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McNeill's Extra Special Bitter | McNeill's Brewery

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McNeill's Extra Special BitterMcNeill's Extra Special Bitter
Very Good
118 Ratings
McNeill's Extra Special BitterMcNeill's Extra Special Bitter

Brewed by:
McNeill's Brewery
Vermont, United States

Style: English Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB)

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 5.50%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
None provided.

User Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 118 |  Reviews: 94
Reviews by NJpadreFan:
Photo of NJpadreFan
3.88/5  rDev +2.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

McNeill's- ESB

A- Light copper brown/ caramel orange with a good thick billowy white head. Bottle overflowed upon opening. Nice thick sea foamy lacing.
S- Sweet dry cereal grains, Light butter and caramel note with a dry grassy hop finish.
T- Light smooth caramel malts with hints of dry cracked grains. Dry brittle grassy hops have a sweet buttery touch.
M- Smooth light maltiness with a earthy grassy dry feel and finish.

Overall- Easily enjoyable and drank the bomber without hesitation.

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More User Reviews:
Photo of Murph
4.13/5  rDev +9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Pours a nice dark copper with a creamy off white head that leaves huge rings all the way down the glass. Lovely sweet malt smell that is mixed with some citrusy hop aromas. Starts off with some nice rich malt sweetness. The malt flavor, however, soon gets mugged and left in the gutter by the very american hop profile of this brew. Aggressive citrusy, grapefruit hop flavors (cascade??) are strong in the finish and leave a lingering bitterness on the tongue. Creamy and crisp at the same time this brew is very drinkable. Too bitter for the style, but, style aside, this is one damn tasty bier. A hefty thanks to the Bierman for this one.

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Photo of marc77
4.39/5  rDev +15.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Hazy tawny bronze hue. Thin, soapy off white head manages loose lace. Dark caramel drizzled grapefruit upfront in aroma along with mellow hints of burnt biscuit and faint butterscotch. Fruitiness is mild and pleasant, being comprised of subtle ripe pear and red grape. Enticing and well rounded aromawise. A snap of toffeeish dark caramel sweetness in flavor is quickly superceded by assertive, lingering citrus pith like hop bitterness. Fruitiness, of a fructose rich dried date nature, accentuates the initially overshadowed caramel malt presence, lending balance mid palate. Mild diacetyl surfaces late along with judicious grainy whole wheat biscuit, lending an agreeable bread and butter contrast to the hop bitterness late. Moderately bodied, with the well calculated attenuation and usage of caramel malts facilitating a dextrinous smooth mouthfeel that assuages any hop astringency. Finishes with lingering hints of singed cracker and juicy citrus. A delicious ESB with a firm malt backbone and well hopped American flare. Please send some to Kansas.

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Photo of John
4.4/5  rDev +16.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

What we have here my friends is one highly hopped ESB bordering on being an IPA. I'm not complaining mind you, in fact this stuff's right up my alley. Pleasantly balanced with the right touch of malt. I could down several of these with ease.

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Photo of Bierman9
3.71/5  rDev -2.1%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Outstanding look to this baby.... Lovely amber color, and a HUGE, frothy head! Unreal! Head lasted all day, and left great lacing. Good hop hit in the nose, very grapefruity and pleasant. It felt fairly smooth on the tongue, but lacked a bit in the body department. Decent overall flavors....some malt to start, but mostly a grapefruit flavor, which lingers a while. Fairly straight-laced... not bad....

overall: 3.9
appearance: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | mouthfeel: 3.5 | drinkability: 3.5


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Photo of oberon
3.58/5  rDev -5.5%
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 rastaman
3.97/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Oooooh yeah. Really liked this. Rich and citric floral hoppyness, some caramelly malt. Bitter, citric finish, quite hoppy, i wish i'd had more of this one, really lovely soft mouthfeel aswell. I also wish i could read the last word i wrote in my notes, but i can't, sorry. (Cask -GBBF 03')

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Photo of PatandDavid
4.38/5  rDev +15.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Good stuff. Cloudy and like brewed tea in color. Faint bitter hoppy smell. The head disapated quickly, but still left me with nice lacing at the top of the glass.

Carbonation is very pleasant, feels like millions of tiny bubbles. Medium bodied, with a well rounded mouthfeel...no thin notes here, but not heavy either. Nice base of malt, the finish is dry and slightly hoppy.

This could turn into my new favorite style of beer. One gets a lovely aroma of hops. The taste is bursting with hop goodness, but not of the extreme, in your face style of over hopping. I would get this again, and again, and again. Pat

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Photo of edchicma
4.14/5  rDev +9.2%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A bit too much sediment suspended in the pour...but smell made up for it...floral. hoppy...excellent. Taste was cirusy, hoppy and robust...left that great bitter aftertaste. Mouthfeel was dry and sharp....just what I was looking for. Easy on the drinkability side...mmmm I'm still tasting those hops!

