The Traditional British Beers of London’s Pubs

Go to any beer-drinking country today and increasingly, you will find locally-produced “craft beers”. But how did we arrive at this wonderful situation and how does it link back to traditional British ale (beer)? 

We have to look back to America in the 1970s, when there were just a small number of micro-breweries that used traditional brewing methods to produce beer, with an emphasis on flavor and quality. This was all soon to change, however, following the deregulation of the American beer market in 1979, when micro-brewing boomed. Also during this time, other beer-loving individuals started to home-brew for their own consumption, many of them drawing inspiration from the centuries-old brewing methods used to produce traditional British cask ales, such as pale ale and India pale ale (IPA). The use of locally-sourced ingredients gave these American versions of traditional British beers different characteristics, leading to refined recipes that compliment the different local flavors. Versions of other traditional British beers, such as brown ales, porters, and stouts, were also brewed.

This trend spread across the country, and some of the more entrepreneurial brewers started small, independently-owned, commercial brewing enterprises, which proliferated over the years to become the American craft beer scene.

Over time, this modern craft beer movement spread globally, resulting in a number of craft breweries in almost every beer-drinking country in the world. Whereas before, the only beer available in many countries around the world was lager, it is now common to see IPAs, porters, and other beers, for sale. The global craft beer scene is truly booming.

The cornerstone of many of London’s communities is the local pub (or “public house”), where traditional British “cask ales” are the mainstay. “Craft beer” means “traditionally brewed beer” and these cask ales are the original “craft beers”, served straight from a tap, attached to a hand-pulled pump, into an Imperial pint (568 ml) or half pint glass.

Cask ales (sometimes referred to as “real ales”) are unfiltered, unpasteurized, and typically served at 12 °C (54 °F), to optimize their full flavor and aroma. By comparison, the bottled and canned versions of these beers, are less flavorsome, due to the necessity for pasteurization, which prolongs their shelf-life.

Although there is an abundance of different styles of beer, the following types are some of the most commonly found amongst London pubs:

Bitter: A general term for a well-hopped and markedly bitter-tasting ale, ranging in color from very light to dark amber.

Pale Ale: Pale in color, moderately hopped, easy-drinking, sometimes with a very slight sweetness.

American Pale Ale: Made with significant quantities of American hops, typically Cascade hops.

IPA (India Pale Ale): IPAs in Britain are typically much less powerfully hopped, than those in the USA. The IPAs at the stronger end of the scale (5.5 – 6.0% alcohol), are typically hoppier than those with lower alcohol content.

Amber Ale: Malt flavors are typically more prominent, and hops, less so.

Dark Amber / Ruby Ale: Typically exhibiting toffee malt flavors, moderate bitterness, and a vine-fruit character.

Stout: Characterized by the use of heavily roasted grains, which impart a pronounced “roasted” bitterness and near-black color. The most widely known stout in the world is Guinness, from Ireland, which is called a “dry stout” due to it’s dry taste-profile. British stouts are often heavier, smoother and, occasionally, slightly sweeter.

Porter: The precursor to stout. A very dark ale, brewed with high-roasted grains, which add a “roasted” bitterness to the flavor profile.

Lagers and Keg Beers: Pubs also sell lagers, ciders and other “keg beers”, which are usually both filtered and pasteurized. They are served from a keg, under pressure from a source of carbon dioxide. They are typically served at between 5 – 8°C (41 – 46 °F). Many of the modern craft beers, are served using this system. Some pubs serve ‘extra cold’ draught beers and ciders, normally dispensed between 0 – 5°C (32 – 41 °F).

Bottled Products: Pubs also sell bottled and canned beers and ciders. They are typically served at between 4 – 6°C (39– 43 °F).

So, when making a trip to London, you owe it to yourself, to visit a warm and welcoming traditional pub , and sample the real ales, wines, spirits and great food that it has to offer. Nestled in a quiet street of one of London’s most beautiful districts, is one such pub, The Britannia in Kensington. 

For visitors who are interested in a comprehensive pub tour of London’s beautiful Kensington (one-time home of Princess Diana) and Notting Hill areas, why not try Buzziler’s Pub Tour of Notting Hill & Kensington. Your highly experienced host, Chris, will escort you through the area, taking you to what are undisputedly, the best local pubs, each with a distinctively unique character. You will also be given guided assistance with the tasting and choosing of beers, have the opportunity to partake in a traditional pub meal and be informed of the area’s history.

The Traditional British Beers of London's Pubs