Nick Carr on June 15, 2015 1 Comment Quick Characteristics Brewery: Redhook Ale Brewery Location: Portsmouth, NH Style: Extra Strong Bitter ABV: 5.8% IBU: 28 Appearance: Coppery Amber With No Haze & Lots of Off-White Foam Aroma: Malty-Goodness Runs the Show; Hints of Citrus & Grass from the Hops Flavor: Rich Malty-Sweetness; Caramel Notes Dance Across Your Palate; Notes of Fruity Esters & Earthy Hops Balance a Slight Bitterness; Smooth With Dry Aftertaste Availability: Year-Round Pairs With: Fish n’ Chips, Spicy Shrimp, Asiago Cheese, Bread Pudding Having just finished up the profile on Extra Special Bitter I decided to go out hunting an example to try. Unfortunately the ESB I dearly love, from Alaskan Brewing, has been discontinued. I hadn’t realized how few examples there were of this style until I started trying to hunt one up. Red Hook ESB is the only one in my area, at least for the moment. I’ve tried this beer before, but don’t really remember it, maybe it was before I started tasting beer with discernment, I don’t know, but I figured it was worth a second look. The ESB isn’t very well known in the Americas. But it fills a niche in the beer style spectrum that makes it truly unique and, in my opinion, under appreciated. The ESB is more robust and richer in malt complexities then the usual American Ambers, while staying on the lighter side of Porters. Something else to note about ESB’s, is despite their name, they are not supposed to be overly bitter or hoppy, having about the same IBU range as an American Pale. With its richer malt profile though the hops will be a lot more subdued then in the case of a American Pale. To put it another way, you could think of India Pale Ales as the wild teenager trying to find themselves, running to different extremes. The American pale might be the twenty year old, starting to figure life out, but still worried about impressing the world. The ESB is the matured, well-balanced older version of this same life-story, the ESB still remembers its wild side but see’s it through the lens of malty experience. An imperfect comparison I know (especially since the ESB is only one in the family of three English pale ales), but it may help give some idea where the ESB is coming from and what to expect if you are new to this style. I guess maybe the important thing to remember is don’t buy this style looking for hoppiness on the level of the India. You’ll be disappointed. On the other hand if you are looking for a beer good for lubricating a long night of conversation or an entire ballgame, is a little richer and more complex then other sessionables, and won’t deaden your palate after one round, look no further. How bout we try one now… Pour and Aroma Pours a nice amber color. I poured pretty violently even overflowing the glass slightly with a head of at least two and a half fingers. Despite this splash-down, the head dissipated within a minute to just a skin of surface hugging, off-white foam; like a thin translucent layer of clouds. There is quite a bit of carbonation rising off the bottom and, though I’ll have to wait for the taste to be sure, doesn’t seem to bode well toward a true example of the soft cask-conditioned nature of this style, but we will have to wait and see. No haze mars its coppery depth. Beautiful. Aroma is mostly of malty, candied sweet goodness. Hints of citrus and grass speak to the hops, but only in whispers. It’s the malt running the show here. Some toasty notes and caramel add complexity. Mouthfeel and Taste Mouthfeel is a malt creamery, medium-full in body, and very smooth. The carbonation isn’t as high as its appearance made it seem, though I will say it may be still a little on the high side for the style. The high malt makes it marginally mouthcoating. You can suck sweet out of your cheeks for a while on this one. Taste, as you might expect, is malty sweet and rich. Caramel with some biscuit leads the dance across the palate. Midpalate adds just a hint of fruity esters with some earthy hop flavors before the balancing bitterness kicks up at the back end. Bitterness isn’t huge (it’s not supposed to be, despite the styles name), but tones the sweetness nicely. The aftertaste is malty, earthy, and somewhat drying. Finishing the Impression Though I do sorely miss Alaskan’s ESB (to be honest I don’t remember how close this stuck to the authentic ESB style either, I just remember I really liked it.. and miss it sigh), Red Hook’s example isn’t half bad. It easily fills those times when you want a sessionable ale with a little more malt profile and a bit more hop bite then the regular summer fare can offer. It certainly makes me want to explore more examples of this not-oft-explored but very versatile style. Cheers!