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08 – English Pale Ale

8A. Standard/Ordinary Bitter
8B. Special/Best/Premium Bitter
8c. Extra Special/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale)


8A. Standard/Ordinary Bitter

Aroma:
The best examples have some malt aroma, often (but not always) with a caramel quality. Mild to moderate fruitiness is common. Hop aroma can range from moderate to none (UK varieties typically, although US varieties may be used). Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Appearance:
Light yellow to light copper. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. May have very little head due to low carbonation.

Flavor:
Medium to high bitterness. Most have moderately low to moderately high fruity esters. Moderate to low hop flavor (earthy, resiny, and/or floral UK varieties typically, although US varieties may be used). Low to medium maltiness with a dry finish. Caramel flavors are common but not required. Balance is often decidedly bitter, although the bitterness should not completely overpower the malt flavor, esters and hop flavor. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Mouthfeel:
Light to medium-light body. Carbonation low, although bottled and canned examples can have moderate carbonation.

Overall Impression:
Low gravity, low alcohol levels and low carbonation make this an easy-drinking beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.

Comments:
The lightest of the bitters. Also known as just “bitter.” Some modern variants are brewed exclusively with pale malt and are known as golden or summer bitters. Most bottled or kegged versions of UK-produced bitters are higher-alcohol versions of their cask (draught) products produced specifically for export. The IBU levels are often not adjusted, so the versions available in the US often do not directly correspond to their style subcategories in Britain. This style guideline reflects the “real ale” version of the style, not the export formulations of commercial products.

History:
Originally a draught ale served very fresh under no pressure (gravity or hand pump only) at cellar temperatures (i.e., “real ale”). Bitter was created as a draught alternative (i.e., running beer) to country-brewed pale ale around the start of the 20th century and became widespread once brewers understood how to “Burtonize” their water to successfully brew pale beers and to use crystal malts to add a fullness and roundness of palate.

Ingredients:
Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts, may use a touch of black malt for color adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn or wheat. English hops most typical, although American and European varieties are becoming more common (particularly in the paler examples). Characterful English yeast. Often medium sulfate water is used.

Vital Statistics: OG: 1.032 – 1.040
IBUs: 25 – 35 FG: 1.007 – 1.011
SRM: 4 – 14 ABV: 3.2 – 3.8%

Commercial Examples:
Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter, Adnams Bitter, Young’s Bitter, Greene King IPA, Oakham Jeffrey Hudson Bitter (JHB), Brains Bitter, Tetley’s Original Bitter, Brakspear Bitter, Boddington’s Pub Draught

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8B. Special/Best/Premium Bitter

Aroma:
The best examples have some malt aroma, often (but not always) with a caramel quality. Mild to moderate fruitiness. Hop aroma can range from moderate to none (UK varieties typically, although US varieties may be used). Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Appearance:
Medium gold to medium copper. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. May have very little head due to low carbonation.

Flavor:
Medium to high bitterness. Most have moderately low to moderately high fruity esters. Moderate to low hop flavor (earthy, resiny, and/or floral UK varieties typically, although US varieties may be used). Low to medium maltiness with a dry finish. Caramel flavors are common but not required. Balance is often decidedly bitter, although the bitterness should not completely overpower the malt flavor, esters and hop flavor. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Mouthfeel:
Medium-light to medium body. Carbonation low, although bottled and canned commercial examples can have moderate carbonation.

Overall Impression:
A flavorful, yet refreshing, session beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.

Comments:
More evident malt flavor than in an ordinary bitter, this is a stronger, session-strength ale. Some modern variants are brewed exclusively with pale malt and are known as golden or summer bitters. Most bottled or kegged versions of UK-produced bitters are higher-alcohol versions of their cask (draught) products produced specifically for export. The IBU levels are often not adjusted, so the versions available in the US often do not directly correspond to their style subcategories in Britain. This style guideline reflects the “real ale” version of the style, not the export formulations of commercial products.

History:
Originally a draught ale served very fresh under no pressure (gravity or hand pump only) at cellar temperatures (i.e., “real ale”). Bitter was created as a draught alternative (i.e., running beer) to country-brewed pale ale around the start of the 20th century and became widespread once brewers understood how to “Burtonize” their water to successfully brew pale beers and to use crystal malts to add a fullness and roundness of palate.

