Here we are, staring bleary-eyed at another year having rolled around. 2016 saw lean times on the BeerCast in terms of writing, but there was more than ever going on in the world of brewing in the UK. As this is now the tenth year I have been writing about beer, that is more than reason to fire up the presses once again.
Time to kick things off in the traditional manner by taking a look ahead at some producers in England and Scotland to keep an eye on throughout the course of 2017. I’ve done this every year since 2012 and you can have a look at previous predictions here; 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).
As ever, these are a few breweries who have interesting stories to keep an eye on and see how they progress – I’ll post a follow-up midway through the year to chart their progress…
Williams Bros – My overall pick to watch for Scotland would be the Brotherhood from Alloa. Williams Bros announced yesterday morning a planned expansion that’s short on concrete detail but includes a scaling up described as ‘radical’ and an overall aim of providing a bespoke packaging service for small-scale brewers looking to begin exporting. Williams Bros embraced canning last year, and waters thus tested they could carve themselves another niche pairing other can-curious breweries with exporters such as the Craft Beer Clan of Scotland (with whom they have an existing barrel-ageing programme). It’s barely two years since WB last expanded (to the tune of £1m); the fact that they are looking to re-up in 2017 is fascinating.
Bellfield Brewery – One of the increasing trends to follow over the course of the year could be ‘specialist’ breweries. The way the market is going, having a point of difference that works can boost producers into public consciousness way above (and irrespective of) the size of their business. Take Bellfield – Scotland’s first exclusively gluten-free brewery. The end of last year saw the Edinburgh producers secure their first UK-wide listing, charting a rapid increase in scope that their planned bespoke brewhouse will be able to supply. If this comes online and more beers are added to the portfolio (of existing Pils and US IPA) then look for both co-founders to use their media backgrounds to truly make Bellfield known up and down the country.
Fierce Beer – You may well have heard of Fierce Beer, but if you haven’t then chances are 2017 is the year in which you will. They blew onto the scene last year in a way not seen for a while – since the first brew in May, ex-oilworker homebrewers Dave Grant and David McHardy ratcheted everything up almost immediately. Within three months they had secured investment to expand into a brewhouse in Dyce, created a core line-up of ten different beers and launched into London by taking over the Rake in Borough Market. One of the great things about the industry at the moment is that brewers can create ranges with peanut/raspberry/habanero and it is in no way a gimmick. Fierce by name, Fierce by nature – look out, 2017.
Fyne Ales – One nugget that slipped out unnoticed towards the end of last year was the fact that the champions of Argyll had started a programme of spontaneous fermentation. Having obtained seven French wine casks a very special beer was encased within and is apparently going to remain there for at least two years. But instead of adding Fyne Ales to the 2019 brewers to watch list, they probably deserve keeping tabs on much sooner than that – their barrel-ageing programme is set to reveal all kinds of treasures (if you like Imperial Stouts, for instance) and when coupled with the fact that 2017 is the fifteenth anniversary of their first full year of brewing, expect one of the best breweries in the UK to get even better.
Dead End Brew Machine – Speaking of Fyne Ales, their sponsorship of the 2012 IBD Scottish Homebrew Competition resulted in Zombier, a porter created by Jake Griffin and Chris Lewis. Both now have microbreweries of their own, and to be honest either could be in this list. Jake’s Up Front had an amazing year last year – I can only hope that Chris’s concern has a similarly breakout twelve months. From debuting a passion fruit IPA (Dead One) in March, Chris brewed at a series of different places with every single result being outstanding. Glasgow has seen a surge of brewing talent arrive over the last year or so, which is fantastic to see. If Chris gets more brewdays in the bank over the next few months, be sure and track down anything he comes up with.
Harbour – Moving into England, we start with Harbour Brewing Company. This time last year Eddie Lofthouse and his team were brewing on a 10BBL kit and pondering a few changes. That resulted in a new 30BBL kit, a new canning line and a new head brewer in Stuart Howe. A year of consolidation is far from on the cards however as they are soon to rip out that canning line for a larger one (a sure sign that aluminium is back and here to stay) and are planning on building an entirely new warehouse to free space for an enlarged brewery. Their second expansion in two years will see Harbour replacing almost their entire core line-up and refreshing the packaging to boot. So no signs of slowing down in Cornwall…
Camden Town – It’s just over a year since AB-InBev wrote the biggest cheque to be seen in British brewing for quite a while – the around £85m to buy Camden Town Brewery. Since then the packaging has been tweaked, fellow subsumers Elysian flew over for a collab (their shared AB-InBev parentage not making this ‘did you know?’ blog post), and new beers were released. Oh, and a colossal new brewery constructed in Enfield. Come the spring, the facility will be open and from then on it will be fascinating to see where Camden Town (and their beers) end up, both figuratively and literally. Only time will tell – but a lot of eyes will be turned to North London in the meantime…
Elusive – Andy Parker was on this list last year, and he’s going on it again. Back then it was down to the strength of his collaborations and the prospect of the upcoming brewery build in Finchampstead. Now, it’s because his brewery is complete and he has started production. Like Chris Lewis, I’m not quite sure Andy knows just how brilliant he is as a brewer (even with the homebrewing awards) – although a glance at a few Golden Pints roundups from across the beer writing world would make that immediately obvious. Andy is now advertising for a part-time brewer to join the team, and with more new beers hitting the shelves than ever, I’m genuinely excited to see where the next year is going to take him.
Lines Brew Co – Moving into Wales, the sudden demise of Celt Experience under Tom Newman was a real shame – but thankfully he bounced back pretty quickly with a new brewery specialising in Farmhouse Ales and with no beer brewed more than once. All of these things make Lines Brew Co worth watching, and their base in Caerphilly will undoubtedly be home to all manner of fascinating experiments in brewing, ageing and harnessing of the mighty yeast. With beers already out, expect word to similarly escape in 2017 about this particular Welsh brewery – certainly if the standard of beers they brought to IndyMan back in October are anything to go by…
Cloudwater – Finally, we have Cloudwater. They were the number 1 English brewery to watch on this list last year, and (although an easy pick) certainly came through to justify it. I wasn’t going to include them for 2017 – they are off on that upward curve already – but a few days ago the announcement was made that they are ceasing cask production and will be focusing on keg and bottle/can, with cans then taking a higher percentage of their beer. This is going to be one of the stories of the year to follow, as evidenced by the staggering outpouring of beer blogs that resulted. Have a read of the best of them here, here and here and then make a mental note to check back a few months from now to see if Cloudwater’s decision was a positive or negative for the industry.
And the place you can check back is right here, around June/July when I’ll be revisiting all of these stories to see how each of the ten breweries are faring. Let me know in the comments below if there are any other breweries who will have breakout years in 2017 or will have stories to follow!