It’s the decision that has gripped Britain. The online poll to select our first national bird (cue lots of jokes about Barbara Windsor). Will it be the puffin or the Mute Swan? Again, jokes about the latter not speaking up for itself. Seriously, this poll is comedy gold. On the face of it, it seems to be a two-bird race between the robin and the wren – us Brits being a nation of garden-birdwatchers. Surprisingly, the Golden Eagle doesn’t feature, although maybe there are political machinations afoot to quell the already uproarious Scots from getting even more above our/their stations (amusingly the link there states the RSPB’s request for said eagle to be Scotland’s national bird was dismissed on a technicality).
Anyway, thinking about the glory of our national birds got me to thinking about another of our majestic British sights – the foaming pint of beer in a countryside pub. Or the chill-haze-sharp tayberry Berliner Weisse poured at absolute zero from a eco-keg. Or a blastingly zesty IPA handed over in a carboard drinking tube on an east London industrial estate. Trouble is, there are so many quintessential British beer-drinking experiences, how can we ever decide which of the liquids themselves could be our national British beer? Well, it has to be a classic, something comforting and noble. So how about these four?
Quiet, drab and therefore an easily-concealed, often-overlooked part of our national landscape; bitter is the quintessentially British beer style. From Boring Brown to…er…Lesser Boring Brown, it is portrayed across the full gamut of flavours and expressions. Best drunk in quiet pubs, broken only by the soundtrack of rustling crisp packets and the quiet thunk of Father Time. Britain in a glass.
But what could be more British that the beer on which an Empire was forged? Our past glories may have been celebrated on verandas with tea, but those who did the heavy lifting drank beer. India Pale Ale is our gift to the world. Like cricket, since improved/ruined by everyone else getting involved, but then nowhere else plays a forward defensive with as quite a straight bat, do they?
Oft-overlooked, yet formerly dotting about the country in abundance, the Pale Ale is a beer that has also been adopted and enriched by pretty much every brewery since (there is sort of a theme developing here). The finest exports of Burton-on-Trent and Edinburgh have changed considerably since they were so ubiquitous – yet the rustling of hedgerows proves they still exist.
Another style gifted to the world, the presence of which is often manifested by a familiar call early in the morning; that of the market porter. The characteristic dawn chorus is symbolic of this particular beer, and like all the others in this list, denotes history and pure and simple Britishness. But is it more British than others?
A tough call, maybe. What should our national British beer style be?