The Rich History of English Bitter Beer

When it comes to , there are countless styles to choose from, each with its own unique characteristics and flavors. One such style that has stood the test of time is the English . Often associated with cask-conditioned beers, this sessionable and -driven style offers a delightful drinking experience.

The English Bitter is commonly described as a light to medium-bodied beer with a golden to copper color. It is important to note that the term “bitter” was actually given by English drinkers to differentiate it from darker, traditional ales. Despite its name, the bitterness of this beer is not overpowering, but rather balanced and complementary to its other flavors.

One of the defining features of an English Bitter is its lower content, making it a perfect choice for those looking for a more relaxed drinking experience. This lower alcohol level also allows for a greater focus on the malt profile, giving the beer a slightly sweet yet refreshing taste.

Speaking of maltiness, the English Bitter showcases a delightful range of flavors derived from the malt. You can expect notes of caramel, toffee, and biscuit, which create a pleasant and satisfying mouthfeel. These malt flavors are often the driving force behind the beer, giving it a distinct character.

While the malt takes center stage, play an important supporting role in an English Bitter. The hop bitterness in this style is moderate, providing a pleasant counterbalance to the malt sweetness. The hop profile typically exhibits floral, earthy, and sometimes even fruity notes, adding complexity to the overall flavor profile.

In terms of serving, the English Bitter is often enjoyed in cask-conditioned form, where it undergoes a secondary fermentation in the barrel. This process imparts a unique smoothness and natural carbonation to the beer, elevating the drinking experience even further.

It is worth noting that the English Bitter is quite different from other popular beer styles, such as New England IPAs or West Coast IPAs. While these styles may also carry fruity flavors, the English Bitter is distinctively maltier and more bitter. It is a style that harkens back to the traditional English ales and offers a glimpse into beer history.

The English Bitter is a classic and refreshing beer style that deserves appreciation. Its lower alcohol content, malt-driven profile, and moderate hop bitterness make it a sessionable and enjoyable choice for beer enthusiasts. Next time you're looking to try something different, consider reaching for an English Bitter and immerse yourself in the rich flavors of this timeless style.

English Bitter Beer 1694193621

What Is An English Style Bitter?

An English-style bitter is a type of beer that is often associated with cask-conditioned beers. It is known for being a sessionable and lower-alcohol style, making it a popular choice for those looking for a more moderate drinking experience. The beer is typically light to medium-bodied and can range in color from gold to copper. One notable characteristic of an English-style bitter is its malt-driven profile, meaning that the malt flavors are prominent and play a significant role in the overall taste of the beer. Despite its name, an English-style bitter is not particularly bitter in terms of hop bitterness. Instead, the hop bitterness is typically moderate, allowing the malt flavors to shine through. an English-style bitter is a well-balanced beer that offers a pleasant drinking experience without overwhelming flavors or high alcohol content.

Why Is English Bitter Called Bitter?

The term “bitter” was given to English pale ales to distinguish them from the darker, traditional ales that were prevalent at the time. This naming convention emerged during the early 20th century when English pale ales gained immense popularity in bars and pubs. The name “bitter” was used to describe this type of beer due to its distinctive taste, which is characterized by a hoppy and slightly bitter flavor profile.

Here are some key points to further explain why English bitter is called “bitter”:

1. Differentiating from darker ales: The term “bitter” was primarily used to distinguish English pale ales from the darker, maltier ales that were more common during that period. The lighter color and hop-forward flavor of English bitters made them stand out from their darker counterparts.

2. Popular bar option: During the early 20th century, English pale ales, or bitters, became the preferred choice for many bar-goers. Its popularity grew rapidly, and the name “bitter” became widely associated with this style of beer.

3. Flavor profile: English bitters are known for their distinctive taste, which is characterized by a balanced bitterness imparted by hops. The hops used in the process contribute to the beer's flavor and aroma, resulting in a slightly bitter note that adds complexity to the overall taste profile.

4. Evolution of brewing techniques: The development of pale ales in England brought about new brewing techniques, including the use of pale malt and increased hop content. These changes resulted in a beer style that was noticeably different from the traditional, darker ales, and the name “bitter” was used to reflect this distinction.

The term “bitter” was given to English pale ales to differentiate them from darker, traditional ales and to describe their hoppy and slightly bitter flavor profile. The name gained popularity as English bitters became a popular bar option during the early 20th century.


The English-style bitter is a classic and beloved beer style that offers a delightful drinking experience. With its lower alcohol content and malt-driven character, it is highly sessionable and perfect for those looking for a more relaxed and approachable beer.

The golden to copper color of the ordinary bitter is visually appealing, while the low residual malt sweetness provides a balanced and refreshing taste. The hop bitterness, although not overpowering, adds a pleasant level of complexity to the beer.

Interestingly, the name “bitter” is derived from the desire to differentiate this style from the darker ales that were popular during its rise to prominence. This term has since become synonymous with the style's unique characteristics.

It is worth noting that the English-style bitter is distinct from other styles, such as New England and West Coast IPAs. While New England IPAs are known for their fruity flavors and low bitterness, and West Coast IPAs strike a balance between fruitiness and bitterness, the English IPA stands out with its maltier and more bitter profile.

The English-style bitter is a timeless classic that showcases the rich brewing traditions of England. Its modest alcohol content, balanced flavors, and historical significance make it a favorite among beer enthusiasts who appreciate a well-crafted and satisfying pint.

Photo of author

Thomas Ashford

Thomas Ashford is a highly educated brewer with years of experience in the industry. He has a Bachelor Degree in Chemistry and a Master Degree in Brewing Science. He is also BJCP Certified Beer Judge. Tom has worked hard to become one of the most experienced brewers in the industry. He has experience monitoring brewhouse and cellaring operations, coordinating brewhouse projects, and optimizing brewery operations for maximum efficiency. He is also familiar mixology and an experienced sommelier. Tom is an expert organizer of beer festivals, wine tastings, and brewery tours.