An English Beer Primer

English beers make up a very small portion of the offerings at most Philly bars. But at places like Chester County’s Whip Tavern and Stephen Starr’s new pub, the Dandelion, British brews are the stars

What makes a beer British?
Move along, lager lovers. English beers are generally ales, which are warm- or top-fermented. Also, points out Whip owner K.C. Kulp, “They use very select, very traditionally British hops and barleys.”

Why are some ales served at cellar temperature?
“Certain beers out there — I’m not mentioning any names — the colder they are, the happier the brewery is, because the beer lacks a good flavor,” explains Dandelion bar manager Jay Willard. “The closer you get to 55 degrees, it really brings out the nose, aromas and flavors in the beer.” The Dandelion cellars some beers that are also stored in the regular — and colder — draught system, so they can offer a side-by-side tasting to see what a difference degrees make.

What’s a cask ale? A firkin?
Your typical beer finishes fermenting at the brewery before it winds up at a bar, where a carbonation system pushes it through a draught line into your glass. But cask ale actually finishes fermenting in the cask — or firkin — that it sits in at the bar’s basement, giving the establishment a role in the end result. “It’s very fragile. You have to treat it right,” says Local 44 owner Brendan Hartranft, who always keeps two cask ales on hand there. “It’s very special when I can take a great beer and make it even greater.”

American pint vs. Imperial pint:
We share a language and most foreign policies, but we can’t agree on our beer pour. The American pint is 16 ounces, whereas the Imperial pint is 25 percent larger at 20 ounces. More beer? Works for us.

What’s a “session beer?”
In the bigger-is-always-better United States, the craft-beer trend favors heavily hopped, high-alcohol beers; the more reserved Brits like to keep things mellower. A session beer is one that’s lower in alcohol and more moderate in flavor, thus allowing for a longer “session” of drinking.

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