Bitter Brewer | Surly Brewing Company

445 Reviews
Bitter BrewerBitter Brewer

Brewed by:
Surly Brewing Company
Minnesota, United States

Style: English Bitter

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 4.00%

Availability: Spring

Notes / Commercial Description:
Brewed with a significant portion of Simpsons Golden Promise, the malt character comes across as toasty, and the flaked oats provide some additional mouthfeel to offset the bitterness. The hops provide an orange aroma and flavor, almost like marmalade. The current signature hop is Mandarina Bavaria, a new aromatic varietal coming out of Germany that has distinct tangerine and orange-like notes.

Added by BeerAdvocate on 05-05-2007

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Reviews: 445 | Ratings: 1,087
Photo of SaintMarysGirl
1.82/5  rDev -54.7%
look: 2 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 1 | feel: 3 | overall: 2

No head at all has a grassy smell analyte mouthful nonalcoholic or heat when it goes down bitter taste you can also taste the hop more than you can taste the mall it's got this fresh hop fail flavored as well as Woody and spice and very low carbonation

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Photo of MNAle
2.36/5  rDev -41.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.5

This is an updated review of the 2015 version of Bitter Brewer. I had previously only done a rating for this beer. This beer has been a favorite for several years, but this year's example is hugely disappointing. No, not just disappointing; it is a major departure in the thin hop water direction of session ales. I've put my former numerical ratings below for anyone who is interested. My current ratings are what is reflected in this review. I sincerely hope Surly reconsiders their direction for this beer.

Hazy orange. White head, dissipates quickly, little/no lacing. Faint somewhat citrusy aroma. If the dry hopping was for aroma, it didn't do much. Initial taste is mild, transitioning to a very bitter, piney, orangy, borderline unpleasant aftertaste that hangs around much too long. So long, in fact, the astringent bitterness is still there long after I would like to take another drink. Mouth feel is thin, watery. Overall, this is a significant step backwards for what used to be one of my favorites. I'm unlikely to buy it again.

Old rating, with my notes (I did not enter these notes as a review here; they're just my notes):
A bit too high in American hopiness to be a true English-style bitter, but otherwise, it is reasonably faithful to the style. My 2nd favorite local bitter, and overall it has the advantage of not being an ESB. I wish this was a year-round offering from Surly.

L: 3
S: 4
T: 4
F: 3
O: 4.25

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Photo of johnnytfresh245
2.4/5  rDev -40.3%
look: 4 | smell: 1.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 3

Poured this beer from the can into a glass and was a liked the light color of the beer. I didn't like the smell and maybe next time I'll just keep it in the can. It smelled like citrus but not hop citrus, but as if there were some additions other than hops to aid in the citrus-ness. I was also a little put off by the body. I know this is a light beer but it feel really dry to me. Overall this is not something that I would seek out

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Photo of Jammies
2.53/5  rDev -37.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

A- Pours a golden orange with about an inch of foam. Incredible retention and ok lacing

S- sweet and hoppy. Some slight citrus and floral notes

T-watery and light, not much flavor

M- not much body, thin and watery

O- so confused. It smelled terrific, looked great, and tasted like flavored water. Extremely disappointed

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Photo of jrallen34
2.8/5  rDev -30.3%
look: 2.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

On tap into 4oz tasting tulip...Poured a light, clear and watery copper with light head that doesn't last...The aroma and taste to me are super generic versions of an English ipa. Sugar and caramel come through mostly with watery metallic hops on the back. The feel is too watery. Surly mostly nails it, but to me this is a macro versions attempt at an esb.

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Photo of Strix
2.84/5  rDev -29.4%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.75

Murky light orange, decent initial head that eventually vanishes with no trace.

Kind of a vague pine and marmalade scent

Marmalade, grain, tea, pine. Kind of slow to develop, not much going on, but a dry bitter finish.

Medium mouthfeel, lightly carbonated.

Part of my problem is probably that this isn't my favorite style. I just wasn't digging the flavor profile here, nothing going on when it's in my mouth, then a somewhat metallic aftertaste. I've had many fine brews from Surly, probably won't be back to this one.

