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Notes on beers in the style

Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB)

Extra Special Bitter

Waypost tends to specialize in Farmhouse/Saison and other Belgian influenced styles, so a sojourn into the ESB area is not necessarily going to showcase their strengths. However, because their beer is generally very good, I'm encouraged to try one of my own favorite styles. The pour is a light golden orange, and for me a little too light. Head isn't great, but the lace is fantastically sticky, bone white, and the best part of the appearance. Nose offers mostly neutral breads (I'd like a little...

King Goblin

Single 500 mL bottle from Green's on Ponce, Atlanta, GA , USA. Superb color on the pour, giving a beautiful, garnet clarity that I seldom see these days. Color is deep and present. Head is to be frank, a little disappointing. Small, not well retained although the lace defies he lack of retention. Nose and tastes give up a classic biscuit malt and a light touch which defines the style (at least in the bottle). Some hoppy notes are added to the alcohol which produce a nice balance of drying...

Exile ESB

12 oz bottle from lackenhauser as part of Veterans BIF. Pour is a touch on the light side of amber and also gives quite a lot of murkiness. Head is average, dissipates quickly and leaves a little watery lace. The head is not too much of a problem, but the color and lack of clarity give me a little cause for concern. Nose has plenty of sweet malts and a little fruit. The tastes reflect some of the nose but also have a touch of acid and some prickly carbonation. The light acidity seems to...

Elevator Bleeding Buckeye Red Ale

12 oz bottle from my recent Columbus, OH trip. Nice color on the pour, but the beer lacks life. The red highlights and general bright body and clarity are encouraging, but then the lack of carbonation, head, lace and retention let the beer down. Some light malts in the nose and not much else. The beer delivers a decent malt punch and a little too much dry character that I really don't want in the style. The beer fades quite quickly and is easily forgotten. Decent malt tastes for the style with...

Harpoon Single Hop ESB (100 Barrel Series #31)

OK, it's not brewed in England and it's NOT a cask offering, and I could still be happy if it was taken down another 0.5% on the ABV, BUT, on the face of it this at least has the potential to help me out in my desperate and generally futile search for high quality ESB's in the USA. Let's see. Nice authentic color in the body with a deep, orange/amber hue. Head size is especially disappointing to me and the retention and lace should also be better for a beer of this ABV. Nose reveals little,...

Big Matt’s ESB

On-tap. Slightly chill-hazed pour with a traditional, light, bubbly head that although not dense, still provides some very nice, sticky lace. Has a cask appearance in terms of the head. Served WAY too cold for my liking, even without the traditional, American frozen glassware! Let it warm a little. Body is a brownish hue which is not epecially attractive but I guess I'm being a bit hard here. Lacks the classic, deep garnet color that I would really love for the style, but I can live with that....

2° Below Winter Ale

12 oz bottle. Bottle with ridge on the neck reminiscent of the Westy 12 bottle. The appearance was a somewhat pedestrian, light amber but cloudy body, but the head and lace were very good. Some nice layered lace. A little light and clouded on the color but otherwise nice. Nose and tastes are a satisfying combo of biscuit malts and a quite dry, bitter finish. I wouldn't necessarily describe this an ESB that I would get terribly excited about, but what I would say is that this is an ESB that...

Batemans XXXB

500 mL bottle from Bruisin' Ales on a recent haul. $5.50 for the bottle. 23 SEP 09 dot matrixed on the neck along with 8206 207A. Light, orange amber pour with a thin, wispy, ivory head. Little lace, but this is probably due to the temperature of the beer. Nice, simple, appropriate and light carbonation. Surprisingly sweet nose but there is more of the standard biscuit malts and crisp bitterness in the body of the beer than the aroma would suggest. Light, unsweetened grapefruit along with some...

ESB Special Ale

Delighted to get hold of this one fom a recent Bruisin' Ales mail order. Can as shown in the BA db picture. Popped the top with very little fanfare. Aggressive pour leads to an initially high head but this fades to give a nice, spotty film on the surface of the beer. Some lace. Body is a cloudy orange that is a tad too pale for my liking. Nose is a little light grass but has some sweetness in there too. Nice upfront mild bitterness and a solid malt presence to hold the whole thing together....

