Tea, cider, British beer and Scotch whiskey are only a few British drinks with intriguing histories. The traditional drinks of Britain played a part in the customs and lifestyles adopted across the Commonwealth and the United States.
The once-mighty British Empire’s reach brought tea from far-flung corners of the world, while other British drinks steeped in tradition, such as mead and cider, were produced across the British Isles using the same passed-down techniques for centuries. So raise your glass and say ‘Cheers’ while sipping these British drinks.
- British Drinks
- British Alcoholic Drinks
- British Cocktails
- British Hot Beverages and Non-Alcoholic Drinks
British Alcoholic Drinks
No list of classic British cocktails is complete without mentioning Pimm’s, widely regarded as Britain’s quintessential liqueur.
First created in the 1800s by James Pimm, who marketed the drink to Londoners as a healthy tonic, Pimm’s has become a summertime tradition across Britain, famously enjoyed at Wimbledon, the UK’s annual tennis grand slam tournament.
Though the exact ingredients of Pimm’s remains a closely guarded secret, the drink is a gin-based liqueur infused with herbs and fruit such as oranges and lemons to give it a fruity flavour.
Traditionally served in a tall glass filled with lemonade, strawberries and oranges and topped off with mint leaves and cucumber for garnish, a serving of Pimm’s is Britain in a glass.
This age-old alcoholic drink dates back thousands of years and was integral to ancient British culture.
Made by fermenting honey and water, and adding fruit and spices, mead is generally available in three variations: sparkling, still or carbonated.
While mead used to be extremely popular across Europe during the Middle Ages, its popularity has declined so much that finding mead in Britain is a challenge.
If you desperately want to try some British mead, head to the island of Lindisfarne, where Christian monks have been producing this beverage since the 7th century.
3- Buckfast Tonic Wine
This caffeinated tonic wine is mainly associated with traditional Scottish cuisine, even though it originated in Devon during the 1880s.
Buckfast Tonic Wine is a fortified wine mixed with pure caffeine and was initially created by Benedictine monks for medicinal purposes.
The drink is celebrated on World Buckfast Day on the second Saturday in May and is especially popular in Glasgow, where locals love to indulge in a glass or two of Buckfast regularly.
4- Scotch Whisky
Created during the 15th century, Scotch whisky or Uisge Beatha (meaning Water of Life), as it’s known in Scottish, is the most popular alcoholic spirit in the world.
Originally produced from malted barley, Scotch distilleries began making this classic spirit with rye and wheat near the end of the 1700s.
Scotch whisky comes in two varieties: blended and single malt.
Single malt is a 100% barley-based whisky produced in a single distillery, whereas blended Scotch combines malt and grain whisky from at least two or more distilleries.
No matter how you prefer your Scotch, enjoying an aged Scotch on the rocks or in a cocktail are both excellent ways to enjoy this timeless British drink.
Cider is a fermented drink with roots in Britain can be traced back hundreds of years to Cornwall, where the alcoholic beverage is considered a regional speciality.
This English staple is mostly produced by fermenting apples in Somerset, Hertfordshire and Kent, where most of the big cider breweries are located.
British ciders can vary quite a lot depending on the variety and quality of the apple, the region the apple comes from and the purity of the cider.
Some are dry, while others are sweet, so it’s best to sample a wide array of cider varieties to find the one best suited to your tastes.
This classic, versatile British beer variant is found in British pubs throughout the United Kingdom and can come in a wide range of flavours, strengths and colours.
Most bitters are light to medium-bodied, relatively low alcoholic beers that fall into one of three categories: ordinary bitter, best bitter, or strong bitter.
Bitter beers are most commonly associated with cask-conditioned beers that are not too dissimilar from pale ale beers.
Widely regarded as Britain’s drink of choice due to bitters being the most-commonly purchased draught beer in the United Kingdom, bitter beers are the perfect beer variant to sip in a traditional English pub during your stay.
7- Brown Ale
Divided into two distinct varieties: Northern and Southern English, brown ale is a malt-forward beer style similar to American brown ales.
Northern-style brown ales are usually lighter and drier compared to the sweeter and fruitier Southern brown ales.
Lower in hops and maltier than typical American-style brown ales, British brown ales have distinct caramel and toffee undertones that make them quite pleasant even for the occasional beer drinker.
Stout beers were first brewed in Britain sometime during the early 20th century and are well-known for their distinct dark appearance and full-bodied taste.
Regular stout drinkers will notice distinct chocolate and coffee aromas and undertones when sipping this medium-hop beer.
A perfect balance of malt and sweetness, stout beers are ideal companions to desserts, spicy meals and most cheese varieties.
While Guinness certainly comes to mind when imagining high-quality stout beers, there are plenty of top-notch British stouts to soothe the senses.
9- India Pale Ale
India Pale Ale, or English India Pale Ale, is a popular beer variant across Britain and is known for its earthy and fruity undertones.
Ranging in colour from amber to light copper, English Pale Ales have toasty, bread-like characteristics and a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Great to accompany dishes such as curry, mature cheese and grilled meat, English India Pale Ales are a beer for those who don’t drink beer too often as it tastes mild and has a medium alcoholic content.
For more about the UK, read:
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- 20 British Drinks
10- Gin and tonic
This classic British cocktail’s roots can be traced back to the British occupation of India during the 1800s, when quinine was used to prevent malaria.
The British mixed their quinine with water and sugar to make this potentially lifesaving drink more palatable.
Schweppes eventually created Indian Tonic Water, and gin was introduced into the mix somewhere along the line.
