The Bitter is a English style of beer that’s a little confusing. It shares an ancestry with pale ales and IPAs and indeed, the term “bitter” emerged as slang for newfangled pale ales in Victorian England. Since the development of these styles, things diverged a bit, and naturally those cheeky Americans had to get involved and throw their whole bombastic spin into the mix.
I’m no historian and I’m not exactly an expert in British pub culture, but I actually find that current era hop obsession helps differentiate the Bitter from a normal Pale Ale. While hops naturally still play a big role in the Bitter, the focus seems to be more on balance, subtlety, and sessionability. Light bodied and relatively dry, they aren’t quite as assertive as Pale Ales, which tend to be bigger and bolder. And that’s even before Americans started hopping the crap out of them and exploring the extreme boundaries of the human palate. That being said, Bitters are stilly tasty and well suited for long sessions of drinking. They’re a favored style for cask conditioning as well, but you’ll probably find that more in England than here in the U.S.
But some U.S. breweries will take a swing at the style, even if it’s not going to be a hot seller. I’ve always enjoyed Victory’s take on the style, and one of my favorite discoveries of the past few years has been Bonn Place Mooey. Heck, I even made a homebrewed Bitter quite a while ago and it turned out great…
In my continuing efforts to provide extra support for local breweries during this pandemic, I recently spied local fave Forest & Main releasing two different Bitters at the same time. Intrigued, I picked them both up (along with a couple of others, which I’ll also include below as bonus reviews.) How different could the two beers be? On paper, they sound similar enough, but it turns out that they are indeed quite distinct:
Changing Tides Bitter – A bitter style brewed with Maris Otter, crystal malt, and golden naked oats, hopped with Goldings and Grungeist – Pours a dark orange, maybe auburn color with a solid finger of off white head. Smells of bready malt, maybe a subtle note of toast, a bit of noble hops rounding things out. Taste hits those bready malt-forward notes, again a subtle toastiness, and a well balanced hop bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and highly quaffable. Overall, ayup, this is great. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 3.9% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/29/21. Canned
Raised Beds Bitter – Brewed for Forest & Main’s anniversary, this is made with malt from Deer Creek Malthouse (a small local establishment), and hopped with Goldings and Wolf (presumably both Styrian varieties.) – Pours a clear golden color with a finger of fluffy, bubbly white head, very pretty. Smells of herbal hops, earthy noble hops, with a bit of bready malt in the background. Almost like the mirror image of Changing Tides Bitter above. Like a mirror for your nose where malt and hop aromas are reversed? Yeah, that. Taste follows that trend too, more hop than malt focused, and even a bit more bitter. Mouthfeel is still light bodied, but moreso than Changing Tides; still crisp and quaffable stuff though. Overall, this is really good, but I think I prefer Changing Tides. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 4.2% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/30/21. Canned
Emerging DIPA – DIPA brewed with an addition of oats and hopped with Galaxy, Columbus, Mosaic, and Mandarina – Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a solid finger of white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, floral with lots of tropical fruit, mangoes, pineapple and the like. Taste starts off sweet, hits some of that juicy fruit character in the middle, with a bit of a balancing bitter bite towards the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, a little flabby, but quite easy going. Overall, rock solid DIPA. B or B+
Beer Nerd Details: 8.3% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/31/21. Canned
Blank Stare Blonde Barleywine – Made with Golden Promise malt and hopped with British Progress and German Grungeist, this kinda occupies something closer to a TIPA than a barleywine, but the focus on old country hops does lean more towards bw territory, but your mileage may vary.
Pours a clear golden color with a finger of dense but still fluffy white head. Smells sugary sweet, candied citrus fruit, a little pine, maybe like pineapple. Taste is sweet up front, biscuity, with citrus and pine American hops pitching in, well balanced finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, a well balanced moderate carbonation, just a hint of stickiness in the finish. Overall, it’s a nice little beer, it feels like more than just a TIPA, so mayhaps the barleywine moniker is appropriate. B+ or A-
Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/29/21. Canned
2 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Bitters”
The Great Cross-Posting Earl Grey Tea/Beer Experiment!!! Such good times, possibly the highlight/peak of my tea blog.
Bitters are good stuff and I wish we saw more of them here. I used to see ESB as a style, has that fallen out of favor?
Ha, I totally forgot that we did that. Good times!
ESB is just a stronger bitter and I suspect a lot of things called bitter could be called ESB. There’s definitely a few out there, but I don’t know that it was ever especially “in favor” enough to be out of favor now… That said, I’ve grown to enjoy the style quite a bit and a few local breweries put them out on a regular-ish basis, which is nice. Still, they’re clearly releases where the brewer just likes the style and wants to brew it, not something people are lining up for…