Southern Tier (NY)
ESB's are one of those passed over styles that I went years without realizing I loved. Maybe just because we're on the wrong side of the pond — they probably still carry the weight of tradition over in England. And maybe there, everyone can give you a clear definition of the style, but I think part of the reason ESBs sort of got lost in the shuffle in the American craft scene is their semi similarity to pale ales. American versions of ESBs often seem like somewhat maltier pale ales that may or may not have a smooth English bent.
On one hand, Southern Tier Harvest doesn't openly advertise itself as an ESB, so I probably should try to not judge it based on style. If I was judging it as an ESB, I might point out that t has a quite high ABV for the stlye at 6.7% — more in line with an English IPA that boasts a lighter, cleaner feel. It's almost as crisp as a lager, but the crispness is actually a little light. What I want from an ESB is that pleasantly smooth mouthfeel — this feels like it's on the thin side.
Harvest Ale has a distinctly American-ness to it; it's actually not far from Southern Tier's IPA, but constructed over a more diverse malt base. I'm guessing at least some of the hops are the same. The bitterness is fairly potent, with a sharp bite to it that overrides a lot of the cleanness you get in the mouthfeel. It doesn't clash, but it's on the aggressive side, and I wonder if this would be somewhat more interesting with a balance shifted toward aroma and flavor hops versus bittering hops. The malts are so clean, and the hops so zingy, that Harvest Ale probably isn't as multi-dimensional as it might have been.
These are all minor quibbles, though, as it's hard to judge this beer in a vacuum. Harvest is a very tasty, very drinkable beer; a hoppy beer you could tackle one after the other before the surprising ABV sneaks up on you. It should serve as a good alternative to your normal IPAs for the fall, and it seems like that was exactly Southern Tier's intention. Once again, more solid work from them.