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Beer

We're reading Rick Steves' England in preparation for our September trip. Frequenting pubs is something we hope to do daily. We'll take Rick's advice and sample a real ale. We traditionally drink Yuengling, a lager, but thought maybe we could do our homework before the trip and ready our taste buds. We're about an hour away from Asheville, NC which has microbreweries a plenty. Any suggestions on beverages sold in the U.S. which will prepare us for beer sold on tap in English pubs?

Any topic titled "BEER" is worthy of a response. You are my kind of traveler. Plan on "bitter" ales like IPA, Boddington's, even Heineken (Dutch). Also, ginger beer from the UK, sold at liquor stores. At beer stores, you will find British brands like Young's, newcastle, etc. There are others I cannot remember right off -hand. There is everything from light to stout/porters. Check out your local beer/wine/ liquor store for British brands. The bitter thing started many years ago, when the British had to add bitters to their beverages for shipping purposes as preservatives. I personally do not like IPAs. My husband, however, prefers them as his favorite type of beer. Do not despair though, because there are many no bitter type beers as well. I personally like stouts/porters and UK (as opposed to Jamaican) brands of ginger beer in glass bottles. Now, you have sparked my curiosity - it has been awhile since I had a British brew. I may have to go shopping now at my local beer store. You can always just ask the bartender questions at a pub and go with a recommendation. Example : I like dark beers - what do you have on tap? What is most popular with the locals? I find the bartenders to be helpful. You can ask about available cask ales. Have a great time researching and pub hopping. Here's to you for this question.

Posted by
5636 posts

You'll need to see if any bars serve Guinness ( yes an Irish beer but served in London) London Pride, Cheswick Bitters, Boddington, Newcastle Ale to name a few.

You'll be able to enjoy a pint daily as pubs are everywhere. For London check both Fancyapint and Beerintheevening websites.

Not that you asked but my favorite London pubs include The Blackfrair ( fabulous Art Deco building), The Princess of Prussia ( untouched traditional looking pub), The Mayflower overlooking the Thames in the Rotherhithe neighborhood ( nice stroll along the Thames path to get there, untouristry), the tiny Red Lion down the Crown Passage.

Enjoy your trip and your beer.

Posted by
8293 posts

My husband always fancied Newcastle Brown. I suspect it is an acquired taste but it might be worth impressing the barkeep with the request.

Posted by
256 posts

Weelll, English beer is not our favorite IF you like flavor. My husband is a "beer salesman". He suggested Yuengling Premium to set your taste buds. We found that most beers were very light,3,4,5 %. I unfortunately love Belgium Abbey beer like Chimay. YOU are in a great part of the country for micros. I think they might spoil you for English beer. Have fun doing research and Cheers!!

Posted by
2353 posts

Ah vacation! Where its always wine o'clock or beer thirty!

Please sample many and report back here!

I am not a fan of the IPA's - too hoppy/bitter for me but give me a stout and I'm happy. I just picked up a Samuel Smiths Organic Chocolate Stout to try!

Here's a trick - if you get a beer that is too bitter put a few drops of Tabasco in it - it sweetens it up a bit and cuts the bitter! What started as a trick on one of my regulars when I was a bartender has become a favorite way to enjoy some beers.

Posted by
31 posts

Many thanks to barbnrob94, Claudia, Norma, Chriss & Christi, I'll take your suggestions and see what I can find. Hopefully one of our local grocery stories will sell singles of the brands you mentioned. Maybe we can pick up a designated driver, travel to Asheville and interview a bartender. I wonder if they offer beer tastings. One of our main reasons for visiting the U.K. is to honor my mother who was a WAC stationed at Burtonwood Air Force Base, near Chester. She loved beer and found that it made ironing much less tedious. We're grateful!

