Extra Special Bitter

Extra Special Bitter Beer Style: Your Guide to Bitter Bliss!

Reading Time: around 9 min

Extra Special Bitter, or ESB for short, is like the rebel cousin in the beer family who doesn’t quite play by the rules. This style stands out with its rich, complex flavors.

And if you haven’t given it a fair shake…

…you’re missing out on a page in your beer-loving biography.

Its name is a mischievous wink. It’s not all that bitter, especially when you pit it against the palate-wrecking IPAs of the craft beer world. 

But that’s part of its charm!

So, what makes an ESB extra special? 

Well, it’s a full-bodied ale that balances a sweet melody of malts with a subtle bitter hoppy background tune. If you’re someone who appreciates the finer things, like a vinyl record’s warm crackle or the nostalgia of a film photograph, then ESB’s aesthetic appeal. 

With its deep amber hues and malty aroma, will call to you. Crack open a bottle, and you’ll find yourself mulling over its layered flavors with each sip.

When you’re brewing this bad boy at home – or just trying to impress your mates at the pub – you’ll want to stock up on ingredients that play nice together. Think Maris Otter or other hearty English malts, and classic English hops like East Kent Goldings or Fuggles. 

It’s not just about the ABV and IBU numbers.

It’s the harmonious balance that characterizes an ESB. Each glass is a smooth talker, tempting you to consider what perfect plate of grub would elevate your experience to epicurean ecstasy.

Key Takeaways

  • ESB is a flavorful ale balancing malt sweetness with a gentle bitterness.
  • Aesthetic appeal includes a deep amber color and a rich, malty scent.
  • Ideal ingredients for brewing are English malts and hops, complemented by thoughtful food pairings.


Aesthetic Appeal: Appearance and Aroma

Let’s get up close and personal with the good looks and charming scents of Extra Special Bitter (ESB) beer. Trust me, it’s so darn worth it.

Defining Characteristics

First things first, ESB isn’t just a pretty face. It’s got depth. 

Your typical pint of ESB showcases a dazzling color range from deep gold to rich copper. And let’s not forget clarity. This beer struts a crystal-clear look that would make any window pane jealous. Clear as your intentions on a Friday night out!

ESB is known for its strong flavor and high alcohol content. It typically has an ABV of around 4.5-6.2%. Which is on the higher end compared to many other types of beer.

Most importantly it has a rich, malty flavor with a hoppy finish.

Look and Feel

Take a gander at that ESB in your glass, it’s practically glowing with pride. The look of an ESB is as vital as the right outfit on a first date. It beams with vibrant color that’s as eye-catching as it is delicious. In SRM terms from 8 to 18.

And feel that experience; ah boy. Each sip greets you with a hearty, almost velvet-like texture that says, “Hey there, take your shoes off and stay a while.”

Aroma and Flavor

Now, take a whiff! ESB comes at you with a malt aroma that plays lead guitar, harmonizing with backup singers like caramel, biscuit, and that rich, sultry toasty vibe. 

Fruity notes might pull a surprise solo, while hop aroma stays back, offering a supporting bass line that’s more earth than roast. Take a hint of Burton-upon-Trent heritage in each smell, a classic tell of brewing with hard water that’s heavy on the minerals. 

And hey, if you catch a tiny bit of diacetyl…

…your senses aren’t playing tricks on you.

It’s like a pat of butter on a freshly-baked scone, only in your beer!

The Heart of ESB: Ingredients and Brewing Process

Crafting an Extra Special Bitter (ESB) is like putting on a rock concert for your taste buds. You’ve got your star performers, your stage setup, and a finale that leaves you cheering for an encore. Let’s break down the band members and their roles, shall we?

Malt Mastery

You can think of malt as the backbone of your ESB. It sets the stage. Now, your go-to base malt here is Maris Otter. It’s like the lead vocalist loved by all, giving you that rich, biscuity tune. 

You’ll want to harmonize with crystal malt and possibly some specialty malts to add depth to your melody. And bring out that toffee and caramel notes. Keep an eye on your original gravity (OG). As this guy tells you how much potential alcohol your ESB could headbang to.

  • Key Malts: Maris Otter, Crystal Malt
  • Original Gravity: Aim around 1.048 to 1.060


Hoppy Happenings

Hops are your flashy guitarists slicing through the mix with those bright riffs of bitterness and fragrance. Fuggles and Target are your hop celebs here, strumming the earthy and woody tones, while nailing the desired hop character of your ESB. 

Balance is key. I mean, you don’t want a guitar solo drowning out the lead vocals, right? So, manage your additions for both bittering (start of the mash) and aromatic bliss (end of the boil).

  • Prime Hops: Fuggles, Target
  • Bittering: Just enough to edge out the malt sweetness
Extra Special Bitter Hops

Hopping Recommendations

We’re about to craft an Extra Special Bitter that’ll knock your socks off.

And hey, maybe even your sandals, if you’re into that look.

First, let’s talk what you need most – hops. You want tradition? You got it. You want a twist? Oh, it’s coming. For a 5-gallon batch of this regal ale, we’re going full-on British Invasion.

