As the Pale Ale is to America, the Bitter Ale is to England. A personal favorite of mine, the English Bitter combines malt and hops into an almost unbelievable balance and can only be described as perfection.
Lovingly dispensed from a slightly lower than room temperature cask via a pull style hand pump is the favored method of enjoying this beer. Utilizing industry-revered English Malt, the soul of the beer should be the robust and full character imparted by the simplistic combination of high-quality grains.
The often-used Kent region style hops should be apparent, but not overwhelming, and therein lies an age-old argument: is it a Bitter or a Pale Ale? A frequent discussion among fans of both styles often results in the agreement of hop usage and, sometimes more importantly, the method of dispensing.
Subtleties are contributed by water profile, often hard, while centuries of selective yeast propagation might be a more significant contributor. Fruitiness is expected, but not overwhelming, another contribution from the yeast.
Bitters are often separated into 3 categories depending on original gravity (pre-fermentation sugar to water ratio) and alcohol content, along with a complementing hop rate that ensures a respective balance. These three categories are Bitter, Special or Best Bitter, and Extra Special Bitter. They vary in alcohol content and hop bitterness units.
Bitter has an alcohol level of around 4% and 35 IBU, Special or Best Bitter around 4.6% and 50 IBU and finally Extra Special Bitter or ESB, around 6%, and 50 IBU.
The English Bitter is also the forerunner in the push to bring back cask condition real ales, so go enjoy both a piece of history in the making and a personal favorite!