Best Bitter: Britain’s Ale Affair Beyond the Pint Glass
Tracing the Roots
In 19th century England, the term “bitter” was coined to differentiate pale ales with a pronounced hop profile from their milder relatives. Among the various sub-styles, “Best Bitter” stands out as a classic — richer in taste than the “Ordinary Bitter” yet subtler and less potent than the “Extra Special Bitter” (ESB).
Best Bitters Unveiled
Drenched in amber hues with touches of golden-caramel, Best Bitters strike a harmonious chord between malt sweetness and hop bitterness. They often dance on the palate with light caramel or biscuit undertones from the malt, juxtaposed against a clear yet unobtrusive hop bitterness.
These ales, moderately carbonated, are both invigorating and fulfilling. Typically, they showcase malty flavors, hop-induced earthy or grassy hints, and occasionally, a fruity whisper from the yeast.
Brewing Best Bitters
Traditional recipes lean on malts like Maris Otter or Crystal Malt, bestowing the beer with its signature malty and faintly caramelized essence. English hops, including Fuggle, Golding, or Challenger, ensure a balanced bitterness and often introduce earthy aromatic nuances.
Fermentation generally occurs at around 18-20°C, deploying specific English yeasts which can infuse the brew with subtle fruity notes.
Key Ingredients in Best Bitters
- Maris Otter: An English pale malt cherished for many traditional British ales. It imparts a malty sweetness and biscuit undertone.
- Crystal Malt: Used judiciously, it enriches the beer’s color and infuses caramel sweetness and depth.
- Malted Wheat: Occasionally added to enhance foam stability.
- Fuggle: Native to England, Fuggle lends a seamless bitterness, often characterized as woody and grassy.
- East Kent Golding: Celebrated for its aroma, it imparts floral, spicy, and hint of citrus to the beer.
- Challenger: A dual-purpose English hop, it offers bitterness and aroma, with notes of citrus, green tea, and subdued fruitiness.
Pairing Best Bitters with Food
- Meat Pies: The malty sweetness and keen bitterness of Best Bitter perfectly complement the savory filling and buttery crust of meat pies.
- Sausages and Mash: The iconic “Bangers and Mash”. The caramel sweetness of the beer elevates the creamy mash, and the hop bitterness complements smoky sausages.
- Hard Cheeses: Choices like aged Cheddar or Red Leicester. The beer’s bitterness and malt sweetness resonate with the cheese’s rich flavors.
- Roast Beef: Best Bitter amplifies the flavors in roast beef, especially its caramelized crust.
- Fish and Chips: Contrary to popular pairings with lighter beers, the maltiness and balanced bitterness of Best Bitter can enhance a plate of fish and chips.
- Yorkshire Puddings: The ale’s complexity is a match for the light, buttery texture of this traditional side dish.
- Stews and Soups: Especially those centered around lamb or beef. The beer’s balanced profile complements the hearty depth of stews, tying all flavors together.