The United Kingdom is a land of beer lovers, and we have been for centuries. In fact, archaeologists have found evidence of beer being brewed here over 2,000 years ago – and it’s a tradition that’s stood the test of time.
Nowadays, there are thousands of breweries all over the UK, many with their own selection of real ale. So if you’re a beer-lover, it can sometimes be difficult to choose what to try next.
With this in mind, we’ve teamed up with the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) to bring you 17 real ales brewed in the UK that every beer lover should try. Each choice can be enjoyed in your local pub or club, or you can get it delivered to your home.
What is real ale?
‘Real ale’ is a term coined by the CAMRA back in the early 1970s to describe the type of beer that’s traditionally kept in pubs here in the UK, and its roots can be traced back thousands of years.
Real ale is a living product, as it contains yeast that continues to ferment while the beer sits in its cask, bottle, or can. In pubs, real ale is typically served from a specific type of barrel called a cask, and is naturally carbonated – meaning it doesn’t need to be injected with carbon dioxide to give it its light fizz.
Types of real ale you might be familiar with include bitters, pale ales, golden ales, and stouts – but there are many more.
You can find out more about what makes a real ale here at CAMRA’s website.
Who are CAMRA?
Founded by four real ale enthusiasts 50 years ago, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) promotes and advocates for:
the production, availability, and consumption of quality real ale, cider, and perry
pubs and clubs as social centres and part of the UK’s cultural heritage
the benefits of responsible social drinking
CAMRA does this by supporting and encouraging customers, breweries, and pubs. For example, they run beer festivals, lobby the Government for positive change, run awards (such as the prestigious Champion Beer of Britain award), and help connect customers with local breweries and pubs.
17 real ales brewed in Britain that every beer-lover should try
1. Ay Up, 3.9% ABV - Dancing Duck Brewery
If you’re not from the Midlands or the North of England, you might not be familiar with the greeting “Ay up me duck”. Nonetheless, this phrase was the inspiration for the name of Dancing Duck Brewery in Derby, as well as its flagship beer Ay Up.
Ay Up is a pale session ale that’s perfect for any occasion. Its bittersweet malt and floral notes are combined with the taste of citrus hops, and topped off with a slightly dry finish that’ll always be refreshing.
This formidable brew was also named by CAMRA as the Champion Beer of Britain in the bitter class at the Great British Beer Festival in 2019.
2. Audit Ale, 8.0% ABV - Lacons Brewery
With festive notes of berries and spice and aromas of marmalade, this 8.0% dark copper coloured barley wine is perfect for warming the belly on a cold winter’s evening.
Despite their name, barley wines are not actually wines, but beers with an alcohol percentage that’s closer to wine than most common beers. So, Audit Ale from the award-winning Lacons Brewery in Norfolk is certainly not for the faint-hearted and is regularly enjoyed in thirds (as opposed to halves or pints).
Audit Ale belongs to Lacons’ heritage ales range, which is inspired by traditional recipes and brewed with a modern twist. It also won the Champion Winter Beer of Britain in 2019 at the Great British Beer Festival.
3. Incognito, 4.8% ABV - Plain Ales
If you’re a lover of stout, then you’re probably always on the lookout for a new, rich, dark beer to sweep you off your feet. In this case, look no further than Incognito from Plain Ales Brewery.
Like the names of both the brewery and the beer itself suggest, this isn’t a flashy brew, but it packs a rich and full-bodied flavour of oak and port with an enticing, sweet aroma.
This fan-favourite from the heart of the Salisbury Plain has won multiple awards, and it currently holds the title for CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain in the stout class.
4. Twisted Hop, 4.7% ABV - Hilden Brewing Co.
Hilden Brewing Co. in Lisburn, Northern Ireland is the oldest independent brewery on the entire island of Ireland. For many people, it’s credited with reintroducing the tradition of local breweries, and bringing real ales with distinctive taste and character back into the Emerald Isle.
As part of their core range, Twisted Hop is a fine ale that lives up to Hilden’s simple and noble mission; ‘to inspire people to taste and appreciate beer and to enjoy good company while doing so.’
This premium pale ale is the perfect balance of sweet and bitter, with a satisfying malty taste.
