The best British beers: taste-tested

Britain is a land of hops and barley, where some of the world’s finest brewing ingredients grow, and where many classic beer styles originate.

Hops, a varietal like grapes or apples, give beer its bitterness and much of its aroma, especially those aromas similar to plants or fruits. Discover Mark Dredge’s top British beer picks here.

The best British beers: taste-tested

Mostly grown in Kent, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, the climate and soil give the hops a mellow complexity, a depth of spice, herbs, berries and light citrus. The two best-known British hops, Fuggle and Golding, have defined the character of British beer for 150 years. Fuggle has herbal notes and a crisp, minty freshness, while Golding gives dried spice, honey, and a summery warmth, and they complement each other like salt and vinegar on a bag of hot chips.

Barley grows best in the south and east of England, and the north-east of Scotland, and we see several heritage barley varieties commonly chosen by brewers, including Maris Otter, Chevallier, Plumage Archer and Golden Promise. They provide an essentially British backbone flavour of malty tea, toast, and biscuits.

The hops and barley combine to create classic British beer styles like best bitter, mild, pale ale, porter and stout, beers which are reliable and reassuring, ever-present in the pub. Where some feared those classics might be lost to the ever-changing excitement of craft beer, the opposite is true and there’s a renaissance of traditional British styles, and a new celebration of the wonderful local ingredients that we have.

Did you know?

There are 34 varieties of British hops commercially available and alongside traditional names like Fuggle, Golding, Challenger and Bramling Cross, British hop breeders are developing new varieties which have more abundant tropical and stone-fruit qualities, so look out for names like Jester, Olicana, Harlequin, Godiva and Archer.

Five of the best British beers

Boxcar Dark Milk, England, 3.6%
Dark Mild is having a comeback. Nourishingly soft-textured and smooth, with flavours of cocoa, dried fruit, liquorice and a rich toasted malt depth. Gloriously satisfying to drink. Available from Boxcar Brewery (£3.60).


Ramsgate Brewery Gadds’ No.3, England, 5.0%
Using only east Kent-grown Goldings, this pale ale shows off the honey, spice (pepper and cumin), dried lemon, marmalade and firm bitterness of the hop. Available from Ramsgate Brewery (£3.60).


Newbarns Oat Lager, Scotland, 4.8%
Brewed with British oats, wheat and barley, this unfiltered Scottish lager has a nutty, creamy and biscuity grain base, while English hops give a peppery and pithy bitterness. Available from Newbarns (£3.60).


Theakston’s Old Peculier, England, 5.6%With aromas of banana, dried cherry and cacao, this rich dark ale has a depth of caramel and dark toast and an uplifting minty Fuggle hop finish. Available from Sainsbury’s (£1.60).


Old Peculiar

Buxton Brewery Brithop, England, 6.8%
Showcasing modern British hops like Jester and Harlequin, this hazy orange IPA is ripe with pineapple, dried mango, citrus pith, apricot, and an underlying herbal bitterness. Available from Tesco (£3).


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