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Photo of edbeered
2.98/5  rDev -25.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

I had high hopes for this beer. While I've never cared much for it on tap, I hoped that the cask version would be better(take for example the Summit IPA, which is terrific on cask, but the cold version leaves me, well, cold). This beer(disapointingly) is just a warmer version of the cold Bitter Brewer. Served on cask, this pours a hazy amber color, with a frothy white head and ample lacing on the glass. The smell is malty with a hint of lemon. The lemon smell is an overwhelming flavor in the beer. It's hard to taste much else, although there is a bready malty flavor as well. The mouthfeel is rich(typical of Surly brews). There is just too much lemon flavor in this beer for me to appreciate it. This is a rare misfire for an otherwise terrific brewery.

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Photo of StoneTSR
2.98/5  rDev -25.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

APPEARANCE: Light gold in color with a nice half-finger of head foaming up on top. The lacing is pretty good, covering about 50% of the back of the glass. Good looking beer.

SMELL: Very hoppy on the nose for an English Bitter, smalls more like an APA or IPA; grass, pine, a hint of citrus.

TASTE: Wow, A LOT of bread on this one. Again, this is extraordinarily bitter by English Bitter standard. A big, grassy hop character defines the bitterness along with some citrus to tie it together. As the glass warms a lot more of the fruitiness of a typical Bitter comes through.

MOUTHFEEL: Bitter Brewer is very light bodied (too thin for my tastes) and very dry. The carbonation is very prickly.

OVERALL: This is a nice Session Pale Ale, but in terms of ratings it as a Bitter I have to give it lower marks. The carbonation is too much and the hop bitterness goes way beyond “assertive”, it is downright intense. Will I drink this one again, for sure, but it isn’t really an English Bitter.

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Photo of steve8robin
2.99/5  rDev -25.6%
look: 5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Extra in a trade...

A: Perfect. Golden copper with a thick white head that slowly fades.

S: Smells super hoppy. Super grassy with grapefruit.

T: Super hoppy and grassy. Not much else going on in this brew.

M: Not bad. Somewhat refreshing.

D: Not very smooth. Hops really overpower this brew.

All in all, not being a super hop guy, this brew did not do much for me. Too much of that grapefruit / grassy flavor. If you like it dry and hoppy, this is definitely a brew to try. If you like malts and sweets, then avoid this beer.

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Photo of wisrarebeer
3.03/5  rDev -24.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

On tap at Prachna's.

A: good light brown color
S: mild to medium, with light roasted malt and some grapefruit
T: good, nice malt with somewhat mild grapefruit finish, a bit unusual after-taste (acrid, almost sour), off-taste?, also a bit watered down
M & D: average

I've had BB recently in a can and it was much better overall. I'm wondering if the barrel was just older.

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Photo of Huhzubendah
3.06/5  rDev -23.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Can. Hazy, light orange body with an inch plus of white head. Aromas of citrus, earthy hops, pine, alcohol. Bitter indeed. Resinous, earthy hops. Light, even thin, bodied with aggressive bitterness, peaking mid to late palate. Not the easy drinking, session beer renowned in England.

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Photo of LilBeerDoctor
3.06/5  rDev -23.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Can at PPRBSG09. Pours a clear orange with a white head. Aroma of orange juice, citrus, melon, and iced tea. Flavor is slightly watery with melon and citrus notes. It's ok, but kinda meh.

Had this again a few weeks later and had the same impression.

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Photo of ballenc
3.14/5  rDev -21.9%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

This English Bitter pours a golden-tinted orange color with a smaller, one-finger white head that quickly dissipates leaving very littel lacing.

As for aroma, I don't pick up much of anything - what little I smell is primarily a malty, bread-like yeast nose mixed in with faint citrus notes but overall the aroma of this beer is a bit of a disappointment.

The taste of this beer is definitely balanced yet I am again a bit disappointed that nothing of note stands out. The hoppiness of this beer can be described as mild (at best). Mainly, much like the aroma, the taste is predominantly biscuit-like malt and bready yeast but even those are not overly memorable. Any note of citrus is limited to the front end and does not linger at all.

This is a relativley light-to-medium bodied beer wth a modest about of carbonation. Overall, the beer is somewhat dry on the tongue and has a nice, clean finish.

