The Pond Hopper Pale Ale Experiment

A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to spend the day hanging out and brewing some beer with Willis and Andrew of Steel String Brewery, a brewery-in-planning that is scheduled to open up in Carrboro sometime this year.  But we decided to add a little twist to our brew day.

Willis and I headed over to Fifth Season and picked up identical grain bills.  The same proportions of the same grain, as if we were going to brew the same beer.  The only catch is that we were going to brew two totally different beers.

The Steel String guys then elected to use 40 IBUs of American hops (Cascade and Amarillo, I believe) and I selected 40 IBUs of English hops (Goldings and Fuggles).  Suddenly, our beers are starting to look quite different.

Lastly, the Steel String crew pitched in some American Ale yeast, while I opted for the Wyeast 1968 ESB (Exstra Special Bitter) yeast.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, what were planned to do was to brew an American Pale Ale and an English ESB at the same time, on the same day, at the same place, with the same water, using the same grain and the same number of IBUs.

brewing with steel string

My mash tun didn't cooperate with the pump setup, so we let gravity do the transfer for us

We hoped that this experiment would showcase two things:

1) How the yeast affects the flavor of the beer.  Most people think the yeast just turns the wort into beer by fermenting it, turning sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  But yeast can play an important role in the flavor of the beer as well.  In our case, we expect the American Pale Ale yeast to not impart much flavor and be very clean, which will allow the floral and citrus hops to stand out.  In the ESB, the yeast will add some fruity notes and a touch of diacetyl.  The ESB yeast should also have slightly less attenuation, causing the American Pale Ale to be more crisp and dryer while the ESB will finish slightly maltier.

2) Hops aren’t just about the IBUs.  Different beers call for different amounts of IBUs, however the variety of hop you use can have a tremendous affect on the finished beer.  Steel String stuck with the classic American hops that are know to impart a fresh grapefruit citrus flavor, common to most American Ales.  The English hops provide more of an earthy, grassy, spicy feel than the American hops.

The brew day was a success, and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to brew with some other great brewers in the area.  Now we are in the sit and wait stage.  The American Pale Ale will be finished fermenting first.  I take that back, they will both ferment fairly quickly, but the ESB will need to sit in the fermentor a little longer to clean itself up due to the diacetyl it produces.  In another couple of weeks, we should have two very clean, clear light ales that taste totally different!

I look forward to having a tasting session with Steel String so that we can really learn how the yeast and hop selection affected a beer, with a very practical example.


Chris Shields

I’d love to participate in a tasting comparison! Let me know if you’ll be sharing.

Mark Klinger

If you ever want to do another of these & need a third brewer, let me know. (For instance, a Belgian Pale Ale would be an interesting comparison.) I just moved to the area, but have been homebrewing for over 15 years.


@Chris – I might be able to arrange something for you. I need to get up to Nash St sometime soon, so maybe I can bring a couple samples for ya when I make it over your way.

@Mark – For sure! I know that Steel String was wanting to do it again sometime. And you’re right, pitching in a Belgian yeast strain would have definitely made for a good 3rd option and very distinct.


Hi Chris,

How did the results go?
Any follow up on this “experiment” ?
As a new brewer I am very interested as I am thinking a bout doing this exercise, just with my own set up and over 2 days.

Cheers, from downunder,


Wayne – it went well. The English pale ale ended up with a little bit too much diacetyl, so it was more of a fermentation/yeast health issue, but it was nice to compare the styles. It is amazing how different they were, considering the grain bill was identical.

If you were just testing the yeast, you could do a single brew, and split it into two fermenting buckets, with a different yeast in each. However, you wouldn’t be able to use different hops like we did.


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