter.

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The Complete History of The IPA: Part 2, British Bitters

So when we last left the story of the IPA it was 1700’s England. Hops were the latest craze and new malting techniques brought pale malt to foggy old England. Together, the two ingredients came together to form the first prototype for the IPA… in the same sense that the Wright Brother’s plane was a prototypes of the space shuttle.  The basic idea was there but it was a long, long way from our modern ideal of the style.  Yes, it was brewed with pale ale malt. Yes, it was strong. (Very, very strong) And, yes, it used a lot of hops. But it was nothing like a modern IPA. It was more like a barrel-aged sour barleywine.

The mid to late 18th century, however, saw a couple developments that would bring some beers closer to the IPA’s that we know. First, the development of English Bitter and, second, the colonization of India. 

Beer Goes Bitter

Around the same time as the development of October beer, brewers started producing ‘mild’ ale with pale malt. The term ‘mild’ in this case was used to describe the amount of aging the beer was intended to undergo. As opposed to ‘stock’ ‘stale’ or ‘keeping’ ale, which was aged in wooden barrels for a year or more, milds were low alcohol and brewed to be consumed quickly. At the same time a few enterprising brewers started adding extra hops for more bitter beers which were, as one might understand, called bitters.

These highly quaffable beers slowly began to gain a following for their light flavor and high drinkability. And one area in Britain was leading the way.

It’s Literally In The Water

This is where Burton Upon Trent enters the story. Some time in the late 1700’s people began to realize that bitters brewed in this region of England were just… well… better bitters. The hop flavor was sharper; more pronounced. They had a certain ‘bite’ that made them especially attractive. The overall flavor was well-balanced and they made for exceptionally easy-drinking ales.

Eventually people worked out what unique trait that Burton Upon Trent had that nobody else did; mineral-rich waters. Specifically Burton had a high concentration of sulfates as well as other minerals. This subtle difference in water chemistry explained why London Brewers (who were stuck using calcium-rich water) made exceptional porters and stouts but couldn’t replicate the lighter beer produced in Burton. But it an effort to get close, brewers all over England started adding minerals to their brew water to replicate the sulfate-heavy water. This ‘Burtonized’ water became the go-to template for generations looking to recreate that unique ‘British Bitter’ flavor.

And the British Bitter began to flourish. Not only at home but abroad…

The Navy Runs on Beer

The standard narrative of the IPA runs something like this: The British, having just played Game of Flags with India, did what British people do wherever they go, settle in for a pint. Except, of course, they needed to ship proper beer in from Britain. Except that beer would go bad on the long trip. So they just needed some way to get beer to the new colonies…

But the real story, as is so often the case, is far more complicated. First, beer on British ships was not new. In fact the British navy and merchant ships practically ran on the stuff since they first put out to sea.  Water quickly became unsafe to drink in the wooden barrels they used for storage, but beer would keep the sailors happy and hydrated for voyages that lasted months. I’m thinking it also provided a decent moral as well since sailors were rationed as much as a gallon of beer a day. So wherever sailors went, they brought beer which helped fuel a taste and demand for British beer in their colonies around the world.  And among those, of course, was India.

As well practiced as they were, shipping a perishable product around the world, especially hot climates like India came with predictable problems. Beer that was light in alcohol would usually go bad and the strong beer that could make the trip really didn’t appeal to people sweating through another blazing hot Indian day. 

Brewers for centuries had been experimenting with ways to ensure that their precious cargo would arrive in a drinkable condition. Some shipped strong beers with the intention of watering them down when they reached their destination. Some even made a rudimentary extract out of their beer by boiling the wort down to a syrup so it could be watered down and fermented on arrival. But, despite, several experiments, no tried and true method evolved. Getting beer to India was just a a dicy proposition. That is until…

George Hodgeson’s IPA

Goerge Hodgeson and Bow Brewing is often credited with inventing the IPA and the story often goes something like this:

George Hodgeson was sitting around his house one day thinking about a problem. India was very far away. And very hot. And packed to the gills with thirsty British soldiers. He knew they would sure like a beer but there was just no way to get it to them. Just then, inspiration hit.  He sat up and declared, “Why, by Golly, I have it! I shall produce a new style of beer. One with extra hops for which to make the trip to India. It shall extra hoppy pale, if you will. Yes, and I shall call this beer the India Pale Ale. And in a few centuries, hipsters in Portland will toast my name as they drink of my hoppy goodness.”

