Although everyone knows that England is an island, it sometimes takes the dissection of a particular subject to fully remember just how separate the country can be. One such point of comparison is the tradition of English beer. Warmer fermentation, as opposed to the lager-based traditions of the Czech Republic or parts of Germany , has given England a long history of porters, ales and bitters that are some of the finest brews available in the world.
A casual American beer drinker might not fancy English beers on their first try. The area of closest similarities, at least in the mass production realm of beer production, comes from the lagers that are now more prevalent across England. Carling is the highest selling brand and lagers now comprise about half of the market. This standard-variety lager is not so different from a Budweiser.
Where the American beer consumer loses some familiar ground is in the other half of the beer production in England. Bitters are very common and feature brews that contain higher levels of hops. Within the English tradition there are differing levels of bitters ranging from sessions (on the low end of hops) to premium bitters, which is often known as extra-special bitter (ESB) in the States. Americans tend to dislike hoppy beers on the whole, but for those who prefer this style, England is by far the top choice in all of Europe. Greene King, Deuchars, Flowers and ESB (a particular brand in this case) are all well-known examples of bitters.
Beers in England are often darker in hue than their American counterparts. Some of the historically, and still popular varieties include brown ales, milds and porters. The most famous brown ale is Newcastle Brown Ale, a beer widely available in the States. Brown ales are usually sweeter and have low alcohol content. The northeast of England is often the best place to find a brown ale.
Milds are malty ales that are very light in alcohol and dark in color. They are very smooth but are more difficult to find in mainstream pubs these days. Microbreweries are the best option for these particularly English brews.
Porters are a specifically London -based beer, at least in their origins. Very dark in color and brewed with dark malts, porters are a heavier, richer beer than many other English varieties. While stouts have come as an offshoot of porters, particularly in Ireland , the original remains very popular in the capital. Porters are certainly not available only in England (American breweries like Deschutes and Anchor produce quite fantastic versions) but to drink an original in the city of its origin is what makes beer tasting and travel such wonderful companions.
English beer is sometimes thought of in a similar vein as English cooking, that is to say, not particularly well regarded across Europe. But don’t let continental snobbery deter you from enjoying the dark, rich beers while visiting the island of isolation. England will be the easiest country in which you can order anything, and especially beer, so ask questions, try samplers and get to know the world of old-style English beer.
Written by Michael Orr for EuropeUpClose.com