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McNeill's Extra Special Bitter - McNeill's Brewery

Not Rated.
McNeill's Extra Special BitterMcNeill's Extra Special Bitter

Educational use only; do not reuse.
very good

93 Reviews
no score

(Send Samples)
Reviews: 93
Hads: 116
Avg: 3.81
pDev: 11.81%
Wants: 3
Gots: 3 | FT: 0
Brewed by:
McNeill's Brewery
Vermont, United States

Style | ABV
Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB) |  5.50% ABV

Availability: Year-round

Notes & Commercial Description:
Beer added by: Bierman9 on 09-03-2001

No notes at this time.
Beer: Reviews & Ratings
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Reviews: 93 | Hads: 116
Photo of tempest
2.55/5  rDev -33.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 2 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 1

Picked up a bomber at Abe's Cold Beer for $4.25 and the label tells me this beer is best by the end of October. Seeing this, I assumed I'd have a fresh and tasty beer. This was not the case.

The initial aroma reminded me of Sam Adams Boston Lager for the mix of toffee and spicy hops. Unfortunately, there's a huge, earthy plastic flavor that ruins the beer. There's still a tasty hop finish with a mix of citrus and herbal notes, but the infection, or whatever is going wrong here, has ruined the beer. Drain pour.

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Photo of Kerin
2.62/5  rDev -31.2%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 1.5 | overall: 2

This beer is not my favourite. It's labeled as an ESB, but, um, it isn't. A fair amount of hops - it's hoppier than SNPA, and in spite of being called an ESB it has predominantly American-tasting hops. I think I'm detecting a fair portion of Nugget, Cascade and (I think) Newport hops, none of which are remotely English in profile. There's no earthiness here, and the only thing bitter-ey about this is the diacetyl... which is nuts. So, uh:

Appearance: Slightly below average. It'd be fine for an amber, but it's miles away from being pale. Cloudy, there's an insane amount of sediment in the bottle (and this is coming from a homebrewer.)

Taste: Not terrible, not great. This tastes like an aggressively average American pale ale, and the only distinctive thing about it is the elevated bitterness. No malt profile to speak of save a brief, well-rounded sweet tang at the end of the sip that gives way smoothly to...

Mouthfeel: There is so much diacetyl here I feel like I'm drinking this out of a theater popcorn box. The first couple mouthfuls were novel but by the end of the glass it's getting to be a Goddamn chore. I've had several bitters with significant diacetyl where it worked, but they all had less than this - and they also had less hop bitterness, and the flavor was therefore better integrated with the beer.

Overall, this is a disappointing beer - doubly so because a good ESB is so hard to find in the USA. I'll admit that I do have a very... defined idea of what an ESB should taste like (Fuller's) but this is so far outside the style that I don't know what they were thinking. Marketed as a Pale I'd probably bump the taste and overall scores up half a point apiece, but this mosaic of attributes doesn't work no matter how they're described. Pass, and I would have to think about it if someone offered me one.

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Photo of jcalabre
2.64/5  rDev -30.7%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

Split this with herbjones at a mini southern california get together. This was a dissappointing brew. It's not an ESB. It's more like a west coast IPA. Hoppy, Hoppy, Hoppy. No Malts at all. It's hazy golden golored with a huge hop aroma. I'd rate it higher if it were supposed to be an IPA

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Photo of Reagan1984
2.66/5  rDev -30.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

Replacing a lost review from the data crash...

Sorry it won't be as detailed. Just the highlights.

Visual - Orange/Amber Good Clarity, no visible carbonation. Fairly aggressive, creamy head. Nice Lacing

Aroma - Somewhat floral. Lemon/Citrus Toasted Malts.

Flavor - Much more lemon citrus than I had imagined. Light toasted malts, bread. Slight yeast tone.

MF - Medium/light Body. Mild carbonation.

Drinkability - Hop profile/Lemon nature diminishes drinkability a bit.

Not sure I'd visit this beer again.

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Photo of BeerTruth
2.88/5  rDev -24.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

22 oz. bottle poured into a nonic.

Pours a clear copper hue with a very nice three finger fluffy white head that takes its time to die down. Stickiness is pretty good, spotty here and there. Smell is very light on the hops and light on the malt. Some woody earth notes blend well with a nutty aroma. Taste is a bit bland. Watered down caramel malt lacking hops. Very plain flavor; not special, not strong, not bitter. Mouthfeel is light bodied with a good amount of carbonation. Drinkability does ok since it's almost like water. Really not much going on with this beer, lacks a lot of flavor.

