London has a long and rich history of drinking culture. As with many places across the world, some of the best cultural encounters can been had with a drink in hand as you break down barriers, get to know the locals and taste something a bit new or different. Luckily, London has some of the best watering holes in the world and some of the best ciders and beers as well so enjoying a tipple or three here shouldnt be too much of a chore!
Here are some starting tips to help you drink like a Londoner.
Know How to Order a Pint in a Pub a Londoner
Ordering a beer in a London pub can be both a bewildering and exciting experience. ‘Beer’ consumption is almost a sport, with many varieties of ales, stouts and lagers to take a punt on. Your best bet is to make friends with the bartender, declare your foreign heritage or beer ignorance and go with their recommendations. If you start folding under the pressure, take the safe bet and order a pint of the common local brew, London Pride by Fullers, which has been brewing in Old London town since the mid 1800s to the current day.
Once you’ve chosen your brew, you also need to decide if you want it in a sturdy 568 millilitre imperial pint, a standard serve that is only really seen in the UK and countries with British colonial roots, or a less-impressive but equally as respectable half pint.
While you’re sitting there pondering the world of British beer, ask the bartender about the history of the pub. From the medieval brews and Anglo-Saxon taverns has spawned a thicket of ‘public houses’ and ‘free houses’, about 3000 of which still serve in London today. After a royal decree in the 1500s, all pubs were made to hang signs depicting their name so that illiterate patrons would know which of the thousands of drinking halls they were at.
Drink Apple Cider with Pride a Londoner
Londoners are delightfully attached to apple cider. While in other countries around the world cider may be considered the scrawny cousin of beer, in London you’ll see it proudly poured by the pint from one of the varieties on tap.
Apple cider is basically fermented apple juice. Different brews range in alcoholic content, from the common 3-4%, all the way up to the legal British limit of 8.7%, meaning this sweet, dry, bubbling drink has the potential to knock your socks off. Lately other varieties of cider, such as pear and berry, have made it big both in England and internationally, but if you want a purist London cider experience, start with a pint of apple, with no ice.
Magners, Bulmers, Monteiths and Stongbow are the most commonly served brands, but some pubs go the extra step of offering a boutique or locally produced cider, so ask what’s good. In the colder months, also try a warm apple cider, which is often spiced a little like mulled wine. Warm cider is especially good while you’re wandering around one of London’s markets on a wintery day.
Grab a Bottle from the Offy
Born as a nick-name for shops that sell alcohol for off premises consumption only, the ‘offy’ is a important player in the London drinking culture. It is the source of wine around the corner at 2am, the cold cider to be drunk on the kerb on a sunny market day, and that extra bottle of champas for your picnic across the road. It is usually manned by a guy who glares as you walk in and flashes you an unnerving grin as you leave.
Watch a Football Match in the Pub
There is nothing quite like sitting at a packed bar, with a cold pint in hand, amidst the passionate chanting and outraged roar of the English Premier League fans. But it’s important to remember that, while football is fun game, the English take it very seriously, to the point where ‘colours’ (i.e. team jerseys, scarfs etc.) have been banned in many London pubs to discourage rival-related violence. At bare minimum, know who is playing, what their colours are and where their home ground is. If you get your head around star strikers, their season so far or even how the teams did last season, you’re in with a chance of getting in a shout and making lifelong pub pals.
Have a Picnic with a Drink
With more than 3000 parks in London and a limited supply of sunshine, it comes as no surprise when you see Londoners flocking to a warm grassy space with picnic baskets and ‘ice boxes’. Sunny picnics are the perfect opportunity to embrace the stereotypically English gin and tonic with cucumber, or the long neck in a bag with some fish and chips.
If you haven’t been blessed by fine London weather, perhaps take the famously stubborn English approach and picnic anyway, whatever the conditions, huddling on a cold park bench if need be, grasping your hot wine like its the key to survival.
To tie your drinking/picnic experience into a little sightseeing, try one of the much-loved Royal parks, like Hyde Park, St James’s Park or Regent’s Park.