Beer in England

Beer in England
Traditional beer pump

English beer has a long history and traditions that are distinct from most other beer brewing countries.

Beer was the first alcoholic drink to be produced in England, and has been brewed continuously since prehistoric times.[citation needed] England is known for its top fermented cask beer (also called real ale) which finishes maturing in the cellar of the pub rather than at the brewery and is served with only natural carbonation.

English beer styles include bitter, mild, brown ale and old ale. Stout was also originally brewed in London.

Lager style beer has increased considerably in popularity since the mid 20th century. Other modern developments include consolidation of large brewers into multinational corporations; growth of beer consumerism; expansion of microbreweries and increased interest in bottle conditioned beers.



Romano-Celtic Britain

Brewing in England was probably well established when the Romans arrived in 54BC,[1] and certainly continued under them.

"In the 1980s archaeologists found the evidence that Rome's soldiers in Britain sustained themselves on Celtic ale. A series of domestic and military accounts written on wooden tablets were dug up at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, at Chesterholm in modern Northumbria, dating to between AD90 and AD130. They reveal the garrison at Vindolanda buying ceruese, or beer, as the legions doubtless did throughout the rest of Roman Britain, almost certainly from brewers in the local area."

"One list of accounts from Vindolanda mentions Atrectus the brewer (Atrectus ceruesar[ius), the first named brewer in British history, as well as the first known professional brewer in Britain. The accounts also show purchases of bracis or braces, that is, emmer wheat (or malt), doubtless for brewing. Quite possibly the garrison bought the malt, and hired a local brewer to make beer from it for the troops."

"In Roman Britain, brewing, both domestic and retail, must have been widespread: remains indicating the existence of Roman-era malting or brewing operations have been found from Somerset to Northumberland, and South Wales to Colchester. In the third and fourth centuries AD Roman hypocaust technology, for supplying central heating to homes, was adapted in Britain to build permanent corn dryers/maltings, and the remains of these double-floored buildings, with underground flues, are found in Roman towns as well as on Roman farms."


English brewing is generally though to have been part of a wider Celtic tradition. Since this was well before the introduction of hops, other flavourings such as honey, meadowsweet and mugwort may have been used.[3][4]

Middle ages: Ale-wands, ale-wives and ale-conners

Beer was one of the most common drinks during the Middle Ages. It was consumed daily by all social classes in the northern and eastern parts of Europe where grape cultivation was difficult or impossible[citation needed]. Since the purity of water could seldom be guaranteed, alcoholic drinks were a popular choice, having been boiled as part of the brewing process. Beer also provided a considerable amount of the daily calories in the northern regions. In England, the per capita consumption was 275-300 liters (60-66 gallons) a year by the Late Middle Ages, and beer was drunk with every meal.[citation needed]

In the Middle Ages, ale would have been brewed on the premises from which it was sold. Alewives would put out an ale-wand to show when their beer was ready. The mediaeval authorities were more interested in ensuring adequate quality and strength of the beer than discouraging drinking. Gradually men became involved in brewing and organized themselves into guilds such as the Brewers Guild in London of 1342 and the Edinburgh Society of Brewers in 1598. As brewing became more organized and reliable many inns and taverns ceased brewing for themselves and bought beer from these early commercial breweries.[5]

An ale-conner, sometimes "aleconner", was an officer appointed yearly at the court-leet of ancient English communities to ensure the goodness and wholesomeness of bread, ale, and beer. There were many different names for this position, which varied from place to place: "ale-tasters," gustatores cervisiae, "ale-founders," and "ale-conners". Ale-conners were often trusted to ensure that the beer was sold at a fair price. Historically, four ale-conners were chosen annually by the common-hall of the city.

It is sometimes said that:

The Ale Conner was a type of early tax-man whose job it was to test the quality and strength of beer, not by quaffing, but by sitting in a puddle of it! They travelled from pub to pub clad in sturdy leather britches. Beer was poured on a wooden bench and the Conner sat in it. Depending on how sticky they felt it to be when they stood up, they were able to assess its alcoholic strength and impose the appropriate duty.[6]

However, the accuracy of the colourful legend is doubtful.[7]

1400-1699: Rise of hopped beer

The use of hops in beer was written of as early as 822 by a Carolingian Abbot. Flavouring beer with hops was known at least since the 9th century, but was only gradually adopted because of difficulties in establishing the right proportions of ingredients. Before that, gruit, a mix of various herbs had been used, but did not have the same conserving properties as hops.

In the 15th century, an unhopped beer would have been known as an ale, while the use of hops would make it a beer. Hopped beer was imported to England from the Netherlands as early as 1400 in Winchester, and hops were being planted on the island by 1428. At the time, ale and beer brewing were carried out separately, no brewer being allowed to produce both. The Brewers Company of London stated "no hops, herbs, or other like thing be put into any ale or liquore wherof ale shall be made — but only liquor (water), malt, and yeast." This comment is sometimes misquoted as a prohibition on hopped beer.[8] However, hopped beer was opposed by some, e.g.