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Photo of waughbrew
2.99/5  rDev -21.5%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.5

Very hazy rust color, off-white head slowly settles to a patchy covering and thick lace. Once the bottom quarter of the bottle is reached, huge yeast chunks come out. Pitchable. Strong grapefruit hop aroma dominates but bready malts are there backing it up. Taste is big dirty fruity hops with biscuity malts trying to balance, but not succeeding. Fruity esters try to meld with the hops, but the hops still poke out too much. Finish is lingering resiny sting, some sugary coating and dirt from the hops. I still can't place it, but McNeill's beer often has that dirty hops character. It is a mix between earthiness and sting I guess, but it comes off to me as dirty (not necessarily a bad thing). Feel is a little thin and very smooth. Made for drinking a good amount of. Decent beer. Definitely reminds me of homebrew with mediocre results.

DRINK WARM! This beer tasted pretty bad when chilled. I strongly suggest letting it get to cellar temp or warmer before drinking.

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Photo of LilBeerDoctor
3.06/5  rDev -19.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Bottle. Pours a clear orange with a HUGE foamy white head. Aroma of sweet light malts, floral hops. Flavor is sweet and puckering up front with a fruity (like fruit punch) finish. Slightly astringent with malty cereal graininess. I'm not really a fan of the McNeills house flavor, which seems to be present in all their beers. This isn't too bad, but it isn't too good either.

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Photo of claspada
3.19/5  rDev -16.3%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 3

Pours a somewhat hazed burnt orange with a lage fluffy white head that held clinging to the glass that never really settled. Really overcarbonated to be honest, especially for an English style beer that are typically served on cask.

Aromas begin with light caramel and some toasted bread in the nose, light fruity yeast smells as well.

The tastes begin with light yeasty fruit with some caramel sweetness. It has a light, pale and crystal malt flavor; dry with a touch of caramel sweetness. The hop character is quite good. It has a refreshing floral character that compliments the simple malt bill.

Mouthfeel is affected by the over-carbonation here once again. Too bubbly and lively for the style. I would much rather have a still ESB than one this heavily carbonated.

Overall I had heard good things about this beer but the unbalanced mouthfeel and uninspired flavor profile just didn't do it for me. I like more toasted bready malts and earthy hops with gentle carbonation, where this was more cracker malty and citrus/floral hopped. Too much of an American "interpretation" for my liking.

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Photo of UncleFrank
3.26/5  rDev -14.4%
look: 3 | smell: 2 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Serving was a 22 oz bottle from the brewery.
The look is medium dark with a thin head. The aroma is wine like. Not hoppy, not malty, just some alcohol, which should not be there. The taste took my fears away though as a caramel and hops mixed and danced around and battled with the hops being victorious. But the mouthfeel was thinner than I would have liked. I could drink more of this, and will, but not as an ESB.

I must confess I was not impressed by this beer as much as I have been with others, or as much as others who have reviewed it. An ESB will often be estery and somewhat higher in alcohol, but not hugely so. ESB is the "Special occasion beer" It's the beer you serve at your daughter's wedding rather than the one you swill at the pub on the way home from work. A great example is Old Thumper. The McNeil's though, to me, is a pub beer. A very good pub beer, but not to the levels I expected from McNeil's.

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Photo of ybnorml
3.29/5  rDev -13.6%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

A hazey amber ale. Next to no head at all (what little there was, was off white). The aroma was lightly malty with a nice fruity hop character. No carbonation detractes from the taste. The flavor has both a sweet and a toasted malt character followed by a smooth hop finish.

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Photo of merlin48
3.34/5  rDev -12.3%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Bomber pours a dirty looking golden brown body with a small beige head. Lots of suspended particles in the body and sediment in the bottom of the glass. Wispy lacing caps an appearance that is lacking for an ESB.

Aroma has floral and spicy hops, backed by bready notes of toasted caramel.

Medium body and carbonation.

Taste is nicely balanced. Spicy and floral hop bitterness all the way through. Toasty caramel and some toffee offer a solid malty balance. A bit hoppy for the style.

Decent ESB, but not one I would want again. I've tried several McNeill's bombers that have been on the shelves of Knoxville's finer beer stores but just haven't been overly impressed.

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Photo of flexabull
3.34/5  rDev -12.3%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Beer pours with a huge head from the bottle. Cloudy amber color, not the prettiest beer to look at.

Aromas are of caramel malts, and some sweet hard candies.

Taste is a bit dull but not offensive at all. Some yeast flavors, sun tea, burnt caramel malts, and a slight mineral hop finish.

Mouthfeel is above average. Smooth and a bit supple.

Nothing special here. I wouldn't turn one down, but I wouldn't seek this out either.