Definitely a session beer that has a low ABV and may be better on a hot summer day. Overall, I prefer beers with at least one quality that is memorable. This beer doesn't do it for me. I look forward to Suryly's Cynic Ale which I think is one of their better (if under appreciated) beers. While this isn't a beer I plan on drinking much of, I do think it is a nice, easy drinking local brew that will appeal to some beer drinkers who are turned off by some of the bolder brews from Surly.

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Photo of harrymel
3.2/5  rDev -20.4%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Canned 28JUL11 A: pours orange with an ephemeral foam cap finishing in a central dome over this excellently clarified beer. No lace. (3) S: Some citric hops over a malty base layer. The malts may be a hint oxidized and it shows with a cardboard character. (3) T: Lots of pale malts and some nice sweetness from the oats give this a rural taste. Subtle and simple. (3.5) M: Thin with hi carb. The carb is sharp and a little too much for the body. Semi dry finish. (3) O: I could take it or leave it. I make a mild ale actually that is similar to this. I wouldn’t call it world class, but certainly sessionable. (3)

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Photo of cpetrone84
3.22/5  rDev -19.9%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Pours a deep transparent amber orange with a large bubbled cream colored head. The nose is very hoppy, orange peel and leafy hop with a bit of stale biscuity bread up front and notes of tea. The flavor is less hoppy and has a bit of an empty finish, very tea like, some herbal leafy hops, with some underlying biscuit. Thin body, well carbonated, lacks depth in finish.

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Photo of amphion1065
3.22/5  rDev -19.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

Thanks to mashmaster for sending a few of these my way. Can from 6/6/11 poured into a tulip.

Bitter Brewer pours an orange, coppery gold. It's very nearly clear, with a one-finger white head that quickly dissipates.

Quite an aroma on this one. I can detect hops, with a pronounced citrus smell. The hop profile is secondary to the malt backbone, which is rich with a caramel, almost toffee-like sweetness.

There's a muted hop presence in the taste, with a little accompanying bitterness. Some honey, but this doesn't quite deliver on the malt's aromatic promise. It almost seems like something's missing here - a little flavor, a little more character.

It's tough to dock this beer for being too thin, but it could stand a little more carbonation. The feel is a little dull.

Eminently drinkable, but ultimately unexciting. I have a feeling this would have been a dramatically different beer in June, and I imagine that it's great on cask. For now, I can't see myself seeking out another can.

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Photo of AgentZero
3.24/5  rDev -19.4%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A - Copper colored beer with not much of a head, no real retention on it. Looked a bit watery.

S - Smells like an english, with english malts, caramel and a bit of sugar. Some sort of odd vinegar quality to it.

T - Tastes alright, but there is definately a little bit of vinegarness here. English malts and slightly metalic.

M - Light bodied, moderate carbonation.

D - It's semi-easy to drink, but should be easier at 4%.

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Photo of BeerGeek50
3.25/5  rDev -19.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Pale yellow but a bit hazy pour. Thin white head. Citrus, pineapple, almost candied citrus on the nose. Flavor is orangey/grapefruit. A bit odd. Not what I was expecting.

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Photo of BeerFMAndy
3.28/5  rDev -18.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 4.5

16 oz can poured into an imperial pint. 4% ABV, IUB - 37, no date.

Thanks to beerwolf77 for this can of Surly.

A - A vigorous pour from the can leaves the brew a clear golden amber honey color in the glass. Motionless, there seems to be no carbonation feeding the dying off-white head. It started out at two fingers but depleted to a wispy layer with little lace.

S - For an English Bitter, Bitter Brewer sure smells like a massive load of American hops is in it. Pine comes first and foremost followed by resin and a little citrus. Given time, the American hops seem to mellow slightly allowing the English malts to pull through. Toffee and caramel notes are added then.

T - The malt presence is scarce with hints of caramel coming through slightly. It's mainly a boatload of hops on the tongue. Still, it's lacking. A bit of pine and light citrus fruitiness. Minerally finish.

M - Body? What body? This is light and bland overall with a thin, slick feel from a lack of carbonation although that does fit the style. The finish, as the name might suggest, is bitter. But not face-strippingly so. The thin feel and overall lack of substance is killing this for me. A little mineral hardness on the finish as well.

D - Bitter Brewer for the win! drinkability. I could pound this down, especially in the summer, but I wouldn't particularly care to. It goes down smooth and easy but it's just bland and bitter.

