This week's Beer Style of the Week is a personal favorite. Similar to many other English-style ales, English Extra Special/Strong Bitter ales (aka English Pale Ales) are malty, hoppy, and excellent session beers. While known as pale ales, they have none of the overly floral characteristics of American pale ales. A perfect English pint is often signified by an Extra Special Bitter. As always, I will give you the published guidelines first, then give you my thoughts and impressions of some I have consumed. First up, the guidelines:

Here are the stylistic guidelines from the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) 2008 Style
Guidelines publication.

8C. Extra Special/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale)

Aroma: Hop aroma moderately-high to moderately-low, and can use any variety of hops although UK hops are most traditional. Medium to medium-high malt aroma, often with a low to moderately strong caramel component (although this character will be more subtle in paler versions). Medium-low to medium-high fruity esters. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed. May have light, secondary notes of sulfur and/or alcohol in some examples (optional).

Appearance: Golden to deep copper. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. A low head is acceptable when carbonation is also low.

Flavor: Medium-high to medium bitterness with supporting malt flavors evident. Normally has a moderately low to somewhat strong caramelly malt sweetness. Hop flavor moderate to moderately high (any variety, although earthy, resiny, and/or floral UK hops are most traditional). Hop bitterness and flavor should be noticeable, but should not totally dominate malt flavors. May have low levels of secondary malt flavors (e.g., nutty, biscuity) adding complexity. Moderately-low to high fruity esters. Optionally may have low amounts of alcohol, and up to a moderate minerally/sulfury flavor. Medium-dry to dry finish (particularly if sulfate water is used). Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium-full body. Low to moderate carbonation, although bottled commercial versions will be higher. Stronger versions may have a slight alcohol warmth but this character should not be too high.

Overall Impression: An average-strength to moderately strong English ale. The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.

History: Strong bitters can be seen as a higher-gravity version of best bitters (although not necessarily "more premium" since best bitters are traditionally the brewer's finest product). Since beer is sold by strength in the UK, these beers often have some alcohol flavor (perhaps to let the consumer know they are getting their due). In England today, "ESB" is a brand unique to Fullers; in America, the name has been co-opted to describe a malty, bitter, reddish, standard-strength (for the US) English-type ale. Hopping can be English or a combination of English and

Comments: More evident malt and hop flavors than in a special or best bitter. Stronger versions may overlap somewhat with old ales, although strong bitters will tend to be paler and more bitter. Fuller's ESB is a unique beer with a very large, complex malt profile not found in other
examples; most strong bitters are fruitier and hoppier. Judges should not judge all beers in this style as if they were Fuller's ESB clones. Some modern English variants are brewed exclusively with pale malt and are known as golden or summer bitters. Most bottled or kegged versions of UK-produced bitters are higher-alcohol versions of their cask (draught) products produced specifically for export. The IBU levels are often not adjusted, so the versions available in the
US often do not directly correspond to their style subcategories in Britain. English pale ales are generally considered a premium, export-strength pale, bitter beer that roughly approximates a strong bitter, although reformulated for bottling (including containing higher carbonation).

Ingredients: Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts, may use a touch of black malt for color adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn or wheat. English hops most typical, although American and European varieties are becoming more common (particularly in the paler examples). Characterful English yeast. "Burton" versions use medium to high sulfate water.

Vital Statistics:

OG: 1.048 - 1.060

IBUs: 30 - 50

FG: 1.010 - 1.016

SRM: 6 - 18

ABV: 4.6 - 6.2%

Commercial Examples: Fullers ESB, Adnams Broadside, Shepherd Neame Bishop's Finger, Young's Ram Rod, Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Pale Ale, Bass Ale, Whitbread Pale Ale, Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Marston's Pedigree, Black Sheep Ale, Vintage Henley, Mordue Workie Ticket, Morland Old Speckled Hen, Greene King Abbot Ale, Bateman's XXXB, Gale's Hordean Special Bitter (HSB), Ushers 1824 Particular Ale, Hopback Summer Lightning, Great Lakes Moondog Ale, Shipyard Old Thumper, Alaskan ESB, Geary's Pale Ale, Cooperstown Old Slugger, Anderson
Valley Boont ESB, Avery 14'er ESB, Redhook ESB, Dry Dock Amber Ale

Here are the stylistic guidelines from the 2012 Great American Beer Festival.

58. Extra Special Bitter

A. Subcategory: English-Style Extra Special Bitter

Extra special bitter possesses medium to strong hop qualities in aroma, flavor, and bitterness. English hop varieties or others that approximate their resulting character are used in this subcategory. The residual malt and defining sweetness of this richly flavored, full-bodied
bitter is more pronounced than in other bitters. It is light amber to copper colored with medium to medium-high bitterness. Mild carbonation traditionally characterizes draft-cask versions, but in bottled versions, a slight increase in carbon dioxide content is acceptable. Fruity- ester character is acceptable in aroma and flavor. Diacetyl (butterscotch character) is acceptable and characteristic when at very low levels; the absence of diacetyl is also acceptable. Chill haze
is allowable at cold temperatures.

