Along with Germany and Belgium, England is one of the epicenters of old world brewing. It’s the birthplace of such British beer styles as India pale ale, milk stout, and barley wine, to name a few styles.
From brown ales and bitters to porters and IPAs, many of the beer styles we know and love here in the US have their roots in England. Here is a list of British beer styles that put England on the world brewing map. This list is basic list with descriptions:
Mild – A mild ale is an English session beer, usually below 4% ABV. It’s dark in color, typically copper or brown. Milds tend to be malt forward with an emphasis on caramel, toast, and nutty flavors, often due to the use of mild ale malt. English ales such as these are often served from a cask, giving them a low carbonation and excellent drinkability – perfect for a long afternoon at the pub!
Bitter – Bitters refer to a group of English pale ales. Not surprisingly, this British beer style is more strongly hopped than Milds, though not usually as hoppy as American pale ales. It’s common to see some classic English hops featured in bitters, such as Challenger, North Down, Fuggles, and Kent Goldings. Like Scottish ales, bitters are named based on their alcoholic strength, with bitters being the most sessionable (about 3.5% ABV), special bitters containing a bit more of a punch (4-4.5%), and extra special bitters or ESBs packing the biggest wallop (about 5-6%). Brew your own English Bitter with the Brewer’s Best English Bitter recipe kit.
India Pale Ale – Though American brewers have adopted the IPA as their own, India Pale Ale is a British creation. India Pale Ales were brewed using more malt and more hops to help the ale survive the trip to India in the 19th century. The extra malt increased alcohol content, while the extra hops increased their preservative effect. An English IPA will be marked by the use of English ingredients, especially English hops like Northern Brewer, Challenger, Brewer’s Gold, Fuggles, and Kent Goldings.
English Brown Ale – There are two distinct styles of English Brown Ale: Northern and Southern. The Northern Brown tends to be higher in gravity, slightly more bitter, and drier in the finish than the Southern version. The flavor of the Northern Brown Ale tends to be more nutty that caramel. Southern English Brown Ales are sessionable (usually under 4% ABV) with an emphasis on sweet malt flavor. There may be some flavors of dark fruit.
Porter – Porter was reportedly born in London and named after the porters who loved it so. This English beer style is a dark, brown ale, somewhat lighter in body than a stout. You can brew a clone of a popular English porter with our Steam Freak S. S. Tadcaster Porter recipe kit.
Milk Stout – Stout came about as a stronger version of porter. (Learn about some of the differences between stout and porter.) Stouts generally use more specialty malts like caramel malt, chocolate malt, and black malt than porter, and also more roasted barley. A milk stout, or cream stout, was invented in London. In addition to the ingredients above, it uses lactose sugar to sweeten it and give it extra body. Brewer’s Best offers a delicious Milk Stout recipe kit.
Barley Wine – Barley wine is a strong ale brewed to the strength of wine, but using barley as the fermentable. It typically ranges from 7-12% ABV. Learn some tips for how to craft your own barley wine recipe on the E. C. Kraus Homebrewing Blog!
What are some of your favorite British beer styles? Did we miss something in our basic list of beer styles? Share in the comments below!
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described "craft beer crusader." He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder and editor of the Local Beer Blog