BJCP ESB history description

Reads 7488 • Replies 40 • Started Saturday, July 23, 2011 9:39:29 AM CT

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SilkTork
beers 6825 º places 107 º 09:39 Sat 7/23/2011

http://www.bjcp.org/2008styles/style08.php#1c

It would be interesting to know where the BJCP writer’s get their information from. Fair enough, the exact history and definition of a description such as Extra Special Bitter is not going to be easy to pin down; however, much of that description seems wide of the mark.

The bit where it refers to America may well be right:

"in America, the name has been co-opted to describe a malty, bitter, reddish, standard-strength (for the US) English-type ale. Hopping can be English or a combination of English and American."

But there is very little in the bit relating to the UK that is right:


"Strong bitters can be seen as a higher-gravity version of best bitters (although not necessarily “more premium” since best bitters are traditionally the brewer’s finest product). Since beer is sold by strength in the UK, these beers often have some alcohol flavor (perhaps to let the consumer know they are getting their due). In England today, “ESB” is a brand unique to Fullers;"

"beer is sold by strength in the UK", Yes, this is quite common. Strength is to the UK as style is to the USA.

"“ESB” is a brand unique to Fullers". ESB is not now nor has ever been a brand unique to Fullers. ESB or variations such as Extra Special Bitter, Special Bitter, Extra, Special Pale Ale, etc, are and have been used by a wide range of British brewers. It’s like saying that "Special Brew" is a brand unique to Carlsberg, or "Pale Ale" is a brand unique to Sierra Nevada. More accurate wording may be: "Fuller’s ESB is the best known use of the term ESB." Fuller’s ESB is particularly recognised in the USA as that was the first (and probably only) British beer with that name to be imported into America.

"Strong bitters can be seen as a higher-gravity version of best bitters..." Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple? Coach House ESB is 3.9% While some Best Bitters can go over 5%, as with Barearts Todmordens Blooming Best Bitter at 6.1%. While "Extra" and "Special" and especially "Extra Special" are the brewer suggesting the beer is of a higher grade or strength, this is not usually in relation to Best, but to the regular or "ordinary" bitter. Indeed, it is likely that if a brewer has a Best, then they don’t also have a Special. But they may have a Special and an Extra Special. Same as they may have a Stout and an Extra Stout. Or a popular brand for which they make a stronger version, which they call Extra - as in Crouch Vale Brewers Gold Extra. If the beer were to be a stronger Best, it would be called Best Extra or Extra Best - and I don’t think there’s ever been such a beer.

"best bitters are traditionally the brewer’s finest product". Not really. "Best" is simply a term like Extra or Special or Strong or Export. Even in cases where a brewer

 
SilkTork
beers 6825 º places 107 º 09:42 Sat 7/23/2011

Cut off...


"best bitters are traditionally the brewer’s finest product". Not really. "Best" is simply a term like Extra or Special or Strong or Export. Even in cases where a brewer only produces a Bitter and a Best, the brewer and the customers may well regard the Bitter as the main and better product. Youngs Bitter is much more popular than Youngs Special, for example.

"these beers often have some alcohol flavor (perhaps to let the consumer know they are getting their due)" Body and sweetness are generally more regarded than alcohol notes, and are more associated with quality. Too many alcohol notes in a beer sold in a pub would make the beer hard to sell, as most customers are wary of drinking several pints of strong beer. Strong beer is for drinking at home.

 
JoeMcPhee
beers 11212 º places 543 º 09:45 Sat 7/23/2011

Don’t try to read the history as actual history. It’s poorly researched and poorly sourced. It’s useful as a homebrewer’s guide to hitting a particular style, but it’s hardly an authoritative beer history.

 
Cletus
beers 6351 º places 233 º 09:47 Sat 7/23/2011

Try to remember that the BJCP’s focus is on the American homebrewing scene and their primary concern is the actual recipe profile. Not the historic background.

 
fredandboboflo
beers 1591 º places 62 º 10:56 Sat 7/23/2011

They could still stand to not print such obviously erroneous information...

 
NobleSquirrel
beers 3437 º places 209 º 11:49 Sat 7/23/2011

Originally posted by fredandboboflo
They could still stand to not print such obviously erroneous information...


I thought there was going to be an even broader discrepancy than what turned out.

 
beastiefan2k
beers 4705 º places 276 º 12:09 Sat 7/23/2011

agreed this description is ultimately full of holes. But take into account that for a long long time if anyone in America wanted to try an ESB, there best bet was a bottle of Fullers ESB (hopefully, not too old). So Fullers ESB has taken on the role of the prototypical ESB for better or worse. For the wide majority of people who care about beer this is satisfactory.

I am not a BJCP supporter, I can understand it though.

 
Cornfield
beers 5569 º places 143 º 12:21 Sat 7/23/2011

This may have partially been caused by the writings of the late, great Michael Jackson. In his Great Beer Guide, he wrote about Fuller’s ESB, "For a short time, another brewery in England used the same term, but today in Britain ESB is specifically a Fuller’s brand name." A great man, but like all men, not infallible.

 
NobleSquirrel
beers 3437 º places 209 º 12:24 Sat 7/23/2011

Originally posted by Cornfield
This may have partially been caused by the writings of the late, great Michael Jackson. In his Great Beer Guide, he wrote about Fuller’s ESB, "For a short time, another brewery in England used the same term, but today in Britain ESB is specifically a Fuller’s brand name." A great man, but like all men, not infallible.


This is a good point. Most of the history has remained unchanged in the descriptions for the longest time and relies on Michael Jackson.

 
Degarth
12:47 Sat 7/23/2011

The BJCP is (historically) to English Beer Styles (and others) what Medical Doctors are to general nutrition knowledge. They have credentials, but not necessarily clinical expertise. Consensus stands in for fact. Guys like you and Ron Pattison read things like that and chuckle, and you should; it is sometimes laughably wrong if you know better.

But, it is worth remembering that if you make a beer to the BJCP guidelines you will likely make a fairly tasty beer and that isn’t a bad thing. If the specific history is wrong, and as you pointed out it often is, the goal is making the beer at home.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be right with your history and still serve the common good of helping people make better beer. That also doesn’t mean that you can’t want the BJCP to, heaven forbid, acknowledge they just don’t know something for a certainty. I’m not defending the BJCP but I am saying they do much more good than harm.

 
SamGamgee99
14:11 Sat 7/23/2011

With regards to ESBs being considered higher-alcohol best bitters, I think you need to think recipe wise and not get hung up on the terminology of best versus special. These guidelines are to help homebrewers brew tasty and reasonably accurate versions of these beers, not to flawlessly categorize beer, which is a futile effort anyway.