ESB = Extra Special Bigfoot

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The movie Tommy Boy is awesome. For those of you who know the film (and if you don’t, stop reading NOW and go watch it), Chris Farley is repeatedly insulted by his impish partner when they’re not hitting deer and lighting model cars on fire. One of those insults goes as follows: “Let’s say the average person uses 10 percent of their brain. You only use one and a half percent. The rest is clogged with malted hops and bong resin.”

Every time I hear this, I laugh a lot, and then I tend to think how apt a metaphor this actually is when you consider the Pacific Northwest. Let me explain. The brains are all consolidated into certain pockets of the PNW; Microsoft, Boeing, Google, the schools etc. Beyond that, you have the malted hops, i.e. the voracious lovers of craft beer and homebrew, and the bong resin, the legions of hippies who call this place “home”… assuming that they can remember where their home actually is. Granted, you could probably apply this metaphor to many places, but I find it funny and pertinent to my take on the region.

Anyway, the chunk of Spade’s jibe that concerns this idea is the “malted hops” (the beer). Here in the Seattle Area, we love beer. We love it so much that we have festivals for it (what seems like) every other weekend. Our microbreweries seem as numerous as our Starbucks. And it seems like every time I mention to someone that I brew my own beer, the common response is “Oh yeah, my buddy does that too.”

Ask a local for a Seattle brew on draft, and you’re likely to get a Mack and Jacks, Manny’s or a kilt lifter. Ask for a common BOTTLED beer, and you’re going to be handed a Redhook ESB. Which brings us to the crux of my story. Before I moved here (and for a while, after I moved here) I thought that Seattle beer was Redhook. In my mind, it was (and possibly still is) to Seattle what Sam Adams is to Boston. Love it or hate it, it maintains a definite connection to the area. Don’t get me wrong, I love Redhook. I’ve toured their brewery no less than four times. I’ve been to their movie nights, bought growlers of their limited releases, and own a bunch of t-shirts. I can say that Shadow Brewers endorse Redhook. Granted, Jared has a beef with them because they wouldn’t put on the game in Forecaster’s, but he’ll get over it. Hell, I even used Redhook empties to bottle our entire batch of Dunkelweiss.

And what were those empties? ESB, of course. It’s the mainstay. If you order a “Sam Adams” in Boston (or most other places), you get a Boston Lager. If you ask a friend to pick up a case of Redhook, they show up with a case of red-labeled stubby bottles, with that magical nectar that the brewers in Woodinville have dubbed “Extra Special Bitter”.

ESB. Extra Special Bitter. The name intrigued me. What makes it extra special? Was there simply a “special bitter”? How about a “shitty bitter”? Why isn’t it very bitter? Why did I care? Did it matter? Does this matter? Does anything matter? Did I leave the stove on? Do you want to play questions??? Turns out the answers are: The ingredients; Yes; no; it’s a matter of taste; I don’t know; Nope; Same; Yes (or no, but if “no”, maybe see a shrink); No, well… maybe, I forget; and, No, Guildenstern, not now.

So I wanted to make my own, and I did. Ingredients/directions as follows:

Steep first two ingredients in 3 gal of water at 150 degrees

  • 1 lb Crystal 60
  • 4 oz. chocolate 225

Stir in next three ingredients after the break, and then return to boil

  • 3 lb Amber DME
  • 3 lb Amber LME
  • 2 tbsp gypsum

Hops and boil times

  • 1 oz. Glacier @ boil
  • .5 oz. Fuggle @ 30 min
  • .5 oz. Fuggle @ 50 min
  • 1 oz. Saaz @ 55 min

Chill and add water and yeast

Ferment for 10 days, and transfer to secondary

  • 1 oz. Saaz in secondary for 21 days

The result is a darker, slightly bitter beer that is every bit as special as the name leads one to believe. Give it a shot. The four (or more) weeks is a long time to wait for a good brew, but it’s worth it.

Oh, we dubbed this one “ESBigfoot”, because it was an easy name to come up with… naming beers gets difficult after a while.

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