Ale is made of malte and water; and they the which do put any other thynge to ale than is rehersed, except yest, barme, or goddesgood [three words for yeast], doth sophysticat there ale. Ale for an Englysshe man is a naturall drinke. Ale muste haue these properties, it muste be fresshe and cleare, it muste not be ropy, nor smoky, nor it must haue no wefte nor tayle. Ale shulde not be dronke vnder .v.[5] dayes olde …. Barly malte maketh better ale than Oten malte or any other corne doth … Beere is made of malte, of hoppes, and water; it is a naturall drynke for a doche [Dutch] man, and nowe of late dayes [recently] it is moche vsed in Englande to the detryment of many Englysshe men … for the drynke is a colde drynke. Yet it doth make a man fatte, and doth inflate the bely, as it doth appere by the doche mennes faces and belyes.


1700-1899: Industry and empire

The Ale-House Door (painting of c.1790 by Henry Singleton)

The early 1700s saw the development of a popular new style of dark beer in London: Porter. Before 1700, London brewers sent out their beer very young and any aging was either performed by the publican or a dealer. Porter was the first beer to be aged at the brewery and despatched in a condition fit to be drunk immediately. It was the first beer that could be made on any large scale, and the London porter brewers, such as Whitbread, Truman, Parsons and Thrale, achieved great success financially. The large London porter breweries pioneered many technological advances, such as the construction of large storage vats, the use of the thermometer (about 1760), the hydrometer (1770), and attemperators (about 1780).

The 18th century also saw the development of India Pale Ale. Among the earliest known named brewers whose beers were exported to India was George Hodgson of the Bow Brewery,

The late 1700s saw a system of progressive taxation based on the strength of beer in terms of cost of ingredients, leading to three distinct gradations: "table", "small" and "strong" beer.[10] Mixing these types was used as a way of achieving variation, and sometimes avoiding taxation, and remained popular for more than a century afterwards.

The beer engine, a device for manually pumping beer from a container in a pub's basement or cellar, was invented by Joseph Bramah in 1797. The bar-mounted pump handle, with its changeable pump clip indicating the beer on offer remains a familiar and characteristic sight in most English pubs. Before the beer engine, beer was generally poured into jugs in the cellar or tap room and carried into the serving area.

Enacted in 1830, the Beerhouse Act enabled anyone to brew and sell beer, ale or cider, whether from a public house or their own homes, upon obtaining a moderately priced license of just under ₤2 for beer and ale and ₤1 for cider,[11] without recourse to obtaining them from justices of the peace, as was previously required.[12] The result was the opening of hundreds of new pubs throughout England, and the reduction of the influence of the large breweries.[13] One of the motivations of the Act was to reduce the abusive over-consumption of gin.

The Crown Hotel in Liverpool, an ornate Victorian pub.

Demand for the export style of pale ale, which had become known as "India Pale Ale," developed in England around 1840 and India Pale Ale became a popular product in England.[14] Some brewers dropped the term "India" in the late 19th century, but records indicated that these "pale ales" retained the features of earlier IPA.[15]

A pale and well hopped style of beer was developed in Burton in parallel with the development of India Pale Ale elsewhere. Previously, Englishmen had drunk mainly stout and porter, but bitter (a development of pale ale) came to predominate. Beers from Burton were considered of a particularly high quality due to synergy between the malt and hops in use and local water chemistry, especially the presence of gypsum.This extensively hopped, lighter beer was easier to store and transport, and so favoured the growth of larger breweries. The switch from pewter tankards to glassware also led drinkers to prefer lighter beers. The development of rail links to Liverpool enabled brewers to export their beer throughout the British Empire. Burton retained absolute dominance in pale ale brewing: at its height one quarter of all beer sold in Britain was produced there [16] until a chemist, C. W. Vincent discovered the process of Burtonisation to reproduce the chemical composition of the water from Burton-upon-Trent, thus giving any brewery the capability to brew pale ale.

Continental lagers began to be offered in pubs in the late 19th century, but remained a small part of the market for many decades.

1900 to present: Megabreweries and microbreweries

A 1930's "roadhouse" pub

The temperance movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in combination with First World War emergency measures, introduced a number of changes, such as higher taxation on beer, lower strengths, a ban on "buying a round" and restricted opening hours. Most were gradually repealed over subsequent decades.[17]

In 1960 almost 40 per cent of beer drunk nationally was sold in bottled form, although the figure was 60 per cent in the South of England, falling to 20 per cent in the North of England.[18] Pale ale had replaced mild as the beer of choice for the majority of drinkers.

In the early 20th century, serving draught beer from pressurised containers began. Artificial carbonation was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1936, with Watney’s experimental pasteurised beer Red Barrel, although this method of serving beer did not take hold in the U.K. until the late 1960s.

Home brewing without a licence was legalised in 1963.

Lager rapidly rose in popularity from the 1970s, with English brewers producing their own brands or brewing under licence. Canned beer was also introduced about this time.

A consumer organisation called the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was founded, in 1971, to protect unpressurised beer, the group devised the term real ale to differentiate between beer served from the cask and beer served under pressure and to differentiate both from lager. "Ale" now meant a top-fermented beer, not an unhopped beer. By 2004, the term real ale had been expanded to include bottle-conditioned beer, while the term cask ale had become the accepted global term to indicate a beer not served under pressure. CAMRA also campaigns against the tendency of smaller brewers to be bought up by larger ones, against short measures, and for increased choice and longer opening hours for pubs.