With that happy thought, Hodgeson went to his brewery and crafted the worlds first India Pale Ale. 

But again, this is not entirely true.

The Complicated Evolution of IPA:

George Hodgeson did run Bow Brewing and he did ship quite a lot of beer to India. Some of those beers were pale ales, but they were also porters, browns and even October beers. None of them was ever sold as and India Pale Ale. In fact Bow Brewing never used the words India Pale Ale in any marketing. Bow’s Pale Ale in India was more or less the same as Bow’s Pale Ale in England. They did toss a few extra hops to make sure it would make the trip but it was still their house bitter. There was really nothing to differentiate it from any other bitter made at Burton Upon Trent.

Rather, the development of the IPA appears to be a slow, gradual process. One that steeped deep in the dirty businesses of brewing, marketing and distributing beer. And we will pick up that story in a couple of weeks.

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Recipe: October Beer

The O.G.P.A

BJCP Category 27 Historical Beer

So last week I talked about the history of British brewing and the October beer, the first rumbling of the style that we would eventually come to know as IPA. A lot of the info came from Mitch Steele’s wonderful book on IPA’s titled, appropriately enough, IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. In the book he roughly described a recipe from the 1700’s for this extinct predecessor of the IPA

I’ve made some adjustments to the process and ingredients. In some cases its because the exact ingredients are not clear. In other cases they are just adjustments to make this easier for the home brewer to attempt.  

Let’s do this.


If you took notes from last weeks post (or read it at all, you slacker) you would remember that this style came from the 1700’s when pale ale malt first became a thing. Specialty grains really didn’t enter into the equation which makes this grain bill exceptionally easy.

Grain Bill:

Pale Ale Malt

End Grain Bill

I mean, you can just get a bag of American 2-row barley but, in order to get just a little bit closer to the original style, I feel we’ve got to go with an old favorite mine Marris Otter.  Marris Otter is a British pale ale malt with just a touch more sweet malty, toasty flavors. Since we are depending on that grain alone for all the malty flavor, might as well use a good one. So get Marris Otter or I shall be forced to fling the brew spoon in your general direction.

How much?

Well that gets tricky. 

Steele sites a couple of recipes from a book written in 1736 which recommends “14 bushels of malt/ hogshead.”


I literally don’t understand a single one of those measurements.

Well one is easy. A quick Google search tells us that a hogshead is about 64 US Gallons. We will be making a five gallon batch so we will be making approximately 7% of a hogshead.

While we are on the subject 7% of a hogshead sounds like something that should be included on hotdog warning labels.


We do the math and we find out we need about one bushel of barley.  Which would be awesome if we knew what that hell a bushel was.

According to a website by Ohio State University, “Bushel is a volume measurement for grain created many years by Celtic peoples…and is currently considered to be about 1.25 cubic feet in volume.”

Guess I’ll get the cubic foot that I haul around literally everywhere I go?


You know what, bugger this. We don’t need to know how much grain per se, we need to know what are original gravity would be and, according to Steele, 11-14 bushels per hogshead would result in a gravity of 1.140.

So I hope everyone brought their big-boy panties because this beer is gonna be a monster.  If you’re running a 72-75% efficiency this means 27 or 28 lbs. And you might want to do 30 or 40 and I’ll explain why in a minute.


According to Steele, the Alewives Of Yore (because this was still the age when women did most of the brewing) were rocking 6 lbs of hops per hogshead when they made October beer.

At least the math on this one is easier.

At that rate we will be using roughly a half-pound of hops in a five gallon batch. But what hops exactly?  Well, as you probably guessed you can put away your Cascades and your Chinooks and any hop with a trademarked name. (Lookin at you Citra)  We are going old school and that means Golding.  Goldings were first mentioned in the 1700’s which is right around the time period we are interested in and it’s more than likely that they were used in this brew.  So go get yourself a half pound of goldings.


