An American's Guide to British Beer Part 3: Resources
In Part One of An American's Guide to British Beer we got an overview of some of the basics of British beer - particularly the importance of seeking out cask ale. In Part Two: Styles, we looked at traditional British beer styles with a word about recent trends. In Part Three, we speak to Ken Worthington of CAMRA, and provide a list of resources - a curriculum if you will to shepherd you along in your continued education in the world of British beer.
Michael Jackson, Writer
No library is complete without at least two or three Michael Jackson books. Even if you don't fancy yourself a beer connoisseur, Jackson is an essential addition to any tidy collection of culinary and beverage guides. But he's a must read for anyone travelling to the British Isles or Europe.
For the uninitiated, Michael Jackson (1942 – 2007), is probably the most influential advocate for the preservation of beer brewing and beer tasting in the world. His books have been widely sold and eagerly read, and have long set the standard by which beer books are measured.
For sheer enjoyment, its beautiful photos and concise tasting an structural notes make Jackson's an essential read - for beginners and veterans alike. At the risk of getting almost too personal, when my wife was pregnant with our daughter, to show my support (she being a fair connoisseur herself) I laid off the beer and instead curled up nights with Ultimate Beer - it was almost as enjoyable as having a pint itself. It strays well beyond the British borders and includes styles from all over the world, but its notes and selection of British beers are a great starting point for anyone interested in beer. Ultimate Beer
Roger Protz is the prolific writer and editor of the and numerous other publications about beer. He's a regular contributer to the UK daily newspaper Good Beer GuidesThe Guardian, hosts the awesome website Beer Pages, and is a stalwart advocate for real ale in Great Britain. Not as technical as Michael Jackson, his books are nonetheless crucial for their comprehensiveness, readability and commitment to the preservation of quality ale.
A CAMRA Man Speaks
I sat down and had a pint with Ken Worthington, (no, I had a pint and emailed him) chairman of the Wigan, Lancashire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale to get his perspective on CAMRA's mission and how it is helping preserve Britain's real ale heritage.
Tell us a little about yourself? What is you role in CAMRA?
I am the (Wigan, Lancashire) Branch Chairperson. The Branch Chairman is the most senior member of the Branch Committee. The Chairman is responsible for ensuring that all Branch activities are conducted to meet the Campaign’s aims and objectives in accordance with the Internal and External Policy Documents and any other Guidelines issued by the National Executive Committee of CAMRA.
How did you get interested in beer?
I had my first pint with my father at the tender age of 15 in a pub called the Eagle and Child, in Huyton. This pub was demolished in the early nineties, but was a rough establishment. Strangers not welcome! I have attached a photo from the fifties but the pubs appearance never changed. A MacDonald’s is now on the site of the pub.
I never actually got into real ale until I had a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment and realised that real ale had taste. I joined CAMRA with my wife about fifteen years ago, but only became active in the Wigan Branch several ago.
Describe the mission of CAMRA: what are it's goals. What are its accomplishments?
CAMRA campaigns for real ale, real pubs and consumer rights. We are an independent, voluntary organisation with over 100,000 members and have been described as the most successful consumer group in Europe. We have a branch structure which means that all members can join a local CAMRA branch and campaign and socialise locally. They come from all walks of life and are of all ages. (We are) a fully inclusive organisation. The only thing that many members might have in common is the love of the pub and real ale. There are around 200 branches covering the UK and many of the branches run local beer festivals, publish local newsletters and run social events to pubs and breweries.
Why do you think preserving beers real-ale heritage is importance?
Often when I go abroad I find that in many countries you can only buy the usual mainstream lagers. Beer is important as it can become part of a nation’s identity. You see the ‘stereo-typical’ English country pub shown on TV and you see the open fire, friendly landlord and some handpumps dispensing local cask beer. We all want choice and we all have different tastes. CAMRA and the ever increasing number of real ale breweries supports this choice no matter what beer style you like (bitter, light ales, stouts or porters).
Without a decent choice of beers we might as well all drink Coors or Stella which all taste the same no matter where they are brewed and are bland.
What should American tourists be on the lookout for when searching UK's town centres for a beer? (Logos, awards, etc?) How can they tell a good pub from a mediocre one?)
Obviously I would suggest buying the latest CAMRA Good Beer Guide which lists the top 500 pubs serving quality real ales. However do not discount others. There are many real ale pubs that just miss out because of the limitation to 500 entries. Pubs in the current and past editions of the Good Beer Guide may have window stickers stating they are in the Good Beer Guide and the year of entry.
CAMRA also provide pubs who serve a local beer with LocAle stickers and handpump stickers (crowns). CAMRA LocAle is an initiative that promotes pubs stocking locally brewed real ale. The scheme builds on a growing consumer demand for quality local produce and an increased awareness of 'green' issues. Pubs showing the LocAle logo serve a great pint of locally brewed beer.
Many CAMRA Branches have a website and may list the pubs serving real ale within their area. There may also be local CAMRA pub guides (normally available for a couple of pounds).
The 'Cask Marque' is a sign that appears outside pubs, guaranteeing that inside you will get a great pint of cask ale.
Cask Marque are an independent, non profit making company and work with many brewers and pub owners. Each year they make over 15,000 visits to British pubs and bars to ensure the beer and cellar quality is of the highest standard.
One way to check whether a pub sells good beer or mediocre (or in some cases poor quality) is to have a taste and not to be afraid to tell landlord if the quality is doubtful.
Like everything a good search on the Internet would normally point visitors to the UK to good pubs where they are staying.
If the only site you ever visit is the aforementioned Beer-Pages, you'll be well informed about the world of beer. For those wishing to branch out, check the Beer-Pages Links page where you'll find a library of links to beer blogs, beer organizations and breweries throughout the UK and the world.
Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA)
Campaigning for Real Ale, Pubs and Drinkers rights since 1971
'Cask Marque' is an independent, non profit company that works with brewers and British pubs to ensure cask ale of the highest standard.
Great British Beer Festival
The Great British Beer Festival , Britain's biggest beer festival, brings together a wide range of real ales and international beers.
Beer and real ale news updated regularly by journalist and aficionado Darren Norbury
Thanks for Reading!
I hope you've enjoyed this series and found it helpful prior to travelling to the UK, or just as a guide to help familiarize yourself with British beer. Cheers!
About the author
Peter Allison is the author of the novel Lockyer Self Storage, 2011, Ninth & Broad Press for sale on Lulu.
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A three part guide to British cask ale and real beer for American visitors to the British Isles.