What is an English Bitter?
A bitter is a English or British style pale ale which is popular for it’s slightly bitter but sessionable and mild flavour. In this article we’ll cover the essential information you need to know about bitter beer.
By Dustin Miller on Jun. 19, 2020
What is an English Style Bitter?
An English bitter Beer, often just called a “bitter”, is a type of pale ale.
During the 20th century, bitter was the most popular type of beer sold on tap in UK pubs; some consider it “the national drink of England.”
A popular beer likely because of it’s somewhat stronger flavour (compared to a light lager) but non-imposing and relatively mild bitterness (compared to an IPA). English bitters fit well with other easy-drinking choices like golden lagers or session ales. English bitters and pale ales are generally a popular choice for people who like more flavour and a slight bitterness from their beer, but who aren’t looking for something too extreme, overpowering, sweet, or heavy.
The complexity and range of flavour for bitter beers can be broad. A style that has evolved over time, there are both lighter mild versions and stronger, more bold version of the English bitter. However for a classic English bitter, many turn to the roots and opt for bitters direct from England.
Sub-Types of English Bitter Pale Ales
There are a few sub-types of English bitters which are grouped based on the alcohol content of the beer (and subsequently how sessionable it is):
- Light bitter ale – <3%ABV
- Session or ordinary bitter – 3.1-4.1%
- Best or special bitter – 4.2-4.7%
- Premium or strong bitter – 4.8-7%+
These grouping can also generally be applied to pale ales – so if you’ve had a really good session bitter and you’ve been trying to find a similar beer, consider trying a pale ale in the 3.1-4.1%ABV range.
Is English Bitter an ale or a lager?
The English bitter is an ale. When brewed, it is made using top-fermenting ale yeasts. The bitterness comes from hops which should be less bitter than an India Pale Ale.
What makes a beer an English Bitter?
Some say that an English bitter and pale ale can be used interchangeably, others feel that the English bitter deserves a class of it’s own. While the bitter isn’t officially regionally protected, we consider an English bitter a pale ale which is produced in England—otherwise it’s either a “bitter style beer” or an American pale ale.
About English Bitter – Essential Style Information:
Origin of the English Bitter:
English brewers were the last of the Europeans to adopt hops and up until that transition to hops, gruit was the option for herbed and spiced beers. Around the 1930s and through the second world war, English bitters rose to popularity in England as consumers opted for something other than the common dark-style ales available at the time. Post-WWII, bitter had established as a premium product that offered better quality and flavour.
Gold to copper in color. Low haze.
Aroma, Flavour, Palate & Mouthfeel:
A malt-driven, generally lower-alcohol style of beer with low residual malt sweetness. Light-to-medium-body. Hop bitterness is low-to-medium and a true bitter shouldn’t strongly taste of hops, but only be accented by the bitterness.
What foods pair well with English Bitter beers?
English-style pub foods: roast chicken, fish & chips, fries, Yorkshire pudding.
How to serve an English Bitter:
Served lightly-chilled (11° to 14° Celsius) in a British imperial pint glass.
Comparable styles to an English Bitter:
You might like an English bitter if you prefer a beer that lands somewhere between light and crisp and bitter or hoppy, or if you like pale ales, kolsch, or pilsners, you’ll likely enjoy an English bitter.
What are examples of the best English Bitter beers?
- Timothy Taylor – Boltmaker Yorkshire Bitter
- Joshua Tetley – Tetley’s Original Bitter
- Samuel Smith – Old Brewery Bitter
- View more English bitter style beers listed on JustBeer.
Try an English bitter for yourself!
Check out your local craft beer scene and stop by a local brewery in your area.
Now that you know about English Bitter, brush up on your beer knowledge with our guide to craft beer styles
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