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Bitter - English Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB)
Ranked #3
Ranked #4,399
4.08 | pDev: 10.78%
England, United Kingdom
Notes: Twice named World Champion Beer, Fuller’s ESB is one of the most decorated ales of its time. A winner born and brewed, it’s a strong, full-bodied ale that has delighted drinkers for decades with its smooth, mellow bitterness and superbly satisfying finish.

The ESB that started it all - multi-award winning Fuller’s ESB is acknowledged as one of the world’s finest beers. The unique blend of Northdown, Target, Challenger and Goldings hops balances the rich, malty notes for a smooth, full-bodied beer bursting with marmalade fruitiness throughout.
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Reviews: 1,428 | Ratings: 3,134 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Reviews by moodenba:
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moodenba from New York

3.72/5  rDev -8.8%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

Fuller ESB bottle from refrigerator was poured into a glass in December, 2019. The Fuller ESB appearance is true to style, amber body and off-white head. The beer might have been too cool for full enjoyment. Taste had roasty malt flavor with a good hoppy component. The brew doesn't quite give me the mellow integrated taste experience that I'm looking for. It's probably just my preference, but I like the Montauk Driftwood better. However, this brew is definitely well made, and well worth trying if you like the British Pale Ale style. Maybe cask or keg is better?

Dec 08, 2019
More User Reviews:
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Jonleonbass from California

5/5  rDev +22.5%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

One of the top 5 beers in the world IMO. I have spent many a night in Fullers Pubs in London drinking this beer on cask......which is the best way to experience it. It should not be too cold and just cool to room temp as drank.
The Old Packhorse in Chiswick is one of my Fave pubs. I have toured the Fullers brewery and it is a special place and this recipe is just divine.
If you like Hops meeting a Caramel malt with bitter notes and strong flavor and presence , this is the great one.
The singer from Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson has been known to run off stage to catch last call just to drink a couple of ESB's.....many englishmen know it's almost hallucinogenic properties and covet it's special flavor and feel.
Only for the true beer drinker. If you are a pussy that drinks merlot and lager beer you will spit it out and cry......but that is okay. Go home hippie. You cannot handle this beer.
Look-Amber godlike hue.
Smell-Beautiful floral hops and sweet malts.
Taste-Strong hops with bitter bite finished by a nice caramel malt that is perfectly balanced.
Feel-On Cask might be the best mouthfeel of any beer in the world. Nothing like it. Finished perfect. One of the greats.

Aug 05, 2016
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FreshYeti from Washington

4.27/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Gorgeous, clear copper-amber color. As expected, it appears to be less effervescent than most American beers. I just bought a new beer fridge and it seems to be running way too cold, so I’ll need to wait a bit and let this guy warm up.

Personally I’m a huge fan of noble hops - they lend a drier, earthier bitterness, as opposed to the citrusy, juicy hops we grow around here. But they’re often showcased in German-style brews and pilsners. ESB is probably my favorite style of beer because it combines these great hop flavors with the perfect malt profile for my taste. As flavorful as you can get while still remaining quaffable.

Alright, I’m done waiting for this to warm up. The nose suggests tangerine and preserved fruits. Not getting much of that noble hop at this point.

The taste starts where the nose left off - orange, jam, rose petals, balanced with biscuity malt. Then the noble hops come to clean up the palate, narrowly saving this beer from becoming too sweet. There is a lightly toasted note on the aftertaste, but it’s pretty tucked away under orange flavors. I find myself wanting to say it’s too sweet and fruity, but after each sip the palate gets cleaned up and dried out by those hops.

This is a must try for anyone seeking the definition of balance. Americans commonly hear the term “special” or “strong” bitter, and then criticize brews like this for not being particularly bitter at all. You have to think of “bitter” as the British term for pale ale, but before the west coast hop craze happened. And special/strong just refers to the ABV, which you can expect to be a percent or two higher than a standard pub ale. With that in mind, this is the canonical representation of the style, and it’s now one of my favorites.

