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Special/Best/Premium Bitter Reviews

Maltier and more alcoholic than original bitters but not as strong as extra special bitters, these English pale ales are refreshing session beers. They bear aromas similar to their smaller original bitter siblings—malt scents with a hint of caramel and mild fruit and hops—but a slightly heftier medium body and a stronger 3.8% to 4.6% ABV. The taste should feature the style’s characteristic high bitterness against moderate hop flavor and fruit esters. A low to medium maltiness should also be present, but not so heavy as to overwhelm the bitterness; the drink should ultimately maintain a focus on bittering hop additions, as opposed to U.S. styles’ prominent middle- and late-addition hops. Special bitters must always maintain drinkability to preserve their sessionable status. Note that these guidelines characterize draft, “real ale” versions only—the style was originally created as a version of a pale ale that could be served on cask at pubs, and bottled and/or exported adaptations are typically stronger in alcohol.

Pair: Pair these British favorites with classically English fish and chips; the beer’s bitterness contrasts the sweetness in the fish’s batter, but complements salty fries.

Glassware: pint glass


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