Style: Extra Special Bitters (ESB)
Brewer’s Note: “Our ESB is a bolder, hoppier pale ale.”
The beer’s label is the Portsmouth Brewery’s label, which is nice and quirky. The labels coloring is eye catching and the fonts, while a little mundane, are interesting enough to catch the eye. My biggest complaint with the labels is the background color, which is a pale tan color, and is a little ugly on the eyes. On top of that, the empty space does not seem to be big enough on the bottle and allows for the boring side text to clutter in and take away from the brewery’s logo. This label is really not worthy of scrapbooking or shelving.
The beer pours the color of honey and sits in the glass similarly, somewhere between red, orange, and yellow in color. The beer pours with a light, half a finger’s width head of medium sized, yellowing bubbles that fade down to a scrim. The head leaves a lacing of slick clouds that swiftly slide down the side of the glass. In body, the beer is clean and translucent with a slight haze and lots of carbonation bubbles racing up throughout the glass. On the nose, the beer smells pleasantly hoppy with a good, minty herbal touch and a strong backbone of biscuity, caramel bread from the malt. On the tongue, the beer tastes lightly bitter yet caramel sweet with the faintest touch of acid on the sides of the mouth. In flavor, the beer begins as herbal caramel bread, moving slowly towards a more toffee flavor before the bitters overwhelm the caramel flavor with hints of English Tea and grass. This gives way to a strong, lightly tannic, bitter ending and finish to the beer that mingles grassy and herbal hops with just a faint touch of bread sugar from the malt. The finish is light, shorter, and quite reminiscent of a black tea. The aftertaste mimics the finish’s flavor in a lesser way, appearing light and bitter tannic on the tongue. In the mouth, the beer feel slightly slick and on the light side of medium in body. Carbonation is of a middling amount, providing a light scrub on the tongue, while not providing any fluffiness and only a touch of crispness. Overall, this is a fairly good interpretation of an ESB. Honestly, it’s a little too bitter for an ESB by my standards, but I’ve really only ever had American interpretations of the style, so my judgment might be flawed. Still, it’s a nice sipper with some good characteristics. As the beer heats up, the malt plays a bigger role on the tongue, and the bread characteristics start to unfurl and become more nuanced, which is great. A solid beer to knock back at the pub, and an excellent beer to pair alongside stronger pub food, like a burger or buffalo wings.