13 Rebels ESB

Picked this one up at Riverside Beverage in Chattanooga, TN, USA. I believe that it may have been a s little as $3.99 for the 22 oz bomber. Shared with some of the usual crowd at The Brick Store on a Friday afternoon. Pour yields a very clear, golden body with an impressive, rocky white head and some nice lace. Head retention is good, too. If I'm honest I would say that the appearance of the beer is probably its strongest suit. The nose and tastes are fine, put simply WAY too hop based for my...

Lancaster Bomber

Here's a quote from the Wainwright brew that I reviwed earlier and is relevant here. "I am worried about a couple of things about the range in general. These beers tend not to travel well, and in any case they are simply beers that are infinitely better in their cask versions, close to the source. Hardly any bottled beer of this type is drunk in England, so these are simply not the best rerprentations of these beers that you will ever get." Nice, light chestnut color, but to be honest it looks...

Sweetwater Motor Boat

12oz bottle from a sixer from Green's on Ponce, Atlanta, GA, USA. $7.49 for the sixer I think. First beer that I have drunk in nearly six weeks! Pour is a somewhat thin looking amber/reddish orange that looks surprisingly carbonated with lots of small bubbles rising. Head is thin and fades very quickly. Aroma seems very strongly hop based. Hops are upfront but fade quickly. There is a lack of malt backbone which makes this feel very one dimensional. It's particularly dry as well and...

Organic ESB

Ahhh...an American ESB that fits largely into the ESB category - a nice surprise! 12oz single from Total Wine in Kennesaw, GA, USA. Notched as being bottled in the first week in Feb. Reasonable to assume that this is Feb '08 (since Total Wine seems to have a decent turnover), but you never know! Good, standard color for the style (pleasing) with copper and dark orange hues, and a good initial head, however, any lasting head and lacing are disappointing thus reducing the ultimate potential of...

Sierra Nevada ESB (Early Spring Beer)

I Absolutely DESPISE the use of the letters ESB to mean Early Spring Beer; it is both deceptive and classless. This is NOT an ESB, so if we are going to rate this on style it gets a F grade. I'll resist that temptation, JUST. 12oz stubbie bottle from the original six pack from The Wine Shop on Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta, GA, USA. Pour is a dark orange body with a thinnish looking white head. A little lace. Carbonation is way too high. Nose is mainly mild, sweet hops but not much else....

Wells Bombardier (English Premium Bitter)

I've been enjoying this over the course of the last few months at The Brick Store, Decatur, GA, USA. Great clarity on the pour to leave a mahogany colored body and plenty of ivory colored head and lace. Looks super. Very typical of the genre, with it's biscuit based malts supporting the very mild bitterness. This has traveled better than many others of the style, and I feel that this is a good example for Americans to sample a simple, moreish, English Bitter. Better on cask (what isn't?), but...

Jennings Sneck Lifter

500 mL bottle, thanks to Dave for putting this one in the line up at his house on my recent trip home to England. Reviewed from notes, Summer 2007. Not the first time I've drunk this beer, but the overwhelming sensation is still the same this time around in the bottle, as it has been in the past from the cask. A dark pour that is reminiscent of a porter malt base and a very complex beer. Each mouthful seems different with a combination of stout bitterness, smoke, dark fruits, caramel malts and...

Devon Glory

Cask offering at Beer, Devon, England. Notes from the Summer 2007 trip. I forget the name of the pub. Sheep adorn the pump clip. Mildy acidic, but refreshing. Amber, soapy pour with some sweetness. The beer is balanced with obvious low carbonation but some decent malt presence. There's something else too - perhaps a nuttiness, but may be a little sweeter than that. Not sure, but it seems like a small amount of honeyish hops. Some light fruit. Typical of the style, with bready malts and simple...

Bayonet ESB

On tap at Old Town, Greensboro, NC, USA. If I were scoring this within style I don't think it would do very well at all. Essentially this strikes me as an English IPA - by that I mean far too hoppy for an English style ESB, but not big enough on the hops for an American IPA. Strange beast. Light orange pour (typically IPAish) with some head. A little lace. This would need to be browner for an ESB methinks. Some malts, but they are put in the background by the hop profile, which although quite...

