8. Bitter Ale Guidelines

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Ringwood, Melbourne
8.1. Australian Bitter Ale

Aroma: Light fruity esters with a background caramel note. Hop aroma low to none. No diacetyl.

Appearance: Amber to pale copper; bright clarity; moderate white head supported by very high carbonation.

Flavour: Moderately fruity, with a light caramel malt flavour. A distinctive peppery, herbaceous note from Pride of Ringwood hops should be noticed. Malty sweetness should be low, tipping the balance firmly towards bitterness, without being aggressively bitter. Medium-dry finish, with a predominantly fruity/bitter aftertaste. Trace fusels/phenols from high sucrose fermentation may contribute a “tangy” flavour note, often considered characteristic of Australian style beer. If present this character should not be perceived as sharp or solventy.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium-light body, with a noticeable carbonation prickle, particularly when served chilled.

Overall Impression: A crisp, light flavoured, thirst-quenching Bitter, ideally suited to a hot climate. Traditionally served well chilled and highly carbonated, accentuating the characteristic tangy hop bitterness.

History: Definitive Australian style, evolved directly from colonial era Pale Ale/Sparkling Ale as crystal malt was introduced during early 20th century. Originated independently of English Bitter, and remained a bottled style exclusively. Developed as a narrow style, typified by a handful of State-based brands, using a high proportion of cane sugar, high-alpha domestic hops, and standard Australian ale yeast (originally isolated 1888 at Victoria Brewery in Melbourne). Dominant bottled style by mid-century, with major brands exported. Converted to lager yeast during late 20th century, as megabrewers standardized production with draught lagers. Modern Bitter remains by far Australia’s biggest selling packaged beer style, and following draught release in 1992, market leader Victoria Bitter now accounts for one quarter of total Australian beer sales.

Comments: Style refers to the traditional ale version of Australian Bitter, commonly labelled “Bitter Ale” prior to lager conversion during late 20th century.

Note: 2005 heritage release VB Original Ale is an all-malt English style Bitter and should not be considered prototypical of the Australian style.

Ingredients: Australian 2-row lager malt. Restrained use of crystal malt for colour and flavour. Substantial proportion of cane sugar, typically around 30%, for light body and signature fermentation profile. Pride of Ringwood hops, bittering addition only. CUB ale yeast or similar. Attenuative English or American strains most suitable. Note: Whitelabs WLP009 Australian Ale yeast (Coopers strain) is unsuitable. Variable water profile, soft Pilsen type preferred.

Vital Statistics:
1038-1048 1005-1008 25-35 8-14 4.2-5.2%

Commercial Examples: The major Bitter Ale brand names have survived but the modern versions are all lagers and the term “Ale” has been dropped from labelling (eg. Victoria Bitter, Melbourne Bitter, Castlemaine XXXX Bitter, Toohey’s Red Bitter, West End Bitter, Emu Bitter, Cascade Bitter, Boags Strongarm Bitter).

8.2. English Best Bitter

Aroma: The best examples have some malt aroma, often (but not always) with a caramel quality. Mild to moderate fruitiness. Hop aroma can range from moderate to none (UK varieties). Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Appearance: Medium gold to medium copper. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. May have very little head due to low carbonation.

Flavour: Medium to high bitterness. Most have moderately low to moderately high fruity esters. Moderate to low hop flavour (earthy, resiny, and/or floral UK varieties. Low to medium maltiness with a dry finish. Caramel flavours are common but not required. Balance is often decidedly bitter, although the bitterness should not completely overpower the malt flavour, esters and hop flavour. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Carbonation low, although bottled and canned commercial examples can have moderate carbonation.

Overall Impression: A flavourful, yet refreshing, session beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.

History: Originally a draught ale served very fresh under no pressure (gravity or hand pump only) at cellar temperatures (i.e. “real ale”). Bitter was created as a draught alternative (i.e. running beer) to country-brewed pale ale around the start of the 20th century and became widespread once brewers understood how to “Burtonize” their water to successfully brew pale beers and to use crystal malts to add a fullness and roundness of palate.

Comments: More evident malt flavour than in an ordinary bitter, this is a stronger, session-strength ale. Most bottled or kegged versions of UK-produced bitters are higher-alcohol versions of their cask (draught) products produced specifically for export. This style guideline reflects the “real ale” version of the style, not the export formulations of commercial products.

