The latest coronavirus restrictions now prevent pubs from selling takeaway alcohol, subject to clarifications or U-turns like those that came along under pressure from lobbyists last time, so that looks like an end to our Drapers Arms takeaways for the foreseeable. But at least our final pint was a fantastic ESB.
Severn Brewing Extra Special Bitter just straight-up delighted us: it was dark, fruity and, above all, bitter.
Discussing it, we decided that often when we have a beer describing itself as ESB, it just isn’t bitter enough and it ends up tasting like mild or porter.
Just based on the name, ESB really should be a turbo-charged version of bitter, with some of the dials turned up. In practice, we suppose that means the hopping has to go up to balance the increase in maltiness.
Of course, having had that conversation we looked up our notes from last time we tried Severn’s take – a helpful side effect of maintaining a record of our favourite beers for Patreon round-ups – and found that on that occasion, we did describe it as like a sweet, fruity best mild.
We enjoyed it, but definitely noticed an absence of bitterness.
And, in fact, there were some even earlier notes, from right at the start of 2020, which can probably be summarised as “How DARE they bestow upon this merely adequate brown soup the mighty name of ESB!?”
This made us wonder if freshness might be a factor – that if the beer is a few days or weeks older, it might have dried out and matured.
We thought about the differences in Fullers’ ESB, the template for them all, and perhaps we’ve observed the same thing. Sometimes there’s noticeably more depth of flavour and a richer mouthfeel and, at its worst, it can taste distinctly muddy.
Is ESB fundamentally more of a diva than ordinary bitter? Or maybe the fact that it’s strong (Severn’s is 5.2%) means it tends to hang around a little longer and is more likely to change and evolve at point of sale?
If only we could test this theory out in some pubs across the country over the next couple of months. We’d be well up for seeing out winter with a focus on this barely-a-style.
In fact, we can still do that: if anyone has got any good suggestions for ESBs that we can order online, do please let us know.