John Hampden’s Ale

Taken from notes from England July 2007 - Cheers Chris! Bronze body with a head that disappears quickly. Ring of lace in 360o around the edge of the surface. Some minimal lace. Simple beer but solid. Simple malts up front with mild, citrus hops. Light and drinkable. Lemon/orange notes. Mild fruits and uncomplicated, I found this very easy to drink during a muggy, English summer evening. Sessionable certainly, with plenty of biscuity malt present to satisfy. A little floral note in the nose...

Harvest Ale

Thanks to Vancer as part of the CEO/Old Farts BIF. 12 oz bottle. This is a tricky one. From the name I was expecting some kind of Fest/Autumn/spiced brew. In the bottle I got what amounted to an American IPA. Good color, decent head and some retention amongst the lace. A lot of bitterness for an ESB. Some hint of the classic English malts, but these are eclipsed by a lot of stinging bitterness. OK, but not really my favorite combination of flavors and certanly not true to my interpretation of...

Magnumus Ete Tomahawkus ESB³

22oz bomber, $3.99. Thanks go out to YonderWanderer for this trade. First off, a cubed ESB makes no sense at all. I don't know what the brewery is trying to achieve here, but what they end up with is a pretty aggressive, relatively unbalanced, American double IPA. Pour has a typical DIPA orange/brown hue, with some chill haze. A nice head with some lace and retention. Aroma has a really raw, organic grassy resin to it. Very piney. Taste is not all that aggressive in terms of hops, BUT it is...

Mata Hari (Wicked Women Series)

Green's, Ponce, Atlanta, GA, USA. 500 mL bottle. $3.99. Very light orange pour that is very clouded - chill haze and some sediment? Medium head, but some nice lace. Quite a sweet, grainy nose. The hop character here is a bit out of whack for me. I get a bitterness that although in check, seems to be a little too big for the malts present. It's harsh in context, not necessarily overly harsh in general. A little dry aftertaste, not quite in line. Smooth in the mouth, carbonation is at a good...

Stoudt’s Scarlet Lady ESB

$4.25, 12 oz bottle, Wild Wing Cafe, Marietta, GA, USA. Love this beer. My favorite style, and this is a really nice American example form a super brewer. Pour gives a lovely clear, rich brown color and an impressive head. Biscuit malts run across the palate making the whole experience a silky smooth, delightful experience. Plenty of body holds the beer together and as it warms it reminds me of a classic English Bitter from back home. Very mild hop presence lends a surprising complexity to...

Heavy Seas – Winter Storm (“Category 5” Ale)

On-tap, Taco Mac, Decatur, GA, USA. $5.00. Nice clarity to the reddish brown pour with a very nice head and good lacing. Cream wisps are left behind on the glass. Aroma and upfront tastes are thinnish but distinguishable as grassy hops. Immediately I think I am drinking an IPA rather than the BA categorized ESB. This beer lacks any kind of significant malt biscuit profile that I would be looking for in an ESB or equivalent. Finishes quite harshly with a burst of fresh hops. Quite green, sharp...

S.O.B. (Special Old Bitter Ale)

22 oz Bomber, Green's, Ponce de Leon, Atlanta, GA, USA. Classic dark brown body with some nice lacing and some good creamy head retention. Mild lacing - good looker. Excellent bitterness. Nice malts and the bitterness is NOT a hop based one, rather a dry roastiness. Finish with some lingering bitter dry character. Quite a high ABV for the style, but that is not a problem, it's hidden very well. Drinkability is high, a very nice beer. Fine example of the style, especially pleasing to be coming...

14’ER ESB

12 oz single, Liquor Barn, Lexington, KY, USA. Yep, does a super job for an American version of the style. Dark orange pour with a lovely head and some first classs lacing. Some chill haze. Very fruity nose with equally fruity initial notes in the taste. Mild hops with malt balance, delicious. Not as dry in the finish as many of the style. Mild acidity, but great balance and really tasty and refreshing feeling. At the right temperature, this is everyday drinking material - very good.

Sawtooth Ale

On tap Taco Mac, Decatur, GA, USA. $5.00. Light, APA mid orange color with a lot of chill haze. Extremely mild citrus hop flavor with some orange or lemon notes. Served way too cold and as a result the aroma is difficult to pick up, but whatever it is it is muted. Somewhat thin in the mouth, fairly non-descript all around. Some lacing (above average) with an odd sweetness to the beer. In my experience a typical Left Hand product - OK, but rather run-of-the-mill.