Jan 09, 2017
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RoyalT from Michigan

4.65/5  rDev +14%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Appearance – The body is a slightly hazy brown with a nice orange tint. The head is off-white and full, made up of beautiful tiny bubbles that showed good retention and left a bit of lacing.

Smell – Oh, yeah, this is an English ESB. This is THE English ESB. The malt is remarkable in its clarity. The light grassy hops round things out and there is indeed a bit of caramel afloat, but the huge malt base makes up the bulk of this nose. It is both generous and wonderful.

Taste – Oh, man. I’m actually laughing at how this beer tastes. It is so good, and so true to form, that it’s funny.

The malts are encased in wood and eek a sense of maturity not found in any other beer that I’ve had to date. I don’t know where they get this flavor from, but it is delicious and quite amazing.

The caramel and toffee notes are the best I’ve ever had. There is nothing cheap about this beer. When I think of English ESB this is what comes to mind. This is the standard; no question about it.

Mouthfeel – Perfect. So smooth, so well-blended, and so thoughtful, this beer was made with the mouthfeel in mind. Talk about your “happy place”.

Drinkability – To answer all those stupid, “If you were stuck on a desert island with only one beer . . .” questions, this would have to be it. On-tap this has to be a “5”. This is THE standard for English ESBs (or any ESBs for that matter).

Aug 11, 2004
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MNAle from Minnesota

4.4/5  rDev +7.8%

Amber color. Pleasing malty aroma. Light carbonation. Slight hop bitterness is present, but this is dominated by the slightly sweet malts. Excellent body. Wonderful bitter, even considering this was the USA import version rather than the cask version. Very nice malty finish with some hops presence. Interesting fact: English Bitter, despite the name, is not particularly bitter. All of the American bitters I have tasted thus far are too hoppy to be a true English-style bitter.

Sep 07, 2014
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markjknowles from Oregon

5/5  rDev +22.5%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

This is one of those beers that is why craft beer exists. For many of us, American beers were awful and exemplary of a cultural norm we didn't identify with. We looked to exports and found a world that just didn't exist for us at home. A handful of those exports drove s to create more. To do better. This is one of those defining beers for me. A master class in subtlety and balance, this is how one harmonizes the components that make up beer. Simply perfection.

Feb 25, 2018
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Rukeli76 from Canada (ON)

4.41/5  rDev +8.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

500ml can served at cellar temp in a nonic pint.

Nice amber colour. Only a half inch or so of head, and it dissipates almost immediately.

The aroma is dominated by floral hops which for me are somewhat reminiscent of bergamot or Earl Grey tea.

I get a nice little bite of hop bitterness up front. There's something about the depth and complexity of flavour I get in this beer that's hard to describe. There's no real comparison. It's satisfyingly malty and hoppy in a way that you usually only get from bigger, boozier, more liberally-hopped beers, but at the same time it's crisp and thirst-quenching in a way you'd never in million years expect from a room-temperature pint of bitter.

Not a ton of carbonation in this canned version. The mouthfeel is unfortunately pretty light and nondescript. too. This is definitely the kind of beer you'd much rather have on cask at a pub somewhere in East London.

This is an all-around world-class beer. I think of it as the ur-bitter against which all others must be judged.

Sep 10, 2016
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davidperez from Mexico

4.21/5  rDev +3.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Served in a hefeweizen glass, it pours a beautifully clear copper color, with a myriad tiny bubbles surfacing constantly. It forms a three-finger head, sudsy and creamy, ecru, with good retention.
Very nice lacing.

Nice bouquet.
Toasted malts, caramel, a slight butterscotch hint, fruity as in plums, and herbal hops resembling pine resin.

What a beer, a prime example of an elegant and balanced beverage.
What seemed a huge carbonation from the bubbles right after pouring, became very subtle on the palate, and you can tell that its carbonation is actually low.
The flavor follows the nose, with the toasted malts being the most prominent flavor, and you can taste some wood, a tea-like note and nuts as well.
Its bitterness is slightly more assertive than its sweetness, and it gets more pronounced as it approaches the aftertaste.
The finish is long and semi-dry, and it has a very nice tobacco note.

