Beer Style 11B: Best Bitter
There are dozens of beer styles and we know it can get a little confusing, so each week we profile a particular style of beer in the Devil’s Peak Beer Guide. We’ll outline styles from the 2015 BJCP guidelines, offering both a technical and somewhat anecdotal overview of the dozens of beer offerings from around the world.
11B Best Bitter
If there’s one thing that brewers agree on, it’s that no one can agree on what exactly separates one man’s ordinary, best and strong British bitters, barring the strength of alcohol of course. The BJCP guidelines have done a pretty good job of trying to explain the nuances, but ask your average joe to blind the difference between the three and he’s probably going to have a pretty hard time.
Maybe I’m overstating. Perhaps any Englishman worth his salt could not only blind the difference between styles but even brands. But until I see it, I’m sticking to my story.
But for now, let’s focus on the best bitter. It’s in the middle of the pack, and chances are you’ve already tried it. That’s right – our very own Devil’s Peak English Ale is a best bitter. Our brewer, JC Steyn, generally describes it as flavourful and refreshing with lower alcohol and exceptional sessionability. As is called for in the style, our best bitter is also very well balanced while maintaining its overall bitter impression. It’s a beer for all seasons, and if you haven’t experienced one, you need to head down to The Taproom asap.
Ready to compare tasting notes? Let’s see what the BJCP Style Guidelines have to say.
Overall Impression: A flavorful, yet refreshing, session beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style.
Aroma: Low to moderate malt aroma, often (but not always) with a low to medium-low caramel quality. Bready, biscuit, or lightly toasty malt complexity is common. Mild to moderate fruitiness. Hop aroma can range from moderate to none, typically with a floral, earthy, resiny, and/or fruity character. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.
Appearance: Pale amber to medium copper color. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. May have very little head due to low carbonation.
Flavor: Medium to moderately high bitterness. Moderately low to moderately high fruity esters. Moderate to low hop flavor, typically with an earthy, resiny, fruity, and/or floral character. Low to medium maltiness with a dry finish. The malt profile is typically bready, biscuity, or lightly toasty. Low to moderate caramel or toffee flavors are optional. Balance is often decidedly bitter, although the bitterness should not completely overpower the malt flavor, esters and hop flavor. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Low carbonation, although bottled examples can have moderate carbonation.
Comments: More evident malt flavor than in an ordinary bitter, this is a stronger, session-strength ale.
History: See comments in category introduction.
Characteristic Ingredients: Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts. May use a touch of dark malt for color adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn or wheat. English finishing hops are most traditional, but any hops are fair game; if American hops are used, a light touch is required. Characterful British yeast.
Style Comparison: More alcohol than an ordinary bitter, and often using higher-quality ingredients. Less alcohol than a strong bitter. More caramel or base malt character and color than a British Golden Ale. Emphasis is on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.040 – 1.048
IBUs: 25 – 40 FG: 1.008 – 1.012
SRM: 8 – 16 ABV: 3.8 – 4.6%
Commercial Examples: Adnams SSB, Coniston Bluebird Bitter, Fuller’s London Pride, Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter, Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Young’s Special
Tags: standard-strength, amber-color, top-fermented, british-isles, traditional-style, amber-ale-family, bitter