Kick things off with Challenger hops. 

These are the bouncers at the door of your beer, keeping things orderly. Toss in 1.5 ounces at the 60-minute mark for a bitterness that’s as firm as a headmaster’s handshake.

Now, sneak in some Northdown hops halfway through the show. 

Add another ounce at the 30-minute encore. They’re like Challenger’s cooler cousin with a leather jacket, adding a touch of spice and a whiff of pine, to the green tea.

As the clock winds down, with 15 minutes to go, it’s time for the grand flourish. A half-ounce of East Kent Goldings. These are the hops that put the ‘special’ in Extra Special Bitter, with a herbal aroma that’s as charming as a British accent.

Spiced up with British humor.

But wait, there’s more! At flameout, let’s give it one last hurrah with a half-ounce of Goldings for aroma that lingers like the last guest at a smashing party.

You’re now armed with a hop lineup that’s more British than tea time at Buckingham Palace. Get ready to brew an ESB that’s as balanced as a double-decker bus navigating a roundabout. And when you’re done, we’ll toast to your success.

Preferably with a pint of your finest in hand. 🍻👑🎩

Yeast and Other Beasty Bits

The yeast in ESB. Think of it as the drummer, setting the pace and vibe of the fermentation session. You’re looking for a yeast that hits you with moderate esters for that fruity groove without going overboard. 

The fermentation should be a smooth gig. 

Leaving you with a final gravity (FG) that hints at a dry finish but still with some body to sway to.

  • Yeast Strain: Go for ones that accentuate malt and hop flavors while contributing mild esters.
  • Fermentation: Keep it controlled for a clean finish.
  • Final Gravity: Somewhere between 1.010 and 1.016 for that encore-worthy balance.


Keep these tips in your back pocket, and you’re set to brew an ESB that’ll have your taste buds crowd-surfing in satisfaction.

Decoding the Acronyms: ABV, IBU, and ESB

Crack open the code on your favorite pub’s beer menu. 

Deciphering ABV, IBU, and ESB is key to finding your next great sip.

Let’s Talk About ABV: Alcohol by Volume

ABV stands for Alcohol By Volume, and it tells you how much of that pint is pure, tipsy-making magic. An Extra Special Bitter, or ESB for short, typically ranges from 4.5 to 6.2% ABV. 

That means with an ESB, you get enough alcohol warmth to notice, but not so much it’ll knock your socks off after one round.

Bitterness Scale: Understanding IBUs

IBUs, or International Bitterness Units, measure a beer’s bitterness, which comes from hops. The more, the bitter. I mean the bitterer. ESBs usually land between 30 and 50 IBUs, indicating they’ve got a good hop bite.

But it won’t feel like you just gnawed on a grapefruit.

It’s a tender kiss of bitterness balanced by malty sweetness…

…making it a true palate pleaser.

Extra Special Bitter: More Than Just a Clever Name

The “ESB” acronym might sound like a promise of puckered lips. But Extra Special Bitter is a British style that’s way more about balance than biting harshness. To get it right, brewers combine hearty malts with traditional hops.

Like Fuggle or East Kent Goldings. 

You get a complex flavor. Part caramel, part earthy, part spices, part floral, all party. And it’s this juggling act of taste that puts the “special” in Extra Special Bitter. So next time you see ESB on tap, remember it’s not just a hop showdown.

It’s a full-on flavor festival.

Perfect Matches: ESB Food Pairings

Listen up, because you’re about to become the ESB-pairing maverick of the century. When you grab a pint of Extra Special Bitter, you’re roping in a whole herd of flavors that crave the perfect culinary sidekick.

Notable ESB Brews

Okay, cowboy, before you ride off into the sunset with your pint glass, you need to know your steed. ESBs are known for their balance of malt sweetness and hop bitterness, boasting earthy, fruity, and floral notes. Here are a couple of champs to saddle up with:

  • Fuller’s ESB: This is the big kahuna. The gold standard. You get malty goodness with a side of orange marmalade.
  • Redhook ESB: It’s a little less traditional but has a great caramel malt kick that’s as bold as your aunt’s holiday sweater.


Food Pairings and Recipes

Now, let’s get down to the grub.

You want hearty, you want robust, you want – oh, let’s just get to it:

Food Pairing

Why It Works

Try With

Roast Chicken

The herbs play nice with the hop bitterness

Fuller’s ESB

Grilled Steak

Because beef and bitter are beer buddies.

Redhook ESB

Mature Cheddar Cheese

The sharpness pairs like a dream team.

Your fav ESB

Fish and Chips

The beer’s carbonation cuts through the grease.

A pint you’ve got on hand.


For the DIY chef in you, slather a marinade of ESB, garlic, and rosemary on a lamb chop, and remember, you heard it from me first. And for a tangy twist, mix a bit of ESB with your cheddar in a rarebit recipe that’ll knock your socks off.

Now grab that pint glass.

Rally those taste buds.

Picture of Damian


A lifelong learner, hop enthusiast and a lover of the state of extreme exhaustion.

Finance Analyst in the Investment Bank and co-founder of hopsmatcher.com