Like open-source software, beer recipes today take on tweaks and variations depending on the hands they're in. The London brewery Fuller Smith, & Turner closely guards the recipe for Fuller's Extra Special Bitter (ESB), but over the years the style has exploded in popularity among American brewers. Pubs across this country are happy to serve you an ESB.
At least by today's American standards, Extra Special Bitters are not particularly bitter. India Pale Ales -- especially Americanized ones -- set you up to expect a puckering, bitter brew. Many of us like these beers; they're some of my go-tos. True ESBs, however, are largely malt-forward, though a measured combination of hops is a must.
Fullers first brewed its ESB as a winter beer. Baltimore's Heavy Seas Beer riffs on the style with their winter offering, an imperial (read: higher alcohol) ESB they call Winter Storm Category 5 Ale. The beer weighs in at 7.5 percent alcohol by volume, decidedly stronger than the version safeguarded across the pond.
Category 5 Ale pours into a tulip glass with a full ruby hue. I smell vanilla cookies not unlike the ones I picked up at Harrod's in an overpriced tin for my grandmother at Christmas last year. Dark fruit notes mix with this sugary scent.
The first sip is nutty, biscuity. There's an herbal quality to the hops, which finish with a firm bite. This beer gets better as it warms up. It'll warm you up, too, but it's not too heavy to drink more than one of. I enjoyed this one very much.