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 chanokokoro
4.21/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

Poured from a 16 oz. can into a Surly Brewing Company branded shaker pint glass. Thanks to Oboogie for both the brew and the glass

Pours a medium amber, slightly hazy with a bit of orange on the edges. Two finger sticky off white head, average retention. Floral notes, dried orange peel, grainy with a hint of biscuit on the nose. Herbal and very light grassy notes, floral, grainy with every so light hints of biscuit and sourdough bread. Mild orange and tangerine peel. Fair light bodied; crisp and refreshing. Dry finish.

The combination of American hops with the traditional ingredients found in an English-style Bitter works incredibly well. Surly hit a home run here.

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Photo of Stevedore
4.21/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

16oz can with 5/7/13 canning date, courtesy of Evan; have had a couple cans of this already but reviewing this one I poured into my Bell's snifter on 6/11/2013.

Aroma: It smells distinctly like freshly milled malt. When I say malt in this context, I'm saying it smells like malt as in the homebrew ingredient that just got milled at the homebrew store. I love it. There's also a little bit of orange zest. Maybe some sort of citrus jam? Either way, smells neat and aromatic! (4.25)

Colour: Hazy, darker copper body that pours with a fluffy 2cm head that dissipates into a thin film on the beer. As I drink this down, it leaves layers of lacing that I can trace my swallows with. Nice looking beer. (4)

Flavour: For a 4% beer, this is pretty packed with flavour.. feels like I'm drinking toasted bread with orange marmalade, but in a thin liquid form. There's some floral flavours in there but its mostly the orange.. and there isn't much of that milled barley malt scent in the beer but I definitely get a small, small bit of bready background to the floral and citrus hops. A decent bit of bitterness but definitely not overwhelming at all. (4.25)

Mouthfeel: Thinner bodied, but well carbonated and incredibly refreshing. This beer is definitely a sessionable one. I'd probably drink a whole 4-pack of 16oz before getting buzzed. Finish is slightly dry but not particularly so, with a nice, mellow floral bitter aftertaste that lingers a bit but is not overwhelming at all. (4)

Overall: An awesomely sessionable beer that does not lack for flavour whatsoever- whether its from the malts or the hops. We don't have the chance to drink much English Bitters at all, but this is definitely a style I'm into. It's a good one to drink on the porch in the summer evening. (4.25)

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Photo of UCLABrewN84
3.96/5  rDev -1.5%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

On tap at the 2013 Firestone Walker Invitational held at the Paso Robles Event Center in Paso Robles, CA.

Pours a murky dark orange with a foamy bone head that settles to a film on top of the beer. Small streaks of lace form around the glass on the drink down. Smell is of malt, citrus fruit, and citrus zest aromas. Taste is much the same with citrus and tea-like flavors on the finish. There is a mild amount of hop bitterness on the palate with each sip. This beer has a lower level of carbonation with a slightly crisp mouthfeel. Overall, this is a good beer that is tasty and easy to drink.

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Photo of MNishCT77
4.08/5  rDev +1.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

16 oz. can purchased in the greater Washington D.C. area, canned ~three weeks ago on 5/7/13, poured into my FFF Teku tasting glass , drank on 6/1/13 over an hour.

A: 4.00 - golden-orange coloration, mininmal clarity with slight haze when held up to the light, 1/2 finger white frothy head subsides into subtle glass lacing, minimal alcohol legs (to be expected for a 4% beer)

S: 3.50 - as the can portends, some orange/marmalade notes on the initial sniff with some light bready/biscuity aromas with little hop presence, which was surprising due to its alleged dry hopping and the pedigree

T: 4.25 - mild bitterness on the front of the tongue (at 40 IBUs) with malt characters predominating in the middle of the mouth --> again, orange, marmalade, honey and biscuit notes are apparent with very little hop flavors considering that this beer was allegedly dry hopped

M: 4.50 -light bodied (appropriate for style), 4+% is not apparent at all; fine carbonation coats the tongue

O: 4.25 - I am willing to chalk this up as Surly's session beer and, to be honest, as much as I like IPAs/DIPAs, it's their aroma/flavor and not their bitterness that appels to me, so an ESB is not a favorite style; this is a solid sessionable offering, but, with all the more flavorful options from Surly out there, I won't be buying this one again as, unfortunately, this is their most underwhelming beer on my palate

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Photo of Powderhornphil
4.13/5  rDev +2.7%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

Poured from the can into a snifter. It's only 4 percent but the snifter is fun. Pours a rich orange with one finger of head, recedes to some lacing.

