Beer has been a favorite drink among the Brits for centuries, as it’s deeply ingrained in the country’s culture and history. From Pale Ale to the traditional English Bitter, the UK both heavily produces and indulges in delicious brews.
There are many different types of beer available in the UK, from traditional ales to modern craft beers. In truth, the American craft beer scene probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for our friends across the Atlantic.
These days, mass-produced lagers are by far the most favored beer style in the United Kingdom (or at least the top sellers). But which lager brands do these blokes enjoy sipping? Let’s take a look below!
What Beer Do Most Brits Drink?
According to a 2020 survey by the Society of Independent Brewers, an overwhelming 71% of respondents said their beer of choice was a lager.
Although modern variants of craft beer like IPAs and Pale Ales are also quite popular in the UK, classic British beers like Porters or Brown Ales didn’t even manage to break into the top five most popular beers.
Stout may have just made the top five, but this is probably due to one stout, the world-known Irish Guinness. Unfortunately, the British 19th Century Oatmeal stouts or Imperial Stouts didn’t make the cut.
Bitter comes in at number four in the listing, which seems to refer to English-style cask-conditioned ales that enjoyed a resurgence in the late 20th Century. This was largely due to organizations like CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) making real ales fashionable again, especially with the hipster community of craft beer lovers.
What Is The Top-Selling Beer in the UK?
We’ve established that lager is the “beer to be” in the UK. Lager is a light, refreshing beer that is characterized by its crisp taste and clean finish. It is made from malted barley, hops, and yeast, and is fermented at low temperatures, providing a distinctive taste and texture.
But which lager brands are considered top-dog? According to recent sales reports, below are the top 10 selling lagers in the UK!
Carling Black Label
Often considered as British as fish and chips, most beer drinkers are surprised when they find out Carling actually originates from Canada (however, it was the creation of a British ex-pat immigrant farmer).
Successful beer adverts in the UK with slogans like “I bet he drinks Carling Black Label!” have engrained the Canadian lager into British beer culture and it is found in more pubs than any other lager.
Carling was first brewed in 1840 by Thomas Carling in Canada, and it quickly became a popular beer in the UK when it was introduced in the 1950s.
Today, Carling enjoys a 20% share of the British beer market and can boast more than 1 million hectoliters of sales than its closest rival.
Foster’s may not be authentically Australian anymore, but the famous antipodean-themed lager remains a popular choice with British beer lovers.
Foster’s was first brewed in Australia in 1888 and was introduced to the UK market in the 1970s. It is a light, refreshing beer that is popular among young people and is often associated with social gatherings and sports events.
This beer is second only to Carling, as British beer drinkers managed to put away more than 1.1 million hectoliters of the “amber nectar” in 2022. That’s roughly 600,00 barrels or about 4.5 million Koalas worth for anybody who is counting.
Carlsberg Danish Pilsner
Carlsberg is probably one of the more premium options in the best-selling lagers of the UK. It certainly tastes better than the Carling Black Label, which some disgruntled beer fans have described as tasting like a bubbly ashtray.
Once dubbed “Probably the best lager in the world,” Carlsberg is now resigned to holding the bronze medal position in the UK’s lager drinking table with 575,000 hectoliters consumed annually.
There’s even an alcohol-free version of Carlsberg now available in pubs in the UK.
At number four we have another Canadian lager, one of the few light beers that are widely available in British pubs. More associated with bottles rather than pints, Coors Light is now the UK’s top-selling light beer.
Belgium’s “reassuringly expensive” premium brand Stella Artois has long been one of the most higher alcohol content lagers in the UK.
Often called “wife-beater” in reference to the likelihood of quicker intoxication, Stella sold over 500,000 hl of this Belgian lager, which now falls under the Anheuser-Busch In Bev umbrella of beer brands.
Peroni Nastro Azzurro
The first of two Italian lagers to make it into the top 10, you will commonly see lagers such as Peroni in craft beer or real ale pubs where they try to stay away from the mainstream likes of Carling and Carlsberg et al.
Sold with a premium price tag, you are unlikely to find this Asahi-Owned Italian-brewed beer brand on draft in the local Wetherspoons (cheap British pub chain) but rather in trendy wine bars or Italian restaurants.
The other Italian entry is the more malty Birra Moretti, which also manages to be more affordable.
Bottles of Birra Moretti have proven popular with real British pub frequenters, who resent paying over 5 “quid” (English pounds) per beer for a bottle of “poncy imported lager” (recently overheard in a trendy Kensington wine bar).
Perhaps due to the Brit’s love of bargain holidays in Spain, San Miguel has been propelled into the top 10 selling beers in the UK. it was one of the highest-rated beers in a recent YouGov report, beating even the widely known Guinness brand.
Other popular Spanish lagers that didn’t quite make the top 10 include Mahou and Cruzcampo, often found in the draft of more upmarket bars.
Tennents is the lager of Scotland. It’s been years since I personally drank a pint of this beer. it’s mainly served in the Northern counties of England and the country of Scotland – places I don’t tend to visit often.
Served in three different strengths, Tennents Pilsner, Tennents Extra, and Tennents Super (the choice lager of tramps! lol!), this brand manages to sell over 309,000 HL of their lagers, which is impressive considering the limited distribution.
Due to lucrative sponsorship deals with football tournaments and a large distribution deal with major English breweries, the Amstel lager has crept into the top 10 beer list in recent years. In fact, this lager has even surpassed its parent company, Heineken.