Thanks again for the bottle cburian!

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Photo of Naugros
3.36/5  rDev -11.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Reviewing against the style shows some flaws in this beer...or at least this batch of it which is shown on the bottle as viable until the end of July.

The head is spectacular, taking up half the pint glass with a really tight bead to it and exceptional lacing left behind in clumps. Sadly, the beer is really hazy to the point of being opaque. This is a knock against the style.

The aroma smacks of earthy hops, but their aspect is changed by the sulfuric smell, turning the overall sense vegetal...almost like Brussel sprouts. Sulfur is allowable, but not at this level and there are no discernible esters...fruity or otherwise. The malts are there and are more like treacle than caramel.

The taste is sort of similar to the smell with less sulfur (falling more in line with what is allowable), which allows the hops to be less vegetal, but still not pleasant to my palate. The malts do come through more as caramel now and do an admirable job of keeping the bitterness from becoming overwhelming.

This finishes dry and with a bit of lingering bitterness. The body is medium.

I'm really not fond of the variety or varieties of hops used here. And it's not because I'm the typical American that only enjoys the piny/citrus flavored ones. Reading some of the other reviews, a completely different hops sense was detected, so perhaps this bottle oxidized. I'm not all that fond of this style to begin with, but this is not even close to my favorite example of an ESB. I'll need to pick up more of McNeill's stuff to get a better handle on what this brewery is all about.

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Photo of Gmann
3.5/5  rDev -8.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Pours a hazy honey brown color with a creamy tan head that settles into a solid cap. The aroma is of a floral hop with some honey and light caramel notes. The taste is sweet with honey and light caramel and some fruity flavors, which is followed by a floral and light citrus hop. Substantial bready malt. Quite hoppy for an ESB, almost like a dirty AIPA. Moderate to full body with tingly carbonation, not too strong. Finishes with a grassy bitterness. The ESB is good but I didn't find any particular quality great. There are no bad characteristics and this is well made but it didn't wow me.

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Photo of albern
3.5/5  rDev -8.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

This is a good beer, but I have to admit a tad disappointing. The beer pours a coppery amber color with a thick and foamy head, a touch of lacing, and excellent retention. It's a good looking beer for sure. The nose is spicy hops, coriander, maybe some clove, maybe some florals, a bit of caramel, and a background of sweetish malt.

The beer is quite boozy and I would have suspected a much higher ABV. There is also a very prickly mouthfeel that makes it hard to take more than small sips. The taste is a boozy caramel, a liqueur like slightly rum soaked fruitiness, sweet caramelized malts, maybe a touch of brown sugar. The taste isn't overly complex, but I can't get beyond what seems like a rather high ABV beer that just isn't.

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Photo of Flounder57
3.53/5  rDev -7.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

I finally had the chance to purchase this bomber at Atlas in Quincy. I poured the beer into an English style pint glass.

Appearance: The beer is an copper/dark amber color. The two fingerthick foamy head is formed and goes down to a small head. This will lead to a considerable amount of lacing. There is also a little bit of carbonation towards the top of the glass.

Smell: There is a sweet malty scent with some hints of citrus and toast.

Taste: Malty, citrusy, and a bit of bitterness.

Mouthfeel: There is definitely some nice carbonation that tingles throughout my whole mouthm and the beer goes down smoothly.

Drinkability: This is an easy drinking beer. I could have another, but couldn't see myself drinking a sixer of these if they were available. Very decent beer to add to my list.

Overall, I was very pleasantly suprised by this brew being that its my first from mcneils. I would buy this beer along with my other bitter IPA's. I good compliment to the mixture of beers I purchase every once in a while.

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Photo of Nipitato
3.55/5  rDev -6.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Picked up a bomber at Julio's Liquors in Westborough, MA.

A: Deep copper. Opaque. Looks thick and viscous. Thin off white head. No visible carbonation. Visible yeast sediment.

S: Nice fruity hoppy aroma. Fruity hops smell of apple and citrus. Maybe apple aroma is an ester? Minimal lingering sweet malt aroma.

T: Balance of taste is hops as to be expected. Hop flavor is kind of flat, rough, and not smooth. Hop flavor is almost "woody". Not nearly enough malt to back up the high hop flavor. Finish is not dry.

MF: Aggressively carbonated. Medium filling mouthfeel.

D: Too hoppy for a traditional ESB and not balanced enough. Definitely drinkable though.