5. Side Pocket For A Toad, 3.6% ABV - Tring Brewery
The name, Side Pocket For A Toad, comes from an old Hertfordshire saying that means ‘of no use’. Although, this sure doesn’t apply to Tring Brewery’s flagship beer.
It’s described as ‘golden, hoppy, and packed with flavour’ – and for its mild 3.6% ABV alcohol content, they sure have packed in a lot of flavour. With punchy notes of citrus and flora, and a dry finish, Side Pocket For A Toad is an excellent session beer that’ll leave you savouring each and every sip.
‘Side Pocket’, as the locals call it, is a favourite among the taverns around the Chiltern Hills where it’s brewed, and beyond.
6. Weizen, 5.2% ABV - Windswept Brewing Co
Wheat beer is an ancient beverage traditionally brewed in the Southeast of Germany. What sets it apart from the beer that we’re used to here in the UK is that it uses more wheat in its production and less malted barley. This usually means that wheat beers are light, hazy, and refreshing.
Weizen, which literally translates to ‘wheat’, however, is not brewed in Germany. In fact, it’s actually whipped up in a coastal town in the North of Scotland – but this cloudy brew remains faithful to the Bavarian brewing tradition.
The light and fruity flavours of banana, clove, and caramel make this beer from Windswept Brewery perfect for enjoying on a summer’s day. It was even awarded the Champion Beer of Scotland award by CAMRA in 2019.
7. Black Gold, 4.4% ABV - Cairgornm’s Brewery
This traditional Scottish milk stout from Cairngorm Brewery has been a favourite among lovers of real ales for years and has recently earned the top spot at the Scotland Independent Beer Awards (SIBA).
Black Gold has everything you’re looking for in a stout; it’s a perfect balance of sweet and bitter, has a rich and smooth feel, and is topped off with a satisfying roast nut taste and a dry finish. So why not give it a try for yourself?
8. Citra, 4.6% ABV - Oakham
In 2009, on his annual trip to the U.S to source hops for their great selection of beer, Oakham Ales Brewery director John Bryan discovered a unique variety of hops called Citra. To make sure that Oakham Ales were the first brewery in the UK to turn this wonderful hop into a beer, he sent some back on a plane as soon as he could.
Citra is the beer that followed and – named simply after the hop that it’s made from – it’s light in colour and full of tangy, zesty, and tropical flavours. Citra and its ‘big brother’ Green Devil IPA have won lots of awards for their great taste and become staples in taverns all over the UK.
9. Boss Black, 5.0% ABV - Boss Brewing
Another one for you lover’s of stout out there, Boss Black is a sensationally silky beer that’s won multiple awards including CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Wales.
From Boss Brewing in Swansea, one of the UK’s finest female-owned and led breweries, this stout has a velvety mouthfeel with notes of black treacle, dark chocolate ganache, and toasted nuts – as well as a pleasant aroma of roasted coffee.
So if you like something dark and rich, why not give Boss Black a try?
10. A Over T, 9.0% ABV - Hogs Back Brewer
In the winter months, when the nights are long and cold, perhaps you want something that’s rich and complex. If so, then look no further than an A Over T from Hogs Back Brewery.
This excellent beer, which is short for “Aromas Over Tongham”, or so they say (with Tongham being where Hogs Back Brewery is located), is perfect for drinking over the festive season because it has deep flavours of sultanas, orange peel, and plums.
A Over T is a brandy wine, and it’s intended to be enjoyed like a fortified wine, in a wine glass or a brandy balloon. It also goes well with a sharp blue cheese or a rich dessert.
This exceptional brew holds the title of CAMRA’s favourite bottle-conditioned beer.
11. Orkney Blast, 6.0% ABV - Swannay Brewery
Like a strong North Sea breeze, Orkney Blast from Swannay Brewery will bring you to stiff attention. Brewed in the Orkney Islands, this beer is pale and golden in colour, with fruity, spicy hops and a robust malt body.
Described as an IPA/barley wine hybrid, this strong ale is a perfect compromise for those who want a deeper flavour and a thicker mouthfeel, but don’t want to stray too far from a light, hoppy summer drink when the winter months come around.