Posted by
5310 posts

You can find a number of beers in the US that are British beers, Boddingtons, Newcastle, Fullers, Youngs, and Samuel Smiths all are in distribution. If you like Yuengling, you are on the right track taste wise. Aside from some specific brands, if you look for Brown Ales, Ambers, or if you are lucky they might call it an English Bitter ot Mild, maybe a Porter, but American porters tend to be heavier. English beers typically are bit more malty, more color, and a richer taste than Budweiser or Miller light, but less intense than most American Microbrews. Even an English IPA is mild comparef to the typical American Pale Ale, let alone an IPA. It is my opinion, that coming from someplace like the US, British beers, like German Beers, while tasty, can be a bit "consistent", maybe to the point of sameness, but only if you plan on sampling many. That said, what you will find are many great Cask Ales, they have made a resurgence over the last decade and a half and a good pub will have 4-6, or more, on tap. There are also a growing number of British Microbrews, offering more "American" style beers (Hoppy, high Alcohol), If you see Brewdog beers, try them, a taste treat, but for the bigger beer fan. I will be spending a week in London again in June, if I come up with some winners for you I will try to post.

Posted by
31 posts

Thank you Paul for the shopping list. I'm going to have so much fun on my next trip to the grocery store. We're really looking forward to visiting pubs. The input we received from the forum will help us distinguish our taste preferences. We can order with a little more confidence. Enjoy your June trip.

Posted by
4528 posts

Some of the names quoted for British beer would be like recommending someone to the USA to drink Budweiser as they are big national brands in mass production.

You can get beer in strength up to 10% approaching that of wine, but character is not directly related to strength as barley wines for one thing tend to be very sweet.

Chain pubs tend to sell chain beer. There are exceptions but the money these days in prime locations is in food.

Posted by
1063 posts

"Some of the names quoted for British beer would be like recommending someone to the USA to drink Budweiser as they are big national brands in mass production."

Absolutely agree, stay away from the mass produced rubbish (definitely stay away from John Smiths and the like), aim for the smaller breweries and micro breweries.

Posted by
4666 posts

Most "ginger beer" in Britain is a non-alcoholic mixer. Alcoholic ginger beer is a fairly novel thing (as a commercial product) and will be specially labelled.

Posted by
31 posts

Most humble thanks to Marco (Oxford) and Harley (Hampshire). The greater percentage of alcohol is something we'll need to prepare for. I'm wondering if our palates are sophisticated enough to discern the difference between locally brewed and mass production brands. Asheville, a lively city near our current home, won the Beer City USA award. The right brew person is available to educate us. We've taken cooking classes before, why not a beer class.

Posted by
4528 posts

Most pubs with an interest in real beer with have at least one at or around three typical strengths 3.5%, 4.5% & 5.5%. In old fashioned terms that was ordinary or cooking bitter, best, and special. These days when names are equally like to be something like "Old Ned's Rust Bucket" it may not be so clear.

You might find somewhere that does tasters; my local offers 3 different third-pints for £3 which I think is decent enough value.

Posted by
565 posts

English/Irish beer is my favorite from Europe; you've had some good suggestions. Fuller's offers tours of its brewery-it's the last family-owned brewery in London, and it's a great tour. You'll probably be able to find at least the London ale, if not the London porter as well, in your local craft beer store. If not, I'm sure it can be ordered.

The American craft pale ales are much hoppier and more bitter than their English counterparts. You'll probably be pleasantly surprised at how mellow some of them taste. An ESB (Extra Special Bitter) is definitely not bitter, at least not to my hop-conditioned tongue. Be prepared for some interesting combinations of fruit or spices and beer. There's no purity law, so anything can be mixed into the beer. Some work well (banana, coffee), some not (blueberry). Enjoy!

Posted by
2353 posts

Yes - Beer Flights are a great way to try several. Or retail - Total Beverage has an extensive selection of import singles - create your own flight

Posted by
351 posts

Are you interested in learning about real British ale, or British "real ale"?

If the latter, find places serving cask conditioned beers. They will be less fizzy and served at warmer temps than other draft beer. Those two things are what throw most new cask ale drinkers and take a little getting used to. It's an easy transition if you know what to expect though.

This listing of cask ale in Asheville shows Jack of the Wood, Green Man and French Broad as good bets for cask in Asheville, but I don't know how old the list is and who maintains it.

I don't know where West Asheville is, but these folks say the Oyster House have cask ale: http://onhaywood.com/the-cask-at-hand/

For British style brews in general in Asheville, try Green Man Brewery and/or Asheville Brewing Co. They both do a decent ESB, or did when I was there a few years ago.

