Tag Archive: ESB

Ska Brewing ESB Special Ale

Ska Brewing: ESB Special Ale (USA: ESB: 5.8% ABV)

Visual: Clear apricot gold. Moderate off white mounded bubbles for a head that leaves suds. Some carbonation.

Nose: Mild vinous. Sour grapes. Raisins soaked in port. Lightly wheaty. Orange peel. Shortbread, Palma violets.

Body: Glacier cherries. Chewy. Malt drinks. Fig rolls. Palma violets. Lightly earthy. Vanilla toffee. Lightly vinous. Fruitcake. Shortbread. Light chalkiness. Raspberry yogurt chunks.

Finish: Figs. Lightly earthy bitterness that soon rises. Slight soil. Malt chocolate and choc orange. Slight chalkiness. Light sour grapes. Mild tart tayberry. Pepper.

Conclusion: Looks can be deceiving. Case in point, when I poured this beer it came out a deep, dark but clear gold colour. Fair enough, but from that I was expecting, taste wise, that this would be far from the traditional dark fruitcake ESB that comes to mind when I think of this style.

Now, this does have differences from a standard ESB – the more traditional notes and more mildly delivered and it is backed by a sweet vanilla toffee base. However, at the heart of it all, the vinous notes are there, the dark fruit, fruitcake. It is all there, just not pushed as heavily.

What it does is patch those dark notes to the lighter, sweeter base, then decided to tie it closer to the British interpretation by whopping a nice earthy hop base to it. Normally overly earthy hopped beers can get easily dull, but contrasted by the sweetness it manages to avoid that fate, and the earthiness ties everything together. It does enough calls to the traditional notes that the breaks from expectations feel like experimentation, not like ignorance or failure to meet a style.

The experimentation comes not only in the sweeter base, but also the lighter notes that come with it. As well as the expected dark fruit you also get fresh orange peel and palma violets. It gives it a bit more pep, and indeed also is matched by light pepperyness.

Now, by taste it doesn’t feel like one to have more than one or two of. With light chalkiness, pepper and earth it calls to too many harsh notes, and has too many sweet notes that can get cloying on top of that. As a oner though it is pretty solid. Recognisably of the style but a tad different. Not great but solid.

Background: I am a huge fan of Ska Brewing’s Modus Hoperandi, and have consumed many a can of it. Time to branch out, thought I, so I decided to go with this – their ESB – A style that I feel does not get as much play as it should in the craft scene. Grabbed from Brewdog’s guest beer section, this was chilled and drunk on one of yet another overly hot summer night’s here in England.


Cloudwater Vermont ESB

Cloudwater: Vermont ESB (England: ESB: 6.5% ABV)

Visual: Apricot to brown. Loose brown creamy head that leaves lace.

Nose: Watermelon and grapefruit. Fresh and tart. Mild gherkin. Slightly bready.

Body: Thick and viscous. Vinous notes. Smooth and creamy. Brandy cream, Mild gherkin. Raisins and Madeira. Glacier cherries. Caramel. Blood orange and tart grapes.

Finish: Light bitterness that raises quickly. Walnut oil. Malt drinks. Pineapple chunks. Kiwi. Watermelon. Light acidic drying feel. Tart grapes. Palma violets.

Conclusion: This very smooth, very smooth indeed. I think this, unlike the DIPA v3.0 is showing how the Vermont yeast works, based on the descriptions I have heard. It is smooth, creamy and really lets the hop flavours show.

Speaking of the hops flavours, for me ESBs have always been a malt led beer choice. This one on the other hand very much emphasises the tart fruity hop character. Though for that it does have a low bitterness, with the exception of the finish – it instead pushes really high on the tart fruit hop flavours.

In fact the fruit – the pineapple, blood orange and the like, feels so fresh that you can almost imagine fishing fruit pulp bits off our tongue – the texture is smooth but somehow you still have the urge to lick off psychosomatic flecks of fruit. This fruit tartness leads to an acidic dryness in the mouth, again almost akin to consuming the fruit itself.

Unfortunately due to this the traditional ESB flavours are pushed to hide as backing notes, especially early on. Though when they do come through, and are more notable late on they are done very well. Lots of spirit soaked notes, malt drinks and dark fruits, just hid much more than you would expect. The smooth texture lets the stabbing spirit notes stand out and gives the creamier, brandy cream influenced notes some play, so it really feels like the yeast could make a good malt led ESB if they wanted to lean that way.

So, yeah, it is interesting to note that the Vermont yeast used here has none of the brett style notes that were in the DIPA V3.0, which confirms my suspicion that the beer had something off with it. As for this beer itself, it is very good, but feels almost like a fruity IPA over an ESB base rather than as a firm example of the ESB style. It maybe could do with the malt side pumping up a bit.

