This is a most opportune time to return to one of our favorite subjects … Bitter. We recently released our beloved British Bitter in a can as “Craft Beer.” And today (after meticulously cleaning the lines) we put our Premium Bitter and Extra Special Bitter on line. Be sure to look for them in cask as well.
In England, most real ales served today are some type of “bitter.” The style ranges chromatically from golden through amber to light brown. Though generally balanced, they range from pleasantly sharp and hoppy to rich and malty. Beers in this family go by many names: ordinary bitter, best bitter, special bitter, strong bitter, premium bitter, and extra special bitter.
Many of the above names will be recognizable to longtime regulars as styles brewed by your friendly traditional-English-beer fanatics at the Civil Life. These excellent beers have a rich history that we try to honor with every pint we brew.
What we now think of as bitter or pale ale seems to have originated during the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign (c. 1840s). According to Martyn Cornell (one of our favorite English beer historians), drinkers at the time typically ordered “ale” (mild) or “beer” (porter). Drinkers needed a term to differentiate this new option from the dominant styles. Compared to the popular mild ales, bitters were less sweet and more assertively hopped, thus “bitter” became the term of choice for drinkers of this new style (though breweries, for the most part, used the term pale ale).
This little bit of history could clear up some confusion. Traditional English “bitters” are nowhere near as hoppy as the typical American craft IPA. That style is hugely popular, while many American drinkers continue to steer clear of the suspicious word bitter.
Perhaps we in the former colonies just need a little more time. After all, it took over a hundred years for bitter to become the dominant beer style in England. And all of the very many types of bitter remain hugely popular there. Stylistic differences are hard to pin down, but there are some regional variations in sweetness and bitterness as well as color, most a product of water hardness and varying production techniques.
We try to offer a range of bitters with different colors and degrees of maltiness and hoppiness. We think you’ll like them all. From the modest “British Bitter” all the way up to our majestic Extra Special Bitter, with its layered malt complexity and subtle woodsy hop note. Stay tuned for individual posts on these beers, but in the meantime, stop in for a pint.
The Civil Blog has returned. It is predominantly authored by Civil Life Barman, Dr. Patrick Hurley, who can be found tending to our bar patrons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He is also responsible for tending to our draft lines, which is recognized as one of our most important tasks. Special guest writers will appear from time to time. We hope reading this blog will give you much insight about the Civil Life and most importantly help you understand a bit more about all of us that work here and the beers we put our hearts into.