Posted by
1063 posts

To be technically correct (pedant head on), I can't think of any actual "ales" that are brewed these days, "ales" didn't have hops in them until sometime in the 1600's when the nasty habit of putting hops in the brew was introduced by "Johnny Foreigners" from Continental Europe (probably Germany), this gave the sweet beer a more bitter taste, hence the name given to a lot of brews.

Posted by
1251 posts

I always prefer whatever they have in the cask. Check out www.camra.org.uk or www.whatpub.com

The Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden is touristy, but it is one of my favorite. Also the Ye Olde Mitre is a nice pub, but can be difficult to find.

Posted by
5654 posts

Pubs have been part of our total British experience often being the only food service purveyor in the small villages along our walking holiday routes. In some of the smaller villages, pub is singular as in being the only source of meals and drink in the village.

As part of the doing what locals do experience, I've enjoyed what ever the bitter that the pub pulls. As others noted, British beer is served warmer than North American beer, seem to have less of a head, and generally lower in alcohol than the current west coast craft beers. The lower ABV goes with pub life where one person buys a round encouraging the next person to buy the next and before the evening ends, a short evening concludes after three or so pints.

I'll throw in my comment that English pub food get a bad rap. Pub food, with pub beer and friendly companions make for a very pleasant evening.

Posted by
5310 posts

I guess I can add that of my favorite pubs in London is the Harp near Covent Garden. They are dedicated Cask Ale sellers and always have a great selection on hand.

Posted by
31 posts

Philip from London, thank you for the ginger beer tip. Locally I've seen the spiked version of root beer and ginger beer. I'll need a non-alcoholic beverage if we eat lunch at a pub.

Emily, I'm pleased to hear your experience with British beers has been positive and that we'll find them less bitter and more mellow than we're expecting. Thanks also for mentioning, Fullers.

Christi, my fellow Texan, I didn't know beer flights existed. Thank you for that tip.

Motorgirl, Thank you for doing our leg work. I've seen the cool looking logo for Green Man. They have a tasting room! A perfect place to do our research, like a vineyard visit. I appreciate those websites. West Asheville and Haywood are easily accessible. Now all we have to do is put them on the calendar and grab a few beer drink buddies.

Joel, thanks for the campaign for real ale sites. Now all we have to do is try some real cask ale and see if we're on board.

Edgar, that's the terminology we're seeking. If I walk into a Starbucks I know I want a tall bold. You order "whatever bitter the pub pulls." It will be fun breaking away from our beloved 5:00 p.m Yuengling and broadening our horizons. We'll be in the vicinity of The Harp. Great website! We'll check it out.

I'm most grateful for this forum.

Posted by
3533 posts

http://www.fancyapint.com/

http://www.beerintheevening.com/

The craft beer explosion in North America is not, to my surprise, an effective training tool for ordering pints in British pubs. Although inspired to some extent by the Campaign for Real Ale, mentioned in a previous post, the enthusiasm for both bitter and sour ales west of the Atlantic has quite outmatched the British style. Even some of the descriptions don't match up. "Best bitters" does not refer to the India Pale Ale style as I expected. Even "ale" is a somewhat different category and often far milder than North Americans have come to know. The strongest-tasting IPA on tap (in some pubs) is Sierra Nevada from California. The closest UK product I found was Punk, from a Scottish brewery. So let's not worry; drink what you like at home and then enjoy your search for British pubs which have craft beers on their menu and website. By the way, Blackfriars is indeed worth a visit, an eccentric and well-aged pub at the northern end of Blackfriars bridge near the Underground station of the same name. It is crammed in late afternoon with office workers who seem to have helped keep prices a little lower than in more tourist-attracting pubs. http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/theblackfriarblackfriarslondon

Posted by
100 posts

You absolutely will have to do the Fullers Brewery tour! Pub food can be hit or miss...try The Blackbird near the Earls Court tube station.

As others have said, some British beers can be found in better beer shops in the US. I know here in Connecticut (where I live) and/or Pennsylvania (where I grew up) you can find British 6- or 4-packs...Fullers ESB, Fullers London Pride, Samuel Smith's various varieties, etc. After 12 Wimbledons and keeping track of beers I taste, here's the ones I've given 4 stars:
--Sharp’s Doom Bar: full-flavored bitter. Cloudy amber, good w/fod.
--Fullers London Pride: “Nicely flat” with amber/copper color and nice flavor

--Fullers ESB: Favorite of the bitters…has good flavor.
--Noble: refreshing, cold, not bland, nice. (at Hawley Arms) LEARNED ITS BREWED IN ANAHEIM!!
--Nag’s Head Lager at Nag’s Head Pub: like Doom Bar, tasty.

