UK Beer Guide
Drink your way through the UK and its airports
UK Beers: In the UK, the words ‘British beer’ summon thoughts of locals sipping local draught outside thatched pubs. While pubs are dotted all over the country both in and outside of metropolitan areas, the availability of local draught is less common within cities as it was overtaken by lager, which occupies nearly 70 percent of the UK market.
There are only four major UK-based breweries that dominate the UK market, three of which are foreign owned. The big breweries mainly produce lagers and often use modern industrial brewing methods and standardised recipes, resulting in UK brewed beers that aren’t strictly British. These breweries include Scottish and Newcastle (who produce Foster‘s and Kronenbourg), Coors (from the US), Anheuser-Busch InBev (who produce Stella Artois) and Carlsberg of Denmark.
In response to this dominance, provincial breweries began to fill the demand for traditional brews and even smaller craft beer breweries have emerged. While ‘on-tap’ ales available at airports are likely to be mass produced, it’s always worth asking if the bar sells a local ale, either draught or bottled.
The UK has 400 breweries that produce more than 750 different bottled ale labels not including Guinness and Murphy’s Stout. So, to help travelling beer lovers seek out a new airport beer experience in the UK, we’ll be listing the local brews that are most likely to be available at regional airport bars. At any UK airport, beer lovers should look for a Pub style bar as these are most likely to carry a range of bottled ales as well as draught beer.
Brews to look out for
The three main International hubs are Heathrow, Gatwick, and London City. Stansted and Luton, to the north of London, mainly serve holiday destinations.
Heathrow: The Harlequin Alehouse & Eatery in Heathrow’s Terminal 1 (after security) or the 5 Tuns in Terminal 5 (before security) should stock a range of ales including Old Nick containing 7.2 percent alcohol or Vintage Ale 2007 at 8.5 percent alcohol. Also, try asking for Spitfire ale produced by family owned brewer Shepherd Neame and contains 4.5 percent ABV.
Gatwick: Pub style bars can be found in the North Terminal, namely the Globe, Lloyds No.1 Bar and The Red Lion (Wetherspoons). The South Terminal has The Bridge Bar and the Flying Horse (Wetherspoons), which are located after security, and The Village (Wetherspoons), located before security. All claim to serve draught and bottled beers most of which will be similar to those found at Heathrow.
Stansted: Bars here include Wetherspoons, Est Bar Est, and the worldwide Irish bar chain O’Neill’s which will undoubtedly serve Guinness. The region’s best known brewery is Greene & King at Bury St Edmunds, which produces a range of ten bottled beers including Abbot Ale at 5 percent ABV and the 6 percent Abbot Reserve. Ruddles is another Bury area brewery, which produces Ruddles Organic containing 5.1 percent alcohol and is likely to be available at this airport.
London’s Luton airport doesn’t offer any pub style bars and is unlikely to serve any local brews.
Southampton airport: The airport’s neighbouring Hampshire Breweries, which boasts 26 different ales is most famous for the 6 percent ABV 1066. Another likely brew to be available at this airport is Old Thumper containing 5.6 percent ABV, made by the Ringwood Brewery, another local producer. The Blandford (Dorset) based family owned Badger Brewery markets its product strongly in the region and you may find one of its 17 brews such as the 5.7 percent Poachers Choice or 3.8 percent Badgers Original at the airport.
Bristol and Exeter airports: Most likely to stock Badger beers as well as the 4.5 percent Barnstormer produced by Bath Ales.
Birmingham airport: Brewers in this part of the UK include The Highgate Brewery in Walsall, which offers two strong ales 5.3 percent Old Ale and 6.5 percent Old Ember, or the Worcester-based Springhead Brewery, which produces 5.7 percent Roaring Meg and 6.2 percent Cromwell’s Head. The nearby area of Burton-on-Trent is synonymous with dark stouts; Burton Bridge Brewery produces a stout and a porter of 4.5 percent and 5.0 percent, respectively, plus an ale called Tickle Brain at 8 percent ABV. Marstons Brewery in the same town produces 15 labels, from stouts to pale ales, so it’s worth asking for its 5.7 percent Old Empire.