CamRA bar towel

Two pieces of legislation introduced in December 1989, partly in response to CAMRA campaigning. The Orders restricted the number of tied pubs that could be owned by large brewery groups in the United Kingdom to 2000, and required large brewer landlords to allow a guest ale to be sourced by tenants from someone other than their landlord. The industry responded by spinning off purely pub-owning companies ("pubcos"), such as (Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns) from the older brewing-and-owning companies (notably Allied Lyons, Bass, and Scottish & Newcastle). The Beer Orders were revoked in January 2003, by which time the industry had been transformed.

A change to beer taxation, Progressive Beer Duty was introduced by Gordon Brown in 2002. It was a reduction in beer duty based on a brewery's total production and aimed at helping smaller breweries. The legislation had been campaigned for by the federation of small and independent brewers (SIBA).

The popularity of lager peaked at just under 75% in 2008.[19] The total number of breweries was estimated at 700 in 2010, about twice the number when CAMRA was founded, with most new breweries being microbreweries. Meanwhile, the former national breweries were amalgamated into multinational companies.

English beer styles


A glass of bitter

Bitter is a broad term applied to a well-hopped pale ale, from about 3.5% to 7% in strength and pale gold to dark mahogany in colour. British brewers have several loose names for variations in beer strength, such as best bitter, special bitter, extra special bitter, and premium bitter. There is no agreed and defined difference between an ordinary and a best bitter other than one particular brewery's best bitter will usually be stronger than its ordinary. Two groups of drinkers may mark differently the point at which a best bitter then becomes a premium bitter. Hop levels will vary within each sub group, though there is a tendency for the hops in the session bitter group to be more noticeable. Bitter is dispensed in most formats — hand-pulled from the cask, on draught from the keg, smoothflow or bottled.[20] Drinkers tend to loosely group the beers into:

Session or ordinary bitter Strength up to 4.1% abv. The majority of British beers with the name IPA will be found in this group, such as Greene King IPA, Flowers IPA, Wadworth Henrys Original IPA, etc. These session bitters are not as strong and hoppy as the 18th and 18th century IPAS (or as an India Pale Ale would be in the USA) although IPAs with modest gravities (below 1040º) have been brewed in Britain since at least the 1920s.[21] This is the most common strength of bitter sold in British pubs. It accounts for 16.9% of pub sales.[22]

Best bitter. Strength between 3.8% and 4.7% abv. In the United Kingdom, Bitter above 4.2% abv accounts for just 2.9% of pub sales.[22] The disappearance of weaker bitters from some brewer's rosters means "best" bitter is actually the weakest in the range.

Premium bitter Strength of 4.8% abv and over. Also known as extra special bitter, for instance Fuller's ESB.

Golden ale Golden or summer ales were developed in the late 20th century by breweries to compete with the pale lager market. A typical golden ale has an appearance and profile similar to that of a pale lager. Malt character is subdued and the hop profile ranges from spicy to citrus; common hop additions include Styrian Golding and Cascade. Alcohol is in the 4% to 5% range ABV. The style was marketed in 1989 by John Gilbert, a former brewer at Watney in Mortlake, London, who had opened his own operation, the Hop Back Brewery, in Salisbury, England. His aim was to develop a pale ale that could be as refreshing as lager. The result was a drier and hoppier pale ale he called "Summer Lightning", after a novel by PG Wodehouse; it won several awards and inspired numerous imitators.[23]

India Pale Ale It is often said that India Pale Ale, a strong and well-hopped beer was designed to "survive the sea voyage to India", but some modern authorities consider this to be a myth.[24] Twentieth centry IPAs were equivalent to a typical bitter, although there has been a recent tendency to return to 18th century strengths (5.5% upwards) and hop rates, e.g. Thornbridge Brewery's Jaipur IPA and Fuller, Smith and Turner's Bengal Lancer. As can be seen from the examples, such "true" IPAs tend to emphasise the Indian connection in their branding.

Brown ale

English brown ales range from beers such as Manns Original Brown Ale,[25] which is quite sweet and low in alcohol, to North Eastern brown ale such as Newcastle Brown Ale, Double Maxim and Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale.



Mild ale in modern times is generally considered to be a low-gravity beer with a low hop rate and predominantly malty palate. Historically, mild ales were of standard strength for the time (and rather strong by modern standards). Modern mild ales are mainly dark coloured with an abv of 3% to 3.6%, though there are lighter hued examples, as well as stronger more traditional examples reaching 6% abv and higher. The term 'mild' originally had nothing to do with strength or level of hop bitterness, but rather as a label for beers that were not "vatted" (aged) and hence did not have some of the tart and even slightly sour flavor of ales that were subject to long aging, which was considered a desirable attribute of premium ales. The dark colour characteristic of modern day milds can come from either the use of roast malt or caramelised sugars, or more commonly, both. These ingredients lead to differences in flavour characteristics.