And then there's these two wonderfully memorable experiences:
--Fullers Golden Pride (8.5% alcohol!). Comes only in a bottle, chestnut colored and served cold…and is delicious. Great flavor, great with dinner.
--Fullers Vintage: Aged 200 days. Like Brandy. Would be nice to sip at room temp on Christmas. Wow. Tasted at the brewery.

Enjoy!

Posted by
31 posts

Thank you Emma from London. The Zeitgeist looks very elegant. Cool Charlie Chaplin connection. If we happen into a Brunning & Price we'll ask for your little brother. What a wonderful story about the leftover bread benefiting the poor. See! Beer drinkers are good people.

Southam from Windsor. Many thanks for the fancy a pint and beer in the evening sites. Those will be valuable when we're wondering around clueless. Thanks also for the Black Friar tip. Brewery visits in the U.S. can't fully prepare us for the English pub experience, but it will broaden our horizons. We drink Yuengling every day at 5:00 p.m. Now we have homework. We need to taste Wheat, IPA, Amber & Brown Ale and a Stout. Its a pretty good assignment.

Dgnagle. We'll likely make it to a Fuller pub, but not the brewery. This is our first trip. Remember? You start out with dozens of places you have to see and then reality strikes. The Blackbird sounds doable. I am very grateful for the specific brand names. 8.5% Wow!

Posted by
2353 posts

"Now we have homework. We need to taste Wheat, IPA, Amber & Brown Ale and a Stout."

Oh the things we must endure in the name of travel! 😈

Posted by
31 posts

Dear l.p. enersen from Ballerup, Denmark. I downloaded the CAMRA app. The first search revealed we are 3,644 miles from the nearest real ale. ;-) This soon will change. Thanks for the tip.

Posted by
4325 posts

Beer, while that's all fantasic, is just the start. You need to also educate yourself on pub food as for many that is the main attraction and really the best way (in my opinion) to get a good meal in the UK.

Posted by
31 posts

Dear Emily from Vienna,
Your advice about eating in pubs is exactly what I've been reading. Pubs are the place for affordable meals and people watching. We'll be staying in B&Bs. Subsequent nourishment for the day will likely be pub food. I love to cook. We've traveled some. Food selection comes natural when the menu is in English. We know what we like to eat and are daring when it comes to food, but we're stuck in a rut when it comes to beer. We look forward to our faithful lager at 5:00 p.m, but we need to study up and figure out which selection we're most likely to enjoy instead of standing in line, feeling overwhelmed by the selections. We live about an hour away from Asheville a North Carolina city known for its beer. I e-mailed one of the breweries this morning, and she sent me this link.
https://mountainx.com/food/asheville-staycation-a-taste-of-england/ I'll follow your advice and hers. Thanks.

Posted by
31 posts

Motorgirl, I followed your advice on the Asheville sites and e-mailed Green Man Brewery. One of the bartenders lived in London for two years and sent me some great links. I hope to meet her soon. They offer "beer flights", a new term for me. The Victoria looks wonderful. "A way with gravy," music to my ears. Their Sunday pot roast looks mouth watering. I hope we can go.

Emma from London, We're staying in bed and breakfasts and guest houses. Our host in Shere has already given us the name of his family's favorite pub. Thanks for the tip of paying attention to our surroundings and eating accordingly and not relying solely on pubs. I love the thought of devouring fish and chips while looking at the ocean. According to our map with push pins, we'll be near water in Kent and Northumberland.

We bought the tour guide, booked the flight, planned the itinerary and made reservations for accommodations, but we'll stop and eat when we're hungry, relying heavily on the advice of locals. From the sound of the breakfasts included, I don't think we'll need lunch. Our curry experience is very limited. We subscribe to a fresh food/recipe delivery service. On of the guest chefs is Jamie Oliver. I didn't realize he was English until I read it in Rick Steves' England. We're grateful for your help.