The most popular British gins (by sales volume) are Gordon’s Pink Gin, Gordon’s, Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray.
11- Espresso Martini
The Espresso Martini puts an interesting spin on the traditional drink of choice for international tuxedo-wearing superspies.
Made with vodka, syrup, coffee liqueur and espresso, each mixed individually with ice in a cocktail shaker, this creamy British cocktail was first created by bartender Dick Bradsell who revolutionised London’s cocktail scene during the late 1980s.
Loved for its rich coffee taste and vodka kick and bemoaned by bartenders who need to prepare this notoriously intricate and time-consuming drink, the Espresso Martini perfectly fits any occasion.
It’s a sophisticated cocktail for coffee lovers.
12- Breakfast Martini
Invented in London’s Lanesborough Hotel by bartender Salvatore Calabrese in 1996, the Breakfast Martini is a marmalade-based cocktail made with gin, marmalade, lemon juice and orange-flavoured liqueur.
Inspired by the older Marmalade Cocktail, which was invented in the 1920s by Harry Craddock, the Breakfast Martini is not a true Martini cocktail since it doesn’t use vermouth but rather a Martini-style drink.
The Breakfast Martini’s unique flavour stems from the tangy taste of the marmalade, specifically premium quality orange marmalade, which is the drink’s key ingredient.
Often topped with a piece of toast for garnish, this bittersweet, fruity-floral cocktail is unique and well worth a try if you’re a fan of martinis.
13- Black Velvet
The Black Velvet is a classic British cocktail that dates back to 1861 when a bartender at London’s Brooks’s Club whipped it up to recognise the death of Prince Albert.
The drink’s dark-brown colour was inspired by the black armbands worn by the mourners.
Made by combining dark stout beer with champagne in a glass, the Black Velvet cocktail is popular in Britain.
Enjoying a Black Velvet cocktail is easy, as it’s simple to make at home. Just pour equal parts of Guinness and champagne into a glass and drink.
Created in 1984 by Dick Bradsall in London’s Fred’s Club, by the same bartender and in the same bar that the popular Espresso Martini was invented, the Bramble is a gin sour with a twist.
Not just any blackberry liqueur is used to prepare this concoction.
Bradsall’s original recipe is strict about calling for French “Crème de Mûre” to be used and no other brand of blackberry liqueur.
It’s classically served on crushed ice and topped off with a slice of lemon and two blackberries, just as Bradsall first made the drink.
This British drink is a blend of gin, syrup, lemon juice, and of course, blackberry liqueur, which together create a fruity cocktail that is enjoyable in summer.
While this timeless classic’s origin is debatable, a popular theory points to Sir Thomas Gimlette, a Royal Navy surgeon during the 1880s, as the Gimlet cocktail’s creator.
Gimlette was a proponent of letting his men drink gin and lemon juice to combat scurvy.
The Gimlet can be made in various ways, with some recipes calling for vodka instead of gin, but regardless of how you prefer your Gimlet cocktail, you’re no doubt in for a fantastic flavour adventure.
British Hot Beverages and Non-Alcoholic Drinks
16- English Breakfast Tea
If you’re looking for a classic British beverage, you can’t go wrong with tea, and few teas are as widely consumed across Britain as the traditional English breakfast tea.
Usually consisting of a combination of black teas such as Ceylon, Assam, Kenyan and Chinese, English breakfast tea is a robust tea served with sugar and milk.
Though the drink’s exact origins are unknown, it might have something to do with the fact that English breakfast tea goes so well with a hearty English breakfast.
If you’re not a regular tea drinker, drinking a cup of English breakfast tea while tucking into a traditional English breakfast might change your mind.
17- Earl Grey Tea
Earl Grey tea combines traditional black tea and bergamot oil to give the tea an aromatic flavour.
Widely available in stores, either in bags or as leaves, Earl Grey tea’s flavour is tannic with noticeable hints of the citrus-like bergamot.
According to one story, Earl Grey tea was gifted to the second Earl of Grey (UK Prime Minister between 1830 and 1834) by a Chinese tea master.
Bergamot was added to mask the taste of well water from the Earl’s estate near Newcastle, and it became a favourite of Lady Grey.
18- Squash or Cordial
Not to be confused with the vegetable, the squash fruit cocktail is a British staple popular with kids.
This non-alcoholic fruit concentrate beverage is combined with tap water or carbonated water to create a simple yet flavourful fruity concoction perfect for all ages.
There’s an array of squash flavours and brands sold across Britain to suit every taste, so don’t forget to try this tasty British drink that’s enjoyable no matter how old you may be.
Horlicks is a popular British malt-based wintertime beverage prepared with hot milk and drunk right before bedtime to encourage a good night’s sleep.
British brothers James and William Horlick from Gloucestershire created Horlicks after immigrating to the United States.
Since the first Horlicks factory opened in the UK in Slough in 1908, the drink has become a widely consumed non-alcoholic nightcap in Britain.
Creamy and soothingly smooth, a warm cup of Horlicks is guaranteed to be a tasty affair no matter the season.
20- Ginger Ale
Enjoyed throughout Britain either on its own or as a deliciously refreshing mixer in a cocktail, British ginger ale is a popular drink.
Available golden or dry, ginger ale might not have been invented by the British, but it was in Britain where the drink first became popular.
Golden ginger ale was invented by Irish doctor Thomas Cantrell and has a stronger ginger flavour as opposed to the milder Canadian dry ginger ale.
Whichever version you prefer, you cannot go wrong with a chilled glass of ginger ale to sip on a warm afternoon.
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