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Blog: The United Kingdom of Drinks

Blog: The United Kingdom of Drinks

Blog: The United Kingdom of Drinks

By Jane Peyton

When you think of Britain what alcoholic drink comes to mind? Beer? Whisky? Gin?  Cider? All four maybe, and what about Mead, Sparkling wine, Perry, and Liqueurs, and non-alcoholic drinks such as Elderflower Cordial, Dandelion & Burdock and other botanical soft drinks? Britain is unrivalled when it comes to world beating libations. 

Beer is the UK’s national alcoholic drink and more styles of beer first brewed in Britain are now brewed worldwide than those of any other brewing nation. Those styles include India Pale Ale, Stout, Porter, Mild, Bitter, Barley Wine. Historically Britain had major influence on spreading the love of beer because of wherever its ships went they carried beer on them.For instance, beer was introduced to Australia in 1788 when thousands of gallons of Porter (purchased in Portsmouth) arrived with the First Fleet.In pubs, seven of ten drinks served are beer and that cask conditioned ale, served by hand-pumping it into the glass is typically British. The raw material that defines beer is malted barley and Britain is the world’s 3rd biggest producer of it. The UK’s soils and maritime climate are perfect for growing barley but it is the skills of the maltsters that transform it into core ingredient of beer and whisky and other spirits.Without this exemplary malt Scotland’s primary export commodity, Scotch whisky would not elicit such rhapsody in imbibers around the world. 


bBritain’s soils and temperate climate are also responsible for the delicacy but complexity of the hops that bestow a British character to beer and make it possible for brewers to create such quaffable session beers envied by brewers overseas in lands where the climate makes their native grown hops too punchy.The answer of course is to import British hops, which American brewers in particular are increasingly doing. 

The UK is the world’s biggest producer of cider and 56% of apples grown here are fermented into cider. 17th century west country cider makers inadvertently made possible the drink now called Champagne when they experimented with secondary fermentation in the bottle to create sparkling cider. This was decades before French producers did the same with wine. The written proof is in the archives of the Royal Society.

Gin has been through an incredible renaissance for a number of years and now there are several hundred gin distilleries. Gin & Tonic the world’s most popular cocktail was a British invention devised as a way to make more palatable the bitter flavoured malaria medication dissolved in tonic water during Britain’s colonial period.

England’s sparkling wine producers cannot keep up with demand, and the global respect the wine has earned led to Tattinger, the prestigious French champagne house buying land in Kent to plant vines to produce a dry and elegant sparkling wine influenced by the Garden of England’s soils and climate.

Britain is also leading the world in the production of No and Low Alcohol drinks. In particular producers of beer and alt spirits are disproving the misconception that just because a drink has no alcohol, it has no flavour or character.

But why should Love British Food, a campaign food be celebrating drinks too?Because alcohol is made by fermenting food stuff.Beer and whisky are made with cereal (usually barley); cider comes from apples; gin is derived from a variety of agricultural produce including sugar beet and wheat; mead comes from honey; wine from grapes, and Perry from pears. Fermentation is one of the most effective ways of preserving food – think cheese from milk. With fermentation, rather than keeping the food in the pantry it is kept in the drinks cabinet.

When I was invited to become an ambassador for Love British Food I rejoiced for many reasons, not least because I can spend even more time acclaiming the extraordinary drinks produced in this country. Britain’s drinks sector contributes billions of pounds to the Exchequer, and it employs millions of people, including on farms growing the food, then processing, making and selling it. Drinks are the reason that pubs exist and pubs are the heart of our communities. Pubs are essential for the social health of the nation. Without pubs Britain would be devoid of its soul.The intangible value that drinks bring to Britain is immeasurable. I’ll drink to that!