Mild is often thought to be partly a survival of the older style of hop-less brewing (hops were introduced in the 16th century), partly as a cheaper alternative to bitter (for a long time mild was a penny a pot, and bitter beer tuppence), and partly a sustaining but relatively unintoxicating beverage suitable for lunchtime drinking by manual workers. But in reality, mild was likely not hopped any differently than other beers of the day, since the term 'mild' referred primarily to a lack of the sour tang contributed by age, and not a lack of hop character or alcoholic strength,

Once sold in every pub, mild experienced a catastrophic fall in popularity after the 1960s and was in danger of completely disappearing from many parts of the United Kingdom. However, in recent years the explosion of microbreweries has led to a modest renaissance, and an increasing number of mild (sometimes labelled 'Dark') brands are now being brewed. Most of these are in the more modern interpretation of 'mild'...a sweeter brew with lower alcoholic strength.

Some breweries have revived the traditional high-gravity "mild", with alcohol content of 6% or so, the classic example being Sarah Hughes Ruby, brewed to a Victorian recipe.[26]

Old ale

Bottle of O'Hanlon's Thomas Hardy's Ale (11.7% ABV)

Old ale is a term applied to dark, malty beers above 4.5% abv, also sometimes called Winter Warmers.[27] Many have "old" in the name, such as Theakston's Old Peculier, Marston's Owd Roger, Robinson's Old Tom. Many brewers make high abv old ales for bottling, some of which are bottle-conditioned and can mature for several years. Some of these stronger versions are known as barley wine. Stock ale is a strong beer which is used for blending with weaker beers at the brewery and not sold directly. The upper limit on strength for this style is about 11%-12% ABV.

Porter and Stout

Porter is a historically significant style developed in 18th century London, which is the ancestor of stout, a style now considered typically Irish. English Porters and stouts are generally as dark or darker than old ales, and significantly more bitter. They differ from dark milds and old ales in the use of roast grains, which adds to the bitterness, and lends flavours of toast, biscuit or coffee.

Variations on the style include oatmeal stout, oyster stout, the sweet milk stout, and the very strong imperial stout, all of which are generally available in bottles only. These speciality beers have a tiny proportion of the market, but are of interest to connoisseurs worldwide.

London porter differs from stout in having generally lower gravity and lighter body, closer to bitter. Porter as distinct from stout virtually disappeared during the mid-20th century, but has had a modest revival since the 1980s (e.g. Dark Star Original, Fuller's London Porter).

Fullers London Porter

Archaic styles

Small beer was a low-strength beer that was consumed throughout the day by all ages. From the Middle Ages to about the 18th century, there was a tendency to avoid drinking water since it was often contaminated. The boiling stage of brewing (it was often made in the home) would have sterilised it, although the actual microbiology was not understood at the time. A later survival of small beer were the low-gravity light ale and boys bitter.

Wobble was historically a low-strength ale that was provided on site to workers in particularly heavy and thirst-inducing occupations, such as foundries. However, modern-day beers called Wobble tend to be strong [28]

Stingo or spingo was strong or old ale. The name possible comes from the sharp, or "stinging" flavour of a well-matured beer.[29] The Blue Anchor, Helston calls it beers "spingo".[30] The term "stingo" has associations with Yorkshire.

Three threads and Entire. A much repeated story[31] has it that 18th century London drinkers liked to blend aged (up to 18 months) and fresh beers into a mixture known as three threads, and that a certain Ralph Harwood came up with an "entire" beer that reproduced the taste of the mixture in a single brew, and that this "Entire" was the ancestor of porter and stout. However, modern beer scholars tend to doubt the veracity of the story[32] Nevertheless, a few latter-day Entires are produced (e.g Old Swan Brewery and Hop Back Brewery).


Carling Black Label

Lager is the term generally used in England for bottom-fermented beer.

Despite the traditional English beer being ale, more than half of the current English market is now lager in the Pilsener and Export styles. These lighter coloured, bottom fermented beers first started gaining real popularity in England in the later part of the 20th Century.

Carling, which is owned by the American/Canadian brewing giant Molson Coors Brewing Company is the highest selling beer in England and is mainly brewed in Burton upon Trent. Meanwhile the largest brewery in Britain today, Scottish & Newcastle, which has three main breweries (Manchester, Reading and Tadcaster) brews Britain's second highest selling beer which is the lager Foster's.

Other lagers popular in England include Kronenbourg (which also belongs to Scottish & Newcastle) and Stella Artois (which belongs to the Belgian brewery InBev and in Britain is brewed in South Wales and Samlesbury near Preston).

Indian cuisine is very popular in Britain, and special lagers such as Cobra Beer have been developed to accompany it.