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Photo of u2carew
3.57/5  rDev -6.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

22oz Bomber consumed on 9/23/09.
A) Pours with a crazy active head - a bit out of control - definitely over-carbonated. The lacing creamy and sticky. Hazy. copper in color.
S) Floral. Orange. Light grapefruit.
T) Definitely bitter with a good balance of malty sweetness. Notes of orange and lemon. Earthy hop notes linger in the aftertaste.
M) Body is just shy of medium and feels a little thin. Fizzy.
D) A decent bitter but over carbonated. Waiting for the foam to settle is no fun.

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Photo of kennyo
3.57/5  rDev -6.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Now this is a good McNeills beer, as compared to my previous trashing of Pay Day

Amber color with the right amount of carbonation, pours with a nice white frothy head that dissapates fairly quickly. Aroma is hops, stickiness. Flavor has malt, light hop bitterness, kind of dry finish on the back of the tounge. Very drinkable, would like to try this on tap at the brewery.

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Photo of oberon
3.58/5  rDev -6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Poured into a imperial pint glass a somewhat hazed burnt orange with a lage fluffy white head that held clinging to the glass,and never really settled.Light caramel and some toasted bread in the nose,light fruity malt lingered.Fruity on the palate with some caramel sweetness,another ESB that is light in the hops.I like a good ESB,but I like one with a hop profile,this just doesnt have enough of one for me.

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Photo of Sammy
3.6/5  rDev -5.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Pours a nice peachy golden with some head. Significant English hop aroma.It was a nice bitter, grapefruity modified by carmel, with a bit of a background edge. More bitter than balanced. FIne drinking but not the best bitter I have tried.
Picked it up in August, but did not notice it expired in September, but I do not think that would make a significant impact.

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Photo of BigPlay1824
3.62/5  rDev -5%
look: 5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Served in a pilsner glass

A: pours a deel golden/copper color that is cloudy with plenty of floating yeast bits. Has a thick foamy head that is a nice milky white. Leave considerable amount of lacing

S: strong wheat scent with nice slight fruit citrusy notes

T: very pleasant wheat taste brew with citrus notes and what I believe may be pepper? Not sure but something slightly spicy is there

M: nice carbonation tingle and leave a nice coating on the tongue that leaves a nice aftertaste

D: nice drinking brew. Perhaps a bit too strong of a bite on the tongue but that's only if I'm looking for something to complain about

Overall, I was very pleasantly suprised by this brew being that its my first from mcneils. May have really turned my opinion of esbs towards the positive. Very nice and highly recommended

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Photo of philipquarles
3.65/5  rDev -4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

22oz bottle. Pours cloudy dark copper with a rocky, grey-tinged head that leaves nice lacing. Really interesting aroma with plenty of bubblegum and a lot of floral character. Definite hop presence, with a faint soapy notes that I find a lot in west-coast varietals. The same thing shows up in the taste, along with a crisp bitterness. Again, quite floral, and with some light fruit here. The hops are clearly at the center of this one. Kind of disappointed that there isn't much lightly toasty malt, as I expected to find. Light body. A decent beer, but it's not a very good portrayal of a typical ESB...the "bitter" is taken a bit too literally.

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Photo of tai4ji2x
3.68/5  rDev -3.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

22oz bomber. no date. tasted in late may 2009.

classic clear copper amber (but lots of sediment to decant). almost over-active head, an enormous 5-fingers tall, off-white, foamy, and slowly recedes to meringue, then a constant 1-finger layer replenished w each sip. great puffy lacing.

aroma: mildly pine and citrus rind, plus more classic english hops as well, and together the hops are resinous. caramelized, toasted malt underneath, w apple juice esters and faint diacetyl.

taste: hopping more prominent, with american/english combo again, but definitely lots more pine and citrus rind. moderate bitterness, resins lingering along with light, fruity acidity and mild diacetyl. ok, but just a little "weird", almost cloying. toasty caramelized malt and fruit esters are a bit overpowered as a result.

medium body, somewhat smooth, with some resins and acidity, as the resins linger w diacetyl, giving a "weird" character again. moderate carbonation is prickly, but doesn't really seem to wash away any of that "cloying" or "weird" character.

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Photo of thekevlarkid
3.69/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Sampled on cask at the brewery. Two fingers of tan head topped my glass of copper colored ale. Displayed wonderful retention and great lacing too. Hoppy aromas with some caramel malt beneath. The flavors were less well defined, bitter hops, biscuity malts and an iced tea like quality. More bitter than anything else and off-balance in my opinion. Medium bodied and, light carbonation and very smooth (which probably has to be chalked up to the casking). Drinkable, yes but not much better than some of the other famous bitters out there (Redhook, for example).

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McNeill's Extra Special Bitter from McNeill's Brewery
86 out of 100 based on 93 ratings.