Do you want to know the best thing about Britain? It is very unlikely that you will ever visit a town that does not offer a great variety of outstanding beers. Whether you are sitting at a London pub or trying to survive an awful work dinner in Peterborough (sorry, long story), beer dominates the beverage palates and menus of Brits. It sounds like a paradise, right? Well, it is, but before you rush into the first pub like an overachieving amateur, let’s first remember these pointers and try not to ruin the beautiful beer culture of Britain for everyone else.
Bar vs. pub
There is a misconception that a pub and a bar are the same thing. They are not. A pub is a social establishment which is meant for meeting up with mates and sharing a lager, ale or local craft beer. Typically, these places will be traditional in construction and minimal in the extra commercial products (such as bands, jukeboxes and large screen televisions). Where there may be some additives of this nature, a pub is more apt to have wall benches and ale gardens. This may lead the younger crowds away from the pubs and toward the bars.
Bars are a bit more modern in terms of the décor and the brews offered. While the pubs generally stick to the lagers, ales and local craft beers, the bars tend to have these as well as imported craft brews. They are not quite clubs, but music and some forms of entertainment may be provided, although it is not its primary function.
The main differences in a bar and a pub are:
- Pubs are more lager- and ale-based than bars
- Pubs often serve local brewed beers including craft beer
- Bars provide a more “modern” atmosphere while pubs tend to be more traditional
- Bars are usually located near a city’s center while pubs are scattered about the city
- Pubs close earlier than most bars
Types of lager, ale and beer commonly found in Britain
Every country has its own popular brands of alcohol and the United Kingdom is no different. And while the commercial beers such as Budweiser and Corona are available at some bars (go, North America!), most common to the area are local ales. There are eight types of ales available at most pubs. These are:
- Pale ale — Also known as bitter ale, this brew is made by warm fermentations. English styles include Goldings or Fuggles Hops.
- Best bitter (special bitter) — Very similar to pale ale but with a higher content of up to 5 percent.
- Indian pale ale — Developed to have a long shelf life, this ale has a more definitive bitterness than the prior two. It was developed during the colonial era for sea voyages and so finding variations of the pale ale is not uncommon.
- Golden ale — A competitor with lagers developed in the 1980s. Still considered a new type of ale, the brew provides a medium level of bitterness with a strong hop aroma.
- Mild ale — Traditionally dark in color, the ale is commonly used with chocolate and more robust flavors. Mild ales are seasonal.
- Porter — Perhaps one of the most iconic beers in the UK, the porter is the London standard beer. It is made with roasted malts and tends to have a nutty or coffee flavor. As the porter is so popular, there are many variations on the recipe. Those drinking at one pub are quite apt to find a completely different flavor of porter at a pub on the same road.
- Stout — Thicker ale that is based upon the porter recipe. It can be made with oats or lactose. The main attribute of the Stout is the thickness of the drink. One should have a mouthfeel. If it is watery, it is not a proper stout.
- Imperial Stout — A strong stout with over 7 percent ABV. Because of the strength of the drink, it is extremely rich and earthy. The drink is popular in Russia as well as Baltic nations.
According to a recent survey¹, Old Speckled Hen is the top ale in the United Kingdom followed by Hobgoblin. The least favorite ale would be Landlord, Marston’s Old Empire and Badger Golden Champion. Of course, if you are closer to the local brewery, the ale will be available regardless. However, pub and bar attendees should note that the less popular ales may not be available the farther you get away from the source.
As you should know, a lager is not an ale
If attending a pub or a bar, do not make the mistake of putting lager and ale into the same category. While there are a few similarities, there are distinct differences. Primarily, lager has a crisper taste that is not as nutty or fruity as ales. The lager is also brewed with a completely different type of yeast in fermentation. The temperature of a lager brewing is low where ales are typically higher. Simply put, a lager is a beverage in itself and should not be coupled with the ale.
Ordering your beers
Regardless of what you chose to drink, ensure that you understand the method in which to order. In Britain, alcohol is served in three main ways. You can order a bottle as is common in bars and clubs, and you can order either a pint or half pint off the tap. When ordering, you need to understand that there is a process in British bars. In most instances, you will not want to go up to the bar and browse. Know what you want. As most pubs and bars do not have a waiting service, it is not uncommon to find a crowd around the bartender. You will find that if you do not know what you want to order everyone will get annoyed rather quickly and the experience will be ruined. To order, state the drink quantity, the drink size, and the drink you want. For example:
“Two half-pints of stout.”
As most pubs and bars are located near a train station, it is advised that you find one that is within walking distance or make plans to have someone drive you back to your residence. Britain’s ales, lagers and pubs are iconic. Find one that fits your style and drink responsibly. Thanks for reading.
Written by Julie Carling, head of recruitment and co-founder at The Carling Partnership. The Carling Partnership is a UK.-based search and selection company offering a wide range of brewery jobs in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America.