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Monday, September 28, 2009

ESB (Extra Special Blog)

Hey we're back with another beer club meeting for our second beer smack-down. This time we decided to compare a random selection of ESB's (Extra Special Bitters). First, a little bit about ESB's. While, of course, everything is a matter of taste, the "ideal" for an ESB is that it is a beer with a nice balance between the sweetness of the malt and the bitterness of the hops. The name is a bit of a misnomer in that ESB's are generally not that bitter. ESB's make for a nice "session" beer, one which you can settle into for an evening wherein you may imbibe in more than a couple. As is the case with many styles of beer, there is a great variance in color as well as taste. ESB's can run the gamut from a pale golden color to a fairly dark chocolate shade. Some emphasize the malty sweetness, while others tip toward the hoppy end of the scale. Alcohol content is usually not particularly high, ergo the session beer appellation.
The beers we choose for our taste comparison were: Middle Age's Beast Bitter, Fuller's ESB, Gritty McDuff's Best Bitter, Sierra Nevada's ESB, and Stoudt's ESB. Once again we used the totally subjective format of rating the beers 1-5 so that the low score wins. And again, you have a bunch of guys who have a distinct prejudice in favor of hoppy beers. As before, we were the ultimate winners because all five beers were quite tasty. All agreed it was a difficult task to rank the beers and found it necessary to sample each numerous times.
Our host this time was Mike and he color coded the samples - blue, green, orange etc. which will help explain some of the comments by Dan regarding some of the beers. Without further ado then, here are the results:

5th place - Gritty McDuff''s Best Bitter - It recieved 2 third place votes and 2 fifth place votes for a quality score of 16. (Herb choose to enjoy the beers without rating them - and who could blame him! He said, "They're all good." Bless his heart.) - Some of the comments were: "Balanced; not very heady" "Tasty, unassuming" "Orange you glad you came tonight?"

4th place - Middle Age's Beast Bitter - It received a second place vote, a third place vote and 2 fourth place votes for a total of 13 quality points. "Very similar in taste to Fuller's" "Sweeter, malty" and "Red Bull it's not."

3rd place - Stoudts' ESB - This beer was all over the place with one first place, one second place, one fourth place and one fifth place for a total of 12 quality points. "Darkest of the bunch" "Balanced, tasty" "Brilliant #1" "Lightest (taste) of the group."

2nd place - Fuller's ESB - Fuller's garnered two first place votes, but also received a fourth and a fifth place vote for a total of 11. "Not balanced; overpowered by hoppy tones" "Heartiest of the lot" "more bitter, hoppier" "Not a Blue Light for sure!"

1st place - Sierra Nevada ESB - Well, the West Coast did it again. With one first, two second and one third place vote for a total of 8 points it was the clear winner overall. "Delicious; good, lasting head" "Nice aroma" "the dark side of ESB" "Maltier than orange (Gritty's)."

Well, there you have it. Once we finished the grueling task of rating these fine beers we were treated to a meal that perfectly complemented the hearty brews, highlighted by a variety of stuffed peppers (both hot and mild) which Mike and Diane picked from their garden and prepared. It was a perfect evening.
Up next: Any beer with the word "Irish" in its name EXCEPT Guinness. That could include Irish Ales, Irish Reds, Irish Stouts etc. Should be interesting

And finally, a shout out to Southern Tier Brewery for their Harvest Ale. I picked up a sixer of this seasonal on a whim and I was pleasantly surprised. Not that I didn't expect something good from this excellent brewery located in Lakewood, New York. They produce a number of terrific brews (see: southertierbrewing.com). However a Harvest Ale or Octoberfest I expect to be more of a malty brew. With this beer they were not shy with the hops and the result is a wonderful, full-bodied ale that for me has a perfect balance of malt and hops. It starts out with a very pleasing, nutty sweetness and then a surprisingly strong hops presence bursts through for a satisfying finish.
Well done, Southern Tier!! I must stock up before the season is over.

Cheers!