A guide to the sessionable yet contemplative ESB
WHAT IS IT?
A top-fermented ale just that’s little bit stronger and darker than a typical pub-strength English Bitter, among the stronger offerings from English breweries, but average for American craft beer.
Expensive pub session possible.
COLOUR: Gold to dark amber
BODY: Medium full
BUBBLES: Somewhat sedate (on cask)
In the 1970s, Fuller’s wanted to break out and make something Special. Extra Special. Their ESB, the progenitor of the style, was nearly a full percent stronger than their other offerings and was a winter seasonal. Although Fuller’s ESB still exists, it is not considered a modern ESB as American brewers somewhat simplified the complexity of the malt bill in favour of toasted malt verging into dried fruit and toffee.
• A scotch egg
• Lentil and mushroom pie
• An entire platter of fried whitebait
WHY DOES IT TASTE LIKE MARMALADE?
The British, in their infinite wisdom, have doubled up the flavours of beer and teatime, using English hops like East Kent Goldings and Slovenian hops like Styrian Goldings to create notes of orange pith, orange pekoe tea, and the gentle greenery of hedgerows that layer above honey, biscuits, toasted bread, treacle, and currants. Think of it as the long, dark teatime of the beer world.
SIX MUST-TRY B.C. ESB:
• Mitchell’s ESB (cask-conditioned), Spinnakers Brewpub
• Blood Alley ESB, Russell Brewing
• The Lion ESB, Silver Valley Brewing (Silver Valley’s The Lion ESB won a gold medal at the 2022 Canada Beer Cup!)
• Extra Special Bitter, Callister Brewing
• Naughty Hildegard ESB, Driftwood Brewery
• Old Bitch Bitter, Angry Hen Brewing
(Beer picks by Joe Wiebe)