From the HBD Archive
Subject: Re: English bitter info/examples
Date: 1992-06-17 15:38:57 GMT

Paul Stafiniak asks about English bitter. Though an American, I travel to
England quite a lot and drink prodigious quantities of the stuff, so I
think I can answer some questions.

(To explain the context of my answer, I should point out that people in
England, even CAMRA, don't get into the very precise definitions of beer
style that Americans in general and the AHA in particular does. A beer
style over there is much more likely to describe a range of
characteristics, which may overlap with other beer styles. "Bitter" is
a continuum, not a point.)

Bitter is the default drink in most pubs in England. Bitter is basically
draught ale. Bitters tend to have roughly the characteristics that we
associate with your basic ale. They are generally darker in color,
lower in alcohol, and fruitier than light ales. They are usually not as
sweet as milds. They are fairly well hopped, but this varies. They are
bitter from both the hops and the hard water used, and they usually have
a tang which is hard to describe. None are heavily carbonated. In London,
beer is served practically flat. Go up North and it gets fizzier, but
never so fizzy as any bottled ale.

There are several kinds of bitter that you can get in pubs:
1) Ordinary: O.G. around 1028-1032, not much malt flavor, not sweet, well
but not overpoweringly hopped. E.g. Young's Bitter
2) Special or Best: O.G. around 1035-1045, a bit more malt flavor, a bit
sweeter, about the same hoppiness. E.g. Courage Directors
3) Name varies depending on location: O.G. higher than 1040, lots of malt
flavor, sweet, hopping varies. E.g. Ruddles County, Greene King Abbott.

The flavor varies a lot within each style. Webster's Yorkshire Bitter, for
example, has enough hops to preserve an elephant.

The only way I have found of making something that tastes like bitter is to
make a generic ale and allow it to condition in a vessel that bleeds off
pressure. Those little 5 liter party cans with a spout stuck in the
cork work well, but they're a pain to keep clean. One more thing: do not
use Cascade hops under any circumstances. Use Northern Brewer or something
like that.

The only American beer I have ever tasted which comes anywhere near to a
real bitter is the bitter at the Commonwealth Brewery in Boston, MA. It is
really hard to get the flavor in a bottle, but Sam Smith's Old Brewery
Bitter comes close.

Eric Pepke INTERNET:
Supercomputer Computations Research Institute MFENET: pepke@fsu
Florida State University SPAN: scri::pepke
Tallahassee, FL 32306-4052 BITNET: pepke@fsu

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