This was a post supposed to go up before Christmas – the traditional last blog of the year. So it’s almost exactly a month late. Apologies for that, but at least it’s not a time-sensitive post; just one to underline the continued amazing success of British brewing. It refers to the brewery I think make the leap into the next level over the course of
this last year, and as with previous choices (2012 Fyne Ales, 2013 Buxton, 2014 Magic Rock) there is something of a theme. The brewery that handled upheaval and embraced change – whilst delivering amazing beers, one after the other – was Tempest Brewing Co.
From their borders outpost in an old Kelso dairy, Tempest had a fantastic twelve months – with the most significant part of that upheaval taking place before February had concluded, with a move to a bespoke new facility fifteen miles to the east in Tweedbank. Founder Gavin Meiklejohn has been talking about a move from Kelso for about as long as I’ve known him, so it was hugely gratifying to see that it had finally taken place. After handing over day-to-day management of the Cobbles, Gavin and wife Annika had one less reason to remain and struck out for a dedicated stand-alone brewery further upstream on the River Tweed.
The implications of this kind of thing are hard to fully appreciate, even for someone like me who hangs around breweries every now and again (asking educated questions like ‘what’s that for?’ or ‘where does that go’?). Whilst most of us can appreciate what it’s like to move house, few can also get an idea of what it is like to also maintain stock levels and fulfil orders at the same time. Yet breweries manage this, running both sites until one is fully tested and up to speed, and the other can be mothballed and the kit either brought along as well as a small-batch pilot kit, or sold on to another brewery just starting out.
Tempest finally cut loose in 2015, with their new facility. As so often happens, they converted this break from Kelso into a clean break by also re-branding and hiring more people. Gone is the South Pacific-style devil and in its place a cleaner, more modern, logo which to me at least has the look of a Southern Ocean whale descending into the deep. The bottles now stand out a lot more, with different artists involved in the smaller-scale releases. Sure, I’ll miss squinting at the stamped beer name to work out what each bottle is on the shelf, but the branding change is much better, and very welcome.
At the same time as the move, the new hires, and the new look, Tempest managed to produce some utterly fantastic beers. I don’t think there’s a Scottish producer who has a better grasp of one of the styles of recent years – saison. Their Saison du Pommes is truly fantastic, and alongside other 2015 releases such as Marmalade on Rye, Harvest IPA, Longer White Cloud and the recent (but still monumentally under-appreciated) Double Shuck Imperial Oyster Stout, proved that the beers coming out of their new brewhouse are better than any before.
The other vital act of moving locations is to maintain the standard of your core beers – and it’s immediately noticeable that Tempest staples such as Brave New World, Red Eye Flight and Brave New World are also tasting even better than before, some with a long-awaited chance to tweak certain aspects. There was even a relaunched Old Parochial brew to welcome in the close of the year – surely one of the very best beers for ageing created north of the border (although these days, that is a category with a lot of competition).
When it comes time to think about Brewery of the Year, it’s about more than just the beer. It has to be great though – with beers across styles that make you sit up and take notice – but for me the thing that stood out about Tempest is how at ease the new brewery seemed, from the outside. The beers are even better than they used to be, the new lines are every bit as inventive, and the entire operation looks to have taken that expansion utterly within stride. It even has it’s own dedicated rail link, for visitors.*
*Other Tweedbank attractions are available.
So whilst other UK breweries had amazing years in 2015 – Siren upped their game yet again, Cloudwater hit the ground running, and the London scene continued to grow arms and legs – for me it was Tempest that managed, and then utterly exceeded, expectations. They are my brewery of the year for 2015.