Aroma: Hop aroma moderately-high to moderately-low, typically with a floral, earthy, resiny, and/or fruity character. Medium to medium-high malt aroma, optionally with a low to moderate caramel component. Medium-low to medium-high fruity esters. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.
Appearance: Light amber to deep copper color. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. A low head is acceptable when carbonation is also low.
Flavor: Medium to medium-high bitterness with supporting malt flavors evident. The malt profile is typically bready, biscuity, nutty, or lightly toasty, and optionally has a moderately low to moderate caramel or toffee flavor. Hop flavor moderate to moderately high, typically with a floral, earthy, resiny, and/or fruity character. Hop bitterness and flavor should be noticeable, but should not totally dominate malt flavors. Moderately-low to high fruity esters. Optionally may have low amounts of alcohol. Medium-dry to dry finish. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium-full body. Low to moderate carbonation, although bottled versions will be higher. Stronger versions may have a slight alcohol warmth but this character should not be too high.
Impression: An average-strength to moderatelystrong British bitter ale. The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. Drinkability is a critical component of the style. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.
Comments: In England today, “ESB” is a Fullers trademark, and no one thinks of it as a generic class of beer. It is a unique (but very well-known) beer that has a very strong, complex malt profile not found in other examples, often leading judges to overly penalize traditional English strong bitters. In America, ESB has been co-opted to describe a malty, bitter, reddish, standard-strength (for the US) British-type ale, and is a popular craft beer style. This may cause some judges to think of US brewpub ESBs as representative of this style.
Ingredients: Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts, may use a touch of black malt for color adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn or wheat. English finishing hops are most traditional, but any hops are fair game; if American hops are used, a light touch is required. Characterful British yeast. Burton versions use medium to high sulfate water, which can increase the perception of dryness and add a minerally or sulfury aroma and flavor.
Commercial Examples: Bass Ale, Highland Orkney Blast, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale, Shepherd Neame Bishop's Finger, Shepherd Neame Spitfire, West Berkshire Dr. Hexter’s Healer, Whitbread Pale Ale, Young’s Ram Rod