Smells of orange rinds and marmalade. Delicious but also mild. Hints of grainy cracker are there as well.

Taste follows the nose. And while the flavor starts mild, it finishes with a burst of lemon, honey and orange.

Mouthfeel is medium which is something to be said for a beer so light in both abv and calories.

Great summer seasonal. One that I likely overlooked for too long.

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Photo of jimmah120
4.34/5  rDev +8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

16oz energy drink looking can, 6 days old

Semi-hazy yellow pumpkin color, sudsy esb head. Smell is lemon, pine, sweet fruits. Feel is light-medium, crisp yet buttery. Taste is bitter(obviously) pine, lemon rind, pie crust, bready grain finish.

The best tasting 4% beer you'll ever drink.

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Photo of Philly82785
3.88/5  rDev -3.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours an opaque amber with a medium head. The nose is very floral with some spicy hops and a hint of sweet caramel. Flavor has earthy tea notes and pale malts with mild hoppy spice and an earthy bitterness. Finishes with a subtle hop taste that lingers.

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Photo of CaptCleveland
4/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

16oz can, no dating, poured into SA glass.

Light orange elixir, slight haze, fluffy, tight white head, copious lacing.

Heavy floral notes, some piney hops, subtle orange and mint.

The floral presence is there, but nicely muted by the hops and malt. Nothing over powering.

Nicely bitter, a bit tangy, refreshing.

The perfect brew for any summer activity. Well done.

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Photo of sommersb
4.07/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Tasted On: 10-20-2012
Freshness: Canned on 05-21-12
Packaging: 16 oz. can
Glassware: Nonic pint
Purchased: Received in a trade

Hazy and dark copper in color, with lots of bubbles and other particles seen in suspension. A couple of fingers of off-white head shows very good retention and a nice lace.

Impressive aromas of pine and citrus hops dominate the nose. The taste has a notable American hop presence as well, with citrus/grapefruit flavors. Breadiness from the malts helps even out the bitterness and makes for a good balance.

Medium bodied, with a moderate level of carbonation. Finishes dry and bitter. Overall a very pleasant ale from Surly.

Thanks to fLax for this one!

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Photo of RoamingGnome
4.03/5  rDev +0.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from 16 oz can into Cheers drinking mug. Served chilled...

A) An attractive honey colored brew with nearly 2 fingers of rocky head reaching the top of the mug. Very nice retention, and excellent lacing.

S) Pale malt, zesty citrus aroma, with a little bit of a floral scent as well.

T) White grapefruit, a little lemon zest, flower petal, light pine and grass. This bitter for sure, but there is a little bit of caramel sweetness, and the drinkability is through the roof.

M) Fairly light body, good amount of carbonation. This is crisp and refreshing. A little dry on the finish. Very pleasant aftertaste.

O) Really enjoyed this beer. As stated above, excellent drinkability, and at 4% ABV, you could drink quite a few of them. I've really been impressed by everything I've had from Surly thus far. Glad to recommend.

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Photo of micromaniac129
3.75/5  rDev -6.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

A rich golden amber color. I noticed some sediment floating about. A tall head is produced during the pour with an off white.

Aroma is quite nice and I can sniff out some orange marmalade. Underneath a grainy malt bill.

Taste is good, with lots of tangy citrus flavor. Malts are good and solid.

The mouthfeel has a harsh bitter finish. Feels thin and watery.

An okay beer.

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Photo of Scotchboy
4.07/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

A pint can of awesomeness sent by Aaron (thanks man!) poured into a Sam Adams Perfect Pint.

A: Beautiful sunset gold with a large slightly off-white head...also, this thing poured with a ton of floaties....didn't notice that at first.

S: Floral hops with a citric edge, very American smelling, with a pale malt graininess underneath. Smells very refreshing.

T: Taste is similar to the nose, the hops are there for flavor but the bitterness is low; flowers, tangerine and grapefruit rind blend with notes of toasted bread, malted pale grains, and hints of caramel.

MF: Light to medium and refreshing, with lower levels of carbonation. Very drinkable.

O: A seriously drinkable summer beer in my opinion. This IS the beer I would reach for if I was looking for IPA flavor without the oppressive bitterness.

