IPA might be the most common three letter description you hear in a local brewery these days, but I’m on the look out for a different trio when I check out the menu – ESB.
EBS, Best Bitter and Ordinary Bitter beers are some of the most satisfying, malt forward, not so bitter (as the name suggests) beers in a very wide range of beer styles.
These styles will appear now and then at our local breweries, and it’s usually a treat when they do. Much like “Burton Ernie” recently found at Deadwords Brewing. They also don’t tend to last long on tap, and for good. reason. The sweet, light caramel and bready malt notes supported by a distinct but not overpowering bitterness is a welcomed balanced and refreshing beer suitable for all seasons.
Just reading the BJCP Guideline’s overall description of each style is enough to get a craving started for a well made British Bitter:
From the 2021 BJCP Style Guidelines
11A: Ordinary Bitter: Low gravity, alcohol, and carbonation make this an easy-drinking session beer. The malt profile can vary in flavor and intensity, but should never override the overall bitter impression. Drink-ability is a critical component of the style.
11B: Best Bitter: A flavorful, yet refreshing, session beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drink-ability is a critical component of the style.
11C: Strong Bitter (AKA Extra Special Bitter/ESB): An average-strength to moderately-strong British bitter ale. The balance may vary between fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. Drink-ability is a critical component of the style. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.
Though these styles do seem to be popping up more lately at our local breweries, with the growth of big bottle shops in the area, we do have the opportunity to sample some commercial examples that help define this style.
For the Ordinary Bitter sub-category, a sharp eye can find Tetley’s Original Bitter on store shelves from time to time. It even caught my eye once in my neighborhood Publix much to my surprise.
Fuller’s London Pride and Timothy Taylor Landlord are commercial examples of the Best Bitter sub-category that have been spotted off and on at bigger liquor stores and bottle shops, and both have been spotted on tap at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.
For the Strong Bitter sub-category, the BJCP Guideline suggests Bass Ale and Samuel Smith’s Organic Pale Ale, both brands of imported beer often found in our area.
And last, but not least, the namesake of the unofficial ESB style category, Fuller’s ESB, is possibly the easiest to find of all the examples.
And of course, the best way to really know the ins and outs of a style is to brew your own and perfect it to your palate.
A good place to start is with Craft Beer & Brewing’s “Make Your Best” series. They have a sample recipe for each substyle:
And there are many other resources and recipes online and walk-through videos on YouTube for these styles.
Bitter a fantastic style that I enjoy drinking as much as I enjoy brewing. If it’s something that’s not quiet made it into your rotation for either, I highly recommend looking in the style further. I think it’s one that you may find a favorite all around.