Where Do the Brits Drink Beer?
In the pub of course. British pubs are famous worldwide, probably only second to Irish pubs and bars when traveling. Ever since the days of the 18th Century taverns and their specially brewed London Porter and ales, the pub is an inherent part of British beer culture.
Most of the pubs in the UK are owned by major breweries or leased on a tied-beer system, which limits the landlord to the beers owned by their parent, and only a few guest taps.
The best-selling beers will often approach larger national brewers, such as Bass Brewing of Burton-upon-Trent, to be listed as the in-house lager. This can guarantee over 5000 retail outlets stocking their beer.
It’s almost like a monopoly with only the Free Houses, which are privately owned and free of tie, able to purchase and sell the smaller produced lagers.
What Is the Most Popular Beer in Pubs?
If you were to go by the actual volume of beer sold and the number of pubs the beers are stocked in, it would be a close call between Carling Black Label Lager and Guinness.
As we’ve established, Carling tops the league table of hectoliters sold and is probably one of the wider stocked lagers due to distribution deals with most of the British breweries.
However, if we are talking cash value of sales and the most pubs stocking a beer, it has to be Guinness.
In early January 2023, Diageo, the Guinness maker, proudly boasted they were the number one beer at British pubs, restaurants, and nightclubs.
This was after the publication of their fiscal half-year reports, which showed a 1.8% rise in volume but a 9.4% increase in sales values.
Although Guinness may demand a more premium price than the cheaper Carling and hence a greater sales value, does that really make it more popular?
If you are talking about the most widely stocked beer in the UK pubs, then yes, it has to be Guinness. Although there are no exact figures for how many retailers stock Guinness, it seems like there are no other stouts or alternative breweries that produce stout.
Oddly enough, Beamish Irish stout and Murphy’s seem to have disappeared, apart from the most hardcore of Irish bars.
Do the Brits Drink “Real” Beer?
I’m sure a few of our British readers are thinking “Why is he going on about all these foreign beers when we make some of the best ales ourselves?”
Traditionally, the beer trade in the UK would consist of cask beers, which are produced by regional microbrewers.
These beers are brewed using traditional methods and often have a strong, distinctive flavor. Some of the most popular traditional ales in the UK include Greene King IPA, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, and Fullers London Pride.
However, the problem with declaring a traditional or real ale as one of the most popular beers in the UK is there are just so many of them.
It’s hard for one single traditional cask beer to register enough hectolitres of sale to smash into the top 100 beers of the UK, let alone the top 10 most popular by sales.
At one time, every regional town in the UK would have its own brewery producing a local ale. But as lager grew in popularity, these smaller brewers found it hard to compete with the multi-national conglomerates and their distribution.
In the 1980s, many of the more popular regional brews such as Boddingtons from Manchester, Tetley’s from Yorkshire, and John Smiths from Burton-upon-Trent went nationwide. However, as they were bought up by the majors, they lost much of their cult following.
That said, in recent years, CAMRA (the British-based Campaign for Real Ale pressure group) has campaigned to make real ales more fashionable again.
Inspired by the American craft beer scene making its way over the pond, British brewers of real ale are now flourishing again.
Some of the more commonly seen real ales of recent years include Morland’s Old Speckled Hen, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, Fullers London Pride, and Sharp’s incredibly popular Doombar.
Then there are the independently brewed regional beers such as Oakham, Thornbridge (who make a very good American IPA called “Jaipur”), and Wychwood in Oxfordshire who produce the infamous Hobgoblin, to name but a few of the independents.
I’m sure you have probably seen or heard of a few of these beers, even if you have never been to the UK.
One of my favorite “real ales,” Citra from the Oakham brewery in Peterborough, actually takes a British-style IPA but adds American Citra hops for a more American twist.
Craft Beers in the UK
In recent years, craft beer has become increasingly popular in the UK, and there are now many breweries producing a wide variety of beer styles. Some of the most popular craft beers in the UK include BrewDog’s Punk IPA, Camden Hells Lager, and Beavertown’s Gamma Ray.
Popular craft breweries in the UK include BrewDog in Scotland, Vocation Brewery in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, Magic Rock of Huddersfield in Yorkshire, Cloudwater Brew Co. of Manchester, and Beavertown in London.
Honestly, the list is endless, but try and keep an eye out for a few of these popular craft beers the next time you are at your local hangout.
Craft beer bars in the UK tend to favor the Belgian-style ales of Europe, along with the German-brewed lagers of Bavaria, as they fit in better with the real ale culture of British beer lovers.
Most Popular Beer in the UK – Last Call
If we go by the volume sold alone, then Carling Black Label and Fosters are by far the most popular beers in the UK.
However, just because a beer sells the most doesn’t mean it’s popular with everybody, and the popularity of a beer is rarely a sign of its quality.
Carling may be the most popular beer in the UK by sales, but I probably know more people who consider this beer to be flavorless and bottom-tier.
The UK has a wide and varied selection of beers, and real ales seem to be enjoying somewhat of a resurgence (if they ever really went away, some would argue).
Many of the traditional beer styles in the UK that have been exported across the water are now making their way back home, which is currently gripped by a craft beer revolution with many micro-breweries popping up every day.
So, whether you prefer a light and refreshing lager or a strong and flavorful ale, there is a beer out there for every taste and occasion in the UK!