This top-fermented classic ale style offers a deep, rich brown or ruby color with a malty, very lightly hopped flavor. True bitter is only lightly carbonated.

The following items and links are excellent starting points for an exploration of “British Bitters.”

January 26, 2006
Rochester, Kent, ENGLAND –

By – Silk Tork

“Bitter belongs in the Pale Ale style family along with American Pale Ale and French Amber or Biere de Garde, though Bitter has developed a significantly greater variety of strength, flavour and appearance than the parent Pale Ale. A Bitter can be very dark and roasty, approaching a Stout, or be very golden and delicate like a Golden Summer Ale. It can also go under 3% abv as with Boys Bitter and as high as 7% with some Premium or Strong Bitters. During the early to mid 20th century there were some regional preferences noted which may still be detected in the beers of some of the more established breweries. In Cornwall, Wales, North England and Scotland the preference was for sweeter, less hopped beer. In other areas, particularly South East England, the preference was for hoppy beers.”

British Bitter – STYLE OF THE MONTH

BREW your own

Aug, 1996

by Jeff Frane

“Although it has become the quintessential British beer, “bitter” didn’t become a notable style or common term until the years around WW2. The seminal British brewing text, H. L. Hind’s Brewing: Science & Practice, from the 1930s, never uses the term at all, although there are numerous references to pale ale. My ancestors may have been drinking “bitter” but they probably didn’t call it that.”

“”Bitter” seems to have emerged purely as a distinction from “mild” — both terms referring to the beer’s hopping rate, either low (mild) or high (bitter). In the days when the tied-house system assured that a pub carried only one brand, and each brewery offered drinkers such a choice, the distinction was simple. But defining “bitter” as anything but “not mild” is difficult — especially when milds have never been an American style and have faded badly even in England.”

Tastings – The Beverage Testing Institute

“Bitter. Bitter is an English specialty, and very much an English term, generally denoting the standard ale–the “session” beer –in an English brewers range. They are characterized by  fruitiness, light to medium body and an accent on hop aromas more than hop bitters. Colors range from golden to copper. Despite the name they are not particularly bitter. Indeed, British brewed “bitters” will often be less bitter than US craft brewed amber ales…”

“An important element of faithful bitters are English yeast cultures used in fermentation. These impart a fruity, mildly estery character that should be noted in examples of the style.”

CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale)


“Bitters developed towards the end of the 19th century as brewers began to produce beers that could be served in pubs after only a few days storage in cellars. Bitters grew out of pale ale but were usually deep bronze to copper in colour due to the use of slightly darker crystal malts.”

“Towards the end of the 19th century, brewers built large estates of tied pubs. They moved away from vatted beers stored for many months and developed ‘running beers’ that could be served after a few days’ storage in pub cellars. Draught Mild was a ‘running beer’ along with a new type that was dubbed Bitter by drinkers. Bitter grew out of Pale Ale but was generally deep bronze to copper in colour due to the use of slightly darker malts such as crystal that give the beer fullness of palate.”

English Pale Ale Styles

Beer Judge Certification Program

8A. Standard/Ordinary Bitter

Aroma: The best examples have some malt aroma, often (but not always) with a caramel quality. Mild to moderate fruitiness is common. Hop aroma can range from moderate to none (UK varieties typically, although US varieties may be used). Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.”

Appearance: Light yellow to light copper. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. May have very little head due to low carbonation.”

Flavor: Medium to high bitterness. Most have moderately low to moderately high fruity esters. Moderate to low hop flavor (earthy, resiny, and/or floral UK varieties typically, although US varieties may be used). Low to medium maltiness with a dry finish. Caramel flavors are common but not required. Balance is often decidedly bitter, although the bitterness should not completely overpower the malt flavor, esters and hop flavor. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.”

Mouthfeel: Light to medium-light body. Carbonation low, although bottled and canned examples can have moderate carbonation.”

Overall Impression: Low gravity, low alcohol levels and low carbonation make this an easy-drinking beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.”

History: Originally a draught ale served very fresh under no pressure (gravity or hand pump only) at cellar temperatures (i.e. “real ale”). Bitter was created as a draught alternative (i.e. running beer) to country-brewed pale ale around the start of the 20th century and became widespread once brewers understood how to “Burtonize” their water to successfully brew pale beers and to use crystal malts to add a fullness and roundness of palate.”

Commercial Examples:

Boddington’s Pub Draught

Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter

Oakham Jeffrey Hudson Bitter (JHB)

Young’s Bitter

Brakspear Bitter

Adnams Bitter