This probably shouldn’t be a style, since the ESB (Extra Special Bitter) is a higher-alcohol, somewhat hoppier version of a traditional British bitter. So maybe this is an EESB. In fact, it delivers on the promise of a big beer with a rich, caramel malt character and enough spicy, fruity hop notes and bitterness to make it an imperialized American bastardization of the style. There is a hint of nut in the sweet, yeasty, tea-like aroma that is wonderfully enticing. The tastes of caramel malts, piney earthiness, faint vanilla sweetness, and the characteristic tang of a British bitter all work wonderfully together. The mouthfeel is perfect, with a gentle carbonation and a dry, slightly bitter finish. Altogether, this “Category 5” ale is something of an oxymoron — a session beer to be savored.
Clipper City Brewery, Baltimore, Md., 7.5 percent ABV.