Original Gravity (Plato): 1.046-1.060 (11.5-14.7 Plato)  Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (Plato): 1.010-1.016 (2.5-4 Plato)  Alcohol by Weight (Volume): 3.8-4.6%
(4.8-5.8%)  Bitterness (IBU): 30-45 Color SRM (EBC): 8-14 (16-28 EBC)

 Now some of my tidbits of information, opinion, and recent tastings. I am a very big fan of this style of beer. I am always telling people that I like my beer like I like my women, reddish brown (hair color) and bitter. The hops and malt used in traditional versions blend top grade English
malts with English hop varieties. While some of the hop varieties are nearly off the charts for their acid content, the quantities used and timing of addition give the bittering characteristics instead of the floral, citrusy notes. This is one of those beers that is best served a bit on the warmer side (not straight from the fridge) and in an Englsih pub pint glass. A great beer
to have with fish and chips, bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, shepherd's pie, or just sitting at your favorite pub catching up with friends.

I could list off the ones that I have tried and liked but the list would be too damn long. Needless to say, as long as it lacks the floral and citrusy hoppy notes of American style pale ales, I am a happy drinker. I also brew this style of beer on a fairly regular basis. White Labs WLP002
Englsih ale yeast is the perfect English ale yeast to use, leaving a residual sweetness, rich malty flavor, and allowing the bittering hops to shine through. I brewed a batch last weekend for a party that friends are hosting in early September.

On to NFL news:

With the first preseason games occurring this week and NFL training camps continue to progress, I picked the AFC South as the division to preview and breakdown today. Also, this division is a pretty easy one to pick in my opinion. I expect very little surprising to come out of the AFC South this year.

The Houston Texans were forced to remain fairly quiet during free agency due to a very tight salary cap. Luckily for them, they remained almost entirely intact from last year's squad. The most significant addition was that of Ed reed at safety, but due to his age and declining health
and skills, I think the move ends up being a push. Still, I think this team is still the team to beat in the AFC South and should win the division by two games.

The Indianapolis Colts should get better. Anybody who has watched football knows that, often, second-year players go into a sophomore slump. That would be the worst possible outcome in Indy this year. If Andrew Luck does not continue to grow or regresses to play more prototypical of first year pros, the Colts will be in for a long season. Will it happen? Maybe. Do I think it will happen? Yes. Luck is a very talented quarterback but I think he needs to have a handful of bad games and typical rookie gaffs to make him a better player. He did not have those last year and the Colts made the playoffs. I think he has those issues this year (to make him a better quarterback in the long run) and the Colts do not make the playoffs. Also, they lost a bit more
talent than they picked up in the offseason, so that will also contribute to a decrease in the win column.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are terrible. Their front office personnel are terrible. They lack top-tier talent. They lack veteran leadership. They need so much help that it will be nearly impossible for them to even double their win total from last year. A move to Los Angeles may actually be the best thing for this team. They can't even fill their home stadium during games. That, to me, suggests it is time to knock it down to nothing and start from scratch. Players, coaches, GM...all need to go.

The Tennessee Titans are the big unknown in this division. They have quality players and decent coaches. They finally have a healthy Chris Johnson. But, they then spend money like drunken sailors in the offseason and don't have any truly significant additions to show for it. With a defense that gave up over 24 points in 9 out of their 10 losses last season, they spent money on 2 mediocre safeties (George Wilson and Bernard Pollard) and a so-so defensive tackle (Sammie Hill). Not the kind of moves needed to catch up to the Texans and Colts. Can Chris Johnson rush for over 1500 yards again in his career? I remain doubtful. It would help the Titans progress, but I still think it will be highly unlikely. I expect this coaching staff to be one of the first groups fired at the end of next season.

The AFC South still belongs to the Texans. I don't think any of the other teams in this division makes the playoffs in 2013. Prediction for records:

Texans 11-5 (division winner)

Colts 9-7

Titans 6-10

Jaguars 3-13

Enjoy the weekend! Enjoy a couple of beers! And enjoy some preseason football. At least we are getting close to real football!

Just my opinion...


August 9, 2013  04:32 PM ET

Had a few pale ales and WOW are they 'hoppy'.. but after a few.. you get use to it.. no my favs.. but I wouldn't turn one down..
AFC South still the Texans to take.. you stop Titans RB Chris Johnson.. you've stopped their offense.. so I have no faith in them.. Colts could make some noise if Luck can duplicate what he did last year.. less the ints and then there's the Jags.. just my opinion


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