"Just wanted to say that this has turned out to be an excellent beer! I've only had Fuller's one time so I can't really compare the two, but regardless this one came out great! This one will be made again, and will likely be a permanent resident on one of my 7 taps!" - Kevin59
"The ESB turned out great. (drinking one right now, in fact!) It is a very smooth beer. I have it at about 1.5 vol of CO2. Most certainly on the 'will brew again' list." - MikeOH
Fuller's ESB (Extra Special Bitter) is one our favourite beers and recreating it was one of the reasons we wanted to step up to all-grain brewing and take full control. After 20+ years of brewing extract, we just couldn't get this one right. We brewed it for the first time on our all-grain Electric Brewery setup in January 2010 (and many times since then). The recipe below is the one we use now after lots of tweaking over the years. It produces a beer we love that is nearly indistinguishable from the commercial version.
To quote Fullers own website on the history and flavours of Fuller's ESB:
First brewed in 1971, Fuller's ESB is unrivaled in flavor and balance. A robust 5.5% alcohol by volume in cask (5.9% alcohol by volume in bottles and kegs), it is brewed from pale ale and crystal malts and Target, Challenger, Northdown and East Kent Goldings hops.
Andrew Jefford, the respected UK drinks critic, sums up ESB's flavor thus: "An ample, grainy-nutty aroma and a broad, authoritative flavor, with lashings of dry marmalade-like bitters". Renowned beer connoisseur Roger Protz describes "an enormous attack of rich malt, tangy fruit and spicy hops in the mouth, with a profound Goldings peppery note in the long finish and hints of orange, lemon and gooseberry fruit".
ESB's reputation as the best British beer around is borne out by the amazing number of awards it has won. The US Beverage Tasting Institute named ESB "World Champion Bitter" in 1997 and 1998. ESB received the Gold Medal in the Premium Ales category at the 2003 International Beer Competition and a Silver medal in the same event in 2004. In addition, ESB won another Silver in the Strong Bitter category at the 2002 Great British Beer Festival. No beer has won more CAMRA awards, including Best Strong Ale in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1991, and Champion Beer of Britain in 1978, 1981 and 1985.
If you don't like hoppy/bitter beers, don't let the word 'bitter' throw you off. English bitters are nowhere near as bitter as American styles. In fact, this ESB (like most English style beers) is all about balance. It's only bitter enough to balance the malt backbone.
Some recipes for this beer will call for flaked maize (corn). Fullers moved away from using that many years ago and now only use British pale and crystal malts. If you want do an 'old school' version of this beer, replace approximately 15% of the British Maris Otter malt with flaked maize (corn). We've never tried it ourselves and have always found the results of the recipe below to be very close to the kegged version of the beer. One of these days we'd love to get across the ocean however and taste what a fresh pint of Fuller's ESB actually tastes like.
You may have troubles finding all of the hops needed for this recipe. Some hop substitutions will still give you an enjoyable bitter, just try and stick with English hops if possible. You can (for example) make a very nice variant with only UK East Kent Goldings (EKG) hops as they're much easier to find.
Yeast substitutions should be avoided however. We've tried it with others (including the readily available Fermentis Safale S-04 dry yeast) and it just isn't the same. One of the keys to brewing this right is to use Fuller's own yeast (Wyeast 1968 London ESB Ale yeast or White Labs WLP002 English Ale yeast). The yeast is also highly flocculant (likes to settle out) so the beer drops brilliantly clear without need of any clarifiers.
Brew up a batch and let us know how you like it!