Again this is tricky. This is still the time period when yeast is referred to ‘godisgood’.  They knew it was a factor but they had no clue what was happening biologically speaking. Only that the beer bubbled and became awesome. So ideally we will need a British strain. Preferably one that can put up with a decent amount of alcohol. I suggest WLP 004 Irish Ale Yeast or WLP 007 Dry English Yeast from White Labs. That’s 1084 or 1028 for you Wyeast fans

The process:


A single infusion mash at 152 should suffice as I can’t find any information on mashing techniques during this time period. One thing that you don’t want to do if you’re being all authentic and shiznit is sparge.  Sparging is a process developed by the Scots a century or later. 

What the British would do is mash and drain.  Then do another mash and drain again and repeat this four times.  Each time they would get a beer considerably weaker.  (Hence the need for more grain earlier)

But let’s assume you don’t have like a 50 gallon mash tun and are not looking to make twenty gallons of beer in one go. Go ahead and sparge. In fact sparge a lot. Getting a gravity of 1.140 is probably going to require a lot of boil-off on a normal home-brew system, so do what you have to do.

The Boil:

For me, that means collecting upwards of seven or eight gallons of wort for a two or three hour boil. This seems excessive but is probably close to what actually happened. Steele mentions that breweries in this time period would boil their wort for three to eight hours.  So let’s go nuts, let’s do a four hours boil! So what are you going to do during that time?

Well, it turns out add hops.

Steele mentions in his book that brewers of the time would often add and remove hops every thirty minutes or so. They believed that boiling hops longer than 30 minutes would result in harsh, unpleasant flavors. This doesn’t seem to be the case, but we are partying like it’s 1699. So why not? Assuming you’re doing a four hour boil, that makes it pretty easy. One ounce every thirty minutes. Take ‘em out or leave them in.  You do you!

Primary Fermentation:

Go into your carboy or bucket and pitch yeast as normal under normal ale temperatures. And let sit until the majority of fermentation is complete.

Secondary Fermentation:

This where things get real, son.  So after primary fermentation, beer was traditionally racked into oak barrels for aging.  If you are lucky enough to have a new oak barrel just laying around your house, go ahead and do that.

For the rest of us, probably should just go into our secondary fermentor of choice and let it age.  After six or seven months (or right around summertime if you were good and brewed this beer in October or November) it’s time to raise the temperature. It was summertime in foggy old London and there was no temperature control. So hitting the 80s or 90’s would not be out of the question.  And unless you have one of those oak barrels maybe toss in an ounce or so of oak chips just to get some of that oaky goodness.

Now heres the strange bit. We’re going to go sour. Not like full sour but… well it’s like this.

Traditionally when the weather started heating up the ale in these casks would start fermenting again. And the brewers would unbung those bastards and just let them sit open to whatever happened to be floating in the air.

On a side note, my new beer-themed punk band the Unbunged Bastards is going to be playing at a brewery near you so… you know, keep an eye out for that.

But instead of leaving the beer open and hoping something good happens, we’re going to go all modern on this. That means a second pitch. That’s right! More yeast!

In this case a Brettanomyces mix seems appropriate. Specifically White Labs WLP 645, a strain isolated from British stock ale in the early 20th century. It’s probably the best way to get the most authentic flavor.

Let sit another few months.

An October beer would traditionally age at least a year. Sometimes two. So come next October you can pour yourself the grandaddy of all IPAs.

What does it taste like? Not sure. Haven’t brewed it yet myself. But let us know if you do!

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The Complete History of the IPA: Part 1 The First IPA

There is no style more emblematic of the American Craft Beer Revolution than the IPA. It’s a  style that dates back to pre-industrial brewing, perfected during the industrial revolution, and revived to become one of the most important, dynamic styles in our modern age. It’s born of brewing techniques as old as beer itself, the latest advances in biology and genetics and the ambition and ingenuity that are changing the landscape of the beer world as I write this.

So it occurred to me to write a complete history of the IPA. I hope your comfy because in order to do this, I’m going to cover a few hundred years of brewing history.

Welcome to pre-1700’s England. Would you like an Ale?

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, brewing was done at just about every conceivable level of society. On larger scales, inns made beer for their guests. Estates made beer for their workers. Villages had alehouses. But most homes, especially in agricultural communities, made beer for the family and their workers. And far from being considered the domain of surly, beardy dudes, as it is today, women -known as brewsters or alewives- did most of the brewing.

