With the transition from lighter summer beers to maltier, darker and stronger winter beers, the English-Style Bitter seems to be a good crossover. While lower in alcohol and more sessionable, these beers follow a malt-forward profile. Bitters have been a staple of British drinking for years but the style hasn’t really caught on as much in The States. If you haven’t yet tried one it’s worth giving it a shot this month to see if that’s a direction in which you want to expand your beer palate.
On first appearance, bitters will have gold-to-copper color and light-to-medium body. They are in the pale ale family but maltiness is typically the most noticeable flavor, with notes of English hops in the background providing the bitterness. Many people also perceive biscuity, nutty, or toasty flavors. The hops and yeast generally also impart a dryness to the beer, particularly on the finish. Aroma is usually low with possibly a hint of hops. Often these beers are cask-conditioned and thus have a lower carbonation than most beers.
Sometimes you will see the terms ordinary, best, special, or extra special associated with these beers and that simply indicates the strength of the beer, with the ABV rising as the beers get more “special”.