This excellent brew won Gold at the SIBA National Independent Beer Awards for the Cask IPA category in 2020.
12. Otter Head, 5.8% ABV - Otter Brewery
The strongest beer in the arsenal for the Devon brewery, Otter Head is a beautiful mahogany-coloured premium bitter. Although it’s described as having a ‘distinctive barley wine, old ale character’, it’s surprisingly light and easy to drink.
On first inspection, you’ll notice the rich aromas of fruit cake and port. The taste is malty and fruity – topped off with a nice dry finish.
This tasty brew recently nabbed silver at the SIBA Bottle and Can Independent Beer awards in the premium bitters category.
13. Anvil Porter, 4.4% ABV - Nailmaker Brewing Co.
Hailing from Nailmaker Brewing Co. in South Yorkshire, this dark porter is rich, chocolatey, and a firm favourite of some of our team here at Rest Less.
Made with Wakatu hops and ‘good old Yorkshire water’, this rich, malty treat is a must-try for any porter fans out there.
14. Love is Noise, 8.0% ABV - Hophurst Brewery
Brewed in honour of Hophurst Brewery’s seventh birthday this past October, Love is Noise, as its name suggests, is a loud, heavy-hitting Double IPA. Packed with a variety of hops, this newcomer made a grand entrance onto the scene when it was named the best beer in the North West at the SIBA Independent Beer Awards this year.
Founder of Hophurst Brewery Stuart Hurst describes Love is Noise as ‘big, fruity, and with a great body’.
15. Red MacGregor, 4.0% - The Orkney Brewery
Named after the famous folk hero who was sometimes referred to as the Scottish Robin Hood, this spicy and fruity Ruby Ale from the Orkney Islands was declared the very best bitter in Britain by CAMRA in 2018.
The Orkney Brewery describes Red MacGregor as having ‘a wonderfully complex aroma of fruity hop zest, spiciness, and rich malts’.
Upon tasting, this ruby ale offers notes of toasted caramel and citrus hop fruits, topped off with a ‘clean, fruity, and refreshing hop bitterness’.
16. Cwtch, 4.6% ABV - Tiny Rebel
Back in 2015, Tiny Rebel became the youngest and only Welsh brewery to win CAMRA’s coveted Champion Beer of Britain Award. And the beer they did it with was Cwtch!
‘Cwtch’ is a Welsh word. It rhymes with ‘butch’ or ‘hutch’ and means a hug with love or a small, safe room or cubbyhole. But most importantly, it’s a red ale that’s described by the Tiny Rebel Brewery as ‘six malts meddling to form a smooth caramelly note and three bold hops delivering a big citrussy punch’.
17. Darwin’s Origin, 4.3% ABV - Salopian Brewery
Just like Charles Darwin himself, Salopian Brewery hail from the Shropshire town of Shrewsbury and, to mark the bicentennial anniversary of the famed scientist’s birth, they decided to brew this delicious copper ale.
Described as an ‘eclectic mix of new and old-world hops’, this delicious beer is another firm favourite among the team here at Rest Less. So why not give it a try and see what all the fuss is about?
If you’re a fan and real ale and you’re looking for your next favourite beer, then we hope you’ve enjoyed our list and that it’s provided you with a little inspiration.
All of these beers can be enjoyed at pubs and clubs all over the country, or you can order them online and taste them in the comfort of your own home.
If you’d like to find more real ales near you, then why not check out Brew2You? This is an app created by CAMRA to put customers in touch with small breweries and pubs nearby that have stock to sell.
Buying locally not only helps to support local businesses, but reducing the number of miles your beer has to travel means that you’re more likely to receive a quality product – and it’s better for the environment too!
To find out more about CAMRA, why not head over to their website? As a member, you can enjoy a wide range of services, including a welcome pack, £30 worth of beer vouchers, access to their quarterly BEER magazine, and much more!
You can become a CAMRA member yourself, or you can give the gift of membership to a pub and beer lover in your life. What’s more, you’ll get 10% off using the code Rest21.
And for more tavern-related content, why not check out our article; 12 historic pubs to visit across the UK?