Beer in the United Kingdom and Ireland has never been more revered. With a recent study showing that nearly 200 new breweries opened in the UK alone last year, high quality beers are making their presence firmly known in pubs and homes up and down the country.
And it isn’t just for drinking. With the advent of the gastropub movement over the last 20 years, beer has fast become just as much a part of the main course as the beverage.
It is probably somewhat of a stereotype to say that beer is one of the main pillars on which British society operates, but that makes it no less true. During medieval times, when water management in the UK was scarce to non-existent, it was normal to drink beer instead of water. This form of ‘small beer’ as it was known had a relatively low alcohol content and a comparatively high nutrient value that made it ideal for everyone, even children, and monks drank it particularly during times of fasting. The stronger version, not-so-imaginatively named ‘strong beer’, was more akin to the strength of beer that is available today.
“I love cooking with beer… sometimes I even add it to the food!”
In today’s cooking, adding a dark ale to stews, pies, frying batter and sauces is one way to intensify the natural flavours. Much like cooking with wine, sloshing beer into a dish early on in the cooking process allows most of the alcohol to gently simmer out to leave a richer and less bitter flavour to the dish.
When the weather starts turning colder nothing quite smells as good as a slowly cooking stew on the stove, filling the house with the rich smell of gravy and cooking meat (or vegetables, for the vegetarians out there).
Dishes that include beer in the recipe aren’t often found on the menus of fine dining establishments, but that doesn’t make them any less tasty. The best place to find the typical kind of British home-cooked food is in one of the many, many pubs – gastropubs in particular. A combination of “gastronomic” and “pub” (public house), gastropubs have been popping up all over the country in the last few decades as typical pub food has enjoyed a bit of a re-vamp.
One such example of a successful cross-over between fine dining and the gastropub is The Hand & Flowers pub in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. As of last year, it became the first pub in the UK to hold two Michelin stars – the first in the year after it opened in 2005 and the second in 2012. Staying true to their country-pub roots, the Michelin-starred menu offers a number of beer-basted delights, including a starter of Scottish scallops with a beef and mead bouillon, and a main course of corn-fed chicken with hops, ale and hay.
If you’re already asking yourself “what else could you possibly add beer to?”, then the answer is indeed, desserts. Brave baking enthusiasts have experimented their way through their collection of recipes and decided that some of the best beer results can be gained by combining chocolate with the great Irish stalwart, Guinness. Topping off a chocolate and Guinness sponge with a frothy cream cheese glaze will surely add a special ‘beer glass’ touch to the finished cake.
With the traditionally-made craft beer seeing a resurgence in popularity – and matched by the trend of home cooking and DIY baking – the UK is currently enjoying a huge range of top quality connoisseur beers and the very best in homely pub food.
Pack Your Bags
Despite being part of the European Union, the United Kingdom’s official currency is the UK Pound Sterling (GBP), also known as the pound. The UK lies within the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Western European Time (UTC) zones. With extremes of temperature occurring only rarely visiting the UK is possible all year around, although expect some of that famous rain to make an appearance during your visit.
Reach the United Kingdom by plane and ferry from a huge range of connecting points from one side of the country to the next. Usual points of entry are at Dover ferry port on the south coast, a handy crossing to the continent at Calais in France, as well as major airports in London, Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh and across the Irish Sea in Belfast.
Ale: This is a type of beer brewed from malted barley (cereal grains that have been dried) and fermented at room temperature. The malting/drying process allows enzymes in the grains to convert starches into sugars, which feeds the yeast added to the ale. It ferments quickly to produce a full-bodied and fruity flavour. The addition of bitter-tasting hops during the brewing process counteracts the sweetness of the barley.
Steak and ale pie: Exactly what the name suggests, this is typically a deep-dish pie filled with choice pieces of steak in an ale gravy and usually joined by sliced carrots and mushrooms. It is topped off with a crust of flaky pastry and baked in an oven.
Beer-battered scampi: A potentially misleading name, scampi is the tail portion of Dublin Bay prawns or langoustines, a type of small lobster which is commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean. The flesh is removed from the hard shell, coated in a batter of beer and flour, and deep-fried until golden.
If you’re setting off to explore the UK’s famous pubs, then cast your eyes over the Good Pub Guide for some of the best places for a real pub experience.
The editorial team of Travel Gluttons are rumoured to be big fans of the dark stuff, as evidenced in the following recommended articles: