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 Organic Perry
91 points
Golden yellow color. Fruity, sweet aromas of cinnamon cream, baked citrus, and sweet pea blossom with a round, bright, petillant, fruity light-to-medium body and a tingling, charming, medium-length milk toast, baked pear, pie crusts, and mint finish. A delicious, toasty-sweet perry that warms the soul.
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 finish that presents notes of 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 finish that shows notes of 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 finish that presents accents of toasted dark baguette, peppercorns, and watercress finish. A lovely, quenching winter ale with great balance and style.
Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pure Brewed Organic English Lager
89 points
Pale golden yellow color. Green, herbal aromas of aroma of thyme-chive focaccia, honey buttered raisin bread, and damp earth with a soft, crisp, fizzy, sourish light-to-medium body and a tingling, perplexing, medium-to-long roasted sweet potatoes, stewed veggies, and newspaper finish. An earthy, grainy beer for the table.
Old Speckled Hen English Style Fine Ale
85 points
Minutely hazy copper color. Aromas and flavors of bit of honey candy, frosted pineapple and banana cakes, buttered strawberry biscuit with honey, and dry eraser marker with a silky, soft, finely carbonated, dry-yet-fruity light-to-medium body and a polished, interesting, medium-long finish with accents of lettuces, praline, and cream finish. An English style pale ale with great fine texture and superb drinkability.