As a beer in itself, rather than as an example of the style, it is lovely. A spirit touched tart fruit hop fest – the light use of the ESB style makes if feel like a barrel aged IPA, with a freshness of spirit character I do not feel we would see any other way.

It is a luxurious base beer with tart challenging flavours. A mix of relaxing and awakening. In the end it is a style mash up I can highly recommend. It may not be weak at 6.5% but it delivers a boom that tastes 8% or up with all the spirit notes, the thick character and the big hops. It earns every inch of the abv it uses. Very impressive.

Background: After my set of notes on Cloudwater: DIPA V3 a few people let me know that the weird Brett style flavour in it wasn’t similar to their experience, so I may have got a just slightly duff bottle. As of such I was interested to find another bottle made with Vermont yeast for comparison. Thankfully Independent Spirit had in another Cloudwater beer made with that yeast – this ESB. So, here goes my quest to get used to what this yeast does.

Firestone Walker DBA

Firestone Walker: DBA (USA: ESB: 5.0% ABV)

Visual: Chestnut brown. Thin small bubbled browned head. Low carbonation.

Nose: Fruitcake and Madeira. Shortbread. Whipped cream. Slight chalk. Gingerbread,

Body: Lightly chalky. Fruitcake and cherries. Shortbread. Dates. Lemon cakes. Cream. Sour dough.

Finish: Almonds. Fruitcake. Mild liquorice. Chalky. Slight sour cream. Bitter. Raisins and sultanas. Mild prunes.

Conclusion: Hmm, this tastes like a drier take on Fuller’s ESB – it has that full on fruitcake character but with a dry body that reminds me of the attenuation level on your average APA (Albeit that is pretty much the only similarity to an APA). That dryness comes with a slight matching chalkiness – the two elements combine to make the beer more easy drinking, but also trades that off to make the flavours feel slightly more muted. Overall not a bad thing, but just a different thing.

Flavour wise it digs a bit deeper for the notes than your average fruitcake, sultanas and cherries – there are more dates and occasional slight prune notes in the finish, against slightly muted but it works well to give a distinct character to the beer. There are also lightly creamy hints of wine and spirit notes that I am sure would come out at higher abv, but here are little teases that don’t expand out. Still interesting though.

I’d say I actually prefer the Fuller’s ESB – the more robust character leans towards my preference for the style – however this is very enjoyable, and even ever so slightly muted it is still packed with dark fruit.

Nothing really pushes it to the top leagues, there is nothing unexpected or super polished, however as a general drinking dark beer this is very well done. One for a general drinking quality beer session.

Background: Huh, looks like Firestone Walker is part of the Duvel Moorgat group now. That one had gone under my radar. Never mind, as long as the beers are good and they don’t do any horrid immoral act I’m fine with that. Anyway, had to a quick double check before doing notes on this one – it is “Double Barrel Ale” and I remember doing something with a similar name. Turns out that was Double DBA, or Double Double Barrel Ale, because that naming convention makes sense. Anyway drunk while listening to an English language cover of the “One Punch Man” theme, now I just need the anime to get a UK release.

Fox Branthill Pioneer

Fox: Branthill Pioneer (England: ESB: 5.2% ABV)

Visual: Hazy yellow gold. Off white head that leaves suds.

Nose: Shortbread. Earthy. Gingerbread.

Body: Orange juice. Malt chocolate and toffee. Soft peach. Some bitterness. Not too thick feeling. Walnuts.

Finish: Earthy. Light white pepper. Some bitterness. Cashew nuts. Milky coffee. Peach. Chocolate toffee.

Conclusion: This is a beer that is a bit more subtle and complex than I would have first given it credit for. You see, the first impressions I got was a slightly earthy but toffee backed ale. Stop me if you’ve already heard this one. So, nothing out of the ordinary.

However, in a front page headline grabbing shock, it does not end there. While normally I take a lack of robustness as a flaw in a beer, here it has a lighter mouthfeel but seems to use it to let other elements through. The most notable being an orange juice character – it even feels as if it has bits of orange flecks in the texture somehow.

You take that and combine with with soft rounding out peach notes as it warms and you find a beer that gives a lot more than I imagined it would. Now, just to clarify – the malt body of toffee and the light earthiness are centre stage; The fruit is a backing note, but it makes the beer so much more refreshing and manageable than most earthy ales usually are.

So, while not earth shattering it does manage to do its own thing and become a pleasant slow sipping ale. I can live with that.