Size: 12 US gallons (post-boil @ 68F)
Mash Efficiency: 95%
Calories: 190 kcal per 12 fl oz
Original Gravity: 1.058 (style range: 1.048 - 1.060)
Final Gravity: 1.014 (style range: 1.010 - 1.016)
Colour: 13.1 SRM (style range: 6 - 18)
Alcohol: 5.8% ABV (style range: 4.6% - 6.2%)
Bitterness: 34 IBU (style range: 30 - 50)
19 lb British Maris Otter malt (2.5-4L) (92.7%)
1.5 lb British crystal malt (90L) (7.3%)
1 oz UK Target hops (10%) - added during boil, boiled 60 min [15.6 IBU]
1 oz UK Challenger hops (7%) - added during boil, boiled 60 min [10.9 IBU]
0.5 oz UK Northdown hops (9.6%) - added during boil, boiled 15 min [3.6 IBU]
1 oz UK East Kent Goldings hops (5.4%) - added during boil, boiled 15 min [4 IBU]
1 Whirlfloc tablet (Irish moss) - added during boil, boiled 15 min
1 oz UK East Kent Goldings hops (5.4%) - added to fermenter near end of fermentation, steeped 3-5 days
Purchasing through our affiliate links helps support our site at no extra cost to you. We thank you!
Notes / Process
- Add 500mg potassium metabisulphite to 20 gallons water to remove chlorine / chloramine (if required).
- Water treated with brewing salts to our Hoppy lite flavour profile: Ca=110, Mg=18, Na=16, Cl=50, SO4=100 (Basically Randy Mosher's ideal Pale Ale numbers with slightly less Sulphate and a Cl:S04 ratio of 1:2. We're not making a hoppy American beer here so we go a bit easy on accentuating bitterness.). For complete details on how to adjust your water, refer to our step by step Water Adjustment guide.
- 1.25 qt/lb mash thickness.
- Single infusion mash at 152F for 90 mins.
- Raise to 168F mashout temperature and hold for 10 mins.
- ~90 min fly sparge with ~5.6-5.8 pH water (measured at mash temperature). Collect 13.9 gallons.
- Boil for 60 minutes, adding Whirlfloc and hops per schedule. Lid on at flameout, start chilling immediately.
- Cool the wort quickly to 66F (we use a one-pass convoluted counterflow chiller to quickly lock in hop flavour and aroma) and transfer to fermenter.
- Aerate or oxygenate the chilled wort to a level of 8-10 ppm dissolved oxygen. For complete details refer to our Aerating / Oxygenating Wort guide.
- Pitch yeast and ferment at 66-68F (wort temperature). We use modified stainless fermenting buckets in wine fridges.
- Add dry hops once fermentation is nearing completion (i.e. 5 points from final gravity) and raise the temperature to 70-72F. In our case we simply turn off the fermenting fridges and allow the beer to naturally rise to room temperature. Steep hops for 3-5 days while fermentation finishes. Assume fermentation is done if the gravity does not change over ~3 days.
- There is no need to use finings such as unflavoured gelatin as the yeast is extremely flocculant and will drop brilliantly clear on its own.
- Package as you would normally. We rack to kegs that have first been purged with CO2. We chill the kegs to near freezing while carbonating at the same time in a 6-keg conditioning fridge. After ~1-2 weeks at serving pressure the kegs will be carbonated and ready to serve. In a hurry? Feel free to raise the CO2 pressure temporarily to 30-40 PSI to carbonate fast over a 24 period, and then turn back down to serving pressure.
- Carbonate this beer to fairly low levels (the lower the better in our humble opinion, or even better, as a cask ale). If you have the means to serve it through a beer engine with no extra carbonation other than residuals left over from fermentation, do it! We think you'll really enjoy the difference. Over carbonation destroys a lot of the subtleties of this beer. Do not over carbonate. Another option that we've used is to serve the beer on a stout faucet pushed by a 30/70 CO2/Nitrogen blend, producing a nice creamy head and close to flat beer. One inexpensive way to mimic this is to use a syringe (without needle). Pour the beer as you would normally and then suck up a syringe full and force it back into the beer, hard. Repeat 2-3 times and you'll knock most of the C02 out of solution leaving a nearly flat beer with a creamy head. Not quite the same texture, but similar to a nitro pour. We tried this for years before finally adding a real CO2/Nitrogen serving setup to our basement bar.
For detailed brewing instructions, see our Brew Day Step by Step guide.
Questions? Visit our Fuller's ESB forum thread.
Pictures / Videos
Interested in seeing what we're brewing right now? Follow us on Instagram for pictures and videos of our brewing activities as they happen.
The Fuller's tap lineup at The Jugged Hare - Fuller's Pub and Restaurant in Victoria. Image (c) juggedharevictoria.co.uk