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10 Best Ales in the UK 2021

The craft beer and ale scene in the UK has exploded over the last decade or so, with more and more people turning their attention away from mass-produced lagers and towards unique ales that some would class as real beer. Whether you're an old-timer or a newbie, there is plenty to sample, from bottled British classics to bestselling cans from further afield. 


In today's buying guide we’ll cover the tasting notes and suitabilities of a wide variety of styles, such as pale ales and IPAs, golden, red, cask, and dark ales – and even which is best for a stew! We’ll also introduce our 10 favourites to buy online, some from companies you may already recognise and some from rising brewery stars, all ready for delivery by Amazon and supermarkets like Tesco, Waitrose, and Asda. To the bar!  

Last updated 14/07/2023
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Table of Contents

How to Choose an Ale in the UK – Buying Guide

With an ever-growing list of companies producing vast amounts of ales, trying to find a good place to start can be challenging. In this buying guide, we're going to take a look at some of the main things you should consider when delving into the world of ales.

1

Hitting All the Right (Tasting) Notes: Choose What Appeals to Your Palate

First and foremost, taste! There are numerous styles to mull over, all of which can vary greatly within the broad category of 'ale', so let's get acquainted with some of them to help your decision. Of course, there are many more out there, but in the interest of making it to the bar in time for last orders, we'll be sticking to the most common.  

Pale Ales Are Great If You Want Something Easy to Drink

Pale Ales Are Great If You Want Something Easy to Drink

Pale ale is a broad term, and there are many sub-styles within it – IPA (India Pale Ale), being one of the more obvious and familiar ones.


On the whole, pale ales tend to be medium-bodied, malty and easy to sink. So, if you're planning on having a few and don't want to feel too heavy in the belly, these are perfect. 

Cask Ales Are Fantastic for Exploring Flavours

Cask Ales Are Fantastic for Exploring Flavours

Not keen on fizz? Cask ales generally have a lower level of carbonation and a fuller mouthfeel. They are also unfiltered, which means they usually exhibit more complex levels of flavour and higher aromatic notes. 


Often cloudy, they are best served at cellar temperatures, around 12 °C.

White Ales Provide a Gentle Flavour That's Ideal Company for Food

White Ales Provide a Gentle Flavour That's Ideal Company for Food

White ales are ubiquitous with Belgium, where they are more commonly known as 'witbier'. Due to the fact they are wheat beers, they tend to have a more gentle and delicate flavour


This makes them the perfect accompaniment for food, as their subtlety tends to complement, rather than compete with, whatever is on your plate. 

Red Ales Have a Unique Sweet Flavour

Red Ales Have a Unique Sweet Flavour

Red ales use a special and unique roasted malt to create their sweet and buttery taste. They use varieties of American hops to create a big flavour with a dry finish, similar to that of cider. 


They're also an ale of contradictions – whilst usually darker in colour (as the name would suggest) they often have elements of a lighter beer, being hoppy and crisp

Brown Ales Are Your Pick If You Like a Bitter Taste

Brown Ales Are Your Pick If You Like a Bitter Taste

Like their pale counterparts, brown ales are another medium to full-bodied option. However, these bad boys contain medium-roasted malt barley, which gives their unique flavour more caramel- or chocolate-like characteristics. 


They tend to be low to medium in hop flavour and aroma, and medium to high in bitterness. They're also another type of ale that accompanies food very well, such as dark meats and earthy vegetables. Definitely one for your stew! 

Golden Ales Are for Those Reluctant to Step Away From Lager

Golden Ales Are for Those Reluctant to Step Away From Lager

Golden ales were created in the 1980s to try and win over younger drinkers, who typically preferred a more thirst-quenching alcoholic beverage, like lager. 


Whilst they have the refreshing qualities of lager, they still manage to keep the flavours of ale, albeit less hoppy and more malt-forward. These are a logical first step if you're somewhat reluctant to leave your beloved lagers behind.

Amber Ales Can Be Heavy so It's Best If You Only Have a Couple

Amber Ales Can Be Heavy so It's Best If You Only Have a Couple

Amber ales are essentially a long-lost cousin of the English pale ale. They're a medium to full body beer and therefore can be quite heavy. Not ideal if you're planning on having a few!


This non-traditional variety are being brewed by both North American companies and those closer to home, and strike a good balance between hoppy and malt components. They generally have medium to high bitterness, often coming with notes of toffee and caramel like the brown ales that we introduced earlier. 

2

Check the ABV, You'll Appreciate It in the Morning

Check the ABV, You'll Appreciate It in the Morning

The ABV (alcohol by volume) tells you how much alcohol (ethanol) is contained in any given alcoholic beverage. And, you guessed it, the more alcohol, the drunker you'll get – and the more monstrous a hangover you'll have in the morning. 


Ales are synonymous with having a high ABV, but it can actually vary wildly – in our list alone they begin around 4% and rise to almost 10%, which is a massive difference. It's best to pay attention to what you are drinking, this way you know if you're safe to crack another one or whether it's best to put it down for another time. 