Posted by
340 posts

Ditto on The Blackbird near the Earl"s Court tube stop. Try their Honey Dew beer - light and refreshing.

Posted by
110 posts

For those worried about "bitter" bitters. I have to say: What we drank in England called "bitters" were some of the least bitter/hoppy beers I've ever tasted. I hate IPAs and these were nothing like that. Most English bitters are more like an American Amber. Try Alaska Breweries Amber or maybe Mac & Jacks (although even that is bitter compared to the English)

Cheers!

Posted by
31 posts

Thanks Mary from Virginia for the 2nd endorsement of Blackbird. That's a real possibility. When route planning I've seen the station at Earls Court.

Hamlet's Shrink from Seattle, those are encouraging words. Someone else advised us to order English bitters and predicted we'd be surprised at the smoothness. We've started our taste testing. So far, so good. We have an IPA and Wheat variety left to sample. We also have an Asheville trip planned for our first ever cask ale. It won't be the same, but its a start. Thank you.

Posted by
4528 posts

Bitter from true regional breweries will follow the local taste. Bateman's from Skegness for example was always on the strongly bitter side but this may have changed. Become the trend for many regionals to have a standard range then one additional special each month.

Don't confuse what has become an IPA in USA and what is the more traditional English IPA style. The type of hops for example is quite different. For me many USA IPAs are taken to extremes both on alcohol strength and hopping.

Also don't be confused by some major brewers in particular that have beers called IPA when they are simple pale ales. Greene King (to me) have some particularly foul examples.

The average strength of beer in the UK in 1900 was about 1055 which meant bitter was typically 1060 and IPA 1065-70 (the average being brought down mainly by mild then roughly on par in popularity with bitter). The first world war put paid to that with punitive taxation and strength never recovered as brewers could make more money selling weaker beers at higher prices. The nadir was in the early 1970s when some beers were down to 1030. It's been a long way back from that as although public taste pushed increases in strength.

Posted by
31 posts

Marco, you are a beer authority. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. It makes sense that breweries vary by region. There's a brewery in a city near us that somehow incorporates oysters into their cask ales. I am never surprised to hear that the USA has taken anything to the extreme.

We're going to a beer store tomorrow which was recommended. Their website reveals numerous English varieties, several mentioned on this forum.

We recently sampled a pale ale and a blonde ale, U.S. manufactured. Maybe blonde and pale are the same? They tasted citrusy. The only imported English beer offered at our local grocery is New Castle Brown Ale. It was milder than expected.

Thanks for the history and reminder on beer strengths. That is a consideration. I'm a very moderate drinker, most evenings content to have one 12 oz. serving, but I look forward to it as much as I do my morning coffee. We'll pay attention to alcohol content. We want to be safe and remember our trip.

Posted by
1829 posts

By coincidence my OH and I were talking about beer strengths this evening. He is a beer drinker by preference and a CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) member. He said that many of the micro brewery offerings were too strong for a typical evening get together in the pub. He and his friends prefer a less strong brew so that they can have a pint or three (and mostly talk about football, yawn!) without getting drunk.

Posted by
4528 posts

In the 70s when real ale was being revived it was often the strongest beer that a brewery would be reconverted, probably because it was the most expensive. With the micros it is much the same - if capacity is limited make the highest value product you can.

Incidentally some parts of the country has always favoured weak beer - Dorset for one. Couldn't believe it when I lived down there.

Posted by
31 posts

Linda, I enjoyed the image of your other half and his friends lingering over beer and discussing the scores. You'd need to keep your wits about you to keep all those "facts" straight.

Marco, what I'm learning is that tastes and preferences vary by region. As we travel from South to North and back, we hope to be good sports and try whatever is on tap versus wimping out and searching for our typical ice cold lager.

Emma, I keep hearing Covent Garden. The Porterhouse website is well done, "hand crafted in Dublin and loaded onto a ship" sounds appealing, but the largest pub in London is intimidating. Jack, our New Jersey friend with Irish roots, has a daily ration of Guinness. His son-in-law also claimed he could taste the oysters when he visited the Oyster House Brewing Company.

Posted by
31 posts

Thank you Emma. We'll save our last Monday and Tuesday for London. Hopefully we'll have a chance to "wander" over to Covent Garden and The Porterhouse.