Definitely my favorite ESB thus far.

Oct 14, 2016
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Immortale25 from North Carolina

4.21/5  rDev +3.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

Poured into a Duvel tulip. Back label says Best Before 01 JAN 17.

A- Pours a dark amber color with a 1/4 inch light tan head that retains a bit before becoming a thin ring around the edge of the glass and some wisps of surface foam. Semi-resilient lacing leaves large clots behind.

S- Biscuity malt but not very sweet with a vegetal hop aroma.

T- Balanced flavor of herbal, slightly spicy hops and more biscuity malt that now shows a bit of sweetness. There's also more of that vegetal hop character which is actually quite pleasant.

M- Somewhat slick with medium carbonation and a body leaning toward the lighter side.

O- Right where you want a session beer to be. The flavors are interesting and well-integrated but not so assertive that you can only take so much. Also, the ABV is above that of a true session beer...which makes it more my kind of session beer, thank you.

Jul 27, 2016
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sjccmd from Minnesota

4.54/5  rDev +11.3%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

Pours clear deep orangey amber. Small off-white head that fades quickly. Some lacing. Fairly low carbonation.

Rich malt in the aroma with significant fruity esters. Loads of caramel and toast. Some spicy and fruity hops, but those are in the background. A hint of diacetyl, but within appropriate range.

Caramel and apricot in the flavor. Finishing with toasty nutty malt. Medium bitterness and some fruity spicy English hop character. Sweet and fruity upfront finishing quite dry.

Rich and filling mouthfeel with low carbonation but not chewy. Dry bitter finish with malt lingering on the palate.

Rich and refreshing ESB. Definitely a classic example if that even needs to be stated.

Jan 24, 2015
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Ferb from Missouri

4.4/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

This is a British ale in the truest sense. It pours a beautiful light copper color and builds a light and thin eggshell head that quickly retreats into a thin ring that slides down the glass as you drink it.

The aroma is generally clean with a bit of freshly cut grass and a faint citrus, but hardly a strong impression. The medium texture glides over the tongue gently and leaves a nice fizzy memory .

The taste is grassy and dry, with a gentle malt that balances with a hop finish that is so subtle, I can't tell which one wins. There is a slight metallic taste (nothing like a Boddington's foundry of iron on the tongue), but as it seems hard to get fresh British ale in the Midwest, my samples are a month past their "best by" date.

This is a refreshing ale that comforts me the way a meatloaf and mashed potatoes does. It is an ale designed to be consumed in quantity with friends and one that I will buy again.

Edit on February 22, 2017
I wanted to boost my numbers on this ale after having what I believe to be a fresher batch than in my original review. This one had a fuller, more persistent head, tasted less grassy, seemed more balanced and had a whisper of caramel. I want this in my fridge always. Fuller's has on of the best Porters I have had as well!

Jun 03, 2016
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tempest from New York

3.99/5  rDev -2.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Fruity malts up front and then tame, dry biscuit underneath. The classic spicy English hops roll through the finish for a bitterness that builds. The body is lighter than most American attempts at the ESB you'll find. I'd love to find this gem on cask.

Jun 09, 2007
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WYVYRN527 from Minnesota

4.42/5  rDev +8.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

It's been a few years since I sampled this one. Fuller's ESB pours a rich amber with a creamy white head about half an inch thick. Carbonation is vigorous, with slight lacing on the glass. The aroma is very floral, with fruity hop character and a sweet malt backbone. This is a very balanced beer. Sweet and malty with toast and caramel notes, followed by a nice dry hop finish. It's a medium to full bodied brew, and the flavors remain on the palate for a good amount of time. Very drinkable, this ESB is a great session beer.

Jul 01, 2009
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ThreeWiseMen from California

4.08/5  rDev 0%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Ordered a 12oz bottle of this at Spike's tonight.

Appearance: Clear reddish copper body with thin, creamy white head that retains very well.

Smell: Pine, herbs and caramel.