Ingredients:
Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts, may use a touch of black malt for color adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn or wheat. English hops most typical, although American and European varieties are becoming more common (particularly in the paler examples). Characterful English yeast. Often medium sulfate water is used.

Vital Statistics: OG: 1.040 – 1.048
IBUs: 25 – 40 FG: 1.008 – 1.012
SRM: 5 – 16 ABV: 3.8 – 4.6%

Commercial Examples:
Fuller’s London Pride, Coniston Bluebird Bitter, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Adnams SSB, Young’s Special, Shepherd Neame Masterbrew Bitter, Greene King Ruddles County Bitter, RCH Pitchfork Rebellious Bitter, Brains SA, Black Sheep Best Bitter, Goose Island Honkers Ale, Rogue Younger’s Special Bitter

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8C. Extra Special/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale)

Aroma:
Hop aroma moderately-high to moderately-low, and can use any variety of hops although UK hops are most traditional. Medium to medium-high malt aroma, often with a low to moderately strong caramel component (although this character will be more subtle in paler versions). Medium-low to medium-high fruity esters. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed. May have light, secondary notes of sulfur and/or alcohol in some examples (optional).

Appearance:
Golden to deep copper. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. A low head is acceptable when carbonation is also low

Flavor:
Medium-high to medium bitterness with supporting malt flavors evident. Normally has a moderately low to somewhat strong caramelly malt sweetness. Hop flavor moderate to moderately high (any variety, although earthy, resiny, and/or floral UK hops are most traditional). Hop bitterness and flavor should be noticeable, but should not totally dominate malt flavors. May have low levels of secondary malt flavors (e.g., nutty, biscuity) adding complexity. Moderately-low to high fruity esters. Optionally may have low amounts of alcohol, and up to a moderate minerally/sulfury flavor. Medium-dry to dry finish (particularly if sulfate water is used). Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

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

Overall Impression:
An average-strength to moderately-strong English ale. The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.

Comments:
More evident malt and hop flavors than in a special or best bitter. Stronger versions may overlap somewhat with old ales, although strong bitters will tend to be paler and more bitter. Fuller’s ESB is a unique beer with a very large, complex malt profile not found in other examples; most strong bitters are fruitier and hoppier. Judges should not judge all beers in this style as if they were Fuller’s ESB clones. Some modern English variants are brewed exclusively with pale malt and are known as golden or summer bitters. Most bottled or kegged versions of UK-produced bitters are higher-alcohol versions of their cask (draught) products produced specifically for export. The IBU levels are often not adjusted, so the versions available in the US often do not directly correspond to their style subcategories in Britain. English pale ales are generally considered a premium, export-strength pale, bitter beer that roughly approximates a strong bitter, although reformulated for bottling (including containing higher carbonation).

History:
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). Since beer is sold by strength in the UK, these beers often have some alcohol flavor (perhaps to let the consumer know they are getting their due). In England today, “ESB” is a brand unique to Fullers; in America, the name has been co-opted to describe a malty, bitter, reddish, standard-strength (for the US) English-type ale. Hopping can be English or a combination of English and American.

Ingredients:
Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts, may use a touch of black malt for color adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn or wheat. English hops most typical, although American and European varieties are becoming more common (particularly in the paler examples). Characterful English yeast. “Burton” versions use medium to high sulfate water.

Vital Statistics: OG: 1.048 – 1.060
IBUs: 30 – 50 FG: 1.010 – 1.016
SRM: 6 – 18 ABV: 4.6 – 6.2%

Commercial Examples:
Fullers ESB, Adnams Broadside, Shepherd Neame Bishop’s Finger, Young’s Ram Rod, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale, Bass Ale, Whitbread Pale Ale, Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Marston’s Pedigree, Black Sheep Ale, Vintage Henley, Mordue Workie Ticket, Morland Old Speckled Hen, Greene King Abbot Ale, Bateman’s XXXB, Gale’s Hordean Special Bitter (HSB), Ushers 1824 Particular Ale, Hopback Summer Lightning, Great Lakes Moondog Ale, Shipyard Old Thumper, Alaskan ESB, Geary’s Pale Ale, Cooperstown Old Slugger, Anderson Valley Boont ESB, Avery 14’er ESB, Redhook ESB

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