Bitters were developed towards the end of the 19th century as brewers developed beers that could be drunk after only a few days storage in cellars. Bitters originally came from pale beers, but tend to be a bronze colour due to the use of slightly darker malts. Some bitters still tend to be golden in colour (eg Nottingham Rock Bitter tasted the other night). Bitters fall in the 3.4%-3.9% alcoholic range. ‘Best’ bitters have alcoholic strengths of 4% and above and strong bitters have alcoholic levels above 5%. Best and strong bitters will have a more malty and fruity taste (the Fullers ESB I tried in the Vic is a classic example of a strong bitter).
Mild is one of the most traditional styles of beer which is currently enjoying a rejuvenation in popularity. Mild’s tend to be a very dark brown due to the heavily roasted malts. They are less hopped than bitters, but have a nutty, chocolate, coffee character to them. Mild’s are often in the 3-3.5% alcoholic range. Mild has always had a great popularity in the industrial North and Midlands of Britain. In Scotland 60/- ale is comparable to mild.
Indian Pale Ale or IPA
IPA’s were first brewed in London and Burton-upon-Trent in the early 19th century for the colonial market. The industrial revolution allowed brewers to use pale malts to make beers that were golden in colour. IPA’s were strong in alcohol and contained high levels of hops. These characteristics helped keep the beer in good condition during the long sea journeys to Britain’s colonies. IPA’s will have alcoholic levels above 4% and will often have a very hoppy character with citrus flavours.
Beers with less alcohol and hops than IPA’s were brewed for the home market and became known as Pale Ale.
In the 1980’s some brewers developed this pale, hoppy beer in order to win back custom from the larger brands. Golden ales are often thirst quenching and are served cool.
Porter and Stout
Porter was a beer style developed in London in the 18th century. The name comes from the popularity of this beer style street and river porters of London. A strong porter was called stout porter which eventually got shortened to just stout. Porters and stout are very dark in colour and have a strong roasted malt character, with coffee and treacle flavours, finishing with a hoppy bitterness. The darkness in Porter comes from the use of dark malts, unlike stout which utilise roasted malted barley. Porters will tend to have a complex flavour with an alcoholic range between 4-6.5%.
Traditionally Scottish beers tend to be sweeter, less hoppy and darker than English beers. The classic styles are, Light, low in strength and so-called even when dark in colour, also known as 60/-, Heavy or 70/-, Export or 80/-. These names come from the way in the 19th century that beers were invoiced according to strength using the now defunct currency of the shilling.