Manchester and Leeds airports: Servicing the regions of Lancashire and Yorkshire, famous for their brewing traditions. A Yorkshire label to look out for is the Black Sheep Brewery, which produces six beers in Masham including the 5.7 percent Riggwelter Ale. Masham’s other brewery, Theakston, has managed to carve out a national brand image with its Cool Cask, XB and Paradise Ale, all 4 percent+ beers.
Harrogate, north of Leeds airport, is home to Daleside Brewery, which produces seven beers including 5.5 percent Crack Shot and 5.3 percent Monkey Wrench. Another regional producer is Thirsk’s Hambledon Ales brewery that might appear behind the bar; lookout for GFB, GFA, Stud or Taylor’s Tipple, all around 5 percent ABV.
One of the North Yorkshire Brewery’s nine brands may also find its way to the airport, particularly the 4.7 percent Flying Herbert. In the ancient City of York, the York Brewery’s 5.2 percent Centurion’s Ghost Ale and 4.2 percent York Minster are definitely worth trying. A Yorkshire brewer known all over the UK through its TV advertising is Samuel Smith, which produces both stouts and ales and also its own lager. The 5 percent Taddy Porter and 6 percent Winter Welcome Ale are two names that stand out from Samuel Smith’s line-up.
Manchester airport may provide Dragonheart, Christmas Ale or Raisin Beer, all 5 percent beers from Liverpool-based Cains Brewery. Manchester’s own J.W.Lees produce 5 percent John Willies, 11.5 percent Harvest 2000, and 4.2 percent Coronation Street – named after the UK’s long-running TV soap opera. The other local Joseph Holt brewery adds the 3.5 percent Hum Dinger and the 4.7 percent Maplemoon to look out for.
Scotland is a destination for die hard beer lovers. Archaeological finds have concluded that its brewing tradition dates back 5000 years. Today, Scotland maintains its position as one of the UK’s largest brewing centres, and the Scots have their own terms for draught beers, which are often referred to by their alcohol content and by a 19th century shilling categorisation. The names refer to the cost of a Hogshead (54 gallons) of beer when the pound was divided into shillings and pence, the higher the shilling amount, the stronger the beer. This naming tradition has been continued by some breweries, which categorise their beers as Light (60/-) under 3.5 percent ABV, Heavy (70/-) between 3.5 – 4 percent ABV, Export (80/-) between 4 – 5.5 percent ABV, and Wee Heavy (90/-) over 6 percent ABV.
Brews to look out for
Glasgow: Tennent is synonymous with lager in Scotland, so for lager fans, this is the one to request when in Scotland. Its labels include Tennent's Lager containing 4 percent alcohol, Tennent’s Special containing 3.5 percent alcohol, Tennent's Ember containing 4.2 percent alcohol, Tennent's Light Ale containing 3.1 percent alcohol, Tennent's Super containing 9.0 percent, and Sweetheart Stout.
Edinburgh: The local Caledonian Brewing in Edinburgh is one of only two surviving breweries in a city that once supported over 40. Its 4 percent+ Deuchars IPA and 80/- ales are available on-tap and bottled. They also have another five labels, so at Edinburgh airports, a Caledonian brew is a likely bet. Look for 6.4 percent Edinburgh Strong Ale or the organic 4.4 percent Golden Promise containing a sweet malt flavor.
Another famous Edinburgh brewed beer is McEwans. This is a strong brand and one that will likely be found in any airport either north or south of the border. McEwan's Export is a 4.5 percent strong, caramelised, dark beer originally made for export. It remains one of the most popular canned or bottled beers in Scotland, so will most likely be available at the airport.
Aberdeen: This part of Scotland boasts a Tennent Caledonian brewery and also the Belhaven Brewery, which has elegant trademark bottles. Bellhaven produces a range of cask and bottled beers and its 80/- is available in both. Bellhaven’s 7 percent Scottish Stout is an award winning creamy-headed, black colored stout. Other labels include the 4.2 percent Robert Burns Ale and the 4.9 percent Cask or 4.6 percent bottled St. Andrews Ale. So if you’re in the area or even further south near Dundee, these are the brews to ask for.
Thirst quencher: Today, microbreweries are proliferating in Scotland, as in other parts of Europe, and now spread to the northern most isles. However, as far as the main airports are concerned, aside from mass produced international lagers and ales, labels from close-by breweries are the most likely beers to be found.