Not Only Gin

London has contributed much to world drinking culture, most notably gin and the neighborhood public house.  Britain’s capital has long been known for its quaint and local houses of drink, which once poured many cocktails made with the herbal spirit.  London and gin are closely linked, the quintessential British couple.  But times have changed; today, many of London’s pubs stand shuttered and gin has become a second-class liquor, taken only when mixed with tonic water or vermouth, never alone.

Other than gin, Britain contributes another drink –beer – that is often overshadowed by the other traditional beer-producing European countries like Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Germany.  A few English brews are commonly found in most grocery stores: Newcastle, the famous brown ale sold in the clear bottles; and Boddingtons, sold in those bright yellow cans ordinarily shelved next to the Guinness.

Most other British beers are not ordinarily stocked in the states and one must search specialty beverage stores to find additional choices.  I was recently perusing one such store and was reminded that Britain produces other fine brews after discovering Wells Bombardier ale, a fantastic amber-colored beer that was bright, slightly floral, and a touch hoppy.  The bottle’s contents disappeared far too quickly.

Here in the states, bottles of moderately obscure brews like Bombardier (and anything produced by Samuel Smith, another favorite) can be pretty easily found.  It’s far more difficult, however, to enjoy a pint on draught in an authentic British pub.  Here, it is necessary to distinguish a British or English pub from an Irish pub, the latter being a staple drinking fixture in most American cities.  The two are defined by their beer selections; it is quite difficult to find a pub where English beer outnumbers Irish.

Perhaps this is because Britain is known for its gin, not beer.  Or perhaps it’s because Irish cuisine is more recognizable and appetizing.  Regardless, British beer – especially when drawn from a tap – is equally delicious and a superb alternative to Guinness, Harp, or even Smithwicks.  Most Irish pubs will stock one or two British brews; others take their authenticity seriously and show support for Irish independence from the Crown by not serving British beer.

Forget London’s gin and have a pint of British ale – extra special bitter (ESB) and India pale ale (IPA) will put you in the right neighborhood.  You’ll be pleased with your choice whether you’re in a British pub or not.  And if you are, cheers!

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Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 10:26 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 Comments

  1. While I prefer Irish to British pubs, I must say that Union Jacks (Bethesda or Columbia, MD or Ballston, VA) actually truly stocks more British beer by bottle than Irish varieties. Abbott, Fullers, Oxfordshire and others are all available…but then there’s that authentic British cuisine (Ploughman’s Lunch or Welsh Rarebit) that makes me choose Irish 90% of the time.

  2. I recommend Cornish Ale, as I’m from Cornwall so I know about it! The most famous is St Austell Brewery’s Tribute Ale, but I’d say that Sharps’s Doombar is better by a good mile. Skinners also do some good ales. (Ale is quite a popular passtime down here!) We also do bloody good cyder…. the Rattler being the most dangerous of them all.


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