Beers of England
Half empty or half full? Either way, you'd better get to the bar...
To beer or not to beer
Well, it was only a matter of time before the mask of writing intelligent and thought-provoking pieces about science slipped and I began instead to write about booze. The blog originates from my rather drunken conversation on Friday where I tried to explain the vagaries of the British beer market to a Czech colleague over the deafening music and chatter of a busy bar. Most of the hubs I write on here I do at least a little research for, but I guess I’ll never have had more fun “researching” for a subject than this!
This is very much an opinion piece based on my own personal tastes and experience of drinking and I’ll try to spell out a few of the typical beers available from the fridges and pumps of English bars and pubs. For anyone thinking of visiting the UK, with similar tastes to me, then this may prove useful; for any Brits out there, feel free to agree or disagree and add your own opinions! I know it’s a divisive and serious topic!
The first thing to say about drinking in England is that there are beers from all over the world available; probably more so than in any other country of the world. These tend to cover the lagers mostly, with the harder to store ales being locally brewed or at the furthest, somewhere within the British Isles. For the purposes of lager, where the choice of actually English brewed is very small, I’ll throw in a few other alternatives from elsewhere in the world; I mean let’s face it, the bartender will probably be from Australia, so why shouldn’t your lager be too, right?!
What'll it be?
Ales are very much a British speciality (though available elsewhere in the world); with thousands of different types available across the country. If you get the chance, a real ale festival is a good day out (though you wont remember anything about it) where hundreds and sometimes over a thousand ales are available for you to try from the barrel. These events are generally run by the Campaign for Real Ale and can be found at http://www.camra.org.uk. Ales are made in the traditional manner, typically just using barley, hops, yeast and water and can range from dark brown to light amber; with a whole range of tastes and shades in between. They tend to be flat and served at room temperature from the beer pumps on the bar.
Obviously, it'd bedifficult to try to outline every ale available, so I've picked out a few that you can get just about nationwide. It's a matter of personal taste, so if you fancy trying one of the ales at the bar, ask the bartender to give you a taste before you launch into a full pint of something you might not particularly like!
IPA (Indian Pale Ale) is fairly ubiquitous in bars up and down the land. Green King and Deuchars (brewed in Scotland) tend to be the most common. IPA is a fairly mild and light ale with a smooth taste and is generally considered to be easy to drink. Certainly not a bad ale to get you started. They have the alcoholic volume at around 4%.
Old Speckled Hen (4.5% vol) is something of a favourite of mine and can be found in almost any good bar either on tap, or in bottled form. A rich brown beer, it has a great taste and I could drink it all day. Something I couldn't drink all day is "Hen's" degenerate older brother, Old Crafty Hen, which is 6.5%. Both of these beers hail from Oxfordshire.
My absolute favourite ale to drink currently is Timothy Taylor's Landlord (4.3%) which is becoming more widely available across the whole country. This beer is brewed in Yorkshire and has won multiple awads for its quality and taste. Pale and slightly bitter, I really could drink this one all day (I hope you aren't getting a bad impression of me here!). So good that Madonna (popstar, rather than mother of Jesus) even confessed to it being her favourite beer.
Black Sheep Ale (4.4%) is a terrific ale which is also from Yorkshire. Because its thick and rich nature, I find this a little heavy going compared to those I've mentioned thus far, but very much worth a try - or even a few tries over the course of a night! Slightly fuity in taste and golden in colour.
A beer which certainly deserves a mention is Newcastle Brown Ale (4.7%). This is partly because I live in Newcastle and also because it is available the world over (I recently had a bottle in Vietnam for posterity's sake). This is unlike any of the afore mentioned as it is thick, dark and almost treacle-like. A very delicious beer, even if true real ale fans might quarrel because of its mass-market roll-out. Famously referred to i Newcastle as "dog", due to a husband telling his wife that he was off to walk the dog, when in reality he was going to the pub!
Newcastle Brown Ale or "Dog"
For a long time there were precious few English lagers to choose from, with foreign imports dominating beer taps the country over. Today there are signs of more English brewed lagers pushing their way back into the market place, but it might take sometime before a couple o this list are widespread.
Carling (4%) is the one lager that you WILL find everywhere. This includes the rest of the world where it's typically marketed as Carling Black Label. It's a pretty unremarkable beer and competes with Fosters to gain the taps in just about every bar in the country.Carling is largely replaced by Tennants once you get over the border into Scotland - which is again, unremarkable at best.
Samuel Smiths Organic Lager from Tadcaster in Yorkshire is increasingly apearing in pubs on tap and in bottles. My favourite lager of the moment, this is smooth and full of taste, far less fizzy that European lagers.
Freedom lager is a beautiful lager and available more commonly now in both bottles and on tap. Very crisp and easy to drink; ever so slightly bitter compared to other lagers you might find in the taps around it, but all the more refreshing for it!
and the rest...
Anyway, I hope this blog has been useful for anyone reading it and wanting to come to England to tay a beer or two. Drinking beer is seen as a pretty worthwhile pastime in the UK, so when in Rome.... For the Brits reading it, please remamber to add you own tips and favourites in the comments section below!
Of course, as I alluded at the start, there are beers from the four corners of the world here, so there'll be something for you, probably including something from your own country. So get on your coat and get to the pub!
- Great British Beer, Brewers & UK Beer events
Information on British Beer, Brewers, Distributors and Home-Brew Shops, and UK Beer events
- Beers of Europe Ltd - Belgian, German, British and World Beer and ale.
Beers of Europe -Specialist beer shop, with more than 250 different beers on display, also available online.
- Campaign for Real Ale
- beerintheevening.com guide to the best pubs in the UK
- beer in the evening - search for pubs, add your own comments and suggestions, generate pub crawls
- Traditional Pub Games
Traditional Pub Games - History and Information
- Beer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikipedia's definitions and information on beer from the world over