At the beginning of January, just two weeks into the new year, I posted a list of British breweries to watch out for in 2014. More and more new producers are opening their doors, indicating that – for the moment – the beer-making scene is in rude health. The industry requires long hours and hard work, of course – plus the increasingly vital ability to fend off constant demands of needy bloggers. Speaking of which, five months down the line from the original post, it’s time to check back with those thirteen breweries, and see how they have been doing, as we approach the halfway point of the year. Have they lived up to their billing?
Williams Bros – Given the flurry of announcements emanating from the Alloa brotherhood to end 2013, it was a fairly safe pick to position them up at the top of the watch list for 2014. As I write this post, the first beer produced on-site in their Drygate co-venture with Tennent’s-owning C&C Group is conditioning away. However, given they have already had to ship emergency beer in from other producers (Leith’s Pilot: more about whom later), it seems that particular part of Williams Brothers’ operation is going really well. As a result, the uber-bottling/canning machine idea is still somewhat in the pipeline, but it will happen soon enough. Taken into account with the fact that 2014 is the 25th anniversary of the launch of Fraoch – there’s plenty more to come from Williams before the year is out…
Tempest – ‘…finally it seems as if the light is at the end of the tunnel for their long-awaited expansion plan,’ I wrote of Tempest Brewing Co five months ago. As we head towards the end of June, sadly, it seems as if that light remains frustratingly at arms’ length for the Borders’ finest. Problems persist with the move away from the old Kelso dairy into a space being converted for their use. As founder Gavin Meiklejohn has said – “It would have been less complicated building our own factory” – but, last I heard, July was the month when things should come to fruition. It doesn’t need stating that for Tempest, it really can’t come soon enough.
Alechemy – The pride of Livingston are now into their third calendar year of existence (and at least their third logo). Having fired through a list of changes to conclude 2013, Dr Davies and Co are quietly consolidating and have been simply getting things done. As with Williams, the self-bottling dream of Alechemy will apparently have to remain just that for a while yet, but their new range of bottles has been well-received, and new staff are still coming on board. Look for Alechemy to make more inroads into the English market this year, particularly with regard to beer festivals, which should help get the interest peaking even more than it is at the moment.
Arran – In beery terms, there’s never a dull moment on the largest island in the Firth of Clyde; and the first five months of the year have been no exception. Arran’s proposed Rosebank distillery/brewery in Falkirk now looks set to become housing after their preferential leasehold was revoked in February. Their share offer then concluded, closing at £160,000 from a first-round target of £4m. However, another project was announced by MD Gerald Michaluk in March, with plans for a sake brewery in North Ayrshire, and most recently, Arran showed their whisky dreams are still alive by pitching in for the troubled Bladnoch Distillery. On Arran, as ever, it’s all go.
Innis & Gunn – My rash prediction at the start of the year was that I&G would break free from their Tennent’s umbilicus in 2014 and open their own brewery. It certainly hasn’t come true yet; indeed you can’t help looking at Drygate and wondering what Innis & Gunn think of it, as they continue operations in their existing corner of the C&C Group’s site. Would they wish for a Glasgow-area corner bar and small brewkit, to give their flood of fans somewhere tangible to aim for and drink their beers? I wouldn’t bet against it. Despite posting astonishing progress in the their export markets (such as 900,000 litres to the US alone), if Drygate works out for C&C/Williams Bros, will I&G be left thinking they’ve missed out?
St Andrews – Bob Pfaff has been fairly quiet of late, particularly since the new year; but there happens to be an extremely good reason for this. Tomorrow (Friday the 20th), the tanks and equipment are finally being moved from Bob’s Glenrothes unit to be installed in the new brewery, in the centre of the town that bears the brewery name. The brewery tap, of course, has been open for some time (which has to be something of a first, getting a taproom going before the brewery), but St Andrews are very soon set to begin brewing in St Andrews. This move isn’t just important to tie everything in with the branding; currently Bob is pushed right to the limit of production, making beer six days a week on his own. With the move, a brewing team is being employed, giving him the help he needs to possibly relax, just a little.
