I remember a time back in 2015 when a friend of ours from North Carolina came up to visit, and challenged us to a beer throwdown between Maryland and NC craft beers. “Okay, you pick the beer styles.”
So he started rattling them off. IPA. Stout. Porter. Pilsner. No problem – we had an arsenal of amazing Maryland beers that would dominate each of these categories. Until the last one: ESB.
Friends, believe me when I say that we looked EVERYWHERE for an ESB that was not only made by a Maryland brewery, but that was also in season. In the end, I think we substituted with a brown ale and, after the six previous beers, Tony couldn’t tell the difference anyway.
So imagine my surprise when I sat down at the bar at Denizens Brewing (Silver Spring, MD) and spotted an ESB on their tap list.
ESB, which stands for “extra special bitter,” originates from English-style ales called, “bitters”. These were brewed along with other ales, but with a lower alcohol content (usually less than 5% ABV), pale malts and extra hop flavors. ESBs are essentially higher-alcohol versions (sometimes up to 7% ABV).
Despite their name, they’re not typically bitter (like you might think of with an IPA, for example. Bitters and ESBs are brewed with balance in mind, so you’ll find a nice sweetness from the malt, a little bit of dark fruit flavor, and very mild hops.
Denizens Lowest Lord ESB lands at the lower end of the ESB range with an alcohol content of 5.3% ABV. It pours a lovely, dark amber color with good carbonation.
You’ll definitely get some sweetness initially, a little bit of fruit (similar to black cherry) followed by some mild bitterness in the aftertaste. It’s brewed with Crystal (earthy) and Target hops (citrus & spicy), neither of which overpowers the other, so you get a beer that’s not bitter. And, in English style, it has a slightly dry finish.
I’d recommend an ESB to casual beer fans, particularly if you like something along the lines of an Oktoberfest or Marzen. They’re not exactly the same, but are likely to be the closest to an ESB that you may have had. They’re out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to come across a widely-distributed, mainstream ESB beer.
I have to admit that ESBs are pretty far down on my list of preferred beer, but I think it’s because I don’t have much experience with them. With as nice as this one was, it’s really made me re-evaluate my taste in ESBs. I’m just bitter at myself for not trying them sooner.