Overview for the Strong Bitter

In England today, “ESB” is a Fullers trademark, and no one thinks of it as a generic class of beer. It is a unique (but very well-known) beer that has a very strong, complex malt profile not found in other examples, often leading judges to overly penalize traditional English strong bitters. In America, ESB has been co-opted to describe a malty, bitter, reddish, standard-strength (for the US) British-type ale, and is a popular craft beer style. This may cause some judges to think of US brewpub ESBs as representative of this style. Strong bitters can be seen as a higher-gravity version of best bitters (although not necessarily “more premium” since best bitters are traditionally the brewer’s finest product). British pale ales are generally considered a premium, export-strength pale, bitter beer that roughly approximates a strong bitter, although reformulated for bottling (including increasing carbonation levels). While modern British pale ale is considered a bottled bitter, historically the styles were different. More evident malt and hop flavors than in a special or best bitter, as well as more alcohol. Stronger versions may overlap somewhat with British strong ales, although strong bitters will tend to be paler and more bitter. More malt flavor (particularly caramel) and esters than an American Pale Ale, with different finishing hop character.

Style Expectations

An average-strength to moderately-strong British bitter ale. The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. Drinkability is a critical component of the style. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.

Appearance

Light amber to deep copper color. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. A low head is acceptable when carbonation is also low.

Aroma

Hop aroma moderately-high to moderately-low, typically with a floral, earthy, resiny, and/or fruity character. Medium to medium-high malt aroma, optionally with a low to moderate caramel component. Medium-low to medium-high fruity esters. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Flavor

Medium to medium-high bitterness with supporting malt flavors evident. The malt profile is typically bready, biscuity, nutty, or lightly toasty, and optionally has a moderately low to moderate caramel or toffee flavor. Hop flavor moderate to moderately high, typically with a floral, earthy, resiny, and/or fruity character. Hop bitterness and flavor should be noticeable, but should not totally dominate malt flavors. Moderately-low to high fruity esters. Optionally may have low amounts of alcohol. Medium-dry to dry finish. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Mouthfeel

Medium-light to medium-full body. Low to moderate carbonation, although bottled versions will be higher. Stronger versions may have a slight alcohol warmth but this character should not be too high.

Reviews

Fuller’s ESB

Strong Bitter  •  Fuller Smith & Turner PLC

Fuller’s ESB is a Strong Bitter brewed by Fuller Smith & Turner PLC that has a bite of floral and earthy hops, fruit, booze, toast, and chocolate. Read More

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Green Man ESB

Strong Bitter  •  Green Man Brewery

Green Man ESB is an English-style Strong Bitter by Green Man Brewery that wonderfully balances aromas and flavors that are sweet, toasty, and hoppy. Read More

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