Ingredients: Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts, may use a touch of black malt for colour adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn or wheat. English hops. Characterful English yeast. Often medium sulfate water is used.

Vital Statistics:
1040-1049 1008-1012 25-40 5-16 4.0-4.9%

Commercial Examples: Fuller's London Pride, Adnams SSB, Young’s Special, Coniston Bluebird Bitter, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Robinson’s Northern Glory, Shepherd Neame Masterbrew Bitter, Greene King Ruddles County Bitter, RCH Pitchfork Rebellious Bitter, Brains SA, Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted, Goose Island Honkers Ale, Rogue Younger’s Special Bitter

8.3 English Extra Special/Strong Bitter (ESB)

Aroma: Hop aroma moderately-high to moderately-low using any variety of UK hops. Medium to medium-high malt aroma, often with a low to moderately strong caramel component (although this character will be more subtle in paler versions). Medium-low to medium-high fruity esters. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed. May have light, secondary notes of sulfur and/or alcohol in some examples (optional).

Appearance: Golden to deep copper. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. A low head is acceptable when carbonation is also low.

Flavour: Medium-high to medium bitterness with supporting malt flavours evident. Normally has a moderately low to somewhat strong caramelly malt sweetness. Hop flavour moderate to moderately high (any UK variety, although earthy, resiny, and/or floral UK hops are most traditional). Hop bitterness and flavour should be noticeable, but should not totally dominate malt flavours. May have low levels of secondary malt flavours (e.g., nutty, biscuity) adding complexity. Moderately-low to high fruity esters. Optionally may have low amounts of alcohol, and up to a moderate minerally/sulfury flavour. Medium-dry to dry finish (particularly if sulfate water is used). Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium-full body. Low to moderate carbonation, although bottled commercial versions will be higher. Stronger versions may have a slight alcohol warmth but this character should not be too high.

Overall Impression: An average-strength to moderately-strong English ale. The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.

History: 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 flavour (perhaps to let the consumer know they are getting their due).

Comments: More evident malt and hop flavours than in a special or best bitter. Stronger versions may overlap somewhat with old ales, although strong bitters will tend to be paler and more bitter. Fuller’s ESB is a unique beer with a very large, complex malt profile not found in other examples; most strong bitters are fruitier and hoppier. Judges should not judge all beers in this style as if they were Fuller’s ESB clones. Most bottled or kegged versions of UK-produced bitters are higher-alcohol versions of their cask (draught) products produced specifically for export.

Ingredients: Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts, may use a touch of black malt for colour adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn or wheat. English hops. Characterful English yeast. “Burton” versions use medium to high sulfate water.

Vital Statistics:
1050-1060 1011-1015 30-50 6-18 5.0-6.0%

Commercial Examples: Fullers ESB, Adnams Broadside, Shepherd Neame Bishop's Finger, Young’s Ram Rod, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale, Bass Ale, Whitbread Pale Ale, Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Marston’s Pedigree, Black Sheep Ale, Vintage Henley, Mordue Workie Ticket, Morland Old Speckled Hen, Greene King Abbot Ale, Bateman's XXXB, Gale’s Hordean Special Bitter (HSB), Ushers 1824 Particular Ale, Hopback Summer Lightning, Great Lakes Moondog Ale, Shipyard Old Thumper, Alaskan ESB, Geary’s Pale Ale,
Cooperstown Old Slugger, Anderson Valley Boont ESB, Avery 14’er ESB, Redhook ESB

8.4 American Amber Ale

Aroma: Low to moderate hop aroma from dry hopping or late kettle additions of American hop varieties. A citrusy hop character is common, but not required. Moderately low to moderately high maltiness balances and sometimes masks the hop presentation, and usually shows a moderate caramel character. Esters vary from moderate to none. No diacetyl.

Appearance: Amber to coppery brown in colour. Moderately large off-white head with good retention. Generally quite clear, although dry-hopped versions may be slightly hazy.

Flavour: Moderate to high hop flavour from American hop varieties, which often but not always has a citrusy quality. Malt flavours are moderate to strong, and usually show an initial malty sweetness followed by a moderate caramel flavour (and sometimes other character malts in lesser amounts). Malt and hop bitterness are usually balanced and mutually supportive. Fruity esters can be moderate to none. Caramel sweetness and hop
flavour/bitterness can linger somewhat into the medium to full finish. No diacetyl.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. Carbonation moderate to high. Overall smooth finish without
astringency often associated with high hopping rates. Stronger versions may have a slight alcohol warmth.

