I’m A Little Bitter About What’s Happened To Bitter. #BrewedAwakening

By / Wine + Drinks / August 18th, 2017 / 23

In the early days of microbrewing in Canada, many of the exciting new beers were English style bitters. Compared to the bland mainstream ales and lagers, these were much more full bodied and flavourful, both in malt and hops. For me, in the Maritimes, it was the pioneering Granite Brewery Best Bitter in 1985, and then Picaroons Best Bitter from New Brunswick in 1995. It was similar in BC and Ontario, with Spinnakers in Victoria and Wellington County and Conners in Ontario making good Bitter. Yes, there were other beers, but these were the core brews. Even in the second wave of microbrewing in the late 90s, my “go to” beer was Propeller’s ESB. Super hoppy IPAs and DIPAs didn’t exist yet in our market, not until the mid 2000s, which is hard to explain to a young beer geek. Try to find a basic bitter in a beer bar these days. It’s difficult. There might be one if you are lucky, lost amongst the sea of high alcohol, overly bitter IPAs and DIPAs. Bitters, despite their name, are not that bitter. They are balanced, and food friendly. Here are three great ones available today:

Granite Brewery Best Bitter (Halifax, NS, and Toronto, ON), 4.5% alc

Malty and hoppy at the same time. Balanced, using UK hops, which are not overtly fruity and floral/spicy like west coast hops. They work more in harmony with the malt, resulting in a very drinkable beer.

Picaroons Best Bitter (Fredericton, NB), 5.2% alc

Distinctly flavourful due to Picaroons’ own evolved version of the Ringwood yeast strain. Moderately bitter, using English hop varieties. Toffee notes, and has a mineral quality.

Nine Locks ESB (Dartmouth, NS), 5.6% alc, 35 IBU

Rich, delicious ESB with caramel/toffee notes and pleasantly herbal hop aromas and flavours. Smooth and well balanced. I wish they would make a 4.5% alc version…


Craig Pinhey discovered good drink circa 1985 at Ginger’s Tavern/Granite Brewery in Halifax and has been writing about beer, wine and spirits for 25 years. A Certified Sommelier and BJCP judge, Craig lives in New Brunswick where he runs his own writing and consulting business and is the beverage columnist for Brunswick News. He is the only person to have judged all of the national wine, spirits and beer awards of Canada.

Comments are closed.

North America’s Longest Running Food & Wine Magazine

Get Quench-ed!!!

Champion storytellers & proudly independent for over 50 years. Free Weekly newsletter & full digital access