Part II: Old England vs. New England

In Part I of this two-part series we talked about the cultural aspects of British booze consumption – in this article we’ll be focusing a little more on taste and flavor (flavour?).

With that in mind, it’s time for a few drinks:   

My original plan was to compare basic and reoccurring notes in both popular and craft beer styles found to England to those of the US.  However, that ended up being slightly more difficult than I had originally planned as there is a fairly clear divide between traditional “ye olde” England beer/liquor drinkers and the craftier microbrews.

That being said, when trying out the wide offering of traditional beer styles I noticed a fairly consistent trend:  much like their food, weather, and temperament – British brews were inclined to be very mild.  They were tended to be mellow, medium bodied, though very drinkable and were often brewed from a barley mash.  There were very few beers I found in the average pub scene that exceeded 5% ABV with low carbonation. The low carbonation has to do with the fact that they use primarily top fermenting cask beers that finish maturing in the cellars of the pubs and are served with only natural carbonation – though I found this not to be the case with their ciders.  For the most part the beers are, as they have been for generations, geared towards drinkability and community than in the United States.  While we have our share of mellow, low ABV beers designed for huge quantities of consumption they tend to be “light”, low calorie pilsners.  One of the differences in the British beers was that this seemed to be fairly consistent throughout their traditional lager and ale offerings in almost every style we tried.  Not to say that I did not I didn’t enjoy these beers, far from.  In fact, one major benefit I found for these mild beers was that they tended to be exceptionally well suited as an accompaniment to food.       

That is, of course, until you get into the modern British microbrewery scene.  Microbrews are exploding in popularity at an absolutely astounding rate [insert citation].  One of the leaders of this beer-centric revolution are the mad geniuses over BrewDog.  These guys are a little crazy (in the best way possible.  These are the same guys who brought you the formally highest alcohol, most expensive beer served inside a taxidermy squirrels, weasels, and hares (no seriously – check it).  Now I don’t want to offend anyone over at BrewDog by calling them an English brewery – they’re Scottish – but what they do is really serve as a bright example of what is going on in the microbrew scene today. 

These new microbrews have taken the traditional styles of beer and turned them so completely on their heads that it is almost a jarring experience to go from one to the other.  They have taken the traditional beer making approach of the island and flung hops, citrus, and smokiness at it; they’ll barrel age it and then turn the ABV up to eleven.  Flavors such as these are simply par for the course with this new age – and I’m both loving and fearing it.  Where many of the traditional brews are medium bodied, low hops and geared towards drinking in bulk these microbrews reject that approach to the nth degree.  A lot of the flavors were actually quite similar to those you might find in some eccentric beer styles from craft breweries in the states, but they had the options for some unusual beers and I loved it!

Notable standouts and must haves:

BrewDog – Dead Pony Club

BrewDog – Vagabond Pale Ale

BrewDog Punk IPA

BrewDog Five AM Red Ale

Moore Beer Company Dark Alliance Coffee Stout

Lynestyle Brewery Ein Stein

Samuel Smith Pure Organic Lager

Aspall Suffolk Cyder

Black Sheep Brewing Golden Sheep English Pale Ale 

St. Austell Brewery Tribute Cornish Pale Ale