Beer Background

Extra Special Bitter criss-crosses the Pond

Added: Saturday, June 13th 2015

Heriot Watt brewing

Sam Fleet reports:

Four students from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, have teamed up with local Stewart Brewing to add an American twist to a well known British style, Extra Special Bitter. Natural Selection Brewing is a collaborative project now in its fifth year, and forms the final project for the MSc in Brewing and Distilling at the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University. The beer style changes with each new team, who take the recipe from brainstorming to the brewer’s paddle, giving them a taste of the British beer scene.

The beer, Bitter Descent, takes its cue from the project’s name, Natural Selection, and from Darwin's 1871 publication The Descent of Man. The artwork is based on sketches of monkeys and phylogenetic trees from the book, and the style has its ancestral roots in the ‘pint of bitter’ found in every pub in the UK.

Extra Special Bitter, much like IPA, travelled to the US, where some believe it kick-started the craft beer revolution. It evolved, and incorporated influences from over the pond. It now returns to Edinburgh, and the beer squeezes the best from American hops Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, Willamette and Mosaic, while building on a solid base of all-British malts.

The team’s head brewer, Reade Huddleston, born and raised in Texas, yearned to reintroduce the balanced, refreshing, drinkable style he’d grown up with. Bitter Descent pours golden amber, at 5.1%, with an aroma of citrus and slight blueberry. Malty sweetness leads on the tongue, closely followed by a strong but not overpowering bitterness.

Sarah Brown, project coordinator for the Natural Selection Brewing team, said: "We’ve focused on the evolution of the American Extra Special Bitter from its humble origins, the ‘pint of bitter’ found in every real ale pub across the UK. Our beer, Bitter Descent, is the culmination of over six-months of research and development – it’s balanced and dangerously drinkable."

This year’s team also experimented with a new packaging format for the project – cans. With the help of the mobile canning company WeCan, and the constant guidance and knowledge of Stewart Brewing, nearly 5,000 cans of Bitter Descent were packaged, to be distributed around Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and London. Light-weight, and offering better protection for the beer than bottles, the team hope it’s going to keep the beer’s aroma, and improve shelf-life, while living up to the innovative legacy of the project.

The second batch of beer, destined for cask and keg, is bubbling away, and will be released along with the bottles and cans, on 2 July. The launch party, at the New Amphion, Teviot Row House, Edinburgh, will kick off at 7pm. There will be three exclusive beer releases on the night, two of which will not be seen again, and there’ll be food, live music, and a licence until 3am, leaving plenty of time to try everything. The launch will be the culmination of over six months’ work for Natural Selection Brewing, but also the beginning of a month of tastings and speciality casks across Scotland.

For more information and to keep up to date:

* Launch details: Come and celebrate the launch of this year’s beer from Natural Selection Brewing, with live music from Edinburgh’s own award-winning Blues band, The Blueswater, live jazz, soul/funk music, and plenty of beer. £8 early-bird/£10. Entrance includes your first pint, a souvenir pint glass, access to three unique beers before anyone else in the UK – two of which are on for one-night only – and a full evening of entertainment. Food will be available, the New Amphion will be serving up keg and cans, and the Teviot Lounge will double as our cask bar for speciality brews. Tickets:

 Image captions: Top, from top to bottom: Sarah Brown (Project co-ordinator), Reade Huddleston (Brewer), Richard Hamer (Sales) and Sam Fleet (Marketing). Sarah Brown with the canned version


sarah brown