Back in January 2014, CMBC’s Employee Series was at its heyday, producing some of our most-popular beers. Courtney Rosenberg’s Foreshore Shandy is a summer favorite, Brian’s Geek Out will be back soon, and Jim’s Tripel Wreck is currently on tap in the Tasting Room, infused with cherries.
But Steve’s Biscuits & Honey stands as a cut above the rest. Originally created by Beertender Steve Wilson — who is back behind the bar again! — we brew this one periodically, most recently in October. We wanted to catch up with Steve to get the story, but he left for Jamaica before we could sit down with him, mon.
The first go-around of this brew — in the dead of winter in 2014 — sold out in under three weeks. For a new beer in our slowest time of year, it was a bit of a surprise.
“That was extremely impressive for an ESB,” Head Brewer Brian Hink says. “Honestly, ESBs aren’t common at all and have no buzz or sex appeal to them and yet are damn good beers. That’s a knockout at anytime of year, but in the dead of winter? We were all blown away by the success of it.”
Brian explains that the recipe was a favorite of Steve’s and a friend of his. “He brought in what they’d brewed a few times, and Chris and I scaled it up to a 15-barrel batch — our brewhouse size at the time.” We made a few changes scaling it up, “but for all intents and purposes, it’s still the same recipe Steve cooked up at home.”
Steve’s Biscuits and Honey is an English Special Bitter: a pale ale brewed to a 4.8% ABV or above, with a maltier flavor than a classic pale ale. It uses British malts that have notes of biscuits and toffee, British hops that tend to be more herbal and spicy than their American cousins, and an English Ale yeast strain that imparts floral esters rather than the fruity esters of the American Ale yeast strains. The result is an extraordinarily drinkable brew with slightly lower carbonation levels.
“Its quaffability is on point,” Brain says. “It’s clean and simple, yet complex enough to warrant continuous return trips.”
Biscuits & Honey uses a variety of English malts, including a wonderful floor-malted Maris Otter for the base malt, Biscuit malts, Honey malt, and some caramalt added for some zing.
The grain for this brew is 100% specialty malt: entirely from bags and loaded into the mill manually. A typical beer uses up to six bags of specialty grains — just over 300 pounds. For Biscuits & Honey, our guys end up moving over a ton of grain into the mill — back-breaking labor, to say the least.
“Definitely an extra workout on the day we brew this beer,” Brian notes.
Their labor is certainly not in vain. Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm notes that Biscuits & Honey “starts off with a slightly sharp bitter note, but then goes into this beautiful malt profile that is slightly sweet with bready and toffee notes, before finishing with the classic English hop flavor, reminiscent of thyme, lemon rind, honey, and a touch of grass from the East Kent Golding hops we exclusively used here.”
Regardless of the extra labor, Biscuits & Honey is definitely a favorite of the guys in the brewery. As Brian says, “Around this time of year, all of the winter beers are starting to get tiresome, and you’re already starting to see spring beers on the shelves, so it’s just a really refreshing change of pace.”
Jimmy agrees, “This beer is an all-rounder, especially as we start to move from winter into spring. Being a classic English ale, I think it goes perfect sitting in your favorite chair with a great book on a rainy day, maybe with a pipe or mild cigar.”
And we’ve certainly had many of those rainy days lately.
For Jimmy, though, Biscuits & Honey brings back some great memories.
“I lived in the UK for seven years,” he tells us, “getting a degree in Brewing. My first professional brewing job was there — needless to say, I spent plenty of time drinking British Bitters in old-style pubs poured from hand-pulled casks, so this beer really takes me back to those days.
“It also makes a great breakfast beer,” he says. “I had plenty of experience with that in my days across the pond!”
Biscuits and Honey sounds like the perfect addition to a traditional English Breakfast — skipping over the blood pudding, of course.
For those of us stuck in cloudy, cold, dreary South Jersey, we’ll just have to take Jimmy’s word for it — particularly if we’ve never been to cloudy, cold, dreary England.
Luckily for you, there’s no need to hop the pond for you to start making memories of ESBs. Simply stop down to the Tasting Room on Friday and get a pint.