3

Consider Which Container You'd Prefer

Consider Which Container You'd Prefer

Although there are some enthusiasts out there that stick by the belief, "All beer tastes better in a bottle", this has never been scientifically proven. However, there are some other factors worth considering. 


Firstly, cans are easier to transport, mainly because they're lighter. This is good both personally and for those of us who are conscious about our carbon footprint. They're also simpler to store in the fridge and can be crushed down when finished with to take up less space in the recycling bin. 


Bottles, however, will keep your ale cooler for longer due to them having much thicker walls – less chance of warm sediment soup at the bottom of your drink. They also tend to come in larger volumes, so if you fancy having yourself a longer drink, these will be your best bet.

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10 Best Ales in the UK

Now you know what to look out for when buying an ale, it's time to get in line at the online bar and see what we've got on tap for you. There's a wide selection, so you might find yourself having to pick up a couple!
Popularity
Products
Image
Price
Click to purchase
Key features
1

Blue Moon

Wheat Beer

Blue Moon Wheat Beer 1枚目

£1.70

Low Mid

An Ale That Can Be Enjoyed by Anyone

2

Toast Ale

Session IPA

Toast Ale Session IPA 1枚目

£1.80

Mid

Help Save the World by Drinking This Ale

3

Sharp's

Doom Bar

Sharp's Doom Bar 1枚目

£1.80

Mid

A Top Performer in UK Pubs

4

Innis & Gunn

Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer (Pack of 6)Pack of 6

Innis & Gunn  Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer (Pack of 6) 1枚目

£22.00

High

Ale and Rum Working in Perfect Harmony

5

Thornbridge

Jaipur IPA

Thornbridge Jaipur IPA 1枚目

£1.80

Mid

An Astonishingly Aromatic IPA

6

Bath Ales

Gem

Bath Ales Gem  1枚目

£1.80

Mid

Gentle and Surprisingly Light-Bodied

7

Tiny Rebel

Cwtch Welsh Red Ale (Pack of 12)Pack of 12

Tiny Rebel Cwtch Welsh Red Ale (Pack of 12) 1枚目

£32.95

High

A Former Champion of Beer With American Hops

8

Duvel

Triple Hop Belgian Golden Ale

Duvel  Triple Hop Belgian Golden Ale  1枚目

£2.00

Mid

A Sophisticated Ale With a Kick

9

Theakston

Old Peculier

Theakston Old Peculier 1枚目

£1.70

Low Mid

A Brew Often Imitated but Never Matched

10

Newcastle Brown Ale

Newcastle Brown Ale

Newcastle Brown Ale Newcastle Brown Ale 1枚目

£1.50

Low Mid

The UK's Number 1 Packaged Ale

If you don't see the product you're looking for, you can request that it be listed.
No.1

Blue MoonWheat Beer

Wheat Beer Image 1
Source:groceries.asda.com
Reference price
£1.70
Low Mid
Reference price
£1.70
Low Mid

An Ale That Can Be Enjoyed by Anyone

After returning to America (from studying brewery in Belgium) Keith Villa created his interpretation of the classic Belgian style. He used a different type of orange peel for a more subtle sweetness and then balanced it (perfectly, may we add) with coriander. After this, he added oats and wheat to create a lovely smooth and creamy finish. Thus, Blue Moon was born. 


This delectable ale is a cloudy copper-orange due to its unfiltered nature, and is extremely refreshing and light. We think it's the perfect introduction to the world of ales, and pleasing to traditionalists – for this reason, it takes our top spot! 

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No.2

Toast AleSession IPA

Reference price
£1.80
Mid

Help Save the World by Drinking This Ale

The concept behind this ale is shockingly simple, yet completely genius. 44% of all bread in the UK is thrown out, and that's where Toast Ale comes in. Using the malted barley from this discarded bread, Toast Ale produces a delicious and sessionable IPA. Coincidentally, it has a bready aroma, with malty, caramel and biscuit overtones. 


Not only do they tackle the problem of food wastage, but they also donate 100% of their earnings to charities that are helping fix the food system. We honestly couldn't think of a better way to spend our money. 

No.3

Sharp'sDoom Bar

Reference price
£1.80
Mid

A Top Performer in UK Pubs

As of December '19, Sharp's Doom Bar was the highest selling ale (from the tap) in UK pubs, and by some distance. It has an alluring gentle aroma of sweet malt and resinous hops, and everything about this beer is light, from its colour to its taste. To be honest, we think it's light enough that your Nan could sink a few of them. 


This is a perfectly-balanced drink, combining both subtle and complex flavours seamlessly. Doom Bar has a unique capability to leave you completely satisfied, yet always contemplating another one. 

No.4

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer (Pack of 6)Pack of 6

Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer (Pack of 6) Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£22.00
High
Reference price
£22.00
High

Ale and Rum Working in Perfect Harmony

A shot of rum in your ale? Not quite. This tipple from Innis & Gunn is finished for 60 days in American oak barrels that used to contain navy rum, which gives their Caribbean-influenced ale a fruity vanilla taste and a little spiciness. 


This is a heavy full-bodied drink with a medium mouthfeel, and is a great choice for those who like their ale a little on the sweet side. Innis & Gunn also have a pretty interesting background which is worth checking out! 

