The Bitter Truth – Monthly Brews
The Bitter Truth

Pale Ales and Bitters can be very similar in flavor, so why the different naming conventions? Well, there seems to be some debate on why different people, in different parts of the world name beers the way they do, and indeed even the source material used to figure things out seem to contradict each other. But, it seems that generally speaking, Northwestern Europeans, prior to the 16th century called grain based fermented beverages that were flavored/bittered with a myriad of botanicals “Ales”, what we might now call “gruit”. After the adoption of hops for bittering, the newer standardized naming convention was "beer". It would take some time, but Ale then became synonymous with beer, and would be used interchangeably in most parts of the world. Starting in the 19th century, brewers and malting companies started to produce a paler malt product that could be used to make very light colored beers, to which many breweries in northwest Europe started referring to as Pale Ales as a general term for light colored beers.

While we here in the US might think of the Standard Bitter as being an age old British product for hundreds of years, it seems the term wasn't really used much, or at all, until World War II. Then the word Bitter was more of a distinction from Mild ales to note the more-bitter version of beer that was being produced, and was not derived from a branch of Pale Ales brewed at the time. So while a hop forward British Pale Ale of the time may have closely resembled an English Bitter, they came from different styles of beer making and (I'm guessing here) were probably separated more by the marketing devises of the time than actual stylistic differences.

Today, the BJCP does distinguish between Pales Ales and Bitters. Style 11 - British Beers, splits Bitters into 3 categories: Ordinary Bitter, Best Bitter, and Strong Bitter. Style 12 – Pale Commonwealth Beer, uses this vernacular to describe light colored “...bitter ales from countries within the former British Empire.” and also refers to 18b. American Pale Ale, and 24b. Belgian Pale Ale.

It seems that for now “Bitter” has been solidified as purely a naming convention for British beers while Pale can originate from not only England but from anywhere. Bitters however can easily be defined as Michael Jackson notes in The New World Guide to Beer, “...full of flavor -- the flavor of hops, and to some extent, of good British malt.” This is why our November box includes Crisp No. 19 Floor-Malted Maris Otter The quintessential and most traditional ale brewing malt. Crisp No. 19 Floor-Malted Maris Otter® is an English ale malt made from the famous Maris Otter® barley variety and malted in a traditional floor-malting facility. The floor malting process imparts richer aroma and flavor, heightening Maris Otter’s natural character. This made for an exceptional Bitter in our test batch.

Let us know what you think of the Bitter style, and or the Base Malt for the November Box at our group facebook page.


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