My Bitter Friend

David | Blog | June, 24 2010 | No Comment

Continuing the Never Met a (Beer) I Didn’t Like series, today we look at Special/Best/Premium Bitter. But first, a word or two about beer styles.

When it comes to beer styles, the best source is the Beer Judge Certification Program, a grass-roots organization that maintains style guidelines, and publishes updates annually. There is even a BJCP app for your I-phone or android, so you can study anywhere to become a BJCP certified judge or to become certified in the Cicerone™ Certification Program. There are just 23 style categories, which may seem limiting, but these are almost families in some cases, with numerous subcategories. The sour beer category for instance is made up of six “styles,” some more distinct than others.

So. for the first beer in this occasional series we look at Sub-Category 8B of the BJCP Guidelines.

Beer writer Randy Mosher says the classic English bitters emerged historically around 1850 and underwent development through 1950. “Despite their low gravity…the best of these beers can be seductively complex,” Mosher says of the range of bitters, noting that they are best when served from a cask as real ale.

These are wonderful beers, born of the pub, and meant for socializing. They don’t often travel well to the U.S., and strict interpretations made in the U.S. can be found, but are not prevalent. This is one of those styles where the best way to experience it is to hop and plane and confront it on its home turf.

BJCP says the best examples of this style (the three names are in effect interchangeable) have some malt aroma with some caramel,  combined fruity yeast on the nose and a restrained hoppy note. The color is medium gold to copper; the flavor offers a decent amount of bitterness, earthy resinous or floral hop flavor balancing a caramel malt flavor, and the crucial characteristic, a balanced drinkability.

S/B/P is the middle of three ranges of English bitter styles, as such it is slightly stronger in flavor and alcohol than an Ordinary Bitter and slightly more reserved in those qualities than an Extra Special Bitter. Technical its specs should come in 3.8-4.6% Alcohol By Volume and about 25-40 International Bittering Units.

Noted examples include Fuller’s London Pride, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Adnams SSB, Brains SA, Black Sheep Best Bitter, Goose Island Honkers Ale, Rogue Younger’s Special Bitter. I think Sierra Nevada’s Early Spring Bitter would have been here too, or in the ESB category, but sadly it’s been discontinued for the national market.

I like to pair these with clothbound Cheddars, Gloucester and other mild cheeses of the English tradition, but they also go well with milk bloomy rind cheeses and fresh or aged sheeps milk cheeses.

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