The Best Thing To Order At A British Pub If You're A Beer Aficionado, Per Rick Steves

Popping down the local pub for a pint is as quintessentially British as fish and chips at a charming seaside town, the iconic red phone booths, or starting any social interaction with a bit of weather or football (soccer) chat. "Fancy a few pints?" can mean anything from literally going for a few beers to an all-night session that ends with kebab grease dripping on your shoes at a taxi rank in the early hours. The pub has been enjoyed by Brits for around 2,000 years, and it's still an important focal point of many communities across the land. The enduring appeal is not lost on travel expert Rick Steves, who wrote about his appreciation of British pubs back in 2016. Not only has the food evolved from traditional pie-and-mash style grub, but there is usually a good range of beers to try out nowadays, too.

Sadly, the British beer-drinking landscape has endured some difficult changes. Over a quarter of the country's pubs have closed since the turn of the century as consumer habits have changed, including more people tippling at home to save money. One of the most disheartening sights is seeing a well-loved public house taken over by a ravenous supermarket chain. On the bright side, there are still plenty of great pubs around. As part of their response to modern tastes, many pubs have expanded their selection of beers — certainly more than when Steves posted his video from the Dolphin Pub in Canterbury. According to Steves, "Beer aficionados go for the real English ales and bitters."

British beer: Cask vs Keg

As Rick Steves notes, beer lovers in Britain go for the good stuff, typically cask ales that are hand-pumped directly from a cask stored in the basement. These brews are usually unprocessed and unfiltered, and continue the fermentation process while sitting in the barrel. They only have a short lifespan and must be checked by the bar staff daily to ensure the beer hasn't gone bad, which can happen within a few days. The upside of this is that cask ales are fuller-bodied and have richer flavors than lagers.

Keg lagers, pale ales, and IPAs tend to be carbonated and colder, and most pubs in the country will have a couple on tap. While lighter and more refreshing than their cask counterparts, lower-end brands like Carling and Fosters taste pretty watery compared to real ales. What they lack in flavor, however, they make up for in chugability.

Craft beers and ales were once perceived as the domain of beardy old men, but since the turn of the century, they have become increasingly popular with younger drinkers. Some of this is down to cheeky and sometimes controversial marketing campaigns, such as Wychwood Brewery's advert for Hobgoblin ale in the 2000s: "What's the matter, Lagerboy? Afraid you might taste something?" Nowadays, more discerning pub-goers are getting into the craft beer trend and, as Steves mentions, many towns have their own microbrewery trying to compete with mass-produced lagers.

Rick Steves recommends ordering half pints

Beer in the U.K. is traditionally served in bigger pints than in Rick Steves' homeland: A British pint is 20 fluid ounces compared to just 16 fluid ounces in the United States. In his video, Rick Steves noted that, while ordering a half pint may open the door to jokes about a male patron's masculinity, it does have one major benefit: Since halves generally cost half as much as a pint, it's a cost-effective way of sampling multiple beers in an establishment serving a good range of lagers and ales.

Steves' observation that pints are for men and half-pints are for women is a little bit behind the times; stand-up comedian Al Murray (aka, The Pub Landlord) was sending up those chauvinist attitudes back in the '90s. Nowadays it is just as acceptable for a bloke to order a half as it is to see a woman drinking a pint, and trendier pubs serving craft ales may also have smaller, specialist glasses for different types of beer. Male patrons might still get a little light banter from regulars when ordering a half, but Steves' recommendation is sound. Rather than bloat yourself with pints, why not take a smaller sample of a variety of beers? 

If you're feeling peckish and also want to nibble like a local, don't sleep on classic pub snacks like pork scratchings (fried pig skin), dry-roasted peanuts, scampi fries, or a home-made scotch egg. They all go wonderfully with a good pint ... or a half.