Extra Special Bitters.

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by TEKNISHE, Mar 17, 2015.

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    TEKNISHE Initiate (0) Jan 12, 2011 Pennsylvania

    I was curious if anyone else here really enjoys ESBs. I feel like this style is somewhat under the radar on this site, which seems strange to me. There is no shortage of hop lovers on here, and an ESB can scratch that hop itch about as good as an IPA, IMO. Perhaps I am alone in this opinion, but is there anybody out there who can relate?

    For me, it started with Redhook ESB. Yesterday, i was surprised to see not 1, but 2 different ESBs at the bottle shop. One was by Conshohocken, and the other by Alesmith. The Alesmith Anvil is so incredibly good it reminded me of all that is great about the style.

    For those who feel the same as i do, I ask, what ESB's are your favorites and what do you like about them? Does anyone find there to be different profiles within the style? (I'm not sure I do but since it's an under-represented style I haven't had many).
  2. JohnnyK

    JohnnyK Disciple (305) May 24, 2006 North Carolina

    Fuller's ESB is my favorite, readily available ESB.
  3. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (7,394) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming
    Society Trader

    Mine too though it isn't available locally.
  4. KingBiscuit

    KingBiscuit Defender (664) May 30, 2005 Illinois

    Goose Island Honkers Ale always seems to find it's way into my fridge. Low ABV but plenty of flavor. A fan of the style for sure.
    Golferallen54, Fargrow and Premo88 like this.
  5. Greywulfken

    Greywulfken Poo-Bah (4,990) Aug 25, 2010 New York
    Society Trader

    You know, it's a far cry from a go-to style...
    ...but damn that Fuller's ESB is awesome every time...
    JohnnyK, BILF, PorterPro125 and 7 others like this.
  6. Stignacious

    Stignacious Defender (679) Aug 24, 2011 New York

    I'm a huge fan of the style, but not enough breweries find enough space in the lineup for it. Middle Ages The Beast and Anderson Valley Belk's ESB are awesome
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  7. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (7,394) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming
    Society Trader

    Lord Admiral from Three Floyds is also a real treat.
    Premo88 likes this.
  8. chipawayboy

    chipawayboy Devotee (459) Oct 26, 2007 Massachusetts

    Gotta be on cask....bottled ESB is an oxymoron.
    JrGtr and Hoppsbabo like this.
  9. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (7,394) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming
    Society Trader

    So I should avoid the style cuz I can't get it on cask? Nah.
  10. TheGent

    TheGent Poo-Bah (2,485) Jun 29, 2010 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    Fullers ESB is one of my favorite beers. Unfortunately, the one bar in NYC (of which I'm aware) that always had four Fuller's beers on tap no longer serves ESB. They said it became too expensive. I now have no reason to go there.
    Premo88 likes this.
  11. aratcliffe

    aratcliffe Initiate (0) Jan 6, 2015 Kansas

    Love ESBs. Schlafly and Grand Teton Bitch Creek are two favorites of mine.
    MikeP64, Premo88 and Bitterbill like this.
  12. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (7,394) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming
    Society Trader

    Technically, the Grand Teton is an Extra Special Brown Ale.
    Premo88 likes this.
  13. aratcliffe

    aratcliffe Initiate (0) Jan 6, 2015 Kansas

    Yeah, I know, but...wiggle room.
    Premo88 and Bitterbill like this.
  14. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (7,394) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming
    Society Trader

    Yeah, delicious none the less.
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  15. Bouleboubier

    Bouleboubier Poo-Bah (2,840) Dec 22, 2006 New Jersey

    How close are you to Philly?

    Because Yards ESA is often on cask around town - usually pretty good. Stoudt's Scarlet Lady is decent, too. Though I rarely find it from an engine.

    Wells Bombardier is another good one that you can find on cask in maybe a handful on spots (I'm thinking Khyber, any of Hartranft's spots, and a few others that I'm forgetting right now). The bottled version's not bad either, however, 10 out of 10 times, I'd prefer it on cask.

    Bottled ones you may like (if you can find them) are: Hobgoblin, Adnams Broadside (one of my faves), Bateman's XXXB... Any English bottles you'll find though seem to taste the same after a while, especially if they've been sitting around warm on a shelf for long enough. Fulllers does stand out amongst them all anyway, so I don't include that in that statement.

    And... should you avoid on cask??? Don't have all that much confidence yet on America's attention to detail as far as cask. You have to know where to go. I've had a countless number of shit pints even in a great beer town like Philly.

    Don't stop trying new ones though.
    JackHorzempa, rfgetz and Premo88 like this.
  16. PorterPro125

    PorterPro125 Champion (851) Jan 19, 2013 Canada (NB)

    I agree that ESB is an extremely undervalued style. I think a lot of people get turned off by the name "Bitter" but I find the beers to be quite the opposite of bitter. Malty and easy drinking has been my experience with Extra Special Bitters.

