Dry stout intense bitterness

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Bill Tong

Well-Known Member
Sep 17, 2020
Reaction score
Capetown, South Africa
My dry stout has a really intense bitter finish and i don't quite understand why. It's only been in the keg for a week, but not sure if this will mellow out.


5 gallon batch

71% pale
20% flaked barley
6% roasted barley
3% chocolate malt

OG: 1.040
FG: 1.010

60 min 33g (1.16 ounces) Challenger 8.3 AA. This gave 34 IBU according to Beersmith.

Single infusion mash 60 min, full volume. I mashed all the grain together for the full hour.

I used soft spring water, no water salts. This is my standard water even for IPA.

Could this just be due to the high AA bittering hop? I see lots of recipes use EKG, which is what i am going to do next. Its just strange to me that 34 IBU results in such an intense bitterness.
It's most likely you mashed at a very low pH. If you made all the numbers that the recipe said it would achieve then time will mellow it out. I've found that black beers are more drinkable sooner if the pH is 5.4-5.6 in the mash. If you can't measure pH and your yellow beers are delicious you could cold steep the roast and crystal grains and add the liquid to the boil kettle.
You've got 34 IBU and 40 gravity points, for a BU:GU ratio of 0.85. Many people would consider that to be high on bitterness, assuming a balanced beer has a ratio of about 0.50. The high alpha acid in the Challenger hops did indeed have an impact if the recipe was based on lower alpha hops.

Also, how much carbonation is in the beer? Stouts that are on nitro are actually flatter and lower carbonation, which results in a smoother tasting beer. Your beer might benefit from lower carbonation. If kegged, turn down the CO2 and vent it off a bit. If bottled, stir vigorously in the glass or in a pitcher before drinking to remove most of the carbonation, and see if that improves it.

It's difficult to comment on pH if you didn't measure. I would expect fairly normal pH here but it's possible that pH had an effect depending on the mineral content of your spring water.

You did use a lot of dark grains, which is good for this style but possibly is contributing to bitterness. If you brew this again, you might want to try reducing the amount of dark grains by like 2% to see what impact it has. The beer might turn out brown instead of black but it could be worth a try. In similar manner, you could also try diluting a sample of your current beer with more water to see if that takes the edge off. This would reduce the bitterness as well... and also the alcohol level of course so it may or may not be worth diluting the entire batch.
If you used the same water and salts as you do with your successful IPAs, one can easily deduce that a too-low mash pH might be the best place to start. With or without a meter.

I don't use a meter, just a trusted piece of software. With tasty batches ranging from 1040 SMaSH bitters to 1100 historical Imperial stouts, sometimes the software tells me to use a good amount of salts and acid, other times to cut the acid, hold the salts for the kettle, and hit the mash with baking soda. All to keep the mash pH in the estimated range of 5.4-5.6
On learn to homebrew day my buddy made a Schwartz beer that his so called program said it would be pH 5.3. I looked at the recipe and the brewing liquor profile and estimated a pH of 4.9. He calibrated his meter and at 10-15 min in measured 4.8. The only programs I use are for yeast starters (after I did the microscope and counting thing) I have a work sheet from Siebel that uses residual alkalinity to find pH. I'm on my 320th+ batch and can estimate pH based on grain bill and RO liquor with salts.
This beer has turned a corner literally over night! Seems the large proportion of roasted grains and hop bitterness just needs a little time to setttle. I am serving on nitro and to my palate this is very close to Guiness.
Try it again in a week, it will probably change some more.
great point
now that i have my nitro i dont enjoy my dry irish stout as much on regular gas
This beer has turned a corner literally over night! Seems the large proportion of roasted grains and hop bitterness just needs a little time to setttle. I am serving on nitro and to my palate this is very close to Guiness.
I have found that the astringent bitterness that comes from using (non-dehusked) roasted barley can take a fair bit of time to age out- and combined with the high BU/GU I suspect that's what was causing your initial perceived bitterness.
Use the Brew 'N Water sheet and enter what you have. Getting a water report is pretty important so you know what you are starting with. Sulfate to Chloride ion ratios can enhance malt or bitter flavors, and it will also predict pretty close your mash ph. I do either a cold steep of the roasted grains for a few days, or add them in at the end of mash just before I sparge. Also, most beer with real dark grains really hits it mark around 3-4 months old. Check out https://www.homebrewtalk.com/threads/irish-red-1st-place-hbt-comp.141086/ for example. When I start drinking my keg I start a new batch to age :)

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