UK – fancy a brew?

Beer, EU, UK

Name of beer: The Kernel IPA Nelson Sauvin Simcoe

Beer description: 6.8% American Pale Ale

British word for beer: beer

Date joined the EU: 1973

Have I visited? Err…yes

m&s beers

Here we are. The home country. The UK. A state of four nations. Not the same thing as Great Britain, the British Isles or indeed, England. Although it is the same thing as Britain. Not so easy to explain, not so easy to understand. And it’s not just the political geography that’s complicated. We Brits are pretty complex people too.

 The country

The UK is a big country (60 million and counting) with a small island mentality. We love cynicism, sarcasm and self-deprecation, but we also like to feel quite superior (we won the war and our language is king of the world, right?). It’s a stereotype I know, but we really do take both queuing and apologising very seriously. We love the NHS, tea, separate hot and cold taps and passive aggression (just make noise in a train’s quiet carriage to discover the latter).

It’s not so easy to be a Brit in Brussels, especially at the moment. I’ve lived in Belgium for over six years now, but I still feel very British. And this is despite what some anti-Brussels folk in the UK like to think, who believe we all “go native” as soon as we step foot in the EU quarter. Indeed, one Daily Mail columnist suggested that British alumni of my university are cleansed of their “British blood” and filled with “pure EU nationalism” during their studies. Sounds far more dramatic than the nine months in Bruges that I experienced.

Yes, I might support Belgium in the occasional international sporting event. Yes, I might sometimes say “normally” when I really mean “theoretically”. But overall, I’m not Belgian and ‘Europe’ is not my country. I’m still British and I’m usually pretty proud of that.

The Parliament

Disclaimer: I worked for the UK Parliament for three years and therefore I may lack bias and objectivity. Statement of fact: the UK Parliament is really cool. 

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The Houses of Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the House of Commons – the lower house – and the House of Lords – the upper house. The more powerful House of Commons consists of 650 directly elected members representing individual constituencies. The House of Lords, on the other hand, consists of two types of appointed members: Lords Temporal, who are appointed by the government (with the exception of 92 hereditary members) and Lords Spiritual, who are Church of England bishops. As its members are appointed for life, it has a grand total of 822 members, making it the second largest parliamentary chamber in the world after China’s National People’s Congress. It’s also the only example in the world of an upper house of a bicameral parliament outsizing the lower house.

A second disclaimer: I love fun facts about the UK Parliament. Rather than bore you with a long ream of these, here are just three more of my favourites about the mother of parliaments.

Fun fact 1: the House of Commons chamber is far too small. It only has just over 400 seats for its 650 members, which is why you often see politicians sitting practically on each others’ laps or indeed on the floor. The only way to reserve a seat? Go to prayers first thing.

Fun fact 2: although English is the principal language used, there is another ‘official’ spoken language in Parliament: Norman French. The formal procedures for the passage of a Bill are made in Norman French, such as “A ceste Bille les Seigneurs sont assentus” and “La Reyne le veult”. It’s not only the European Parliament that can do multilingualism.

Fun fact 3: the UK Parliament is colour-coded: green for the Commons, red for the Lords. You can usually work out where you are in the Palace of Westminster by the colour of the carpet. As well as the soft furnishings of the two Houses, this colour scheme also extends to parliamentary publications, access badges and the all-important official merchandise.

Houses

Want to know more about the UK Parliament, and its lovely lower house in particular? I can highly recommend the recent documentary series ‘Inside the Commons’, which not only features more fun facts like those above, but also introduces you to some of the wonderful colleagues I had the privilege to work alongside for three years.

The beer

That’s enough of my tawdry patriotism and establishmentarianism. Onto the beer. We are pretty big fans of beer in the UK. Whenever I’m back in the homeland, one of the first things I’ll do is find myself a proper pub with a proper cask ale. The British microbrewery scene has really taken off, with CAMRA recently asserting that the UK now has more breweries per capita than any other country, thanks to the growth in microbreweries and micropubs.

The British beer from my collection was a 6.8% IPA from The Kernel Brewery, based in South-East London.

Gareth and I were both big fans of the bottle, which had a simple and very hipster appearance. It poured a hazy golden orange with a creamy head. It smelt as good as it looked – I said like mango sorbet, Gareth went one further with “a citrus fruit salad containing papaya”. The flavour was similarly punchy and bolshy. It had a gorgeous fruity taste with a bitter kick, but without being too sharp. I felt, however, that the taste was pretty “unbritish” and much more like an American-style beer. Gareth agreed: “I was shocked. I had to stop and cleanse my mouth.” Shocking indeed.

Although definitely not a quintessentially British beer, I would say that The Kernel IPA represents the current trend in British craft beer, drawing heavily from the US scene in particular. I’m really pleased to see craft beer and real ale taking off in the UK, especially as it seems to be combining nicely – rather than threatening – our traditional pub scene. Because let’s face it, I might only be saying this because I’m a little homesick in the run-up to the Christmas break, but nothing beats a proper pub. Not sure where to find me in a week’s time? Try The Black Rock.

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