Bridgeport ESB

Mid-amber pour with a lack of sustainable head and little lacing. Average example, with solid malt and some balance. Sweet biscuit aromas and tastes, and drinkable. Outside of that, not much to report here. Sessionable potential, but a distinct lack of depth for the style. I need a much more complex beer in this style and this is rather bland. Not bad, and better than some, but lacks punch and character. Enjoy the Bridgeport bottle presentations.

HotShot ESB

12 oz bought as a single from Riverside, Chattanooga, TN, USA. Nice color and design on the label. Large, frothy light head with a soapy texture. This is in line with the taste which is also somewhat soapy in nature. Biscuit aroma's come from the amber body with some significant carbonation making this beer an above average looker. Initial sweet malts balanced nicely with a hop ending that is fairly short. Good drinkability, sessionable qualities and everyday potential.

Beast Bitter

Pale, orange lucozade color, with a billowing ivory head. Huge and sweet biscuit malts dominate the nose. The taste is just the same with a classic English bitter feel where the sweet malts dominate around the low ABV and the mild hop presence. Mouthfeel is silky smooth and perfect for the style. The finish allows the mandatory hops to cut in, to give a satisfyingly bitter and lingering end. A very, very nicely put together package. My only criticism is a slightly too dry an ending. It is a...

Duchy Originals Organic English Ale

Super example of the style. Very light, amber pour with great clarity. Head is very bubbly with a little lacing. Average retention. Aroma is typical full of sweet, biscuity malts. Repeated in the taste but with a little larger than expected, dry hop finish. Bitter and dry in the aftertaste too, which is a little surprising. Adds character. Amazingly light and drinkable, a typically soft English Ale. Has session written all over it.

Old Savannah Pale Ale

On tap, Taco Mac, East West Connector, Atlanta, GA, USA. Amber body with a strange lack of head, but sticky lacing! (I don't really understand that, but there you go). Dry and thin Pale Ale with some bitterness and malt balance which increases as the beer warms. When this is served too cold there is a very distinct lack of body. Very average Pale Ale instantly forgettable. Perhaps fresher and nearer to the brewery it may be a different experience. but for now his can safely be avoided without...

Boont ESB

Thick, golden looking beer with viscous appearance and a chill haze. Nice, small rocky head with some sticky lacing. Soapy aroma. Tastes are nicely balanced with some really quite aggressive hops, but balanced with some substantial malt sweetness. Way too hoppy to be an ESB in my opinion, but ignoring the style it is a very nice beer. Full bodied and satisfying, easy to drink and it really feels like you are drinking a substantial beer. High drinkability.

Ellie’s ESB

ESB? I increasingly find that the American version of the ESB is somewhat removed from what I consider to be a true English Bitter - this was another example of that divide. Way too pale to fall into my version of the style, this smelled, drank and looked like a watered down version of an English bitter. It tasted significantly better, but still was bland and lack punch. A dry beer, with some balance, but just rather insipid.

Old Thumper ESA

An attractive clear, copper colored body, with some rising bubbles and decent continued carbonation. Nice, small but perfectly formed dense white head and some really nice lacing with good retention. The aroma seems sweet and fruity. Up front tastes are sweet malts, with a little zesty bitterness, but not really much hop character. The small hop bitterness comes in the finish and lingers a little in the aftertaste, and again ones gets a little bit of a citrus "zing" to finish the drink. A tiny...

Young’s Ram Rod

Rather light, golden appearance with some cloudiness. Nice fluffy head, if somewhat small, with a little lacing and mild carbonation. Malty sweetnes in the aroma. A little dry in the finish, but this reflects the English ESB style nicely. Typical mild flavor which makes this infinitely drinkable. Smooth, sweet, malt and hops in perfect combination that give a lovely aftertaste that makes the bitterness seem really creamy and balanced.

Merlin’s Ale

Surprisingly pale and slightly cloudy appearance with an impressive head and some very nice, sticky lacing. The body is Hefe in color and appearance. Points added for head and lacing, but subtracted for the color. Typical light bodied, low ABV British bitter - except for the color and the taste - way, way too light in both categories for the normal. Light, slightly citrus aroma, but there's really not much there at all. Flavor and tastes are light. Quite dry and light hops are the order of the...