Background: I seem to be against the trend with this one going by ratebeer – they don’t seem to like it much, then again they list it as 5% abv, so I wonder if the recipe has been tweaked recently. Anyway, yes I know I said I had put up the last of the Norfolk beers drunk with the family up north. Which was true. I just happened to bring back two more beers from the set to review back down south. Of which this is one. Completely different thing guv. Anyway, again many thanks to the family. Drunk with some calming Ulver: Blood Inside as I realise I have to go back to work soon.

Beeston On The Huh

Beeston: On The Huh (England: ESB: 5% ABV)

Visual: Deep chestnut brown – opaque in the centre. A red-brown loose bubbled head that leaves a lot of suds.

Nose: Malt chocolate and nuts. Cinnamon buns. Vanilla ice cream.

Body: Malt chocolate and caramel. Slightly bitty feel. Peanuts. Light earthy notes. Quite sweet. Vanilla. Pepper. Cinnamon.

Finish: Peppermint. Earthy. Chocolate and peanuts. Slightly bitter.

Conclusion: I think that this is the second beer of recent times that I have compared to a snickers bar. Though this one differs from the last in that it is a more real ale take on the style meaning it is less smooth, more earthy, but still with those distinct chocolate, peanuts and caramel characteristics. Maybe this is the new trend – chocolate bar beers.

The real ale style seems to give this a few more rounding notes that you would otherwise expect. The main set is those naturally more rustic notes that real ale seems to do well. Slight peppery, slight greenery – while it makes it less close to the snickers concept it gives a much less sickly beer overall, so easier to drink for more than a single pint.

So, at its heart it is still a snickers beer, but its soul is an earthy real ale with contrasting pepper and cinnamon at each end of the spice range. It doesn’t do too bad at all. More one to have as a gentle beer in front of a warm fire on a cold night – it is sweet enough for those dark days without taking it too far. While an ESB in style it has just enough call to that sour base of a good bitter to make it work.

“Huh”, so, it is actually pretty solid, not stand out or shiny, but blends two very different interpretations into one beer. Very recognisably an ESB, but with just enough of its own style. A solid experience.

Background: Another beer from the Christmas present batch from my family. Many thanks. This, a bunch of bottled ales from Norfolk. I have no idea why this is called “On The Huh”, but since I tend to use “Huh” a lot in my notes in seemed appropriate. Huh.

Thwaites Crafty Dan

Thwaites: Crafty Dan (England: ESB: 6% ABV)

Visual: Just slightly hazy yellow to peach skin coloured base with a large sud and loose bubbled ripe banana touched head. The head leaves sud rings as the beer descends.

Nose: Raspberry Pavlova. Pineapple. Crushed custard cream biscuits. Apricot. Fruit syrup.

Body: Gooseberry. Good bitterness and hops. Juicy peach. Marshmallow. Carmel malt. Passion fruit. Slight soured twist. Raspberry Pavolva. Tangerine.

Finish: Marshmallows. Good bitterness. Pineapple. Fluffy feel left over. Gooseberry. Dried passion fruit.

Conclusion: Damn. I didn’t expect a beer from Thwaites to actually be this good. This is genuinely full bodied, craft hopped in its fruitiness, everything layered on excellently over a thick malt heavy body.

It’s been long time since I last tried Oakham Asylum, but from memory I would say that this compares very well with it indeed – and that is high praise. It is a very bright beer – sharp raspberry over pavlova, gooseberry and tart orange, with understated but robust bitterness backing it up. The sweet malt seem to be a big element in keeping the hop flavours in check so you find it very slightly restrained in the main body, but after you swallow the remaining air is just so fruity and fresh now it is unopposed. You just get full fruit hop flavour lighting up your mouth.

This is remarkably good – the flavour is at a level I would normally associate with an IPA, but the bitterness is far reined back, and the malt really works the main stage with huge caramel.

It even slightly reminds me, flavour wise – not bitterness – of Arrogant Bastard Ale in the way it pushes both the malt and the real big flavours of the hops. A seriously good beer.

Background: Looking online, apparently this was brewed to celebrate the first year anniversary of Thwaites’ in house micro brewery. I didn’t even know they had an in house micro brewery. My finger is not on the pulse of the modern beer scene. I am also suspicious of non craft breweries trying to jump on the craft bandwagon. See Brains brewery for an example of how this can go badly wrong. Anyway, this was the last of the three beers given to me at Christmas by my work colleague. many thanks. Drunk while listening to some Against Me! and catching up on what was new on ERocks channel. I am finding the Black Crosses part of the White Crosses/Black Crosses double CD is by far my preferred side for Against Me!.