Cheers Aaron!

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Photo of devilben02
4.08/5  rDev +1.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

This can came in an unexpected but very welcomed package from a friend who has family in Minnesota. It pours with a warm, light orange-amber color and a big, fluffy, sticky head. The aroma provides a nice balance of sweet caramel malt and some light herbal hops. The flavor likewise blends fruity, sweet malts with a bright yet somehow musty combination of hops, and the light effervescence further lightens the flavor profile. Overall, this beer , has a nice earthy quality, but it is at the same time light, bright, sweet, and quite drinkable.

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Photo of TheQuietMan22
4.12/5  rDev +2.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Serving type: 16-ounce can. The “CANNED ON” date is “06/14/12.”

Appearance: Poured into a nonick pint glass. The color is golden copper. Two fingers of fairly thick, buttery, eggshell-colored head dissipated slowly to leave a rocky lacing and thick ring around the edge.

Smell: Off the bat it offers a west cost hop character: lots of citrus, which is mostly grapefruit but I got a hint of cara cara orange, too. The citrus does stand out above everything else, but its maltier British roots almost balance it out. Grassy hops, lightly toasted malts, sweet caramel, toffee, and a little honey.

Taste: A nice, citrus hop bitterness kicks the taste buds awake. After that, the citrus blends into a balanced beeriness: tinge of grapefruit and orange (which keep the back of the tongue and cheeks tingling), lightly toasted malts, grassy hops, sweet caramel, and honey.

Drinkability: It is a solid, tasty, and sessionable brew — perfect for the Twin Cities’ future MLS hooligans.

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Photo of BarrytheBear
3.68/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Can dated 6/14/12 into a tulip as I listen to White Sox implode. Ed Farmer says some really dumb shit and this is a really bad loss.

Orange with a frothy white billow and collar. Some nice looking stickem' tags the glass.

Light yeast, apple juice, mint, orange jelly, and sourdough bread are all detected by my elongated proboscis.

The can has it right with orange marmalade. Mild spice from the yeast, iced tea, and a big crunchy toast character. Mint sprig on the finish leaves a lasting tingle.

Body is light and zestily carbonated.

Overall, this is an easy drinking bitter. I have fond memories of drinking this on the lake up north on hot summer afternoons.

Addendum: well I'll be damned if the Sox just didn't tie it after vomiting themselves.

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Photo of KC8LTL
3.93/5  rDev -2.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

First of all, I must say that this review is from an IPA fan who is rating it based on what I like - not by style. To describe a beer which is dry-hopped with American hops as an "English Bitter" does not seem fair.

When poured from a can into a pint glass, I was rewarded with a cloudy orange liquid and decent off white head. The smell was a citrus blast from the dry hopping. The head receded with time, but never went away.

The weakness of this beer is the mouthfeel and arguably balance. The resulting beer is all hops and in order to keep the ABV down, the malt backbone isn't quite there. That said, this is no thin beer. There is lacing left on the glass, and the resulting beer is still quite enjoyable, especially on a warm day, or when you want a session beer.

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Photo of rudzud
3.86/5  rDev -4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Thanks to JLindros for sharing.

A - Poured a hazy honey with a one finger sudsy off white head that fades to leave lots of sticky side lacing.

S - Lots of gentle esters with some honey sweetness and light, bitter hops.

T - Nice and clean and light, slightly almost sour with nice floral and grassy hop notes. Quite tasty.

M - Mouthfeel is nicely carbonated albeit slightly thin.

O - Overall I liked this better, somehow, than Surly Furious. A Very tasty English Bitter.

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Photo of LXIXME
4.15/5  rDev +3.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Medium white head slowly settles into a pretty decent lacing above a particle filled honey colored beer.

Light sweet malts behind a citrusy pepper like spices aroma.

Bitter dry hops taste with very light spices combined with a light backdrop of earthy grain malts taste. A light drying taste to this beer, very welcoming and makes you want to take another gulp.

Not a big bold or overbearing taste but rather a lighter subdued taste that is quite good.

This is an excellent beer to expand the horizons of American light lager drinkers, I know from past experience that when Bud drinkers try something from Stone or Rogue its basically like culture shock to them, but this beer in its light but yet solid taste of dry hops, etc. one might just find another convert to the world of great ales and lagers.

