“What two ideas are more inseparable than Beer and Britannia?” asked Rev Sydney Smith and it’s true that beer is a fundamental part of British culture. Beer is the cornerstone of the village pub, it’s part of so many rites of passage and is far and away the most popular drink in the country. To feed that demand Britain is home to over 1000 breweries and although styles vary by region, with Scotland beer having a bias toward a darker more malty brews and the English beer favouring a lighter hoppy ale, almost all breweries specialise in top-fermented beer production – better known to you and I as ales.
Despite having a focus on ale production, Britain’s most popular type of beer is lager, largely due to mass production & mass marketing budgets by the huge beer conglomerates although the real fightback started with the establishment of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in the early 1970s & continues today with the Craft Beer revolution. For reasons covered in our real ale notes this movement is bogged down with definitions of what makes great beer. However most agree that Britain has a proud brewing tradition and stands out as one of the global ale supremos.
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British beer styles can be very confusing with no universal standard beyond what the brewer chooses to call their beer. Thus words like best bitter, session beer, special bitter, premium bitter are all different definitions of roughly the same thing and serve no purpose to accurately identify what to expect in the beer. For us it’s easiest to define beer by their colour as follows:-
Pale Ale – A light refreshing usually hoppy ale with a low to medium alcohol content. Exceedingly summery!
India Pale Ale – Like pale ale but more bitter and stronger at 5% abv and above. So called because regular pale ale couldn’t survive the journey by boat to India during the colonial era, so hops and extra alcohol both acted as preservatives to boost the shelf life!
Golden Ale – As the colour darkens the maltiness and strength tend to increase.
Amber/Brown Ales – Deeper Malts, deeper colour, sweeter taste!
Porter & Stout – Today these are the darkest, blackest maltiest beers on the market, although Stout was originally the name given to a “Strong and True” beer rather than a dark one.