A blend of Guinness and Bass
  • Shandy is any kind of beer mixed about half-and-half with lemonade to make a low-alcohol beverage.
  • A "top" — for instance a lager top or bitter top — is a dash of lemonade, added as a matter of personal taste or to improve effervescence.
  • A Snakebite is lager and cider
  • Lager and black. A dash of blackcurrant cordial is added, giving a purple colour.
  • Black velvet is Guinness and champagne.
  • Black and tan. Guinness with bitter or lager.
  • Mother-in-law. Old ale and bitter ("Old and bitter")
  • Granny. Old and mild.
  • Half-and-half. A number of mixtures, usually a stronger beer and a weaker one.
  • Nip. A 1/3 pint bottle of strong barley wine that could be mixed with ordinary bitter to taste.
  • A pint of Mix is the combination of half a pint of bitter and half a pint of mild
  • A 'Mickey Mouse' is the combination of half a pint of bitter and half a pint of lager

Serving beer

Manual beer pumps dispensing British beers from Fuller's Brewery


One common misconception of beer served in the United Kingdom concerns the serving temperature: it is believed that British beer is served warm. In reality, beer in the UK is usually served at cellar temperature (between 10–14 °C (50–57 °F)[citation needed], which is often carefully controlled in a modern-day pub, although the temperature can naturally fluctuate with the seasons. Proponents of British beer say that it relies on subtler flavours than that of other nations, and these are brought out by serving it at a temperature that would make other beers seem harsh. Where harsher flavours do exist in beer (most notably in those brewed in Yorkshire), these are traditionally mitigated by serving the beer through a hand pump fitted with a sparkler, a device that mixes air with the beer, oxidising it slightly and softening the flavour.[citation needed]

Cask ale

A "stillage" of cask ales on racks

Cask beer is the traditional method of service, via a hand pump or by gravity straight from the cask on stillage. Cask conditioned beer is unfiltered, unpasteurized and lacking artificial carbonation, giving it a limited shelf-life. This dispense method is strongly associated with ale, although there is no technical barrier to serving lager or stout this way. Most pubs use hand pumps ("beer engines") to draw the beer, whereas stillages are commonly employed at beer festivals. Cask ale and bottle conditioned beer are championed by the Campaign for Real Ale under the name real ale.

Keg ale

A typical 11 Gallon keg with single opening in the centre of the top end

Keg beer is a term for beer which is served from a pressurized keg. Keg beer is often filtered and/or pasteurized, both of which are processes that render the yeast inactive, increasing the shelf life of the product. However, some believe this is at the expense of flavor.[33]

Nitrokeg dispense is a variation on keg dispense associated with stouts and Irish "red" ales.

Bottled beer

English bottled ales

Whilst draught beer takes up the majority of the market, bottled beer has a firm place and is a growing sector.[34] Some brands are sold almost entirely in the bottled format, such as Newcastle Brown Ale and Worthington White Shield. CAMRA promotes bottle-conditoned beer as "real ale in a bottle" (RAIB).[35]


The English pub is a famed institution. At one time certain pubs, known as alehouses, were allowed to sell only beer. Now most pubs are licensed to sell a range of drinks, with beer making up a significant proportion. The range of beer available in a given establishment can vary from a few mass-market products to a wide selection of cask ales and bottled beers, in a free house. The latter are sometimes called "chalkies" because the current selection of cask ales is often written on a blackboard.

Some on-licensed establishments are considered bars rather than pubs; they are less likely to be free standing, and more likely to be urban in setting and modern in style. "New wave" beer bars tend to specialise in bottled and pressure-dispensed craft beers from around the world, rather than the cask ales of traditional real ale pubs.[36] Some establishments imitate Dutch or Belgian cafés, or German bierkellers as a novelty, with a range of draught and bottled beer to match.

Most off licences (i.e. liquor stores) sell at least a dozen bottled beers. Some specialists sell many more, and may include a few cask ales that can be dispensed to customers in containers to be taken home.

The English do not have a long-standing tradition of beer festivals like the Munich Oktoberfest, but the idea of a "beer exhibition" where a wide variety can be sampled has been enthusiastically taken up since the 1970s. The largest is CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival held every August. Local CAMRA branches organise smaller festivals in most vicinities. Beer festivals often include competitions to judge the best beer.

A thatched country pub, the Williams Arms, near Braunton, North Devon, England


Historic drinking vessels

A tankard is a form of drinkware consisting of a large, roughly cylindrical, drinking cup with a single handle. Tankards are usually made of silver, pewter, or glass, but can be made of other materials, for example wood, ceramic or leather.[37] A tankard may have a hinged lid, and tankards featuring glass bottoms are also fairly common. Tankards are now rarely used, except where made from glass, but historic tankards are often used as decorative items.

A Toby Jug - also sometimes known as a Fillpot (or Philpot) - is a pottery jug in the form of a seated person, or the head of a recognizable person (often an English king). Typically the seated figure is a heavily-set, jovial man holding a mug of beer in one hand and a pipe of tobacco in the other and wearing 18th century attire: a long coat and a tricorn hat. Like metal tankards, they are now considered decorative items.

