10 best traditional British beers
We asked some of the brightest minds in beer to choose their favourite classic Blighty booze
The Great British Beer Festival, organised by CAMRA – the Campaign for Real Ale – is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and promises to be bigger and better than ever. And although there will be some excellent beers from abroad, and even wine for the first time, the main appeal of the event is to showcase Britain’s best real ales.
To get you in the mood for what’s on offer, we’re introducing you to some of the finest traditional beers available throughout the land. To help us compile the list we asked 10 beer experts to each pick out their favourite, allowing them to interpret what they considered to be a “traditional British beer”, with the results being an eclectic mix of beer styles from the country.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Roger Protz is perhaps the most well-known British beer writer, with credits including editing CAMRA’s Good Beer Guides, making his choice one of our most eagerly anticipated.
Lotte Peplow is a beer sommelier, beer judge and representative of the Brewers Association.
Jamil Zainasheff describes himself as “Chief Heretic” of Heretic Brewing Company, one of the America’s most innovative breweries.
Jonny Garrett is the beery brains behind YouTube hit The Craft Beer Channel.
Gill Sherwin scours the country in search of the finest British beers for her online retail business, Best of British Beer.
Nick Boley is CAMRA’s national director, and responsible for the organisation’s Champion Beer of Britain Competition – so he knows a decent pint when he tastes one.
Claire Russell and Posy Parsons turned their homebrew passion into a business, HomeBrewtique, devising recipes for like-minded brew-it-yourselfers and selling them as kits.
Andy Hamilton is a forager, home-brewer and author. He recently travelled across the country tasting beer to compile his book Brewing Britain: The Quest for the Perfect Pint.
Roger Ryman is head brewer at St Austell’s Brewery in Cornwall.
If you’re heading to the event this year, put these on your drinks list; if you’re not, consider it a shopping list for a Best of British festival of your own.
1. St Austell Proper Job, 5.5%: £2 for 500ml, Tesco
Chosen by Roger Protz
“St Austell Proper Job is one of the best of the new wave IPAs, made with Cornish-grown Maris Otter malting barley and American Cascade, Chinook and Willamette hops. Citrus fruit, spicy and floral hops and oatcake malt combine to make a wonderfully refreshing beer.”
2. Thornbridge Jaipur, 5.9%: £1.80 for 330ml, Morrisons
Chosen by Lotte Peplow
“Thornbridge Jaipur has been my go-to IPA for many years. It’s a classic interpretation of a traditional British style that’s bursting with citrus and tropical fruit notes, perfectly balanced by a sweet, malty base to give a smooth mouthfeel and just the right amount of bitterness on the finish.”
3. Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter, 4%: £30 for 12 x 500ml bottles, Harvey’s
Chosen by Jamil Zainasheff
“The open square fermentation and the yeast culture provide a subtle yet complex depth of character in a superbly balanced bitter. While the brewery is now also packaging in cans and bottles, this is one to seek out on cask at a pub that knows how to handle real ale. It can be a real treat.”
4. Tiny Rebel Cwtch, 4.6%: £2.20 for 330ml, Beer Merchants
Chosen by Jonny Garrett
Jonny has plumped for an outstanding Welsh beer to join our list. “This is a former Champion Beer of Britain and where modern and traditional brewing collide. Lush tropical notes on top of a lightly toasted malt body.”
5. XT Brewing FIVE, 5.5%
Chosen by Tim Hampson
“Old world meets new world, innovation encounters tradition at the XT Brewery, Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire. Rich and luscious, this heavily hopped American-style amber ale harmonises a quartet of aromatic US hops with full-bodied grains from England and Germany.”
Note: This beer is so special that it’s not yet available in bottles. If you’re shopping online then we suggest trying out its little amber brother, XT FOUR, instead.
6. Allendale Pennine Pale, 4%: £2.50 for 500ml, Best of British Beer
Chosen by Gill Sherwin
“This Northumberland pale ale is brewed with a trio of hops but is hopped five times, including a massive dry hopping of Citra at the end to add a lovely, refreshing finish. I often find that when brewers have gone full-on with hops they’re not very balanced and can be challenging, but this is just a perfectly balanced, uncomplicated beer. Ideal for summer.”
7. Green Jack Baltic Trader, 10.5%: £9 for 750ml bottle, Green Jack
Chosen by Nick Boley
Nick has chosen the booziest entry in our list from this Suffolk brewery. “A strong, unctuous, luscious full-flavoured Imperial Stout. Well-balanced, strong and warming, it’s the ultimate nightcap beer.”
8. Beavertown Neck Oil, 4.3%: £2.19 for 330ml, Honest Brew
Chosen by Claire Russell and Posy Parsons
“This lovely, easy-drinking IPA started its life as a homebrew recipe for a Black Country pale ale. Over the years the hop additions got later and more American hops were incorporated, giving the fruity flavour and aromatic punch we love. Perfect for summer drinking.”
9. Traquair Jacobite Ale, 8%: £3.59 for 330ml, Beers of Europe
Chosen by Andy Hamilton
“This beer is brewed to a 260-year old recipe and it was relaunched 10 years ago to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Jacobite rebellion. The taste is a mixture of dark stone fruits, molasses, coriander and, for those old enough to remember, black jack penny chews. A malt bomb that will have you rebelling against hops.”
10. Theakston’s Old Peculier: £1.80 for 500ml, Tesco
Chosen by Roger Ryman
“Theakston’s Old Peculier (OP) was an institution during the first cask ale revolution during the 1980s at a time that I was first discovering pubs and beer. Its dark colour, high strength and slightly mysterious name made it an iconic beer that me and my friends would seek out on one of our many hiking and camping trips in the Lake District as teenagers. I recently visited Theakston’s Brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire and found the OP as rich, fruity and complex as I remember. Sometimes we have to go back to our roots to rediscover some of Britain’s classic ales.”
When Roger Protz recommends a beer you know it’s going to be a good one and in St Austell’s Proper Job, he’s picked a beer that tops many people’s lists.
The Great British Beer Festival is on 8-12 August at Olympia, London. For more information visit gbbf.org.uk
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