The Trooper

Robinsons: Trooper (England: ESB: 4.7% ABV)

Visual: Golden brown. Inch of toffee touched head.

Nose: Chestnut. Cumin. Light mild ginger. Light citrus notes. Lemon and apricot.

Body: Citrus. Apricot. Nutty back. Slightly thin up front but grows. Tart grapefruit. Lots of lemon sherbet. Some prickly hops.

Finish: Hop oils. Chestnut and lemon. Fresh feel. Lightly bitter. Peanuts hang around.

Conclusion: BEER? FROM A METAL SINGER. IF METAL MAKES BEER THEN WE SHALL MAKE BEER….METAL. Ok, ok, ill stop channelling Dethklok.

Now this beer is NICELY CITRUS, LIKE ….ok, ok, I’ll actually stop. This joke will get old fast, reading in all caps is a pain in the arse.  The beer is nicely citrus filled (like they have been plucked from the garden of eden revisited by necromantic hordes of fruit pickers) with a huge amount of fresh lemon mid body that keeps it very easy to drink, but balanced against a reigned in (blood) nutty backdrop.

Initially in the first few moments it seems slightly thin, not delivering the flavour well, but you find it builds up (as if the daemons of hell rising through a….ok, I think this joke is getting old as well, I’ll just do a normal review from now on) nicely over time. The flavours are refreshing and slightly sharp and somewhat sherbet like.

It is more a balanced beer than a big beer, the hops prickle, appropriately for a beer linked with Iron Maiden, but they aren’t the main focus and are quite mild compared to similar beers. The solid nutty back goes out way into the finish, which makes it probably the most present element.  The elements are always balanced, but never quite brings the wow factor to shine.

It is definitely and enjoyable and refreshing pint, with smooth citrus flavour, but it does not stand out, and is far from METAL!

No complaints, but no high praise either.

Background; A beer brewed in collaboration with Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden. Holy crap. I may be a bit of an Iron Maiden fan, so this instantly leapt onto beers I must try. I hadn’t realised this was out yet, until Mark gave me a heads up that it was available in Morrisons. So I headed over, grabbed a bottle, and a few other tasty treats to review at a later date.  Oddly I did not drink this while listening to Iron Maiden. Instead I drank in silence, to allow me to experience every song and live gig in my head so to transcend mere physical sound in appreciating their wonder. That bit may be a lie. I fact I left it silent as I play music on my computer and the day was so bloody hot that I wasn’t adding even a CPU core of heat to the mix. However I feel the original explanation sounds cooler.

Captain Smith
Titanic: Capt. Smiths (England: ESB: 5.2% abv)

Visual: Chestnut brown. Moderate creamy custard touched head.

Nose: Chocolate orange. Malt drinks and chocolate flakes. Kiwi and apples. Pear drops.

Body: Chocolate. Lots of malt drinks. Passion fruit and kiwi fruitiness. Pears. Slightly lime jelly. Smooth frothy texture. Raisins.

Finish: Passion fruit and chocolate. Nutty and lightly roasted. Gooseberry jam. Lime jelly. Marmalade. Light hop bitterness with fruitcake and raisin later on.

Conclusion: How very unexpected. This thing has layers that I just did not expect. Pleasing to the eye, this thing came in with a chocolate orange aroma that you could pick up from quite a distance leading me to expect a chocolate filled and soothing beer. It definitely provides that and on initial sip it seemed not much more, but that simple façade soon slipped away.

The thick body allows soft seeping fruit to develop, kiwi, apples and pears (no, not stairs). All the fruits are soft and green to give a juicy middle in the mix of easy building flavours. Here the contrast between the two is pleasant but more so in that it gives room for the next characteristic to rise.

The finish develops a slight marmalade turn and light bitterness which is just the perk the beer needs. Combined with that real ale roasted feel throughout as a backbone it makes for a wonderful rounded pint.

5.2% abv while far from a session beer, still seems low for a “Strong Ale” these days. However the texture feels weighty, slight jelly and jam elements are brought as feel backing the flavour which really allows the fruit flavours to shine.

Even now as I write more is coming out, darker fruits rise to fruitcake and raisins against the green fruit of early on. This is a beer to enjoy until the end. Oft in style it feels closer flavour wise to the heavier Barely Wines, but is still lower abv and soothing to a pint drinkable fashion,

Deep and complex yet drinkable as an end of the day pint if you take care. A brilliant match.

Background: Looking over my past few reviews I realized I had been light on cask real ale reviews. Not due to any lack of drinking them, but more because I usually have them while catching up with friends so don’t get much chance to do notes. So, the next time I was in “The Raven” I made sure to take some time out and o this tasting note. Oddly the USA also has a Titanic Brewing, and they also do a Captain Smith beer. Then again, considering the naming inspiration for both I shouldn’t be surprised.