A yard of ale or yard glass is a very tall beer glass used for drinking around 2.5 imperial pints (1.4 l) of beer, depending upon the diameter. The glass is approximately 1 yard long, shaped with a bulb at the bottom, and a widening shaft which constitutes most of the height.[38] The glass most likely originated in 17th-century England where the glass was known also as a "Long Glass", a "Cambridge Yard (Glass)" and an "Ell Glass". It is associated by legend with stagecoach drivers, though was mainly used for drinking feats and special toasts.[39][40] Drinking a yard glass full of beer as quickly as possible is a traditional pub game; the bulb at the bottom of the glass makes it likely that the contestant will be splashed with a sudden rush of beer towards the end of the feat. The fastest drinking of a yard of ale (1.42 litres) in the Guinness Book of Records is 5 seconds.[41]

Current beer glasses

Beer is now generally sold in pint and half-pint glasses ( Half-pint glasses are generally smaller versions of pint glasses.). The common shapes of pint glass are:

  • Conical glasses are shaped, as the name suggests, as an inverted truncated cone around 6 inches (15 cm) tall and tapering by about 1 inch (25 mm) in diameter over its height.
  • The nonic, a variation on the conical design, where the glass bulges out a couple of inches from the top; this is partly for improved grip, partly to prevent the glasses from sticking together when stacked, and partly to give strength and stop the rim from becoming chipped or "nicked".[42] The term "nonic" derives from from "no nick".
  • Jug glasses, or "dimple mugs", are shaped more like a large mug with a handle. They are moulded with a grid pattern of thickened glass on the outside, somewhat resembling the segmentation of a WWII-era hand grenade. The dimples prevent the glass slipping out of the fingers in a washing-up bowl, and the design of the glass emphasises strength, also to withstand frequent manual washing. These design features became less important when manual washing was superseded by machine washing. from the 1960s onwards. Dimpled glasses are now rarer than the other types and are regarded as more traditional.[43] This sort of glass is also known as a "Handle" due to the handle on the glass. They are popular with the older generation and people with restricted movement in their hands which can make holding a usual pint glass difficult.[citation needed]



Hop picking in Kent, 1875. Hop picking was a working holiday for Londoners


The most celebrated English hop varieties are Fuggles and Goldings, although commercial pressures may incline brewers to use higher-yielding modern varieties. Modern brewers also sometimes make use of American or Continental hops. South-east England, particularly Kent is the traditional hop growing area; brewers in the north and west used to economise on the cost of importing hops by producing beers with more of a malt character, a regional distinction that has not entirely vanished.[citation needed] A characteristic technique is dry hopping, where hops are added during the fermentation phase in addition to those that went into the initial boil.

Maris Otter is the most celebrated brewing malt. Malts can be treated in a number of ways, particularly by degrees of roasting, to obtain different colours and flavours. Oats, wheat malt or unmalted barley may also be included in the mash.

Water — known as "liquor" — is an important ingredient in brewing, and larger breweries often draw supplies from their own wells. Burton upon Trent (see below) is famed for the suitability of its water for brewing, and its mineral balance is often artificially copied.

Top-fermenting yeasts stay on the surface of fermenting beer whilst active, hence top-ferented beers tend to be less naturally clear than lagers and finings are therefore used to clarify them. Modern breweries carefully maintain their own distinctive strains of yeast.

English brewers are allowed a free hand in the use of adjuncts which can include honey, ginger and spices, although this practice is not common.


Beer barrels outside the Castle Rock microbrewery in Nottingham.

English brewing is often considered to have a four-tier structure.

  • International megabreweries: AB InBev, Molson Coors, Heineken, Guinness and Carlsberg
  • National breweries Greene King, Marston's and Wells and Young's. These are "new" nationals, formed by mergers and takeovers of former regional breweries. The old "big six" national breweries were all absorbed into international corporations.
  • Regional breweries, often owned and run by successive generations of a family.
  • Microbreweries and brewpubs, a volatile sector that has undergone considerable expansion in the past 30 years.[44]


In Britain during the 20th century most of the traditional pubs which brewed their own beer in the brewhouse round the back of the pub, were bought out by larger breweries and ceased brewing on the premises. By the mid-1970s only four brewpubs remained, All Nations, The Old Swan, the Three Tuns and the Blue Anchor.[45]

Brewpubs subsequently resurged, particularly with the rise of the Firkin pub chain, most of whose pubs brewed on the premises, running to over one hundred at peak. However, that chain was sold and eventually its pubs ceased brewing their own beer. The resulting decline in brewpubs was something of a boon to other forms of microbrewing, as it led to an availability of trained craft brewers and brewing equipment.

British brewpubs are not required to double up as restaurants, as is the case under some legislatures. Many specialise in ale, whilst others brew continental styles such as lager and wheatbeer. Current examples small independent brewpubs such as The Ministry of Ale, Burnley, The Masons Arms in Headington, Oxford, The Brunswick Inn, Derby, The Watermill pub, Ings, Cumbria and The Old Cannon Brewery, Bury St Edmunds.

The Tie

After the development of the large London Porter breweries in the 18th century, the trend grew for pubs to become tied houses which could only sell beer from one brewery (a pub not tied in this way was called a Free house). The usual arrangement for a tied house was that the pub was owned by the brewery but rented out to a private individual (landlord) who ran it as a separate business (even though contracted to buy the beer from the brewery). Another very common arrangement was (and is) for the landlord to own the premises (whether freehold or leasehold) independently of the brewer, but then to take a mortgage loan from a brewery, either to finance the purchase of the pub initially, or to refurbish it, and be required as a term of the loan to observe the solus tie. A growing trend in the late 20th century was for the brewery to run their pubs directly, employing a salaried manager (who perhaps could make extra money by commission, or by selling food).