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Photo of MJR
4.33/5  rDev +14.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Purchased in Boston the weekend of the AoBF...

Appearance: Pours crystal clear with a reddish-amber color with a touch of copper on the edges. It's thick tan head has the consistency of freshly whipped cream and holds like a champ. Lacing decorates the glass like cobwebs in an attic that's been neglected for years...

Smell: The aroma is well balanced between the piney, fresh hops and caramelly, sweet malt. There's a hint of a crackery, bready character that only adds to the richness.

Taste: This brew is painfully close in flavor to Fuller's ESB...now that's impressive! The flavor is rich with malty goodness that has caramel and toffee, breadiness, and a wonderful estery fruitiness. Bring it all into balance is a healthy dose of fresh English-variety hops. They're fruity and piney, with a slight hint of apricot. The finish is bitter, with a faintly minerally taste and a small swipe of alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Dry and crisp with a medium mouthfeel. The finish gets even drier with a touch of alcohol. Good stuff...

Drinkability: Damn good! While this is a very well done ESB that I could drink several of, it's amount of hops almost borders on being an English-style IPA. The alcohol on the finish makes me think it's a bit stronger than your average ESB, but it would still make a great session brew.

One random note: this brew's yeast sediment matches anything from Belgium! The yeast chunks are huge!

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Photo of UnionMade
4.15/5  rDev +9.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

The beer pours a brassy amber, a thick, generous foam appearing with a gentle pour. Slight chill haze, mostly clear. The antique white head settles into a thick, even coating, about 1/8" thick. Plenty of lace, sheeting the glass all the way down, with thicker rings of belgian lace. A pile of foam outlasts the beer.
The aroma is fairly well balanced, in favor of the hops. Piney and citric, with a mild grapefruity bite. A bit of herbal earthiness. The malt forms a solid foundation, with a pleasing biscuity, toasty sweetness. A pronounced peachy fruitiness. Some sweet, bready yeast. Faint pear and floral esters add a soft touch to the assertive hopping.
The flavor starts with a subdued toasty malt, a sweet, white bread sort of yeastiness immediately apparent. Slight husky grain. Light peach esteriness floats around the middle, gusted over by a prominent, agressive hopping. Very piney, with a milder citric orange tang and some earthiness. A touch of pear esters towards the end, with a slight hint of lime. The hops create a clean, bitter finish, the malt still present, but supressed. A lightish medium body, carried by gentle, natural carbonation. An easy drinking mouthfeel, with a touch of grainy roughness for a bit of oomph.
Quite an assertive ESB. I'd place this more in the IPA category, with such an assertive, bitter finish. Regardless, it's a great beer, and makes for 22oz of enjoyment. The fruitiness is really awesome, I thought the aroma was just like peaches. Highly recommended for anyone seeking out great Vermont ale.

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Photo of paceyourself
4.23/5  rDev +11.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

The pour from my bomber produced hardly any head but the foggy amber color was enticing. Malty sweetness gets met by a strong citric bitterness. It has a dry finish and is a very drinkable ESB. A ton and i mean a ton of sediment from my last pour of the bomber surprised me. This was my first brew from McNeill's and now i can't wait for my next.

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Photo of UncleJimbo
4.15/5  rDev +9.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

22 oz bomber, purchased at the brewpub.

This ESB poured a hazy, amber color with creamy, white foam that settled to a thin coat which clung and left some lace on the glass. The smell was malty with a hint of yeast. The taste was malty with a dry maltiness. There was a touch of yeast flavor and a very modest hop bitterness blended in. The mouthfeel was dry and malty with medium body and modest carbonation. The malt and hops lingered in the finish. This was a very smooth and easy-drinking ESB.

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Photo of UncleFrank
3.26/5  rDev -14%
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 bewareOFpenguin
4/5  rDev +5.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bitter, indeed. After I uncapped it and poured into a pint glass, the head occupied 3/4 of the glass. This presented a "waiting" problem as I had to wait for it to settle. Nice darker color, and a great burst of hops. If I didn't see the label. I would have thought I was drinking a West Coast beer. Definitely a good beer.

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Photo of Gusler
4.12/5  rDev +8.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Lightly murky deep amber to copper color on the pour, the head cyclopean in size, frothy in texture with the lace so sadly left behind fine clinging sheets. Floral hints up front, malt and quite lemon peel fresh and crisp, a real schnozzle pleaser. Pleasing in its malt sweetness at the start, top middling in feel, finish is spicily hopped, big time carbonation with the aftertaste droughty. "Quaffable", I do like a nice ESB, and this one I "Likes" a lot.

