Why 'Bitter' Beer Is So Common In Britain

For the uninitiated, it can be an intimidating task to order beer in a British pub. You can always cheat and just look at the taps, but you still might find a few styles of beers rarely encountered in the U.S.

Pale Mild and Extra Special Bitters, for example, are just some of the unique brews one is likely to encounter, according to Vine Pair. To add to the confusion, they aren't always the most fitting titles. According to The Takeout, bitters really aren't all that bitter at all compared to the modern bevy of IPAs on the market.

According to British beer historian Martyn Cornell, these names were given out around the late1830s when it was necessary to differentiate between the new, hoppier pale ales that would be defined as bitters compared to their sweeter mild counterparts. According to Kegerator, bitters were the new kids on the block, and would often be the less popular brews served through British taps. It would compete with porters and milds for much of the 19th century, and then after a brief stint in the top spot, it would cede to lagers in the 1960s. Today, though, bitters are one of the most popular styles of beer in British pubs.

Bitters are making a comeback

Bitters are described as "ales out of their time," but it would seem its time has come again (via Kegerator). According to YouGov, bitters are having another moment in the spotlight. Its data showed that ales like bitters took the top spot among British beer drinkers around 2014. And, even among those ale drinkers, the bitter was still the top choice. This data showed that lagers were more popular among those who didn't prefer beer, but those who sought out a pint at the pub most often chose ales. YouGov credits the rise in popularity to the craft beer movement, and the recent embrace of similar hoppy brews.

According to Kegerator, the best bitters are often served as cask ales. JustBeer notes that despite their name, they often have a mildly sweet malty flavor with a residual bitterness that acts as a pleasing accent. For those looking to try out a bitter ale for themselves, The Takeout recommends the Goose Island Honkers Ale as a close cousin of the British style that is available in the U.S. Though not exactly the same, it will still give an idea of one of Britain's most popular brews.