Most such breweries, such as the regional brewery Shepherd Neame in Kent and Young's in London, control hundreds of pubs in a particular region of the UK, whilst a few, such as Greene King, are spread nationally. The landlord of a tied pub may be an employee of the brewery—in which case he would be a manager of a managed house, or a self-employed tenant who has entered into a lease agreement with a brewery, a condition of which is the legal obligation (trade tie) only to purchase that brewery's beer. This tied agreement provides tenants with trade premises at a below market rent providing people with a low-cost entry into self-employment. The beer selection is mainly limited to beers brewed by that particular company. A Supply of Beer law, passed in 1989, was aimed at getting tied houses to offer at least one alternative beer, known as a guest beer, from another brewery.This law has now been repealed but while in force it dramatically altered the industry.

The period since the 1980s saw many breweries absorbed by, or becoming by take-overs, larger companies in the food, hotel or property sectors. The low returns of a pub-owning business led to many breweries selling their pub estates, especially those in cities, often to a new generation of small chains, many of which have now grown considerably and have a national presence. Other pub chains, such as All Bar One and Slug and Lettuce offer youth-oriented atmospheres, often in premises larger than traditional pubs.

A free house is a pub that is free of the control of any one particular brewery. Free houses can, but do not necessarily, serve a varied selection range of guest beers. Some pub chains do so as well.

Burton upon Trent

Coors Brewery, Burton-upon-Trent

For centuries, Burton upon Trent has been associated with the brewing industry due to the quality of the local water (from boreholes, not from the River Trent). This comes from the high proportion of dissolved salts in the water, predominantly caused by the gypsum in the surrounding hills; the resulting sulphate brings out the hops – see Burtonisation. Much of the open land within and around the town is protected from chemical treatment to help preserve this water quality.

The town is still home to seven brewers:

The Tower microbewery
  • Coors, a brewery from the United States which produces Carling. In addition to their large-scale plant, Coors also operate the White Shield Brewery, a microbrewery producing a number of prestigious speciality beers. including the eponymous Worthington White Shield.
  • Marston, Thompson and Evershed, now Marston's PLC. Marston's also brew Bass beer and Stones Bitter under licence from Interbrew
  • Burton Bridge Brewery, a small brewery founded in 1982 by Geoff Mumford and Bruce Wilkinson.
  • Tower Brewery, a new microbrewery
  • Cottage Brewery, its retail outlet being the nearby Old Cottage Inn
  • Black Hole Brewery, a Microbrewery subsidiary of Kammac, a leading cask supplier

The Bass Museum of Brewing - renamed the Coors Visitor Centre after Coors took over the brewery - continued until June 2008.[46] This was reopened in 2010 as the William Worthington Brewery and its ales - including Worthington Red Shield, White Shield, and "E", are primarily sold through the on-site Brewery Tap outlet

A by-product of the brewing industry, figuratively and literally, is the Marmite factory in the town: Marmite being made from spent brewer's yeast. Together with the breweries this can give the area a distinctive smell.

A pale and well hopped style of beer was developed in Burton in parallel with the development of India Pale Ale elsewhere. Previously, Englishmen had drunk mainly stout and porter - dark beers flavoured with roasted barley and similar to Guinness - but bitter (a development of pale ale) came to predominate. This extensively hopped, lighter beer was easier to store and transport, and so favoured the growth of larger breweries.

Burton came to dominate this trade, and at its height one quarter of all beer sold in Britain was produced here. Although over 30 breweries are recorded in 1880, a process of mergers and buy-outs resulted in three main breweries remaining by 1980: Bass, Ind Coopes and Marston's.

The fame of Burton ales gave rise to the English euphemism "gone for a Burton" meaning to die — a World War II humorous suggestion that a missing comrade had merely nipped out for a beer.

The town's connection with the brewing industry is celebrated by a sculpture of the Burton Cooper, which is now housed in the shopping centre.

Museum Exhibit of the Burton Union Fermentation System

Burton upon Trent is also known in beer technology circles for the Burton Union recirculating fermenter system, now used only by Marston's Brewery (all other Burton brewers have switched to stainless steel).

Home Brewing

Since 1963 it has been legal to brew any amount of beer at home, without a license, providing it is not sold. Home brewing is a reasonably popular hobby, with many towns having home brew shops. Ale is usually brewed, the required equipment being simpler than that for lager.


Breweriana refers to any article containing a brewery name or brand name,usually in connection to collecting them as a hobby. Examples include beer cans, bottles, openers, tin signs, coasters, beer trays, wooden cases and neon signs.[47]

Beer in English literature

  • "The roots and herbs beaten and put into new ale or beer and daily drunk, cleareth, strengthen and quicken the sight of the eyes." - Nicholas Culpeper
  • "But if at church they would give some ale. And a pleasant fire our souls to regale. We’d sing and we’d pray all the live long day, Nor ever once from the church to stray." - William Blake
  • "O Beer! O Hodgson, Guinness, Allsopp, Bass! Names that should be on every infant’s tongue." -C.V. Calverley
  • "Sir, I have now in my cellar ten tun of the best ale in Staffordshire; ’tis smooth as oil, sweet as milk, clear as amber, and strong as brandy; and will be just fourteen year old the fifth day of next March, old style.[..] I have fed purely upon ale; I have eat my ale, drank my ale, and I always sleep upon ale."- Boniface in The Beaux' Stratagem by George Farquhar.
  • "Of beer, an enthusiast said that it could never be bad, but that some brands might be better than others."

