Diving Into British Beers

It feels a little unnecessary, but I’m going to point it out anyway, because of the rest of what I’m about to say: I love American Craft Beer. It’s kinda my thing. But there is a rather predictable tendency in the world of U.S. Craft Beer to take a certain quality– say hoppiness, sourness, alcohol level, barrel age, unique adjuncts, or all the above at once– and exaggerate them to a ridiculous degree. It’s one of the things we do here– we take everything and make it bigger. But sometimes that comes at the expense of things like taste, balance, complexity, or even drinkability. Which is why it’s been nice to see the recent trend towards super-traditional lager styles. But there might be a smaller trend at work that I am personally even more excited about.

For a long time, I didn’t like beer at all – I’m only here because the owner of the British pub my friends and I frequented brought in a cask of Welsh bitter, and I ordered it because of the weird name: Brains Best Bitter! But everything about that pint was right – from the lower carbonation to the silky mouthfeel and subtly nutty flavor profile. Right then, I realized that I loved beer– I just hadn’t been exposed to the good stuff. To this day, regardless of how elusive it is, I still seek out cask beer– whether it’s waiting for the return of the New England Real Ale Expo or watching the news to see when it’ll be possible to fly to London again. But while real ale on cask is still mostly a dream, British styles have seen a very subtle resurgence of late.

Take Dark Mild – that’s an almost-extinct U.K. style that I probably hadn’t seen around in at least five years until, within the last few months, I’ve seen three – all from regional craft brewers. At first I thought that was just a weird coincidence, but one of them (Portland, ME’s Bunker Brewing) brought out a nitro bitter as well, and then a few more British styles have popped up since. So, is this a thing, or isn’t it? I’m hoping there’s something to it, because there’s nothing like kicking back with a lower-abv beer that packs in as much flavor as a regular beer but doesn’t punish you if you decide to have a few. I’m not holding my breath for British pub culture to catch on here just yet, but in the meantime, we have some excellent domestic offerings that can hint at what that future might look like. If not, I can’t think of a better way to pass a cold, quiet January than with one of these at my side.

Written By Tom Breeding, Beer Director