Before driving to St Paul on Christmas Eve to visit GuitarMatt and his sweetie, I threw a growler in the car, thinking that on the way there or back I would stop at Barley John's and pick up 64 ounces of their delicious Little Barley Bitter. As it turned out, my Christmas gift was the 'Rudolph' growler, full of said bitter, in the image left. It's ironic that after stabbing another Rudolph rendition, this one could bring me so much liquid joy. To top it off, I was ordered to stop at Surdyks liquor store, hazardous duty if ever there was any on Christmas Eve, and pick up some Anchor Christmas Ale and Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale for the VOR who had developed a fondness for both of those holiday brews. As I hunted for them I found that 21st Amendment's Bitter American seasonal was back on the shelf. I definitely needed a large carry box as I made my way to the car with my arms full of six packs.
Bitter or ESB, Extra Special Bitter, is far and away my favorite beer style. It's nicely balanced with the hop flavor in the forefront and the alcohol content usually hovers around 4%, making it a true session ale. I am sick of the IPA craze and its high alcohol, insanely hopped brews. If you drive to a bar, two of these brews puts you at the ragged edge of .08% BAL and a trip to jail if you are stopped on the way home. If you are settled in with your buddies for a 'session', a sipping beer with low alcohol and great flavor is the hot ticket and bitter most always fits the bill. While in San Fransisco with the VOR the weekend before last, I wandered into the Magnolia brewpub in Haight Ashbury while waiting for my SU (Spousal Unit) to run the gauntlet of high end vintage shops on Haight St. I looked at the beer list on the chalkboard, walked up to the bartender and asked, voice full of hope, "Is it true you have four bitters on tap, two on cask, and aren't out of any or all of 'em?". When he assured me that they indeed had all four I started at the beginning. When the VOR walked in and looked at the chalk board to determine her beer choice, she immediately informed me, without me opening my mouth, that "you can't drink four 20oz bitters this early in the afternoon". I made a slight gramatical correction and suggested that she substitute 'shouldn't' for 'can't' and told her she was looking at the half full glass of #3. Once again the low alcohol content combined with our car and hassle free metro pass made it perfectly fine (other than a couple stumbles on the hilly terrain) to enjoy multiple bitters on a lovely December afternoon.
Why more breweries don't brew the style is a puzzle to me, although the name can throw off the more uneducated beer drinkers. I recall a beer ad a few years back for some crappy light beer proclaiming that their beer was 'not a bit bitter'. I am dead certain that it wasn't. While visiting GalwayGuy in St Louis, we discovered the phenomona of the 'session IPA'. The brewer admitted it had the flavor profile and alcohol content of a good bitter but that, "that bitter tag tends to throw the casual drinker off". Dark Mild is another excellent beer style with a off putting name. What macho beer drinker wants 'mild beer'? I guess that would be me. Here's a little secret: both South Shore Nut Brown and Northwoods Floppin' Crappie are dark milds. If these excellent brews were called dark mild they would be limited seasonals and probably on the verge of being discontinued. Summit ESB, my go-to beer for years, was dropped due to what I suspect was low sales. Surly brews both Bitter Brewer and Surly Mild as seasonals and I wish they were year round. Right now, in a cruel bit of irony Barley John's, which is within easy walking distance, brews a lovely bitter year round that's 3.5% and bursting with flavor. My local joint Grumpys, has no bitter and usually about three IPA's on tap. I would think that a bar would want to have a session ale, since Bitter Brewer (in season) and Surly Furious are exactly the same price for a pint, yet I'll have four BB's and only two Furious if I'm driving.
For now I'm good on the bitter front. Barley John's is four blocks east of me and I have my Rudolph growler to refill, a tasty as well as very green solution for beer consumption. Surdyks has 21st Amendment Bitter American in cans and I will relentlessly lobby Pat at Grumpys, like a three year old begging for a candy bar in the grocery check out line, to put it on tap. Podman is brewing his delicious Bitter Bobbi Ale and I can usually fall back on the not-truly-a-bitter Red Hook ESB. I also would like to issue a call to action for Mark Stutrud at Summit and Omar Ansari at Surly. Bring back Summit ESB and brew Bitter Brewer the entire year. Hell, call 'em session IPA's, make up some catchy name to lure the beer rubes in, I don't care. Just give we bitter lovers the tasty, well balanced, and socially responsible beer we all crave. Think light beer that actually has flavor, unlike the one, second from the bottom on the image right. It's the right thing to do!