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A Proper Pint: What to Order in a British (or Irish) Pub


One of the best places to experience Premier League football, other than in person at a stadium, is at your local British pub. But, if you’re like me and you’re not a expert on what ale or lager to buy, here’s a helpful article from EPL Talk writer Scott Miller:

Samuel Johnson, who liked a pint or two after a hard day of writing his Dictionary of the English Language (1755), said, “There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.” And, centuries later, nothing has changed. But we are not talking about trendy nightclubs or tacky sports bars. No: For coziness, warmth, good conversation and fine ale, one must go to a pub. And when one arrives, one must know what to order.

Pull My Lever

Bass Ale, Newcastle Brown Ale and many of the other British ales offered in the U.S. are better than their American counterparts, but they lack flavor. Ale should taste like ale – strong, woody, nutty and reminiscent of “liquefied tree bark,” as one friend put it. That is why, whenever possible, one should drink Fuller’s ESB (“Extra Special Bitter”). This ale is incredibly flavorful, fun to drink and alarmingly potent (5.9% alcohol, which is probably why it’s so fun to drink). It is best served from a hand tap, which means the barmaid has to pull a lever repeatedly until enough liquid emerges to fill a pint glass (no snickering!). Unfortunately, it is not widely available, but it is certainly worth seeking out. Just make sure one has a designated driver – the man who told me “this stuff will knock you off your arse” was not wrong.

Black is Beautiful

If Fuller’s ESB is not available, acceptable alternatives include Old Speckled Hen (a deliciously creamy British ale, much better than the more commonly served Boddingtons) and Ireland’s Guinness Stout.

Everyone is familiar with Guinness, but due to its color, misconceptions abound. It is not “like a meal” or “very heavy” or “incredibly fattening.” In fact, when served properly, it is a delightfully drinkable stout that lends itself well to all-night sessions. But be warned: Almost all the Guinness served in the U.S. is poured incorrectly and therefore not as good as it could be. In a real Irish pub, one has to wait at least 10 minutes for the frothy black delight. The barmaid will pour about 60% into a pint glass, let it settle for a few minutes, and then fill the rest. When one receives it, it should still be settling and forming the head, which is often pouring over the side of the glass. If it is simply poured out in one quick motion and thrown in front of you, tell the proprietor that he is not according the Guinness the care and respect it deserves, and walk out.

Squiffy in the Supermarket

What is the dedicated ale enthusiast to do in the bleak hours when the pub is not yet open? Go to the supermarket, of course, and quickly bypass those silly food aisles until one arrives at the cold beverages. Surprisingly, two varieties of Guinness sold in stores – the 14 oz. draught can and the 11.5 oz. draught bottle – are excellent. Both contain widgets that very nicely replicate a draught pint. I am less enthused about the Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and the regular Guinness bottles, which lack the frothiness and creaminess of the draught varieties. One can also buy bottled Fuller’s ESB, and while good, it does not compare to the experience of drinking ESB fresh out of the tap in a cozy British pub. Plus, it typically does not involve lever pulling (although your experience may differ).

Scott Miller is one half of The Technicolor Gramophone, a band that likes its ESB.

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  1. Joe

    February 21, 2016 at 11:52 pm

    Has the author actually had a decent American beer? There are tasty stouts brewed not an hour from my house that make Guiness taste like water, regardless of the quality of the pour. And 5.9% is a relatively low ABV for most of the craft beers brewed in my area. If the only way to order and proper English/Irish pint is to just wait 10 minutes for a Guiness….yawn.

  2. laurie

    March 10, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    The only place I’ve ever been able to stomach Guinness is in the actual Guinness brewery. I always laughed at the guys we ran into in Galway (5-ish hour drive) who said it was too far for the Guinness to travel, but now I think they were onto something.

  3. eplnfl

    March 10, 2009 at 12:11 pm


    Why didn’t you have me take you to Hooters while you were in Chicago? Knowing you were so popular with the Hooters girls!

  4. AtlantaPompey

    March 10, 2009 at 10:51 am

    I once got so mad at a Hooters Bartender for pouring my Guinness wrong that I convinced her to let me go behind the bar and teach her how to pour it. Of course I was then surrounded by Hooters girls wanting to know why a customer was behind the bar. Not a bad place to be. To this day they know how to pour a proper Guinness at that Hooters.

  5. Thomas

    March 9, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Old Speckled Hen is great.

    Boddington’s is really good too.

  6. tyduffy

    March 9, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Most good bartenders will pour Guinness correctly. The real problem with the North American version is that it’s brewed at a separate distribution center. It’s actually not fattening at all since there is no fat in it. And, I was told at a brewery that stout is actually the least calorically dense type of beer.

  7. chrissmari

    March 9, 2009 at 7:12 am

    Are you friggin kidding me with this?

  8. Burt Reynolds

    March 9, 2009 at 4:26 am

    I don’t typically buy Guinness from the store unless it’s the kind with a widget. One time I got a can of Guinness locally brewed when I was in Singapore. I spit that stuff up on the street it tasted so wrong.

  9. RF Interference

    March 9, 2009 at 3:48 am

    I always like ordering Black and Tans when I’m at the local Irish pub.

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