Beer Style 11A: Ordinary 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 beer styles from the 2015 BJCP guidelines, offering both a technical and somewhat anecdotal overview of the dozens of beer offerings from around the world.
Ordinary Bitter – not the most pleasing of beer style names. But don’t let the lackluster title put you off. This little gem from the overarching category of “British Bitters” is far from ordinary.
Characterised by low gravity, low carbonation levels and low alcohol, the ordinary bitter is a staple of every self-respecting English pub. It’s both flavourful and well balanced. Don’t expect the bitterness of an American IPA. Despite the name, the hops used in this style of beer are not showstopping. Bitter – yes. Overbearing or harsh – certainly not. IBUs run from 30-50 and typically run on the lower side of the spectrum. This is a quintessential session beer with exceptional drinkability.
One of the keys to brewing a good bitter is water composition. Adding a bit of gypsum to the water treatment prior to brewing helps to accentuate bitterness in hops – giving them a bit more of an edge in the beer. The yeast used is your typical English ale yeast. This imparts low levels of esters and a residual sweetness that’s quite pleasing to the palate.
Ordinary Bitter is often dispensed as “real ale.” This means it’s served straight from a cask in which it was conditioned without the use of CO2. This is achieved through the use of a beer engine or hand pump. These devices use a series of pistons and chambers to siphon the beer directly from the cask in the cellar. None of that fancy, CO2 hocus pocus for the traditionalists. No way!
So what can you expect from this traditional English style? Let’s see what the BJCP Style Guidelines have to say.
Overall Impression: Low gravity, low alcohol levels, and low carbonation make this an easy-drinking session beer. The malt profile can vary in flavor and intensity, but should never 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 light caramel quality. Bready, biscuity, 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 light 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: Light to medium-light body. Low carbonation, although bottled examples can have moderate carbonation.
Comments: The lowest gravity member of the British Bitter family, typically known to consumers simply as “bitter” (although brewers tend to refer to it as Ordinary Bitter to distinguish it from other members of the family).
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: Some modern variants are brewed exclusively with pale malt and are known as golden ales, summer ales, or golden bitters. Emphasis is on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.030 – 1.039
IBUs: 25 – 35 FG: 1.007 – 1.011
SRM: 8 – 14 ABV: 3.2 – 3.8%
Commercial Examples: Adnams Southwold Bitter, Brains Bitter, Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter, Greene King IPA, Tetley’s Original Bitter, Young’s Bitter
Tags: session-strength, amber-color, top-fermented, british-isles, traditional-style, amber-ale-family, bitter