Taste: Pine, bread, herbs and spices. Nice balance with a good amount of bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Very smooth and creamy with good mouth coating and a bitter, dry finish. Medium to light in body. Good consistency. Yum.

Drinkability: Well, I'm no E.S.B. connoisseur, but this was a very good

Jan 23, 2009
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johnecjr from Massachusetts

3.75/5  rDev -8.1%

Mar 09, 2014
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hotzenklotz from Germany

3.76/5  rDev -7.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a reddish-copper beer with white head. Hardly any smell, although some hoppy citrus notes at the very beginning.
The beer itself is very balanced, maybe leaning a little towards the bitter side.
Malt flavours are upfront and the bitterness kicks in after a few sips. Charamel notes and light citrus aromas.
Very smooth altoghether. Nice beer to drink.

Mar 23, 2011
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ONovoMexicano from New Mexico

3.67/5  rDev -10%
look: 4.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 ounce glass poured into a nonic pint glass.

Light and airy pale white head that somehow still looks thick and chewy. Lace is just everywhere, demonstrating a stickiness that is inescapable. A dark amber color with light copper hues glimmers from the body and carbonation bubbles up steadily.

The aroma is not so fresh, like a once-bright floral arrangement gone dull. It's pungent with a bit of a tart bread note, similar to the kvass I'd had recently. I'd like to try this fresher, but in my part of the world, that's close to impossible. Still, Fuller's suggests this beer is good until May of this year, so I have good reason to have higher expectations.

All is not lost here folks. Somehow despite the less than appealing nose, this beer tastes pretty good. It's toast-like and caramelly before becoming earthy, floral and even slightly sweet with citrus. These flavors are all mostly understated and mellow and work well with each other.

As far as tossing a few of these back, it's not exactly in the light, smooth-sipper category. There's a medium-body, light sweetness and bitterness that sneaks in and seems to crescendo to a lingering mellow exit.

For not having this fresh, it's still impressive and enjoyable. It seems the nose takes the biggest dive with some time on the shelf and that's okay because it still drinks well.

Jan 20, 2015
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Matagal from Brazil

4.25/5  rDev +4.2%

Mar 11, 2013
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Saksis from Norway

4/5  rDev -2%

Feb 01, 2014
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pwdiamond from Connecticut

4.25/5  rDev +4.2%

Oct 07, 2014
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DJTOBY from California

3.37/5  rDev -17.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.5

Mar 09, 2018
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grynder33 from Wisconsin

4.33/5  rDev +6.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Blew out of my bottle , but still had a small head, amber brown color. Had a really nice malty grainy aroma. Wonderful malt hop balance in the taste, coupled with a lovely carmel honey sweetness which stayed right to the end. i always thought other Fuller products were overrated but not this one.Could be my favorite non-stout brew.

Nov 19, 2003
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tjdrewry from Connecticut

4/5  rDev -2%

Jul 26, 2014
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IgnatiusReilly from New Jersey

4.01/5  rDev -1.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Poured from 12oz brown bottle to pint glass. Home.

Pours nice clear copper, touch of a haze. Very large thick head, 2 fingers, with lots of lace staying on the sides of the glass. Lots of malt in the aroma, with a hint of fruit in the nose, also some citrus hop flavoring. Taste is dominated with malt sweetness, earth tones, along with a large amount of grain flavors. Hence the name, lots of good hop bite towards the finish, Kent Goldings and Fuggles flavors. Hops linger after finish, with a hint of alcohol. Clean full mouth feel, extremely drinkable. Excellent representation of the syle.

Jan 05, 2008
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Cheech22 from Ohio

4.22/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A fantastic heavy, malty ale, possessing plenty of that "bitter" character that makes real English pale ales so special (I think the flavor comes from the type of yeast that is used, but homebrewers can feel free to correct me on that if I'm wrong). I especially like the extra alcoholic punch Fullers added to this particular beer.

The downside? It's very expensive, running at about 12 bucks a six-pack. That's absurd for a pale ale, even for an import.

Jan 25, 2010
ESB from Fuller's
Beer rating: 91 out of 100 with 3134 ratings