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Most Popular Types of British Beer

Learn about some of the most famous British beers that you have to try at least once.

Beer is a vital part of British culture. Brewers in England created some of the most unique and interesting beer styles.

Hands holding glasses with beer on a table

Today, you’ll find breweries everywhere emulating classical British brewing techniques.

British brewers started perfecting their craft in the early 1400s. By 1520, they are records of the 1st native hops grown in Kent.

Since then, British beer culture has spread around the world. Today, you can find ten distinct styles of British beer. Which one is your favorite?

British Beers 

From a pint of bitter to a classic stout, these are the most popular types of British Beer.


Scotch Ale

Scotch Ale originated in Scotland in the 13th Century. The brew ferments with ale yeast producing low bitterness and malty sweetness.

Each sip is full of flavor, and your tastebuds will love the mix of roasted malt, dried fruit flavors, and earthy tones.

Scotch Ale is typically a high-alcohol beer and ranges between 6.2 and 10% alcohol by volume (ABV).

Most pubs serve Scotch ale at cellar temperatures between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

While you can serve a scotch ale with meats, it’s often served as an after-dinner drink. It compliments cheeses and fruity desserts.

Belhaven Wee Heavy and Real Ale offer excellent Scotch ale options from their breweries.


Porters and Stouts

While they may look similar and are often confused, porters and stouts are different.

Stouts are best described as dark, bitter, and creamy ales, while a porter is a malty dark ale with complex flavors.

The roasted malt in stout gives the beer its smoky and coffee flavor. Many coffee beers are stouts. Besides color and flavor, stouts also tend to have a higher ABV when compared to porters.

Guinness is one of the most popular stouts available worldwide. If you’re interested in tasting a craft stout or porter, you can try Bristol Beer’s Milk Stout or Truman’s London Keeper.

Both offer a full-bodied and creamy stout experience.


Pale Ale

Pale ale beers are increasingly popular and helped spark the current American craft beer scene.

Brewers use pale malts roasted over hot and steady coals. This gave the beer its clear amber color.

Traditional British pale ales tend to have bitter flavors and a malty profile. If you prefer an extra bitter flavor, you can find many craft brews that offer extra special bitter (ESB) beers.

American pale ales offer distinct pale ale flavors, including spicy and fruity accents.

Pale ale is an incredibly versatile brew and can pair with all types of meals, from Asian dinners to Sunday roasts.


India Pale Ale

If you like hoppier beers, you’ll love a pint of India Pale Ale. Since the 1820s, brewers have created four distinct styles of India Pale Ale that have their flavor profiles.

The first is English-Style IPA, which has increased bitterness and an earthy, floral taste. The second is  American IPA, which often includes citrus flavors along with bitterness.

The third is Imperial IPA, which has a high alcohol content and extra hoppy flavors. And the fourth is New England IPA, which may have tropical flavors or wheat added to the beer.

The strong hop flavors of IPAs make it hard to pair with foods, but you’ll find they complement BBQ and burgers.


Brown Ale

Brown ales deliver a soothing mix of malt flavors, caramel, chocolate, and nuts.

They have minimal bitterness and hoppiness compared to other beers. Brown ales are darker in color and can range from light ambers to near-black ales.

Instead of hops – one of the standard beer ingredients, brown ales use brown malt during the brewing process. You’ll find brown ales in four styles, including English and American.

Strong and Nut brown ales offer heartier flavors and darker colors.

Brown ales complement most meals, including spicy dishes like Mexican or Thai. If you want to try a brown ale, some of my favorite brands include Newcastle, Brooklyn, and Smuttynose.


Cask Ale

Cask ale is an unfiltered beer transferred into casks. The beer is carbonated and sealed while it undergoes a final fermentation.

This process creates a highly carbonated beer with a more complex flavor profile.

Pubs serve most cask brews at cellar temperature. Cask beers may feature a cloudy pour due to the live yeast in the cask.

The complexity of serving cask ale makes it rare in most bars. It is highly perishable, and improper handling can ruin the keg.

You’ll only find cask ale at bars and pubs that pride themselves on their beer selection.


Irish Red Ale

Irish red ale fans love the beer’s balance of malt and roasted barley flavors. This combination gives the beer a signature reddish-brown hue.

While the beer is slightly bitter, the caramel-malt finish offsets the bitterness in every sip. You may also experience coffee, toffee, or buttered toast.

The Irish red ale is also known for its smooth mouthfeel and moderate carbonation. This makes it an easy ale to pair with dinner.

Irish dishes, including Reuben sandwiches or shepherd’s pie, work great with an authentic Irish red ale.

Red Trolley Ale and Paulie’s Not Irish Red are two excellent choices if you’d like to try an Irish red ale.


Old Ale/English Barleywine

Old ale is one of the oldest English brewing methods and originated in the 1400s. It’s also called English Barleywine, as barleywine Bass Brewing was the first brewer to craft it in 1903.

Both brews offer a higher alcohol content than most beers, between 6 and 12 percent. Flavors, color, and mouthfeel can vary greatly with a barley wine.

You can find barleywine with hints of honey, molasses, bitterness, and malty characteristics.

Complex flavors and high alcohol content make food pairings difficult for a barleywine. It does make for an excellent after-dinner drink.

Fremont Brewing, Coniston Brewing, and Midnight Sun offer modern takes on the classic old age and English barleywine.


Bitter

As the national drink of England, Bitters are a standard across the UK. It is the most popular beer across England. 

Bitters are cask-conditioned ales. They often feature a low ABV and range in color from bright yellow to dark brown.

The style covers a broad range of brewing styles, and you’ll find many bitters are a family-brewery tradition.

The ideal pub beer, a bitter goes great with traditional English pub dishes, including fish and chips.

Fuller’s London Pride is an all-time favorite bitter with a fantastic aroma and a rich, smooth finish.


Oatmeal Stout

If you enjoy a smooth and rich beer with hints of caramel and chocolate, you should try an oatmeal stout.

Oatmeal added in the brewing process gives the beer its smooth and minimal bitterness.

Depending on the brewer, you can expect a low to medium alcohol content in an oatmeal stout.

The sweet and rich flavor lets you pair an oatmeal stout with a wide range of dishes.

From roasted chicken dinners to chocolate cheesecake, you can enjoy an oatmeal stout anytime.

There are plenty of amazing oatmeal stout brewers, but we’re partial to Summit Brewing. Their version is smooth and has a huge frothy head.


British Beers 

  1. Scotch Ale
  2. Porters and Stouts
  3. Pale Ale
  4. India Pale Ale
  5. Brown Ale
  6. Cask Ale
  7. Irish Red Ale
  8. Old Ale/English Barleywine
  9. Bitter
  10. Oatmeal Stout 

Final Thoughts

Which British beer do you want to try first? The British created so many different brew styles.

Each style offers a unique take on beer, and each beer varies by brewery. From light bitter to the classic stout, you can find a British beer that matches any flavor profile.

What is your favorite style or brand of British beer? We’d love to hear about it and why you love it.

Learn about other beers, from the most popular American beers to classic German beer.

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.