Extra Strong / Special Bitter

Photo courtesy of Serious Eats.

Photo courtesy of Serious Eats.

Extra special or strong bitter, also known as an English-style pale ale, is one of three types of bitters, the other two being standard bitter and special or premium bitter. The three styles are separated by alcohol percentage with the standard bitter having a 3% abv, premium bitter a 3.5-4.5%, and extra special bitter has 4.6-6% abv.

Its golden appearance might remind you of a lager, but with a hoppy, malty aroma, and a caramel component, ESBs are far from a watery lager. However, it does have a slightly floral style that should be easy to drink, and you’ll want to have several pints in your local watering hole.

In 1642, the town of Coke was the first to use dry roasted malt for beer. The term “pale ale” wasn’t commonly used until 1703 to describe these beers, but by the 1830’s, the term “bitter” and “pale ale” were synonymous. Breweries made “pale ales” but customers would call them “bitter” thanks to its bitter hoppy taste. Today, you’re much more likely to find pale ales on the shelves, but if you go for a cask beer, expect to ask for a bitter.

Despite its name, ESBs aren’t bitter, but rather a balance between alcohol, hops, and malt. The next time someone asks for a pint of bitters pull a fresh pint. But if you’re a home and they want a pint of bitters, stomp him like a Fruit of the Loom grape before offering him a pale ale.