An English bitter is the British term for a Pale Ale. ESBs are essentially more aggressive and more balanced Bitters, both in alcohol and hop character, but nothing overpowering. Color range will be similar, though leaning towards the darker end of the scale; dark golds to copper. Low carbonation. Malts tend to be more pronounced, often toasty and fruity, with maybe some notes diacetyl. And despite “bitter” being in its name, ESBs are not really all that bitter. They key to an ESB is balance.
Bitters vary in colour from gold to dark amber and in strength from 3% to 7% alcohol by volume. In England, many breweries have a number of bitters in their range. The style that has come to be known as Premium or Special Bitter generally includes the stronger ( 4.6%-6.0%) examples. These are mostly served in the traditional way from the cask, but some are also found in bottle form where the extra malt allows them to stand up better than the more delicate ordinary Bitter. In the US, the designation ESB is common for this style, owing to the influence of Fuller’s ESB, the London brew that was among the first to be exported to the States. In the US, some ESBs are made with American hops and a clean yeast, but the alcohol range is the same, as is the range of bitterness, usually between 25 and 35 but occasionally creeping higher.
It is usually served in an English pint glass. Some of the best ESB out there are from Fuller’s, Propeller, Hobgoblin, Southern Tier & Shipyard. Goes well with steaks, fish n chips, spicy foods and cheese.