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Photo of TXHops
4.02/5  rDev +6.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

My second McNeill’s brew and now expectations are higher, since the Amber Ale was excellent! The ESB pours the color of strong iced tea with a creamy, sheeting head of foam. The same super-fruity aroma reminiscent of Juicy Fruit that I found in their Amber is in the ESB as well. I love that smell!! It’s an aroma I come across infrequently, but regularly in the craft beer world and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a standard yeast bank yeast. It’s no Wyeast 1056—too much estery goodness…

On first sip, this ESB is the most Fullers-like of any ESB I’ve had and reminds me how annoyed I was that Redhook called the now “Amber” ESB for so many years…. The big caramelly malt flavor is readily available up front (though this offering is fresher than any transatlantic-shipped Fullers I’ve ever tried), followed a freshly-malty, bready roundness. This malt-accented (crystal, it seems) doppelganger even fades into the patented Fullers ESB bitterness—almost astringent, and then not. The best part of the beer is probably the split second between the caramel flavor and the bitterness when that fruitiness suggested in the nose briefly asserts itself before yielding to the bitterness of the hops.

Just as in the Firehouse Amber, I’m able to taste the flavor of the inside of a malted milk ball in the finish of this beer—you know, malt! Yeah, but it’s more than malt—it’s like a malted milk shake, or at least the actual malt powder used to malt up a milkshake. Actually, that’s it—it tastes like dried malt extract for a moment in the tail: very unusual, but not at all unpleasant.

Let me re-iterate: this is the most Fullers-esque ESB I’ve ever tried. Great attention to detail by the folks up in Brattleboro, Vermont. I’ll take a few possible points away for allowing the beer to be so bitter in the finish, and not that hoppy. The hops are definitely present, but the finish settles into a one-dimensional bitterness, just like McNeill’s Firehouse Amber. Personally, I’d prefer more hoppiness and less mouth-corner-lingering bitterness. Still, this was a tremendous ESB and have I mentioned that it tastes like Fullers? Just a little less caramelly…

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Photo of mschofield
4.27/5  rDev +12.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pours a hazy red-amber with a one finger tan head, leaves thick sticky webs of lacing.
Great floral aroma, a fruit note is introduced when the yeast is swirled and added.
Toasted bread, biscuit, floral and grapefruit notes in the taste.
Strong bitterness for an ESB - very good.
Medium bodied, smooth, great body and feel, good session beer

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Photo of francisweizen
4.33/5  rDev +14.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Fresh from the brewery bomber. A grainy biege/tan appearance with an off-white head. The aroma screams fresh biscuity malts, and lovely floral hops from the English countryside. The taste is a nice biscuity malt bonanza up front, with some herbal/floral hops in the middle and a nice boozy flash of spiciness in the finish. The mouthfeel is quite heavy...yet creamy and smooth. The drinkability is excellent as well. One of the best US versions of this style....this one is done right.

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Photo of purplehops
4.38/5  rDev +15.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

McNeill's ESB pours a hazy deep copper red with a light tan head that is volcanic and frothy. It doesn't really leave lace on the glass it leaves a coating on the glass. Aroma is a smack of floral hops followed by a big malt nose and a hint of citrus. Taste starts with assertive caramel and pale malt flavors and then a good dose of spicy and citrus hops. This is followed by apple, mace, and pear flavors blending with the sweet malt and citrus hop flavors. The finish is slightly dry while maintaining a great balance of malt sweetness and hop bitterness with citrus flavors. Aftertaste is a desire for more. A lingering citrus and pale malt blend with a wee bit of pucker. Mouthfeel is refreshingly bitter with a medium to medium-heavy body and all the carbonation you could ever want.
Overall a great bitter. Hoppy, malty, thirst quenching, and it taste great! What more could you want. One of Vermont's best.

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Photo of OatmattStout
3.87/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Big fluffy head which was over the top. A bit to much priming sugar in this one or maybe poor storage during its travel.

Color was cloudy yellow burnt orange.

Nose was sweet malts with a nice hint of hop

taste was good very nice malt fruit sweetness and swear there is a slight Cinnamon undertone in this one. good juicy hops that are resinous in the after taste.

Well put together brew with very rustic flavor profile.

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Photo of rabidawg
4.6/5  rDev +21.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

What a great ESB. Pours a slightly hazy copper with a small white head. Moderately carbonated. Laces well. Aroma is surprisingly citrus-filled, but in a gentle way. Sweet caramel malt and a toasty, bread crust smell comes through as well. Taste is mind-blowing. Soft in the mouth initially, with prickling carbonation coming through only after a few seconds. Slightly sweet up front; herbal and citrus hops in the middle. Finishes crisp and dry, with lingering English hop flavour and a nice yeasty tone. Excellent.

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Photo of scottum
4.68/5  rDev +23.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Pours a brown amber with a nice head. Bitter and hoppy. Nice breadlike malt balance. Better on cask, but the bottled version is damn fine. My favorite ESB. A very solid English Style Extra Special Bitter. Much better than Fullers. This one is actually bitter. Good mouthfeel. Makes ya want more and more.

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Photo of waughbrew
2.99/5  rDev -21.1%
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 kennyo
3.57/5  rDev -5.8%
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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McNeill's Extra Special Bitter from McNeill's Brewery
Beer rating: 3.79 out of 5 with 118 ratings