No.5

ThornbridgeJaipur IPA

Reference price
£1.80
Mid

An Astonishingly Aromatic IPA

Thornbridge have been around the block. They entered the ale-race just before the craft beer boom, and during that time have produced some recent classics – like this delightful Jaipur IPA, which has won over 100 awards worldwide.


As it's a pale ale, the Jaipur IPA naturally has a strong malty foundation. However, there are a lot of hops crammed into this little can, which give the beer a kind of spiced, flowery taste. On top of this, you have the compelling apricot and grapefruit flavours, which make for a wonderfully complex beverage. 

No.6

Bath AlesGem

Reference price
£1.80
Mid

Gentle and Surprisingly Light-Bodied

For all the talk earlier about how amber ales tend to be full-bodied, Bath Ales have all but blown that out of the water with their Gem offering. Don't be deceived by its deep amber glow, this is a light and crisp ale that tastes of dark fruits with hints of malt and caramel. 


This brew has very subtle aromas of toasted malts, and if you're skilled enough you might be able to pick out some of the fruity dried apple notes. It's not too strong, either, and available in both cans and bottles

No.7

Tiny RebelCwtch Welsh Red Ale (Pack of 12)Pack of 12

Cwtch Welsh Red Ale (Pack of 12) Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£32.95
High
Reference price
£32.95
High

A Former Champion of Beer With American Hops

This red ale is from an award-winning Welsh brewery based in Cardiff – Cwtch (which rhymes with butch, and means cuddle or cubbyhole), being what they won an award for! 


It's an ale in which the traditional meets the contemporary, with a lovely warm, toasted malt body made from a blend of 6 caramelly malts, accentuated with lush tropical aromas from three citrussy American hops. One for the craft fans! 

No.8

Duvel Triple Hop Belgian Golden Ale

Reference price
£2.00
Mid

A Sophisticated Ale With a Kick

This ale from Duvel has a complex and sophisticated taste, which comes from a unique bottle conditioning process of 90 days. It spends 2 weeks in 'warm cellars' which gives time for the yeast to perform a second fermentation, before being transferred to 'cold cellars' for the remainder of the time.


However, Duvel is a devilish beer. Masked within its golden appearance, refined, silky taste and under its complex fruity aromas, comes a staggering 8.5% alcohol content. It's something you should be aware of as a few of these will leave you worse for wear the next day!

No.9

TheakstonOld Peculier

Reference price
£1.70
Low Mid

A Brew Often Imitated but Never Matched

Another British classic, this dark, ruby-red brew from Theakston has won countless awards and is admired all over the world for its smooth taste and original banana and black cherry aroma. 


It's made with a blend of pale, crystal, and roasted barley as well as 3 different hops, the most notable being the magnificent 'Fuggle' hop which leads the way when producing those rich fruit overtones. Again, this is a low carbonation beer for those that are comfortable exploring flavours, rather than one to introduce somebody to the world of ale. 

No.10

Newcastle Brown AleNewcastle Brown Ale

Reference price
£1.50
Low Mid

The UK's Number 1 Packaged Ale

This iconic brand has been around since 1927 and is by far the most famous brown ale in the world. It's a full-bodied and smooth beer that has a distinctive caramel character and a surprisingly sweet aftertaste. Have a few sips and you'll understand why it's stood the test of time. 


Though a classic British bitter, it's also collected a huge following across the pond. Rumour has it that it's all Clint Eastwood's fault, we think the yanks owe you one Clint! Newcastle Brown is somewhat of an acquired taste, so if you're new to ales it might be best to swerve this one until you are a bit more comfortable.

What Makes a Beer an Ale?

What Makes a Beer an Ale?

It’s a valid question – we bet most of you could distinguish the taste of ale from, say, a lager or a stout, but there’s a fair bit of technical science that separates them from one another. The big difference is that ales are produced using a ‘warm fermentation method’, with the yeast activated between 15.5 and 38 °C. 


This means the process can be completed much more quickly, due to the higher chemical activity at a higher temperature. Also, because ale yeast is much more robust, it can survive stronger alcohol environments, which is why ales tend to have a higher alcohol content

Looking for More Brews to Stock up the Fridge?

Looking for More Brews to Stock up the Fridge?

One of the best things about ordering online is that you can stock up the fridge without having to lug crates upon crates home from the supermarket. So, with that in mind, we have a few more beer and ale buying guides that you may be interested in – check them out below! 

Summary

Now that you know more about some of the common types of ales, and you have our recommendations of where to start and what to try, we hope you feel comfortable going to explore the ever-growing world of ales. We're sure there is a perfect ale (or two) for you, all you have to do is get out there and try them! Cheers! 


Author: Lewis Clark 

Top 5 Ales

No. 1: Blue MoonWheat Beer

No. 2: Toast AleSession IPA

No. 3: Sharp'sDoom Bar

No. 4: Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer (Pack of 6)Pack of 6

No. 5: ThornbridgeJaipur IPA

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The descriptions of each product are referenced from content available on manufacturer, brand, and e-commerce sites.
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