    Wychwood's Hobgoblin is easily my favourite ESB.
    BILF, MikeP64 and Premo88 like this.
  17. AugustusRex

    AugustusRex Disciple (336) Apr 12, 2013 Canada (ON)

    I had Fullers ESB on cask at Barvolo, it was one of the best beer experiences I have had.

    Completely different from in a can.
    Premo88 likes this.
  18. Premo88

    Premo88 Poo-Bah (1,963) Jun 6, 2010 Texas

    YES! I love the English pale ale family enough to marry it, and family member ESB is fantastic.

    Fuller's is perfect. I can get Well's Bombadier here in my town and touch base with it a handful of times a year. And Texas' Real Ale makes a decent-tasting facsimile of the style called Phoenixx Double ESB.

    The world is full of different hop bites, and a good ESB delivers one of those bites very well. Just thinking of Fuller's has me wanting to grab some next time I head to Houston.
  19. sjverla

    sjverla Initiate (0) Dec 1, 2008 Massachusetts

    Love ESBs a lot! Definitely better from a cask, but I've got an Ordinary Bitter that I made and bottled that's pretty damn good. I intentionally left the carbonation low and the mouthfeel is close to what a cask provides.

    I desperately want to see more made and sold in the US.
    Premo88 likes this.
  20. JFMBearcat

    JFMBearcat Initiate (0) Dec 9, 2014 Ohio

    Not rare or limited release enough for most people on this site to enjoy it.
  21. chris826

    chris826 Disciple (381) Sep 24, 2014 Mississippi

    Southern Prohibition's Jack the Sipper is a good one of you are ever down in MS
    tr9871 and Premo88 like this.
  22. beertunes

    beertunes Poo-Bah (7,782) Sep 24, 2007 Kiribati
    Society Trader

    I'm a fan of the style. But, unlike the OP, I tend to prefer the maltier examples of the style. Too many, especially American, versions tend to be IPA-lite.
    Premo88, utopiajane and TheBungyo like this.
  23. BowWowWowYippyYoIPA

    BowWowWowYippyYoIPA Initiate (0) Dec 30, 2014 California

    I'm not too familiar with the style, but I recently had Fuller's ESB for the first time. To me it smelled and tasted exactly like apples, kept going back to try to pick up other flavor and absolutely could not pick anything else out besides the taste of unfiltered apple juice, you could have told me it was a cider and I would have believed you. From what I've read this doesn't seem indicative of the style, other than the marmalade fruitiness described on the label. To me it wasn't enjoyable at all, but won't stop me from trying other ESBs. (bottle date was fine by the way).

    Has anyone else had this experience with ESBs? Are they an acquired taste? I used to not be able to pull out the more subtle flavors of IPAs, so maybe I just need a palate shift.
  24. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Poo-Bah (1,834) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    The beer on cask in London is excellent, in the bottle in the US is not.
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  25. RobertColianni

    RobertColianni Zealot (584) Nov 4, 2008 Pennsylvania

    Currently have seven ESBs at Hawthorne's. Always a priority of mine to have solid examples from each style. Sawtooth Nitro is one of the best you'll ever have, but it's leaps and bounds behind Bombardier which is on at The Khyber, right now. As previously mentioned, Yards ESA, Brawler, and Philly Pale are constantly floating around the city. Chester Co. Bitter is always a solid local option as well.
    TEKNISHE and Arch578 like this.
  26. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (4,006) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Well this won't do much good in finding them here in the US, but my fav beer when visiting the UK is either a local bitter on cask or an ESB on cask, depending on how long I'll be sitting around chatting and sipping beer. (Wish it was easier to find Cask beers in the US. There are some properly cared for cask beers but to few and far between.)

    But of those I've had in the US I have to give the nod to the Climax Brewing (New Jersey) ESB and the Heavy Seas Winter Storm, throwing in some recognition for the Theakston's XB which may be more widely available than either the Climax or the Heavy Seas. For me Fullers is OK but bottling it is not the best way to to go.
  27. Jacobier10

    Jacobier10 Poo-Bah (2,364) Feb 23, 2004 New Jersey

    Fuller's ESB was one of the first beers I fell in love with. Truly an awesome beer. Locally, I really enjoy Climax ESB, but I have a hard time finding it even in NJ.
  28. CheapHysterics

    CheapHysterics Aspirant (243) Apr 1, 2009 Pennsylvania

    Fuller's is just phenomenal. Some good US ones are Anderson Valley's and Victory's.

