Tasting Notes for ESB (Fullers, Red Hook, Adnams, Bitch Creek)

Lately I've been listening to The Brewing Networks Brewing with Style, and was inspired to start tasting beers within a single style. I wrote an article before about what off flavors to look for when tasting beer, but realized that I hadn't actually done a lot of the stuff listed on there.

I went to Bevmo yesterday and bought four different kinds of ESB: Fullers, Red Hook, Adnams Southworld Bitter, Bitch Creek. Because I'm still easily influence by what I read about a beer (rather than what I actually taste) I decided to organize the notes into two sections.

I will give my initial impressions, then read about each beer (and listen to ESB episode of The BN Podcast), and give my secondary impressions.


Fuller's ESB

fullers esbSmell: malty caramel, noticeably the most fragrant of the bunch

Taste: strong honey flavor, I suspect they use some kind of honey malt. Sweet malt flavor, but dry finish

2nd tasting, With Notes

(Taken from RateBeer): cherry and orange, malty toffee, caramel notes, Pale Ale and Crystal malts, biscuity, toffee

I agree with biscuity and orange flavors, but would not be able to find these on my own. I'm not sure about the toffee. According to the ESB style guidelines, toffee should be there, but I could not detect it in any of the beers. I disagree with the cherry bit.

After a few rounds of tasting, I noticed that Fullers had lower low carbonation than the rest, and would say that there is a low amount of spicy hop character. Later in the tasting, the Fullers became way too sweet, and to be honest, I could still taste it in the back of my throat when I woke up the next morning.


Red Hook ESB

red hook esbSmell: light malty and honey aromas

Taste: Much drier than fullers. I'm not sure if I can taste an off flavor like sour apple or if it's just because the Fullers was so powerful that it's skewing my view of Red Hook. In retrospect, I could drink way more Red Hook than Fullers because of the dryness and toned down flavors.
off flavor? sour apple?

2nd tasting, With Notes

(Taken from RateBeer) Toasted malt flavor and pleasant finishing sweetness.

*Why is it being called an amber beer? I thought it was ESB.

I guess I agree with toasted malt, and would maybe add grainy to my descriptors. Maltiness comes though as beer warms up. I can also taste something sweet, maybe that's the caramel part. Caramel is still hard to taste for me, like toffee.


Adnams Southworld Bitter

adnams southworld bitterSmell: fruity, malty sweet. There's definitely something fruity going on with this beer, most likely from the yeast. Maybe these are the fruity esthers I hear so much about.

Taste: a bit bland, grainy finish. I think there may have been some stale flavors coming from this beer, but Jamil Zainasheff always talks about how English beers are stale by the time they reach the US, so I may have been anticipating this.

Slight honey flavor on finish.

2nd tasting, With Notes

From Adnams Website: distinctively hoppy and dry with wonderful malt aromas, biscuit and toast

Still smell honey! After reading a bit online, I can now notice biscuity-ness in this beer. This beer is also more drinkable that the Fullers and Bitch Creek (below). I still prefer the Red Hook.


Bitch Creek Extra Special Brown

bitch creek extra special brownSmell: roasty, molasses, rootbeer

Taste: The roasty character was dominant in this beer. I could also taste strong, fruity esthers. I feel that this was the most yeast-character dominant beer. It also had the highest carbonation of all the beers.

Honestly, Bitch Creek seemed more like a brown ale than an ESB or “bitter”. I don't know how this is listed as an ESB except that they call it an “extra special BROWN”. It's definitely the odd man out of the four beers.

2nd tasting, With Notes

After reading on RateBeer and Beer advocate, I guess I would agree that there are some chocolate notes, a creamy head, and spicy hops.

I also noticed that as I continued to drink the four beers, this one had the fullest body to it, though I believe it was listed as having “medium” body. By itself, this was a well balanced beer, but the roastiness was a detractor for this tasting session. I don't think it's to style

Further Reading


My Favorite

My favorite of the bunch was the Red Hook ESB. It was by far the driest, and least malt-forward of the beers. I think this is a US version of ESB because I tasted a bitter from Dustbowl Brewing that had similar characteristics (while being a lot darker, with no roastiness).

Personally, I think the Southworld Bitter was probably most representative of the style. Fullers is definitely one of the most well known, and a fantastic version of ESB, but it had a very unique flavor that is specific to the brand.

Both the Southworld Bitter and Fullers were very malty and sweet. I could probably have 1 or 2 and be done. I actually got full before I could finish all 4 beers, so wasn't even able to get drunk from my tasting session. What a disappointment.


What I learned about RateBeer

This was my first chance to really look through RateBeer's website and see what people are saying about these beer. I was shocked at the rampant douchebaggery going on there. It's impossible to tell if these guys actually know what they're talking about. There seems to be no other central location where I can get better info, so for now I'll have to see what other people are saying, but I will not be joining the site.



About Nate

I created this website almost two years ago when I first started homebrewing. Like my brewing, it's been through many changes over the years.

I'm a full time online marketer and brewing beer is my hobby. You'll find a mix of all topics related to craft beer and homebrewing at xBREWx!


  1. I’m not much of a beer drinker these day… never was in it for taste as I never did like it. I was always in it for the buzz. Cheap beer and lots of it. BUZZ! I’m done till tomorrow. Rinse and repeat. Glad I quit that!

    • Some craft beers will definitely give you a buzz (clocking in at more than 10{a60bef903c54612bed20edb95d22500dcc3da56ac2b90be5eb4391998d03cdd5}) but drinking this kind of beer gets pretty expensive. You have to savor every drop!

What do you think?