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What is an ESB Beer?

Photo by joefoodie CC BY 2.0

Ahh, ESB. A classic beer style loved by beer enthusiasts and casual drinkers alike.

If you’re looking for a balanced brew with an inviting aroma, great flavor, and a nice hop bite, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this blog post, I will be exploring what an ESB is, its history, brewing process, characteristics, flavors, serving suggestions, and why this style has stood the test of time to remain popular today.

Introduction to ESB Beer

ESB stands for Extra Special Bitter – it’s an English-originated style of beer that is great for those who want something more flavorful than a basic pale ale but who don’t care for the hop-forward intensity of IPAs.

The “bitter” in its name doesn’t refer to taste as much as it does to its balance between malt sweetness and hop bitterness – which can range from moderate to assertive depending on the brewer’s preference.

History Of ESB Beer

This style of beer was developed by British brewers in the mid-1800s when they started using a new strain of hops called Brewers Gold – this variety of hops adds flavor without adding too much bitterness which helps achieve that ideal balance between malt sweetness and hop bitterness.

The name “Extra Special Bitter” was coined in 1895 at Fuller’s Brewery in London where they began producing their flagship ESB ale which remains popular up until this day.

Brewing Process Of ESB Beer

The ingredients used to make an ESB are: barley malt (2-row & caramel malts), hops (typically English varieties such as Fuggles or East Kent Goldings), yeast (ale yeast should be used), and water.

Brewers vary their recipes slightly depending on the desired flavor but generally speaking most use pale malts for base flavor & color with hints of crystal or caramel malts for additional complexity.

Hops are added during the boil to provide bitterness along with late hopping/dry hopping techniques being used during the fermentation/conditioning phase to give it more aroma & flavor without adding too much additional bitterness.

After fermentation is complete the brewers will often Keg condition their beers before serving them or bottling them up!

Characteristics Of Esb Beer

  • Color is golden amber with a slight haze
  • Aroma is fruity & malty with some earthy/herbal notes from the hops
  • Taste is slightly sweet upfront followed by a moderate hop bitterness that lingers on your tongue afterward
  • ABV is typically between 4% – 5%

Tasting Notes And Flavors Of Esb Beer

ESBs have many complex flavors going on; there are malt characters such as biscuity/caramel notes that make up the base while also having fruit/spice esters from yeast fermentation like banana/clove & earthy/herbal qualities from hops.

The basic idea behind this style is that all these flavors should be balanced out nicely so none overpower one another; it’s not quite an IPA but can still be quite hoppy & not quite like most lagers either – it’s something special all its own.

Serving Suggestions For Esb Beer

ESBs are best served around 50-55°F in a pint glass or tulip glass so you can enjoy all its nuances without having them muted by cold temperatures as you would traditionally do with other styles such as Pilsners or Lagers!

You can also pair your ESB with food such as grilled meats (the hop character acts as an unexpected yet pleasant companion to fatty foods) or even salads due to its fruity notes helping bring out subtle flavors without overpowering them as some heavier styles might do.


It’s easy to see why this style has remained popular over time; it offers every drinker something special – from those looking for delicate yet complex flavors to those who want bolder hop character but don’t want anything too harsh on their palate either!

Whether you’re a new craft beer enthusiast just starting out adventuring into various styles of beers or someone who’s been around pints for years now – give an extra special bitter a try next time you’re out drinking – you won’t regret it!

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, homebrewer and beer taster. I’m also the editor of Beer100. I love travelling the world and trying out new handcraft beer and different beer styles. I’m not an expert in brewing beer, but I know a few things about beer, which I share on this blog. If you need help or have a question, please comment below.

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