    I see you're from PA so you should also check out Stoudt's Scarlet Lady (not anywhere as good as Fuller's but still good - I like it more than Yard's ESA) and Helltown's Extra Sinful Bitter, which is delicious but probably hard to find outside of SW PA.
  29. SnifterLifter

    SnifterLifter Initiate (0) Nov 9, 2013 New York

    Im not sure I would classify Hobgoblin as a bitter. Its sort of a weird beer to classify but I think its closer to a Brown Ale than a bitter. Maybe halfway between the two. I dont know.
  30. SnifterLifter

    SnifterLifter Initiate (0) Nov 9, 2013 New York

    ESBs are wonderful and we need more of them. That is all.
    GeddyLeeRocks and aratcliffe like this.
  31. Bonsall_Phil

    Bonsall_Phil Initiate (0) Mar 21, 2014 California

    I like Well's Bombardier a lot, ESB was my preferred beer years ago and this post reminds me that I have forgotten my roots and need to grab a few.
  32. KansasBeerLover

    KansasBeerLover Disciple (330) Feb 16, 2009 Kansas

    My first ESB was Fuller's. And I started trying all I could find.
    My list:

    Belk’s ESB Anderson Valley
    14ers ESB Avery
    LunaSea Empyrean
    Fuller's ESB Fuller
    25th Anniv. Ale Goose Island
    Harvest Ale Goose Island
    XX Bitch Creek Grand Teton
    HotShot ESB Great Divide
    Saranac ESB High Falls
    Sawtooth Ale Left Hand
    Sawtooth Nitro Left Hand
    2 Below Winter Ale New Belgium
    ESB Redhook
    Iron Maiden Trooper Robinsons
    ESB (Early Spring Beer) Sierra Nevada
    ESB Special Ale SKA
    Oasis Tallgrass

    The only disappointments were Empyrean LunaSea and Robinsons Iron Maiden. They were good, but not great.
  33. HeislerGold

    HeislerGold Initiate (129) Oct 19, 2013 Michigan

    Love ESBs. Fuller's is always solid and I was crushed when Goose Island discontinued their Harvest Ale. That was an excellent ESB. I make sure to pick up Short's Autumn Ale every fall because that is a favorite of mine as well.

    I was happy to see a year or so ago that Arcadia Ales added an ESB to their year-round lineup called Thunder Trail ESB but it was a disappointment. Too many off flavors in that beer.
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  34. muddyh2oblues

    muddyh2oblues Initiate (0) Mar 13, 2010 Illinois

    I've had 6 ESB's so far, not a style that is abundantly available around here. And sadly my favorite of the six, Tallgrass Oasis, is no longer brewed. But yes, I do enjoy a bitter now and then, when I can get one. Schlafly Winter ESB is quite good also, as is Southern Tier Harvest. But they are hit and miss each year in my area.
  35. RockAZ

    RockAZ Disciple (338) Jan 6, 2009 Arizona

    Only had Fullers ESB on cask once, (Philly) don't know how fresh it was but I liked it a lot. Their bottles are a miss most of the time, but I do buy them occasionally when they look fresh. Recently a few brewers in town have had a go at making ESB to some small success, at least the "biscuty" taste was there. Ska makes a good one,... Like someone said up thread, most American ESB's are watery IPA's with a different yeast.
  36. Hoppsbabo

    Hoppsbabo Champion (890) Jan 29, 2012 England

    Fullers ESB on cask is something else.
  37. TheBungyo

    TheBungyo Champion (819) Dec 1, 2004 Washington


    I love the traditional examples of this style but the ones that take the word "bitter" literally frustrate me. Too many of these attempts miss the mark.
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  38. Pantalones

    Pantalones Devotee (450) Nov 14, 2014 Virginia

    Only one I've had so far was 2 Below from the New Belgium variety pack I picked up back in November, but I enjoyed that one. I'd like to try other examples of the style at some point if 2 Below is anything to go by.

    I don't see them in stores very often, though... I think the only one I've seen is Redhook's ESB, and only as part of their variety packs rather than in six-packs on its own. I do know that one makes a pretty tasty beer batter for fried fish (thanks to Hardee's) but so far have not had the opportunity to try it in actual beer form. Looking over the list of beers on the site, I see that Foster's Ale also apparently is in the ESB category too, and I've seen that in the jumbo-sized cans. That's all I've seen in grocery stores and such, though... guess I might have to seek out an actual beer store sometime if I want to try more in this style.
  39. marquis

    marquis Champion (817) Nov 20, 2005 England

    You'll only find Fuller's from these shores. The term ESB is regarded as a Fuller's trade mark (they tried to register it but it was deemed "too generic") ESB isn't a style at all, simply a bitter (aka Pale Ale) at the stronger end of the scale. Gales HSB is worth seeking out.
    Many bottled bitters are of greater strength that their cask equivalents to try to counteract the dumbing down of cask ale by bottling it.So a beer regarded as an ESB in the US would be an ordinary bitter in the UK.Bombardier has already been mentioned; it's 4.3% ABV on cask but 5.2% in bottle.
    BILF and beertunes like this.
  40. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,796) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Not to be snarky, but Honkers is considered a(n Ordinary) Bitter, not an Extra Special Bitter -- though it's still pretty special.
    KingBiscuit likes this.
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