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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

114 Ratings
no score

(send 'em beer!)
Ratings: 114
Reviews: 93
rAvg: 3.8
pDev: 11.84%
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: Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 114 | Reviews: 93 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of tempest
2.55/5  rDev -32.9%
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.

Photo of Kerin
2.62/5  rDev -31.1%
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.

Photo of jcalabre
2.64/5  rDev -30.5%
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

Photo of Reagan1984
2.66/5  rDev -30%
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.

Photo of sammy806
2.75/5  rDev -27.6%

Photo of BeerTruth
2.88/5  rDev -24.2%
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.

Photo of waughbrew
2.99/5  rDev -21.3%
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.

Photo of OriolesFan1008
3/5  rDev -21.1%

Photo of RoryOMoore
3/5  rDev -21.1%

Photo of HRamz3
3/5  rDev -21.1%

Photo of LilBeerDoctor
3.06/5  rDev -19.5%
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.

Photo of claspada
3.19/5  rDev -16.1%
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.

Photo of djrn2
3.25/5  rDev -14.5%

Photo of UncleFrank
3.26/5  rDev -14.2%
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.

Photo of ybnorml
3.29/5  rDev -13.4%
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.

Photo of merlin48
3.34/5  rDev -12.1%
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.

Photo of flexabull
3.34/5  rDev -12.1%
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!

Photo of Naugros
3.36/5  rDev -11.6%
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.

Photo of Gmann
3.5/5  rDev -7.9%
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.

Photo of Noelito76
3.5/5  rDev -7.9%

Photo of patrick802
3.5/5  rDev -7.9%

Photo of MattyMcGovern
3.5/5  rDev -7.9%

Photo of jaxon53
3.5/5  rDev -7.9%

Photo of bigred89
3.5/5  rDev -7.9%

Photo of albern
3.5/5  rDev -7.9%
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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McNeill's Extra Special Bitter from McNeill's Brewery
85 out of 100 based on 114 ratings.