But recently, or since the 1500’s or so, a debate had been raging about this strange new ingredient that was appearing in more and more beer every year. Flemmish immigrants started cultivating a vine earlier in the century and it’s little green flowers were increasingly finding their way into England’s ale.

What is this ‘beer’? And why is it so bitter?

So there’s been a slight change in terminology in the past 700 years or so. Go figure.

Nowadays the term ‘beer’ refers to any fermented alcoholic beverage that uses barley as its base.  Ale refers specifically to a type of beer fermented with yeast that works at warmer temperatures.  But in the 1700’s if you asked the local drunk what he was drinking at the alehouse he would say… well… ale.  Ale was the term for fermented grains and water.

And before hops became common, brewers spiced their ale with anything and everything. Mugwort, wormwood, heather, sage, rosemary and yarrow were common ingredients. Occasionally even poisonous ingredients like hemlock, foxglove, or even deadly nightshade found their way into the ale barrel. (You’d think the name of the last one would have been a clue) But, just as often, ale used no herbs or flavorings whatsoever except for the barley, oats and wheat that made up most brews.

But there was this new type of ale going around brewed with hops. This hopped ale became known as ‘beer’ and was causing a bit of a stir. 

So just to be clear, for the purposes of this article. Beer has hops. Ale doesn’t.



Debates raged in the 1600’s over whether hops were even an acceptable ingredient for ale. I don’t know what what those debates were like but, for some reason, I feel like it would be remarkably similar to the arguments over hazy IPA’s today.

But gradually hops became more and more accepted as a means of preserving beer. Brewers noticed that beer brewed with hops didn’t go sour nearly as fast as ale brewed without. In England, brewing had always been a seasonal activity as the summers were too hot to ferment ale with any consistency. As hops became more mainstream, however, brewers began producing hoppier beers in late spring so they would survive the long, hot summer.

And as the world drifted toward the industrial age something else happened that changed the face of beer production.

Wait… Why Is This Beer… Yellow?

Okay quick primer on how barley becomes beer. Before a brewery can use barley it has to be malted. To make malted barley, the grains fresh from the field are covered with water until they germinate. Once the little seedlings start to emerge the barley is quickly dried over low heat. At this point the barley is considered ‘malted’ and is now ready to be milled and made into beer.

But drying was a problem in the age before industrial processes. It has to be done fast so the barley doesn’t rot. But not so hot that it ends up roasted.  And in the pre-industrial world, they did this one of two ways. Maltsters laid out barley to dry in the sun, or it was dried over a wood-fueled fire. And if you know anything about the weather in England, then you can guess what method was most popular there.

The problem is that it is hard to control the heat of a wood fire and so the barley tended to be brown by the time it was done. Not to mention that anything cooked over a wood fire tends to end up rather smokey. So in England, in this time period, literally every beer was dark brown to black and had an intense, harsh wood smoke flavor. It was better than drinking the water since that could have you strapped to Ye Olde Privvy for the rest of the day. But even by the standards of the time, the heavy smokey flavor was a bit much. Barrel-aging was a common method of letting these flavors smooth out before consumption.

But in the 1600’s the people of Britain started drying malt over coke fires. No not that kind of coke but sounds like fun, right?

So coke is coal that has been heated to the point that all the sulphur, hydrogen and other nasty gasses one would normally get from burning it are driven off. The result are nuggets of almost pure carbon that burn with no appreciable smoke. It was also easier to control the exact temperature of the fire so that now barley could be dried over lower heat which would leave it a nice, light color. And, thus pale malt was born.

So we’ve got pale malt. We’ve got hops. We’ve got the basic ingredients of an India Pale Ale. Britain has yet to play Game of Flags in Asia but that doesn’t mean that the basic idea of a hop-forward pale ale didn’t enter someones head.  And, in fact it did. In the 1700’s a new seasonal style emerged that is probably the earliest incarnation of an IPA. Brewed in October and November, this October beer was an intensely strong, intensely hoppy beer that was brewed and aged for at least a year. 

So hoppy beers did exist long before anyone took them to India. But before a Pale Ale could be brought to India it still had to be invented.  And in a couple of weeks we will talk about the English Pale Ale.