Wall’s: Beaters Choice (England: ESB: 4.6% ABV)

Visual:  Mahogany red with half and inch of creamy, quite bubbled froth. A toffee hue to the head and a still nature to the body.  The head leaves long sud trails in the glass as you drink.

Nose: Vanilla and light chestnut. Slight custard touch and quite creamy,

Body: Quite bitter. Pineapple and citrus hops. Thick texture. Malt chocolate orange drink. Rough hop feel at times. Dried apricot. Soil touch. The sweetness grows to be quite prominent by the end. Toffee.

Finish: Dry granite and bitter. Nuts. Earthy backed by sweet apricot.

Conclusion: Huh, not the beer I was expecting from looking at it. It looks very much like a standard bitter and the aroma backs these first impressions by being smooth and slightly nutty. It doesn’t seem anything unusual to begin with.

The body then comes in with a weird mix of fresh citrus and sweetness that calls to newer brewing trends. However it does that without breaking with a lot of the older real traditions, there is still nuttiness and a quite traditional soil styled earth element to the finish.

The citrus isn’t like the brash tart elements you can get with the craft beer style, more sweet and easy going. A pleasant mix of fresh and sweet flavours coming through over a more traditional real ale body.

The sweetness grows as it goes on becoming much closer to the traditional elements but still with fresher touches backing it up.

So a traditional ale with sweetness that builds and just a hint of unexpected citrus flavours. It still leans much more towards the traditional and aims for the solid rather than showy. It does however get an impressive range of flavour from the varied elements that keeps you interested to the end of the pint. Not a world shaker and a little too sweet at the end but a tidy solid pint with good amout of play and very enjoyable.

Background: Wall’s Beaters Choice, or as the tap says “Northallerton Wall’s County Town Brewery North Yorkshire Beaters Choice” Which seems a bit of a mouthful. As always I am a tad biased  on beers from Yorkshire.   Since I’ve been having a lot of craft ale recently I decided to make a concerted effort to have do a few cask hand drawn real ales while I was back home. Which I have done, but mostly in a social situation where reviews could not be fitted in. I managed to get this one in from a Weatherspoons in Richmond.(The proper one, not the one in Surrey). I will admit I’m not a huge fan of weatherspoons, mainly cause of the atmosphere, but I will concede that they tend to have a good habit of sourcing local ales.

Redhook: ESB (USA: ESB: 5.8% ABV)

Visual:  Clear gold. Thin dash of white head.

Nose: Malt. Toffee. Cinnamon. Barley fields. Smoke and dried apricot.

Body: Robust. Cherries and cinnamon. Apricots. Fruitcake. Liquorice touches but light. Black cherry yogurt.

Finish: Cherries and spice. Spiced rum. Light dry bitterness. Biscuits.

Conclusion: It’s odd to try a non real ale ESB. I’ve always viewed the texture brought from casks as an integral part of the style.  This on the other hand is a keg non real ale ESB. From America.  Huh.

So, here we go. The fruitcake flavour and cherries that is expected from the style cuts through cleanly. It actually comes through much clearer than most UK examples of the style. Not better, not worse, but clearer and sharper, with the hop bitterness in the finish being crisper.

It’s a fresh and bloody refreshing example of the style. I had to take care on drinking it to check my expectations at the door as it was obviously going to be very different to the UK style. I had to take care to try and review it as the beer it was not the beer I expected it to be.  It’s slightly biscuity, but again in a crisper fashion that usual. It’s a hot sun refresher of a beer, but with much more weight than that statement usually attaches to beer. In fact it is an impressive balance between authenticity and taking into account the insanely warm climate the beer will be drunk in.

So overall it is a good beer. Crisp, solid fruity flavours and refreshing. It isn’t the greatest, no one part stands out as exceptional, but there’s no real element I can complain about. A little spicy, a lot fruity and a few more usual flavour elements. Fresh, easy to drink and lots of nice weight. The only thing I really noticed against it was that due to having two pints I had the chance to find out it doesn’t session too well. Just have one and it will work well enough.

Background: Had a bit of a surprise with this one.  Turns out the pub was doing two pints for one on a Sunday morning. So before lunch I ended up with two pints of this. Well, it gave me a lot more experience to review. Also, possibly a reputation as an alcoholic.  Found in a pub in Nashville, one of the only ones that didn’t seem to have live music on.  Since this was one of Michael Jackson’s 500 recommended beers I thought I’d give it a try.  If you haven’t guessed this is another beer found during the road trip of awesome

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