Overall Impression: Like an American pale ale with more body, more caramel richness, and a balance more towards malt than hops (although hop rates can be significant).

History: Known simply as Red Ales in some regions, these beers were popularized in the hop-loving Northern California and the Pacific Northwest areas before spreading nationwide.

Comments: Can overlap in colour with American pale ales. However, American amber ales differ from American pale ales not only by being usually darker in colour, but also by having more caramel flavour, more body, and usually being balanced more evenly between malt and bitterness. Should not have a strong chocolate or roast character that might suggest an American brown ale (although small amounts are OK).

Ingredients: Pale ale malt, typically American two-row. Medium to dark crystal malts. May also contain specialty grains which add additional character and uniqueness. American hops, often with citrusy flavours, are common but others may also be used. Water can vary in sulfate and carbonate content.

Vital Statistics:
1045-1060 1010-1015 25-40 10-17 4.5-6.2%

Commercial Examples: North Coast Red Seal Ale, Tröegs HopBack Amber Ale, Deschutes Cinder Cone Red, Pyramid Broken Rake, St. Rogue Red Ale, Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale, Lagunitas Censored Ale, Avery Redpoint Ale, McNeill’s Firehouse Amber Ale, Mendocino Red Tail Ale, Bell's Amber

8.5 Düsseldorf Altbier [BJCP]
Aroma: Clean yet robust and complex aroma of rich malt, noble hops and restrained fruity esters. The malt character reflects German base malt varieties. The hop aroma may vary from moderate to very low, and can have a peppery, floral or perfumy character associated with noble hops. No diacetyl.

Appearance: Light amber to orange-bronze to deep copper colour, yet stopping short of brown. Brilliant clarity (may be filtered). Thick, creamy, long-lasting off-white head.

Flavour: Assertive hop bitterness well balanced by a sturdy yet clean and crisp malt character. The malt presence is moderated by moderately-high to high attenuation, but considerable rich and complex malt flavours remain. Some fruity esters may survive the lagering period. A long-lasting, medium-dry to dry, bittersweet or nutty finish reflects both the hop bitterness and malt complexity. Noble hop flavour can be moderate to low. No roasted malt flavours or harshness. No diacetyl. Some yeast strains may impart a slight sulfury character. A light minerally character is also sometimes present in the finish, but is not required. The apparent bitterness level is sometimes masked by the high malt character; the bitterness can seem as low as moderate if the finish is not very dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied. Smooth. Medium to medium-high carbonation. Astringency low to none. Despite being very full of flavour, is light bodied enough to be consumed as a session beer in its home brewpubs in Düsseldorf.

Overall Impression: A well balanced, bitter yet malty, clean, smooth, well-attenuated amber-coloured German ale.

History: The traditional style of beer from Düsseldorf. “Alt” refers to the “old” style of brewing (i.e. making top fermented ales) that was common before lager brewing became popular. Predates the isolation of bottom fermenting yeast strains, though it approximates many characteristics of lager beers. The best examples can be found in brewpubs in the Altstadt (“old town”) section of Düsseldorf.

Comments: A bitter beer balanced by a pronounced malt richness. Fermented at cool ale temperature (60-65°F), and lagered at cold temperatures to produce a cleaner, smoother palate than is typical for most ales. Common variants include Sticke (“secret”) alt, which is slightly stronger, darker, richer and more complex than typical alts. Bitterness rises up to 60 IBUs and is usually dry hopped and lagered for a longer time. Münster alt is typically lower in gravity and alcohol, sour, lighter in colour (golden), and can contain a significant portion of wheat. Both Sticke alt and Münster alt should be entered in the specialty category.

Ingredients: Grists vary, but usually consist of German base malts (usually Pils, sometimes Munich) with small amounts of crystal, chocolate, and/or black malts used to adjust colour. Occasionally will include some wheat. Spalt hops are traditional, but other noble hops can also be used. Moderately carbonate water. Clean, highly attenuative ale yeast. A step mash or decoction mash program is traditional.

Vital Statistics:
1046-1054 1010-1015 35-50 11-17 4.5-5.2%

Commercial Examples: Altstadt brewpubs: Zum Uerige, Im Füchschen, Schumacher, Zum Schlüssel; other
examples: Diebels Alt, Schlösser Alt, Frankenheim Alt
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