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Photo of blackearth
3.32/5  rDev -17.4%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Served on-tap in a pint glass at Stub & Herbs in Minneapolis, MN. Has a bright amber body with a thin white head. Toasted malts dominate the aroma with hops coming in a distant second. Medium bodied with a spicy carb bite, this beer has woody hop flavors up front followed by malt sweetness, then a fairly long hop finish. Drinkability was okay, but half way through I was looking forward to a differnt beer. This is the first Surly offering that I didn't fall immediately in love with.

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Photo of afksports
3.36/5  rDev -16.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

There are better things to do than watching Barry Sanders Jr.'s highlight videos on YouTube. True.

But with a Surly beverage it can't be that bad. Even if it's the last of a trade that you saved because you really don't like the style. Not one bit.

Still, this is as good as I can see the style being. I'm actually drinking and enjoying this. It pours crisp and clear amber with nice head and terrific lace around the glass. The nose is a little floral, mostly hops, and not too much else. It's not a big smell, but it's not a big beer either. Taste is hops, floral, citrus, and (per the can) toasty malts, followed by bitter bitter bitter. But not too bad - not a hop or a bitter assault. Just... toasty and crisp.

An easy drinker at both alcohol by volume and its light to medium body with tasty finish, this is a better bitter.

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Photo of beertunes
3.36/5  rDev -16.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.5

Thanks to GaryMuchow for this one. Poured from 16oz can into 10oz goblet. Poured a cloudy straw yellow color, with 1/4 inch of white head that instantly dissipated, leaving no lace.

The aroma was lightly malty with low hops, very balanced, and kind of on the neutral side. On the tongue though, the grains showed through nicely, providing an earthy base for the lightly floral, lemony hops. There was a pleasantly strong citrus-bitter finish.

The body was the typical medium-light of the style. Drinkability was good, I could easily see pouring a few of these down as part of my regular rotation. Overall, a crisp and enjoyable beer that's worth your time i you have a chance to grab one.

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Photo of alcstradamus
3.38/5  rDev -15.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

A--Nice copper color with a sticky white head

S--Light citrus hops, oranges and pine. Seems to be a nice malt backbone

T--This is most definitely an English style beer, although that is not a good thing in this case. Almost non-existent hop taste or bitterness, and a bit of a watered down biscuit taste. The flavor isn't subtle, it is just weak, period. Perhaps my can is not fresh...but I doubt it.

M--Medium body, but the watery taste makes it seem thinner than it is

D--Not much here to enjoy once it hits the palate (other than some tasty burps). There is nothing offensive about this at all, but the burps should not be better than the beer. Very average brew.

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Photo of JamesMN
3.41/5  rDev -15.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Canned on 5/7/13.

Appearance: Caramel honey colored brew with a lot of small particles in suspension below a one finger frothy off-white head. A bit of clarity but the hop matter (or whatever those bits are) get in the way of a better appearance.

Aroma: Quite bready in a graham cracker sort of way. There is something in there which reminds me of Grain Belt Premium, like an orange peel or marmalade.

Taste: A nice mellow flavor that has some girth to it at times despite its remarkably low 4% ABV. Starts with a bit of caramel malt and quickly gains a respectable 37 IBUs of hop bitterness. There is a nice sweet orange hop character and a peppery grain flavor that pair well. Finishes smooth and has a warm aftertaste of biscuit with lingering bitterness on the tip of the tongue.

Mouthfeel: Lively with a slightly below medium body and good amount of carbonation. Easy drinking and sessionable if you enjoy the style.

Final Thoughts: A decent beer that fits within style guidelines while still unique enough to pick out of a lineup. It's beers like Bitter Brewer that give hope for a future wave of low ABV beers being the craft beer trend. Would I drink it again? Sure.

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Photo of barefootbrewer
3.47/5  rDev -13.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A: Clear amber/brown with very little head.

S: Hoppy initially yielding to a malty sweetness. Some cereal notes are present.

T: Big bitter taste with grains apparent. Very hoppy - almost like drinking a light hop tea.

M: This is a thin brew.

D: This beer is much easier to palate as it warms a bit.

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Bitter Brewer from Surly Brewing Company
4.02 out of 5 based on 1,087 ratings.
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