Continuing to leverage my time at home during the coronavirus pandemic, I am studying for the second level of the Cicerone Certification Program for beer professionals. To remain honest in my studies, I am reviewing DMV beers brewed in the classic styles and comparing them to the official style guidelines.
This week I’m drinking Denizens Extra Special Bitter (ESB), Lowest Lord. Interestingly, ESB is actually not a true style, but rather a trademark from British brewery Fuller’s, who helped popularize English styles in the US through their exports. English bitters are stylized by their alcohol strength: Ordinary Bitter has the lowest ABV of around 4%, Best Bitter a little boozier, and Strong Bitter can be up to 6% ABV. As Lowest Lord clocks in at 5.3%, we will compare it to a Strong Bitter:
Strong Bitter Guidelines from the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP):
An average-strength to moderately-strong British bitter ale. The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. Drinkability is a critical component of the style.
Appearance is light amber to deep copper color. Good to brilliant clarity.
Aroma is a moderate hop aroma of floral, earthy, resiny, and/or fruity character. Medium to medium-high malt aroma, medium fruity esters.
Flavor is medium to medium-high bitterness with supporting malt flavors of bread, biscuit, light toast evident. Hop flavor moderate to moderately high, following the nose.
Mouthfeel is medium-light to medium-full body. Low to moderate carbonation, although bottled versions will be higher.
Vital Statistics: IBUs 30-50, SRM 8-18, ABV 4.6-6.3%
Pours a deep, moderately hazy amber. Rocky head sticks around for a bit. This smells, for lack of a better descriptor, very British. Lowest Lord exudes that damp forest aroma that is unmistakably British to me, along with a healthy dose of digestive biscuit. This beer is a Paddington Bear book in a glass – my nose catches earth, flowers, and an extra orange marmalade sandwich in his hat.
The hops are assertive on this bad boy. Resin-y, floral, and some citrus flavors really stick with you in drinking this, and the famed bitterness sticks on the tongue. That being said, the substantial malt character manages to catch up and present an overall balanced beverage. The British love their weird dry biscuits, and this ESB delivers a maltiness similar to those famed Mcvitie’s biscuits. Staying true to the style’s English roots, Denizens dials in a lower carbonation level on this medium bodied brew to approximate drinking in an English pub, which improves mouthfeel and drinkability. I would love to try this via beer engine.
Paired with bacon (rashers?), Lowest Lord’s bitterness pleasantly cuts through the rendered fat, and the malty sweetness balances that addictive salt cure. Round out the meal with some eggs and goat cheese, accept that time is a human construct, and at 10am this ESB becomes a terrific late-breakfast digestif.
One could argue that Lowest Lord is a little on the hoppy end of the spectrum for the style, but I think Denizens nailed what they were going for: a beer that almost reaches English IPA, but with more supporting malt character and lower ABV for drinkability’s sake. As a US brewery with an English Bitter in their core year-round lineup (!!!), this is a significant achievement, especially when you consider that you can sidle up to one of their Silver Spring picnic tables at any time and have one with a delicious burger.
I would like to state this for the un-erasable Internet record: more breweries should make Bitters.
Next week – Wheatland Spring Servus, Helles Lager!