Cheers! 10 of the top real ales from around Britain


I’ve long been a fan of a decent pint of beer.

Relaxing with a pint of excellent ale is one of the finest British traditions, regardless of whether you’re in a crowd or just sitting on your own with a book or a newspaper.

The recent rise of micropubs has added extra enjoyment, offering a wider range of beers from small brewers, with most pubs changing their list every couple of weeks. They have also helped offset the ongoing sad news about the closure of many local traditional venues.

Read a list of some of my personal favourite beers as I take you on a beer journey – ideally with a designated driver – around Britain!

1. Black Sheep Best Bitter, Harrogate

Your first stop is in Harrogate, North Yorkshire – home to the Black Sheep brewery.

The story goes that Paul Theakston fell out with the rest of his brewing family and left to set up his own brewery – hence “black sheep”.

I grew up close to here, so you could almost say I was weaned on this excellent brew.

Their Best is the one you’ll see on sale in many pubs around the country. They also produce Black Sheep Ale, that you’re more likely to find in bottles.

2. Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Nottingham

Moving south, your second stop is in Nottingham for a taste of one of the best beers in the Midlands.

Castle Rock started as a pub chain in 1977 and expanded into brewing 20 years later. It didn’t take long for them to start winning awards for this fine pale.

Its citrusy flavour and lightness probably means you’re better off sampling it in the warmer months, although the quality doesn’t change throughout the year.

3. Woodforde’s Wherry, Norfolk Broads

Your journey now heads east to the Norfolk Broads and a Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) award-winning brewery.

Woodforde’s Wherry really is a lovely pint although, sadly, you’ll struggle to find it in many pubs outside East Anglia.

It’s a regular on supermarket shelves, however, and at real ale festivals around the country.

4. Young’s Special, Bedford (via Wandsworth, south-west London)

Next, you need to start heading towards London.

From 1831 to 2006, Youngs Brewery was housed on the banks of the Thames in south-west London. It was a sad day for London beer drinkers when they upped sticks and moved north to Bedfordshire.

Happily, the geographic shift hasn’t affected the quality of the beer. All Young’s pubs will offer both their Original and Special – the latter is our favourite.

A popular option in any Young’s pub is a pint of “mixed” – half a pint of each. One cocktail in pubs we’re more than happy to see!

5. Whitstable Bay Pale Ale, Kent

Having started your journey close to where I grew up in Yorkshire, you now move on to a Kent brewery only 40 minutes’ drive from my UK base in south-east London.

Whitstable, on the east Kent coast is generally associated with seafood, particularly oysters. And, the eponymous brewery, based a few miles inland, produces this fine and refreshing pale ale.

You’re best off drinking this in one of the scenic pubs overlooking the sea, although it’s also widely available in bottles.

6. Gadds’ No. 5, Ramsgate, Kent

Now continue your journey further round the coast from Whitstable to Margate.

Gadds are a family concern, who brew a wide range of beers at their Ramsgate brewery that are highly popular, particularly in the micro-pubs you read about in the introduction.

Kent is one of the main hop-growing areas in the country, so you can guarantee the ones used in their beers are fresh!

No. 5 is one of their mainstays – a truly excellent pint.

As an aside, if you grew up in London in the 80s you may well remember the “Firkin” chain of pubs. If you do, you’ll surely get a rush of nostalgia when you read that Gadds also now produce the legendary Dog Bolter.

7. Harvey’s Sussex Best, Lewes

The journey west from Kent into Sussex takes you from one of the “new kids on the block” in Gadds to the oldest brewery on your list, Harvey’s.

Based in Lewes since 1790, their Sussex Best is another CAMRA award-winner, winning the best bitter of the year in 2005 and 2006.

It’s pretty much omnipresent in most Sussex pubs and you’ll also often find it further afield.

8. Tiny Rebel Cwtch, Newport, South Wales

Moving west now, to the smallest of the breweries on your journey.

Tiny Rebel are a fitting example of one of the small “local” brewers who have ridden the micropub wave to create a national name for themselves.

Their Cwtch (the Welsh for “cuddle”) won CAMRA beer of the year in 2015.

9.  Joseph Holt’s Bitter, Manchester

It’s time for you to start heading back north now, with just two more stops on your journey.

Holts have been brewing beer in Manchester for over 150 years. This has long been their most popular ale, and is available in all Holt’s pubs.

10. Tim Taylor’s Landlord, Keighley, Yorkshire

For your final stop, you need to head across the Pennines to Keighley in Yorkshire, just 25 miles away from where you started your journey.

Tim Taylor’s Landlord is a multiple CAMRA award-winner that always features highly in lists of favourite beers.

As a bonus for having completed your journey, I’ll also recommend Boltmaker – another Tim Taylor beer. It’s also another award-winner and, if you’re like me, you’ll find it difficult to decide which is superior.

Get in touch

If you’ve got any favourite beers of your own that you’d like to recommend, please get in touch.

You can contact us by email or, if you prefer to speak to us, you can reach us in the UK on +44 (0) 208 0044900 or in Hong Kong on +852 39039004.

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