34×34: #11 – Try 10 British Beers

I suppose it is fitting, being me, and living where I do, that the first goal I accomplish off the 34×34 is drinking a lot of beer.

I don’t really like beer. I’m a Bud Light kind of girl – weak, watery, but it gets the job done.

I’ve been amazed by the range of beers on tap here in England, though. Most bars in New York have your standard selection of American beers, with some German and whatnot thrown in for good measure. You basically always know what you’re going to get. Or maybe I just wasn’t going to the right bars.

But pubs in London offer a huge selection of small English brewery beers, never the same at two pubs. It’s always an adventure, you never know what will be available.

I tend to drink a lot of cider – which is the best part of English pub life, that cider is always on tap (you’ll be lucky to find it in a bottle at home). It’s sweeter, which suits me.

I’ve been wondering what the differences are between ales, stouts, lagers, bitters…it’s not just beer here. It’s a whole subculture I don’t understand at all. I’ve been looking to take some kind of course that explains it all, but nothing has come across my radar that is satisfactory, and finally a friend explained it to me thus (he drinks a LOT, so I trust him, but jump in if you have a further explanation of the nuances):

Most beer is lager: light yellow, fizzy, cold, and dispensed through taps. Ale is darker, not fizzy/thus flat, and kept at room temperature. It is stronger tasting, savory even, and dispensed through a hand pump (I had no idea there was a difference between taps and hand pumps. I am learning things, kids). Stout is black, and also dispensed through a hand pump. Wheat beer is cloudy yellow, flat, and cold.

All of which is really interesting, except I still can’t differentiate much in terms of flavor. It all tastes like, well…beer. I wanted to have really intelligent notes for each of the ten I tried, but mostly they tasted the same to me, unless they tasted really gross. That is about as sophisticated as my palate gets: “I can tolerate this,” or “ewwwwwww.”

There was no methodology to my drinking. I just tried to order new things whenever I went out, branching out beyond my cider fixation. Frequently I picked things based on having cool names, but sadly that rarely translated into a cool flavor. Anyway, here are the ten I tried, with any accompanying notes I managed to write down:

1. Buxton Spa Pale Ale: This one was so righteously bitter that I couldn’t even finish it. Probably my least favorite of the ten.

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2. Meantime London Lager: No notes. It tasted like beer. Bitter and heavy but not unyieldingly so.

3. Adnams Ghost Ship Pale Ale: Chosen for its awesome name. It was nice. Medium dark/copper in color, bitter but drinkable.

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4. Seafarers Ale: I drank this at a couple different pubs when there wasn’t anything new to try, so clearly I was okay with it. Not great but all right.

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5. Fuller’s Honeydew Organic Beer: I was hoping this one would taste like honeydew, but alas. It didn’t even taste like honey, which is apparently one of the main organic ingredients. I switched to something else after having a pint, so clearly not that great to me.

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6. Sambrook’s Wandle Ale: Again I just liked the name. I wrote down that it was “darker,” but I don’t know darker than what. And probably I just thought it tasted like beer.

7. Cornish Coaster: I have this minor obsession with the idea of Cornwall, so would like to say I enjoy beer that comes from there. But I don’t think I was able to finish this one, although that might have just been because I had had five or six pints already that night.

8. Moor Top Pale Ale: I have no notes. Clearly not a leader among the pack. Just something to try. I believe I switched back to cider immediately after.

9. Redwell: Well, I thought I took a picture of this and I have the vague idea it was indeed reddish, but I have no idea. I remember thinking it was crisp and lighter than most beers, and drinkable.

10. Young’s Hummingbird Pale Ale: This one was probably my favorite, I drank four pints in rapid succession. Even though it didn’t really taste like passion fruit like the tap claimed, I still thought it was light and tasty.

So there you have it. It’s not much of an experiment, but it is that ever important kick in the pants to try new things and broaden your horizons. I’m embracing the culture I live in and trying to understand what’s important to them.

So go forth, and quest, friends. Try something that you know you’ll think is gross. You’ll be a better person for it. And keep trying, because you never know when you’ll stumble onto something not half bad (the British are also teaching me to be litotic. It’s okay).

For now I’ll probably go back to drinking New Zealand sauvignon blanc. And maybe this really good Scottish cider called Thistly Cross. That was a new experience too, and a high alcohol content one to boot. Or Pimms, this beer and lemonade thing that comes with fruit: delicious and nutritious!

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There are always options. It’s a beautiful drunken world.

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Categories: 34x34, London | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “34×34: #11 – Try 10 British Beers

  1. Cassie

    When I come to visit I intend to drink lots of cider with you. LOTS.

  2. Yaaaaaay!!!

    This is great. Could have ONLY been made better if you’d tried them all the same night haha 🙂 xox

  3. Benjamin Norman

    Pale Ales can be pretty harsh if you’re not used to drinking beer. Also, if i remember correctly beer comes in two main forms ales (top fermentation) and lagers (bottom fermentation) and everything else is variation upon that. Below is a quick cut and paste from a nice website I found about beer and I thought it explained the difference pretty well. If your interested in knowing more about beer the books The World Guide to Beer by Michael Jackson and The Essentials of Beer Style by Fred Eckhardt are great resources.

    ALES (TOP FERMENTATION YEASTS)

    By far the oldest of the two types of beer, ale production can be traced back more than 5000 years. The word “Ale” comes from the German word alt, meaning old or aged. Like red wines, they are fermented and served atwarmer (room) temperatures, usually yielding more intense flavor profiles. Depending on the brewing style, theycan be their best when very young (a couple of weeks) to very old (several years).

    LAGERS (BOTTOM FERMENTATION YEASTS)

    Lagers have only been around for several hundred years and were not even fully understood until after theinvention of the microscope. The yeast strains that make them were originally propagated on accident. Like whitewines, they are fermented and served at cooler (cellar) temperatures. This limits the formation of esters and other fermentation by-products, producing a clean flavor. Lagers are the most popular big-brewery beers in America, although the version most often consumed here is nothing like the European counterparts.

    I’m glad your doing another blank by blank! I look forward to reading your adventure.

  4. Katie Higginson

    Meg, you should try Doom Bar, a particularly nice Cornish bitter. Although now owned by Coors, it’s still brewed just outside the village of Rock. It’s named after a sand bar in the Camel estuary that has wrecked many a ship trying to make it to the safety of Padstow harbour. Local legend says the Doom Bar was created by a dying mermaid, a curse after she was shot by a local man.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Katie. I need guidance for sure when it comes to beer, and that is a great story to accompany a pint! x

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