Posted by: marymarthatours | October 4, 2010

English Beers – Lager, Ale, Bitter, Porter, and Stout

When this entry is posted, Martha and I will be in York, England, enjoying ourselves with sightseeing, relaxing, a bit of shopping, and lots of good eating. We do try to economize just a bit when we’re traveling together and that means that we frequently eat in pubs rather than restaurants. We love “pub-grub”, as you may have guessed if you have read our entry on Great Food in Great Britain.

We also enjoy sampling the local brews while we munch our lunch or dinner. There’s something about having a pint or half-pint of the local ale or bitter that completes the experience. When I first started visiting in England, I’d always ask for “lager”, because it was similar to American beers that I knew. After a while, I switched to “ale”, and now I’m drinking “bitter”, which is Martha’s choice too.


Mary with 2 “halves” of the house bitter in a Scottish pub

Maybe it would be helpful to describe the differences between the beers you can find in an English pub — lager, ale, bitter, porter, and stout.

The first thing to know is that most beer is brewed using one of two methods for the fermentation process, based on the action of the yeast. The methods are known as:

  • Top-fermenting – a fast acting, warm fermentation process.
  • Bottom-fermenting – a slower, cooler fermentation process.

Ale is the type of beer made with top-fermenting yeast. There are a number of variations:

  • Ale – hearty, robust, and fruity.
  • Brown ale – sweet and light, uses roasted and caramel malt.
  • Bitter – the most popular of the top-fermenting ales in Britain, it has a moderate hop flavor and amber color.
  • Porter – developed in London in 1722, using roasted unmalted barley, it has a dark color and rich taste.
  • Stout – stronger than Porter, Stout was first introduced by Guinness in Ireland. It is very dark in color, made from pale malt, roasted unmalted barley and sometimes caramel malt.

The other beer type – Lager – is brewed using bottom-fermenting yeasts with a cooler process. Lagers are usually mellow, crisp, and clean. English Lagers are comparable to the Pilsner beers of the continent and most American beers.

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Lager, Ale, Bitter, and Stout

When we get home, we’ll let you know which pubs we liked best.

(by Mary)

For a full description about all things “beer” check out the Samuel Adams Beer Glossary

Photo credits:

Lager and Stout – Public Domain

Ale – copyright Ranveig and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 3.0.

Bitter – copyright Clemensfranz and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 3.0.


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