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Hailing from England, an Extra Special (or Strong) Bitter (ESB) is essentially a more aggressive and more balanced Bittera pale, hopped aleboth in alcohol and hop character, but nothing overpowering. They also tend to be a bit darker with more pronounced malt profilesoften toasty and fruitwith maybe some notes diacetyl (buttery). And despite "bitter" being in its name, ESBs are not really all that bitter compared to todays beers. They key to an ESB is balance.
First brewed back in 1987, Redhook ESB hails from the Redhook Ale Brewery, who has breweries in Woodville, WA and Portsmouth, NH. In our opinion, its gone through some changes over the years, some obvious and some not so obvious, including a somewhat recent brand-wide marketing overhaul. Was it all for the better? Well leave that up to you. Today, its brewed with two-row and caramel barley malts and hopped with Willamette and US Tettnang, while the new label subtly tells you to Chill. Whether this means to relax of put on ice, were not quite sure, but we did both before sampling.
Out of the 12oz bottle, the beer pours a bright, rich amber colored brew, tainted by a touch of haze and topped with an appealing two-finger, white, creamy foam head. Fresh, powdery grist, some must, and hints of fruity esters in the nose. Near medium in body, relatively smooth on the palate, but a scrubbing carbonation breaks things up. Crisp, for a moment. Raw leafy hop tannic feel on the palate segues to a thin, watery, citric-like bitterness. Mineral flavors come to play. Malt flavors seem a bit masked at first, but theres a malt presence that provides some backing for everything else, with some apple-y fruitiness beneath. That said, as the beer warms a round and sweet caramel and toasty malty note emerges, along with some earthy and woody suggestions, but alas its towards the end of the beer. Finishes dry with a mineral linger and sweet edges.
We highly recommend allowing this beer to warm-up as much as you can handle, like more than usual, otherwise most of its nuances are completely lost and the malt profile will seem rather week. Aside from that, this is a very decent, balanced, malty, drinkable brew, and a good entry beer into more flavorful offerings. If youre looking for a pairing, look no further than a BBQ-sauce based chicken pizza with cheddar, mozzarella, red onion, green and red peppers, and chopped bacon.
Just shy of 6 percent alcohol by volume5.77 to be exactRedhook ESB is available in bottle and keg formats.
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