About English Beer

About English Beer
Britain: Home of Real Ale

Britain’s brewing history is so long that the notion of what “beer” is has undergone numerous transformations. “Ale” was first a fermented malt beverage seasoned with herbs, until the 15th century when English brewers—influenced by the Dutch—introduced hops as a preservative and began creating “beer.” The 1600s saw a surge in commercially brewed beer, making brewing a major business activity in the country. Darker ales such as stouts and porters were the mainstays of the industry until the advent of pale ales in the 1700s, which supplanted dark beers in public favor.

Even the latter half of the 20th century saw changes in Britain’s brewing industry. Despite the dominance of major breweries, “real ale” continued to survive and prosper. In a British context, “real ale” refers to living ale that is hand-pumped at the bar from cooled cellars below where casks of unfiltered, unpasteurized, natural beer reside peacefully. It is served at room temperature and requires a skilled pub owner to serve properly.

It is hard for a U.S. consumer to understand British beer without tasting a good British ale. These are generally fruitier, softer and more delicate than their U.S. counterparts and often have a more nuanced hop character. In many major U.S. markets there are thriving niches supported by small importers of bottle-conditioned British ales. Adnams, Young & Co., JW Lees and Fuller’s are examples of independent British brewers with bottle-conditioned products represented in the U.S. market. Some enterprising importers have even successfully managed to air-freight cask-conditioned real ale to a select handful of American bars. An increasing selection of canned and bottled English ales are also available to U.S. consumers, as in the case of the Yorkshire brewer Samuel Smith’s.

Top Picks for England

Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Cherry Ale
96 points
Dark ruby amber color. Rich aromas and flavors of cherry pie filling and fresh marzipan with a velvety, tangy, effervescent, fruity medium-to-full body and a seamless, complex, medium-long finish with notes of wafer and dried sour cherry. Nice vibrancy and balance of cherry flavor with great mouthwatering acidity for the table.
Aspall Dry English Cider
92 points
Bright yellow silvery straw color. Bright, earthy aromas and flavors of caramelized apple and lemon, praline, dusty barnyard hay, and wet meadow with a silky, lively, spritzy, dry-yet-fruity light body and a tingling, refreshing, medium-length starfruit, melon, minerals, and nutshell finish. A clean, complex, well-balanced English cider that nails the style.
Aspall "Perronelles Blush" English Cider
92 points
Deep reddish amber color. Bright aromas of dark berry custard tart, plantain, and nuts with a silky, tangy, effervescent, fruity medium body and a smooth, elegant, medium-long kiwi, berry-lime vinaigrette, and grass finish. A robust, finely balanced fruit cider with great acidity and finesse.
Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Organic Cider
92 points
Bright light gold color. Delicate, interesting, complex aromas of butter roasted nuts and apples, clay, and geranium with a silky, bright, spritzy, off-dry light-to-medium body and a smooth, delightful, medium-length apple tart, citrus spritzed melon, honeycomb, and hibiscus tea finish. A layered, very appealing cider with pure, balanced flavors.
Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Organic Apricot Ale
91 points
Hazy gold color. Inviting, fruity aromas and flavors of dried apricot, peach tea, and wax-lined box of graham crackers with a round, tangy, effervescent, fruity medium body and a smooth, interesting, long apricot tart, watercress, and peach-orange salsa finish. A purely flavored, finely balanced, and appetizing apricot ale.
Awards: 2017 Best English Beer
Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Organic Perry Hard Cider
91 points
Brilliant gold color. Aromas and flavors of toasted nuts, dried bananas and pears in oatmeal, and banana peel with a silky, tangy, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a delightful, medium-long melon and pear sorbets, pickled pear and apple, and wheatgrass finish. A crisp, lively and pure perry for pleasure.
Awards: 2017 Best Perry
Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Winter Welcome Ale
90 points
Bright gold color. Citrusy aromas and flavors of lemon herb muffin, grapefruit marmalade, white grape, and hop pellets with a satiny, vibrant, effervescent, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a tingling, elegant, long toasted dark baguette, peppercorns, and watercress finish. A lovely, quenching winter ale with great balance and style.
Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Nut Brown Ale
90 points
Dull reddish mahogany color. Aromas and flavors of bread crust, dark roasted nuts, and hints of coffee and dried apple with a supple, bright, dry-yet-fruity medium body and an effortless, honeyed dried fruits, crushed nuts, mesclun, and grass finish. An appetizing, very sessionable food beer.
90 points $2.50
Morland Brewery "Old Speckled Hen" English Ale
90 points
Brilliant medium light copper color. Rich, peppery, toasty nutty earthy aromas of caramelized nuts, dried fruits, and honey buttered toast with an even, crisp, effervescent, fruity light-to-medium body and an effortless, interesting, breezy brown sugar, roasted nuts, arugula, and minerals finish. A spot on session bitter.
Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery India Ale
90 points
Pale amber color. Aroma of honeyed oranges and pears with a supple, fruity-yet-dry medium body and refreshingly balanced honey butter, date, and arugula finish. Very well balanced, nicely fruity and sessionable.