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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 Florida9
3.75/5  rDev -6.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

A: Color is an earthy shade of orange. There is some visible sedimentation giving this brew a slightly cloudy look to it. Forms a sizable off-white head that offers up some very nice retention. Lots of lacing on the way down.

S: Aroma is a nice blend of malt and hops. Light caramel malts, stewed tea, pine, and a bit of citrus.

T: Taste is somewhat earthy and a bit dank. Mild caramel malts lead into the flavors of tea, earthy hops, and some pine character. Finish is earthier still.

M: Medium bodied with a lighter/medium carbonation. Mild to moderate bitterness. Somewhat sticky or coating in the mouth.

O: When I first popped this can and took a swig, I was more than impressed. This beer was really packing some flavor for it's mild 4% ABV. But as a I got about half way through, the flavor became less bright and much darker and one-note. It really just seemed to fall off. I do wonder if this beer has more age on it than it should (there appears to have been a valiant attempt to date the can, but the date is illegible) that is resulting in some of the earthy flavors that seem to be dominating this beer.

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Photo of mynie
4.08/5  rDev +1.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4


Pours roughly the same color as the can, a very bright shade of orange topped with a fluffy white head. Smells of Surly yeast, citrus hops, and white bread. Certainly an American take on an ESB--and that's in no way a bad thing.

Tastes very much like it smells, almost like a very light west coast APA only with Surly's excellent yeastmanship helping hold everything together. The hops are subtle yet variegated, the malt is sweet, and the balance is superb.

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Photo of thagr81us
3.55/5  rDev -11.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Had during the 2nd Annual Redneck Racin’ & Tastin’ while watching the dirt track race! Big thanks goes out to marine1975 for this one! Served from can into a shaker. Poured red-orange with a half finger off-white head that subsided to a minimal amount slowly. Maintained decent lacing throughout the glass. The aroma was comprised of sweet malt, fruit, bitter hop, earth, and earth hop. The flavor was of sweet malt, bitter hop, earth, and earth hop. It had a light feel on the palate with medium-high carbonation. Overall this was a pretty decent brew. I really liked the hop profile on this one as the earthiness mixed really well with the bitter hops. While it was good it definitely didn’t stand out compared to other brews I’ve had from the style. Glad I got the chance to try this one again as my review ended up disappearing…

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Photo of chugalug06
3.55/5  rDev -11.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

Very small, one finger, straw colored, foamy, head; tough to get much head to rise... Brew is murky orange with lots of reds and some yellows.

Yep, it's definitely English... Hit the scent on the nose; pun not intended. Farm-y, horse-y, bread-y, malty, and not a ton of hop character.

Yep, it's definitely English... Very bland, but refreshing. Hops are strictly bittering, no floral notes. Nothing fancy or overwhelming about this brew. Good carbonation. Fits style.

Yep, it's definitely English... Unique and stylish. Nothing memorable about this one, just refreshing. Perfect for a hot and humid day. Can't Recommend.

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Photo of lovindahops
4.3/5  rDev +7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

my first bitter brewer from Surly. Love the art work on this one!

A- bitter brewer pours a hazy orange with a great off white head that keeps lacing on the sides of the glass. It certainly has the look of a refreshing brew that is already making my mouth water

S- I get a good whiff of orange jam with some buttery diactyl. There is some sweet citric theme that mingles with some bitter scents as well. Very lively and refreshing

T- great orange and mango flavors that have a bready flavor and along with a spike of bitter flavor at the end. With all these aspect blended together, the taste is absolutely delicious. Even a little tropical them kicks in at the end

M- carboation and coating flavors are in sync with what you want a brew to feel like

O- Surly just delivers... plain and simple. Bitter brewer is another example of a completely drinkable beer that is full of flavor. Best english bitter I have ever experienced!

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Photo of augustgarage
4.19/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Canned on 4/9/2012. Poured from a 16oz can into a pint glass.

Gold tinged gamboge liquid with amber highlights and a busy upthrust of off white fizz. Light soapy lacing; average retention.

Kumquat jelly, tea biscuits, and mango in the nose - delicate but complex and rich.

Mild bitterness on the palate balanced with light crackery English malt flavors. Hops are juicy and very slightly grassy in the finish. Dry mineral-laden finish.

Light bodied yet slick with moderate carbonation.

Likely my favorite example of the style I've sampled thus far, though the U.S. hops probably diverge from stylistic tradition quite 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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