The cult section of the literary world

Thirsty Thursday: Redhook ESB

by Ross E. Lockhart

Despite the best efforts of American macro-brewers and their warnings against Bitter Beer Face, I am a fan of bitter, particularly with regards to the traditional English pale ale, and its malty, bitter bite.

Not to be confused with bitters (such as angostura bitters), which are used as digestifs or cocktail flavorings, bitters are pale ales, typically less hoppy than other British ales, and derive most of their distinctive flavor from roasted malt.

Bitter is an emotional state, grounded in feeling as if you’ve been wronged. Bitter is also the most sensitive of the five basic taste sensations our tongues can pick up, along with sweet, sour, salty, and umami (which I’m attempting to resist turning into a Your Mama joke… “Yo mama’s so bitter…”). I tend to the belief that an appreciation of bitterness is a sign of a well-balanced palate.

So tonight, I’m having a Redhook ESB, a Seattle-style take on the British ESB, which promises to be hoppier than the traditional, and more bittersweet than purely bitter.

ESB pours a clear orange-brown with a thick, but quick, head and minimal lacing. Moderate, ticklish carbonation. Malty nose, with a hoppy backbone, and nutty, grassy qualities. Malty and sweet on the tongue–sweeter than expected (Frosted Flakes?), with a hoppy bitterness following quickly. Fruity: plums, orange peel, lemon, lime. Smooth and creamy medium-bodied mouthfeel, with pronounced carbonation. Astringent, clean finish that leaves your tongue tingling. Great drinkablilty, with an excellent balance of bitter and sweet pleasantly tweaking the traditional British bitter. Would make for a good session beer.

Suggested literary pairings, with a just touch of bitterness for your discerning palate…

Broken Piano for President by Patrick Wensink. A punk rock meditation on the decline and fall of the American Dream, Wensink’s Broken Piano for President follows Deshler Dean, blackout-drunk singer and hamburger savant, on a Pynchonesque odyssey including rival corporations, starving cosmonauts, and untrustworthy bandmates.

The Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island by Cameron Pierce. As one might expect from a novel featuring a pickle protagonist, The Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island tends to be more sour than classically bitter; however, this absurdist fairy-tale featuring a suicidally-depressed pickle, his pancake paramour, and maple syrup oceans is a bittersweet delight.

The Croning by Laird Barron. This debut novel from acclaimed author Laird Barron showcases the bitter side of cosmic horror, and is apt to have even the most jaded horror fans sleeping with their lights on. Recommended.

Ross E. Lockhart is the managing editor of Night Shade Books. A lifelong fan of supernatural, fantastic, speculative, and weird fiction, he holds degrees in English from Sonoma State University (BA) and San Francisco State University (MA). In 2011, he edited the acclaimed anthology The Book of Cthulhu. He lives in an old church in Petaluma, CA, with his wife Jennifer, hundreds of books, and the conspicuous absence of dog. Visit him online at

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