There’s usually some confusion when it comes to English beer, especially for American beer drinkers (for instance, it’s a myth that Brits take their beer flat and warm). Throw in terms like “mild” and “best bitter,” and it’s a recipe for some beer miscommunication. Fortunately there is some pretty basic logic, and pretty great beer, behind the terminology.

English Milds Essential Info

  • Color: Pale Gold to coppery/ruby
  • ABV: 2.8%-4.5%
  • Commercial Examples: Brawler Pugilist Style Ale (Dark), Sam Adams Ruby Mild (Dark), Summit Brewing Company Union Series: 3X Mild Ale (Pale)

English “Mild” can come in Dark or Pale form. And while there is some haziness as to where the term “mild” came from–whether it refers to young beers, or low alcohol beers, or maybe just a sweet, timid beer?—the main emphasis is lower hops content. A Pale Mild will have a bit of hoppy bitterness but the flavor will emphasize malt, with some fruitiness and even butteriness possible. A Dark Mild will also have a lower hops quotient, but with more malt, yielding a slightly fuller body than a Pale Mild and malt flavors that range from roast and toast to malty sweetness, fruit, caramel, toffee, and chocolate. A classic English style.

English Bitters Essential Info

  • Color: Light gold to deep copper
  • ABV: 3.2% – 6.2%
  • Commercial Examples: Young’s Bitter (Bitters); Goose Island Honkers Ale (Best Bitters); Fullers ESB, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale (ESB)

Even if you haven’t been to England, “bitters” is a term you might have heard tossed around in reference to the beer. Don’t let the name confuse you. While somewhat bitter—and so named because they tend to have more focus on floral, earthy, resiny English hops than Mild ales—these beers aren’t related to super hoppy American style IPAs or anything overwhelmingly bitter. Instead, the flavors and bitterness of English hops are balanced out by a proportion of malt, which varies depending on the kind of bitters you’re drinking—Standard Bitters, Best Bitters, and Extra Special (or Extra Strong) Bitters, aka “ESB.” Standard Bitters, or what’s commonly just called “bitters,” are the lightest, with some roundness from the malts and very low alcohol, while Best Bitters will have some more pronounced flavors, and Extra Special Bitters will have both hops and malt dialed up, but again with a goal toward balance (very similar to an English Pale Ale).