Old Izaak

Nice pour in terms of the head and lacing, but the rather drab brown body is not the most attractive I have ever seen. Aroma is sweet, light malts with a little sugary caramel. Taste starts off really light, with the malts coming trough strong with a lovely rounded sweetness to them, but then has a surprisingly bitter, hop based, dry finish. An unexpected thrill, that adds some really attractive balance to the brew. Refreshing, satisfying and the light body and the relatively low ABV adds to...

Extra Special Ale (ESA)

Utterly ridiculous carbonation/head that took an eternity to subside and actually spoiled the drinking experience. Lacing was good (eventually) after I had got to a point where the head had susided to a degree to make the lacing visible. Golden orange pour with a decent hop profile, but this wasn't really very tasty hoppiness, more of a biting bitterness. Seemed very bitter for bitter's sake which was not very enjoyable. Carbonation and head made a mess of the mouthfeel and the finish was...

Young’s Special London Ale

Utterly brilliant. Paler than expected pour, but with a striking clarity, this beer starts out in the glass by telling the drinker that it is delicious. Add in deep malt and hop aromas and you can start drinking this through your nose. Frothy head with globules of sticky lace adhering to the Young's pint glass that this is displayed in. Perfect hop/malt balance, with more hops coming through in the finish than are present up front. The ending is as smooth as silk. A classic example of the...

Oliver’s ESB

Incredibley simple ESB, and that's its strength. The pour was like a nitro, with plenty of those minute bubbles of carbonation that produce a tight, creamy and lasting head. Simple brown coloration - very clear. Aroma is very muted, as are the initial tastes. This beer benefits a great deal from warming up to room temperature. The cold serving temperature seems to mute everything about the beer. As it warms, the balance of malt and hops beginings to be more evident and intensifies the...

Adnams SSB (Suffolk Special Bitter)

$3.49, Arbor Beverage, Douglasville, GA, USA. Lovely orange pour with a sensible head and some lacing. This beer is everything beers like SN Celebration and Rogue can never be, but would be better off trying to emulate. It's a hoppy and dry bitter, where subtlety is key. You don't get knocked over with a huge whiff of hops in the nose, nor do you get a flavor like you're chewing on actual hops. What you get is a wonderfully crafted beer that is so much more difficult to make than a massive hop...

Sweetwater ESB

Potentially exciting, ultimately very disappointing. This beer is way too lightweight all around. Color is suspisciously golden (macro lager) rather than a darker, bitter color, aroma and taste are way too short and undemanding and the taste is promising for a few seconds and then disappears to absolutely nothing. There are some hops up front and some malt in the background, but as it passes the lips, by the time it gets to the throat, I've forgotten about it. Very weak and watery mouthfeel...

Gem

$2.99, Greens Beverage, Atlanta, GA. Guess what? A GEM! Beautifully balanced, light body with stacks of malty flavor and a crisp, bitter finish. Pours and looks like a cask-conditioned real English Bitter with a great malt aroma and a lightness to the drink that means you could consume a lot of this. The hop balance seems just right, tasty but never overpowering the malty delicateness. Full of character, this kind of brew appears too few and far between. Good value too, better than many higher...

Redhook ESB

Very odd color for an ESB - it's much too plae and yellow, but putside of that, pretty nice. Sharp and clean taste to this increasingly common brew. It has some characteristics of an amber ale. Pours really nicely with a couple of fingers worth of bubbly head, but little or no lacing. Another beer which will benefit from a little warming up. I found it refreshing with a clean, dry aftertaste. Sugared grapefruit in the taste and surprisingly hoppy given the Genesis of this beer. Definitely one...

Fuller’s ESB

12 oz bottle from the $9.99 six pack. Guess what? Real beer. Not as good as drinking it only a few yards away from the brewery in Chiswick from a cask, but a pretty decent alternative out of the resplendent brown bottle that we get here in the US. Fuller's ESB provides the quintessential biscuit malt base with fruit overtones and a gentle kiss of hoppy character that caps the whole thing. The beer produces a great head that lasts and gives some fantastic retention. Definite extra points for...