- A. A. Milne

  • "Poor John Scott lies buried here, although he was both hale and stout. Death stretched his on the bitter bier, in another world he hops about." - from the tomb of a Liverpool brewer
  • "What event is more awfully important to an English Colony than the erection of its first brewhouse?"- Rev.Sydney Smith
  • "He that buys land buys many stones. He that buys flesh buys many bones. He that buys eggs buys many shells. He that buys good ale buys nothing else."

--John Ray (1627–1705)

  • "American Beer is a lot like making love in a row boat. It's f**king close to water!" - Eric Idle

Advocacy and organisations

See also

  • Welsh beer
  • Scottish beer
  • Irish beer


  1. ^ "It is probable that when Julius Caesar arrived on the coast of Kent in 55 BC that beer was already a fermented beverage known in Britannia Brewery History, quoting Ian Spencer Hornsey: A History of Beer and Brewing
  2. ^ Cornell, Martyn: Beer
  3. ^ Iron age beer
  4. ^ Time Team: Prehistoric Cooking
  5. ^ [ Martyn Cornell Beer: the Story of the Pint]
  6. ^
  7. ^ Cornell, Martyn: Beer, the Story of a Pint
  8. ^ Zythophile
  9. ^ Andrewe Boorde. A Compendyous Regymentor a Dyetary of helth. (1557), fol. G.ii - iii.
  10. ^ sig=MNZZGazz5DY46e6cPoGvSzfT3VA&hl=en&ei=8qRKTf3MAtOq8QPY5IySDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false Ian Spencer Hornsey: A History of Beer and Brewing
  11. ^ Statute Law Revision: Fourteenth Report, The Scottish Law Commission (1993)
  12. ^ A Brief History of Licensing, City of London website
  13. ^ British Beer and the British Pub Culture, Joseph Allen McCulloch, 2007
  14. ^ Daniels, p. 155
    Cornell, p. 104
  15. ^ Foster, p. 65
  16. ^ The dictionary of trade products ... - Google Books. Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  17. ^ Lloyd George's Beer
  18. ^ "Mild or Bitter." Economist [London, England] 18 June 1960: 1225+. The Economist Historical Archive 1843-2006. Web. 19 Aug. 2011.
  19. ^ Real Ale Sales Rise
  20. ^ Camra on Nitrokeg bitters
  21. ^ Brewing records. London Metropolitan Archives: Whitbread and Barclay Perkins. 
  22. ^ a b Statistical Handbook. British Beer and Pub Association. 2003. p. 21. ISSN 1475-3545. 
  23. ^ "Hop Back Summer Lightning « Beer Culture with Des de Moor". Retrieved 2010-06-05. 
  24. ^ IPA myth
  25. ^ Manns Brown Ale - a bottle with real character
  26. ^ Sara Hughes Dark Ruby Mild
  27. ^
  28. ^ Hog's Back Santa's Wobble
  29. ^ Webster
  30. ^ Spingo Ales
  31. ^ 18thC London Brewing
  32. ^ Martyn Cornell on the Myth of Three Threads
  33. ^ CAMRA on Keg Beer
  34. ^ "Bottled beers take Pole position". BBC News. 17 May 2007. 
  35. ^ Real Ale in a Bottle
  36. ^ Top 10 Craft beer Pubs and bars
  37. ^ "Tankard at British History Online". 
  38. ^ The dictionary of beer and brewing - Google Books. Retrieved 2010-03-10. 
  39. ^ "Yard-of-ale glass (drinking glass) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2010-03-10. 
  40. ^ "The Yard of Ale : Our History". Retrieved 2010-03-10. 
  41. ^ The Guinness book of records 1999. Guinness. 1998. p. 60. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  42. ^ The Times: Last orders for traditional pint glass as search begins for alternatives
  43. ^ The Independent: Collapse of Glass Firms Calls Time on Dimpled Jugs
  44. ^ The Independent on microbreweries
  45. ^ Neil Hanson (ed), Good Beer Guide 1985, CAMRA, 1984. ISBN 0-9509584-0-9.
  46. ^ Visitor centre closure announcement
  47. ^ Breweriana UK (Beery Bits & Bobs)
  48. ^ BBPA
  49. ^ Fair Pint
  50. ^ SIBA
  51. ^ Cask Marque
  52. ^ Mick the Tick talks to The Publican
  53. ^ Scoopergen
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  •  This article incorporates content from the 1728 Cyclopaedia, a publication in the public domain.
  • G. Long, ed. "Ale". The penny cyclopædia. Society for the diffusion of useful knowledge. 1833. p 285.

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