ESB. Extra Special Bitter. I couldn’t think of a worse name for this style of beer, but it was created long, long ago in a continent far, far way, so I had no say in the matter. Yes, “bitter” is in the name, but these beers aren’t bitter at all. They’re the opposite of bitter. They’re warm and malty, mellow and easy drinking. They’re toasty as all get out, without being too robust or saccharine. Sure, they were more bitter than the mild English ales that they were being compared to, and higher in ABV to boot. But by today’s standards, they’re anything but bitter. They’re more like an Amber’s older, more smarmy brother. In other words, the ESB is perfect fall beer territory.
Here are several you need to drink right now.
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Straight out of England, this beer helps set the standard for the ESB style. It's been named World Champion Beer twice. This is the beer you get when you want to see how the style is traditionally supposed to be executed.
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Bent Paddle Brewing won gold this year for their ESB, called 14° ESB. And that's just the latest win for this beer; it won silver at GABF in 2015 and bronze in 2014, so this little beer has a ton of hardware. It's balanced as hell, with one foot secured in the world of toasted malts and the other in the world of pine and citrus hops.
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Harvest Ale is one of Southern Tier's fall seasonals. It's a traditional take on the ESB, using English hops and cracked barley. The best part: Southern Tier recommends pairing this beer with macaroni and cheese. Oh yeah.
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Green Man makes this ESB year round. It's probably less balanced than some others on this list, leaning toward the sweet and malty side with a big wallop of rich caramel in every sip.
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Extra Special Ale is Yards Brewing flagship beer, and one they've been brewing since opening their doors in 1994. The beer has won its share of hardware over the years, including silver at this year's GABF. Why? Because it nails all those English notes, from chocolate and caramel up front to a bit of spice on the back end.
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Dry Dock calls this an amber, but it's a straight forward ESB from beginning to end. You get heaps of rich malt and just enough pine and bitterness from the hops to keep things interesting. And you can get it year round in the can.
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Fuller's ESB might own bragging rights for helping to establish the style, but Redhook definitely can take some of the credit for introducing the style to Americans. And Redhook's ESB is an American take on the style, using Pale and Crystal malts and Willamette hops. I mean, this beer helped define craft beer in the '80s.