Pilot Beer – Back in January, Leith’s Pilot were tentatively starting to get their first beers out to a select few pubs. Almost immediately, these brought something a little different to the Edinburgh beer scene – a Vienna Pale, a lemongrass and tea ‘iced’ pale ale, and a 6.4% IPA brewed with fenugreek and jaggery “…we’re fully aware it’s a Marmite beer; we just didn’t want to make another West Coast IPA” says Pat from Pilot. Thus, their core range has been nailed down, and Pilot have secured a dedicated backer in Leith’s Vintage. Deciding to move more into unfined beers has paid off, with Matt and Pat facing similar problems to Bob Pfaff – the (welcome) struggle to simply keep up with demand.
Greene King – I’m going to be honest – since their £750,000 microbrewery expansion was announced towards the back end of last year, I’ve heard almost nothing about Greene King’s expansion into ‘craft’ beer (aside from a visit by Ed, of Ed’s Beer Site). Reviews of the new releases have been decent, as opposed to truly spectacular. I said back in January that how the new St Edmund brewhouse fares will determine, in some part, whether other breweries of their scope will explore the craft market – but with Pete Brown tweeting yesterday that Koppaberg are about to launch a line of craft beer, this indicates that the floodgates are, if not open, then undoubtedly creaking.
Beavertown – ‘Beavertown are set for a breakout year’, was my carefully-considered, not at all nailed-on prediction from the start of 2014. At the time, they had just relocated to Hackney Wick; since then, they have moved again (Tottenham Hale), added a new head brewer (Jen Merrick) and truly won the hearts of craft beer fans (canned beer). Well, they have if social media is to be believed, that is – the near-continual flurry of photographs of Beavertown’s strikingly-coloured tins indicates how quickly the tech-forward sector of the beer market have taken to them. With other London breweries (such as Fourpure) also investing in canning, will metal-clad ‘craft’ beers creep more into the mainstream, as a result?
Wild Beer Co – After having been awarded the status of Somerset’s New Business of the year for 2013, Wild Beer entered the start of this year on an understandable high. The good news has kept coming ever since; last month they announced that (in keeping with the bottling theme for the breweries on this list), they had been successful in securing a grant for installing a hugely upgraded bottling line at their Westcombe Farm location. Increasing production to over 1,500 an hour has necessitated in ‘adding four people to the team in the last few months’, to quote MD Andrew Cooper in that link. It seems that the future is still very bright for Wild Beer Co indeed.
Alpha State – I marked the card of Alpha State early, entirely due to a trio of beers as good as any I tried in 2013; Citronvand, Neapolitan and Sorachi Red IPA. Since then, in the way these things sometimes go, I’ve not had a single Alpha State beer – but that’s clearly my problem rather than theirs. Since January, things have progressed for the brewery – without doubt peaking when they were invited to exhibit at the new beery mecca of the Copenhagen Beer Celebration. Jonathan Queally continues in his refreshingly independent manner, brewing his way, as ever. If nothing else, it’s probably time for me to have another of his beers…
Bad Seed – It’s been quite a few months for Chris Waplington and James Broad. Since debuting in October, their Bad Seed beers have arrived in more places nationwide, and they have entered into something of a symbiotic partnership with cross-town Brass Castle Brewery. The attitudes (and most importantly, target markets) of both dovetail brilliantly, and pairing to host events such as March’s excellent Beertown Malton helps get the names of both out even more. Back in January, I said that bringing high-hopped, big-abv beers to that particular part of North Yorkshire was a brave decision; five months down the line, it certainly seems to be paying off for Bad Seed.
Buxton – After rounding out 2013 in a fashion every beermaker could wish for – by being awarded the BeerCast brewery of the year, you might have thought that was the highest Buxton could ever hope to get. Not so, as since then their brewery tap has gone from strength to strength, and most importantly of all, their new brewhouse is finished and operational – so much so that their trusty, history-laced five-barrel kit is now up for sale (you can buy it here, if interested). Other recent happenings include kicking up a gear with an online shop, and in beer terms, a brett-fermented IPA, Wilder Boar (which also went to Copenhagen). With no let up in enthusiasm, Buxton are still in top, top form.