Last year, right at the beginning of January, we posted a list of breweries to watch out for in 2012. Looking back, our overall pick to take that next step (Tempest Brewing Co) really had a spectacular twelve months, and many of our other choices also produced some fantastic beer. Despite the pressures of the recession and the Government’s overburdening legislation, the British brewing scene continues to be in good health – largely down to the skill, commitment and imagination of the men and women making our beer. Here, then, is our list of UK breweries who we think will move to that next level over the course of 2013…
Cromarty Brewing Co
Looking over the names of the many breweries in Scotland, one stands out above all others with regard to sheer potential. Cromarty Brewing Company (only established at the beginning of last year) immediately put out some spellbinding beers in 2012. With kegging and bottling now on-line alongside their cask output, all the pieces are in place for Cromarty to have a breakout year. The only limit is how many hours Craig Middleton can fit into each day, as judging by beers like Rogue Wave, Red Rocker and AKA IPA, his talent is clearly beyond question. Cromarty are our tip for 2013.
In terms of sheer force of will, 2013 should belong to the Arran Brewery. At the back end of last year, they began expanding in a series of mergers and acquisitions that took everybody by surprise. First, they announced a £10m equity-raising share scheme. Then, MD Gerald Michaluk resurrected Beers of the World magazine. In November, Arran announced they had merged with the Isle of Skye Brewery. They then bought a distillery. Over the next few months, look for them to build a mainland bottling plant, begin exporting to Europe and the US, and then open the first in a series of beer bars in Glasgow. Operating on a policy of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, Arran are all-in for 2013.
Knops Beer Co/Archerfield Fine Ales
For the past three years, Bob Knops has been labouring to get his range of beers produced at TSA’s contractor plant in Throsk. After a prolonged period of ups and downs, 2013 should see a massive leap upwards for Knops Beer, as they fly the nest to regroup in East Lothian. There, they will be part of the enormous new Archerfield Estate project at Lennoxlove House – which includes an on-site microbrewery of its own, within the walled garden. Bob will be there as head brewer, and with two labels to account for, not to mention his own kit to play with (finally), his imagination will no doubt run riot. Knops and Archerfield are definitely worth watching this year, once brewing comes on-line within the next couple of months.
Fallen Brewing Co
From here, it looks as if one of the trends of this coming year could be contractor breweries opening their own facilities. Alongside Knops, another brewery set to do just that is Fallen Brewing Company, currently beginning work on a bespoke plant in the hills of Stirlingshire. Like Knops, Fallen initially contracted in Throsk, and founder Paul Fallen deserves plaudits for getting the hop-averse TSA to dry-pellet his beers, really transforming them over the various contracted brews. He got the keys to the new Kippen site in late November, so when the brewery opens in the spring, look for that immediate leap into the exciting, hop-forward beers that Paul wants to brew.
New breweries sometimes take a while to get going, and often need a grace period as they find their feet and hone recipes. Not so Alechemy, who blasted onto the Scottish beer scene in May last year with three of the best debut beers I’ve ever tasted. Since then, owner and brewer James Davies has showed no sign of slowing down. Recently he managed to get more fermenting vessels into his Livingston brewery, indicating that this year could see some really exciting things. Specifically, Alechemy’s programme of dry-hopping has been successful (even if Cairnpapple XH was too much for some), and if he ever puts out that Russian imperial stout, there’s an immediate beer of the year candidate. Now that Alechemy beers are being bottled as well, everything is there for them to become known throughout the UK.
Has it really been five years since BrewDog appeared on the scene? As their profits continue to shoot skywards, last year their old Kessock plant was finally put out to pasture as the new BrewDog brewery was announced. It couldn’t come at a better time, as BrewDog delight and frustrate in equal measure (was it ever thus). Having a monolithic brewhouse should – should – enable them to brew more in-house, improve quality control and stabilise their core range, before another multitude of interesting beers appear. Alongside the incessant PR-charge, 2013 could be a vital year for the plc, as their army of punks look for payback (both literally and figuratively).
Imperial Black. Axe Edge. Tsar. Is there a brewery out there that produces three better big beers? Maybe – but does that brewery also produce consistently fantastic session cask ales, including the best bitter in England? The Buxton Brewery had an amazing year in 2012, working their way to an astonishing seventeen-strong line-up of regular beers. There’s nothing to suggest that this next year won’t be even better for them – few small teams around a brewery work as hard, or as creatively. Those who missed the Stockbridge Tap takeover back in June really, really missed out. Buxton Imperial Black is possibly the best cask beer I’ve ever had – there’s no other English brewery I look forward to watching as much over the course of 2013.
Our brewery watch-list for 2013 doesn’t just consist of those who we feel are ready to hit the big time. Arbor Ales are simply a brewery I’ve only just discovered, and really want to try more of. Based in the Lawrence Hill area of Bristol, their beers are now finding themselves in Edinburgh with some degree of regularity. The Mutiny Coconut Stout they made with Chesterfield’s Raw Brewing Company was wonderful, as was their own Imperial (or Impy) stout. With a 12bbl plant, they are the same size as Alechemy, and hopefully will be distributing their beers to Scotland for as long as I’m around to drink them. The fact that they also own two pubs is intriguing – is the small pubco another trend for the future?
London Fields Brewery
The London Fields Brewery opened for business in 2011, but already are on the verge of something really special. When they started, the London brewing resurgence was just taking hold – now there are dozens of new producers in the city, with several in Hackney itself (where London Fields are located). However, competition means that everyone has to up their game, and the beers I’ve had from LF recently have been superb – their single hop IPA series has been one of the best I’ve come across. As they continue to expand, 2013 could be their year.
Some of the breweries are in this list as they are just about to become more widely known, but the Hawkshead Brewery are undoubtedly on track to becoming a household name. As well as being one of the most consistent brewers in the UK, they also have a stunning brewery tap (surely the best in the country?), and put on a festival that I really want to finally get to. Windermere Pale is as good as golden session beer gets. Hawkshead have all the ingredients to become the kind of ‘big regional’ that everyone can aspire to.
Great Yarmouth Brewing Co
Finally, a brand new English brewery that could bolt out of the gates this year – the Great Yarmouth Brewing Company. Brainchild of ex-Fyne Ales head brewer Wil Wood, the new Norfolk operation will feature a signature range of hop-forward ales under the ‘Wilbur Wood’ label, including (and stop me if this sounds familiar, Fyne-fans) a 3.8% “thirst-quenching pale ale with a dry pine and citrus explosion from the Citra hop”. At the same time, Wil is also reviving a famous East Anglia name – literally – as he’s re-awakened the yeast strain used from 1956 by the defunct Lacons brewery. New and old, beers from Great Yarmouth that will definitely be worth seeking out.