Firefly ESB

originated at BEER AND WINE

March 3, 2015 by

Sometimes it’s good to revisit your former homebrewing interests. My interest in types of beer has bounced around a bit throughout the years. Like many homebrewers, I’ve gone through some phases — big beer phases, session beer phases, hoppy beer phases, sour beer phases, etc.

Around the time I started homebrewing — back in Boston in 1991 — I was interested in “regular” English ales, and especially pale ales. The full impact of the craft beer revolution hadn’t hit yet, and English ales such as Bass and Fuller’s ESB were still new, flavorful, and interesting. Plus, there was a brewpub there called Commonwealth Brewing that brewed excellent English-style ales. And additionally, the ingredients and information needed to brew decent renditions of English pale ales were available. So, it wasn’t really surprising that I brewed quite a few English pale ales, ESBs, and the like early on — to me they were “just plain beer” and I enjoyed them alongside the newer, hoppier American pale ales that were emerging.

Many years later, I developed a Fuller’s ESB clone. I based the clone on information published by Fuller’s and found in Les Howarth’s book, “The Home Brewer’s Recipe Database,” which listed the statistics and the percentages of ingredients for a wide variety of beers. Because yeast strains derived from the Fuller’s yeast strain are available to homebrewers, and the recipe is simple, a competent homebrewer can easily make a respectable clone of this beer.

I’m not really a clone beer guy, though, and so — in later brewings of this beer — I tried to tweak the recipe to suit my tastes rather than recreate Fuller’s ESB (which I can buy, if I want that exact beer). The result is this beer, that I’m now naming Firefly ESB. This is basically a Fuller’s clone, with a little added hop bitterness (40 IBU, as opposed to 35 IBU) and more late hops for more hop flavor and aroma. I also simplified the hop charges down to two types of hops — Target for bittering and Goldings for aroma hops. (Fuller’s ESB also has Northdown and Challenger in their formulation.) If you can’t find Target, any high-alpha English hop will work as a substitute. If you’re looking for a straightforward, flavorful English ale, this is good beer to brew. At around 6% ABV, it’s not a session beer, but it isn’t as strong as an old ale or barleywine either. (Plenty run-of-the-mill American IPAs are stronger than this.)

The name Firefly refers the “up-gunned” version of the American Sherman tank the British favored in late WWII. In 1943, when the Germans rolled out their late war tanks — the Panthers and Tigers — the British felt the standard 75 mm gun on the Sherman was inadequate and they replaced the Sherman’s main gun with a 17-pound anti-tank gun. (US forces upgraded some Shermans to a 76 mm high-velocity gun, but tried to rely on dedicated tank destroyers — most notably the M10 — to engage the newer German tanks.) Essentially, I named my beer — a British thing modified by an American — after the tank, which is an American thing modified by the British. A “balanced” name for a balanced beer.

Firefly ESB

by Chris Colby


A slightly hoppier rendition of a homebrew Fullers ESB clone. The beer has a malty character, with some caramel flavor, balanced by 40 IBUs of hop bitterness. The aroma of Goldings hops completes the beer.


Malts and Grain (for an OG of 1.060 at 70% extract efficiency and 15 SRM)

4.1 kg English 2-row pale

0.57 kg flaked maize

0.51 kg crystal malt (60 °L)

Hops (for 40 IBU total)

Target hops (35 IBU)

(26 g at 10% alpha acids, boiled for 60 mins)

Goldings hops (5 IBU)

(21 g at 5% alpha acids, boiled for 15 mins)

Goldings hops (0 IBU)

(21 g, dry hop)

Yeast (for an FG of 1.014 and 5.9% ABV)

Wyeast 1968 (London ESB) or White Labs WLP002 (English Ale) yeast

(2-L yeast starter)


1 tsp.Irish moss (boiled for 15 mins)



Mash at 67 °C in 13 L of water. Let the mash rest for 60 minutes. Mash out to 76 °C, if you can manage it. Recirculate and collect between 25 L and 26 L of wort — however much you can boil down to 19 L in 90 minutes. Boil wort for 90 minutes, adding hops at times indicated. Chill wort and transfer to fermenter. Aerate and pitch yeast. Ferment at 20 °C.