Category Archives: Beer of the Year

Brewery of the Year, 2015 – Tempest Brewing Co

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.

Best new beers of 2015…Tempest Harvest IPA


So, the final beer in the five-part best-of list for 2015 is here – a perfect example of a brewery doing what they have come to do best, and then pushing it just that little bit further. It proves – once and again – how that blend of experience and experimentation result in some truly fantastic beers…

Harvest IPA: Mosaic Saison (6.7%)
Tempest Brewery, Tweedbank, Scottish Borders
(keg, bottle, September)

It’s one of those decisions brewers face – stick to what you know, or do best, or decide to pin back the ears and take on new styles in a totally different direction. As it works out, most breweries go for the latter with a hefty dose of the former, and it’s the ones that have built up experience with a core set of styles who usually nail the more unusual ones first time. Take Tempest – they have become one of the finest exponents of saison in the country at the moment, and yet one they released at the tail end of this Autumn was even better.

Their fruit-based saisons have been great, but the first in a new series of Belgian/IPA hybrids was truly special – and is a great example of what happens when that already fantastic baseline is tinkered with. In this case, that tinkering involved bucketloads of Mosaic hops – and the result was a fantastically juicy, citrus layered beer that straddled all kinds of beery worlds, but in perfect balance.

In writing this final post I’ve realised that every single one of my new British beers of the year is 6% or over – this isn’t really indicative of my drinking these days (I’m still drinking more of Jarl and Dead Pony Club than pretty much anything else), but maybe it’s a subtle reminder of how to become memorable, with so many fantastic beers out there. If nothing else, the Harvest IPA was without doubt the most notable ‘is this strong? You can’t taste it’ beer of 2015. As Gavin at Tempest always says…drinkable…

So, that’s it for the sixth running of the traditional end of year best-of list. For more details on how Tempest put together their Harvest IPA, check out their blog post here. There were some fantastic beers that didn’t quite make the list – it’s been another brilliant year for new British beers.

There’s one more blog post to go this year – next week it’s the big one. The BeerCast’s Brewery of the Year…

Best New Beers of 2015…Almasty Mango IPA


The next in the lineup of best new British beers of 2015 has to have been one of the more unlikely combinations of ingredients and location produced this year. A mango IPA from Newcastle? Oh yes…

Mango IPA (6.3%)
Almasty Brew Co, Newcastle
(keg, November)

Be-fruited India Pale Ale is something of a natural progression for brewers – certainly for those looking to augment the naturally-occurring fruit elements derived from hops. A fair amount of them feature citrus fruits – lemon, lime and orange all work well when hops such as Amarillo, Simcoe or Citra are on hand. But this like versus like addition went up a gear in 2015 thanks to a combination I had never previously thought of – the sweet tropical stone fruit of mango and a 6%+ IPA.

I managed to sample this beer a couple of times (which is a rarity these days) and both times it fair blew my socks off. I’ve no idea how much of the fruit Mark McGarry at Almasty added to the brew (the only description I’ve been able to find simply states ‘sh*t loads’), but I can certainly believe it. The number one sin of adding ingredients to beers is not being able to taste them. That was very much not an issue with the Mango IPA.

On talking to Mark about it, he was pretty amazed how it had gone down – its popularity necessitated a re-brew, and the beer went first pretty much every time he rolled it out alongside a few stablemates (and that was certainly true at IndyMan, where a five minute chat was constantly punctuated by people coming forward and asking for it). I think the reason it worked out so well was the balance – the sweet fruit rounded out by an enormous hop bitterness. A hugely accomplished beer – and the most ‘moreish’ release of 2015, by a country mile.

Mark had a truly fantastic year at Almasty, producing a range of fascinating beers such as an incredible Mocha Milk Stout and a great 6% cask IPA (Almasty MK4). His latest beer is a Winter Saison, so look out for that. Next up on the BeerCast, the final best new British beer of 2015 – but what will it be?

Best New Beers of 2015…Beavertown BA Bone King


We’re now over the halfway point of the sixth annual running of the best new British beers of the year feature, with this, the third pick. So far, we’ve had a Japanese-inspired sake-style beer from Somerset, and a hop-forward wheat beer from Manchester. Next up, we head southwards to east London, and find the barrel-aged beer of the year.

Barrel-Aged Bone King (8.9%)
Beavertown, London
(keg, May)

Beer festivals are the perfect chance to discover new things, as I’ve said on this blog many, many times. Brewers bring all kinds of new and interesting things, or at least a large selection of their range, and the atmosphere practically encourages exploration – with the small serving sizes available, and the neat little booklet to work out who’s got what beer on and how you can tick it off. It’s long since got to the stage where I only ever drink new beers at festivals – and therefore they are a great chance to find recent releases that go on to fill this week of ‘best-of’ posts. And at IndyMan this past October, the final beer I had on my visit was exactly that.

I’d never tried Bone King, the double IPA brewed by Beavertown and Spanish brewery Naparbier (who had initially collaborated on the Rainbow Project series of beers). So on a furtive wander past Beavertown’s stall at the Victoria Baths a fleeting glimpse of a barrel aged version had me instinctively reaching for a handful of tokens. Adding imperial IPA’s to barrels is fascinating – I think much more so than imperial stouts – as the balance of flavours becomes something more than the simple complementary roasty/oaky/vanilla. For DIPA’s the hops mellow out, the different fruit flavours mingle with richer toffees and coconut elements.

Forgive the slightly wanky tasting notes, but that’s the other major reason why beer festivals work, in that you can immediately pair like for like beers. Bone King was released in b-a form for the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, and so IndyMan was a natural place to also serve it – and goodness me if that wasn’t a fantastic idea. The sweet, moreish stone fruit and caramel edges, followed up by a monumental whack of booze, made it the beer of the festival and, to be honest, every festival I’ve been to this year.

Check back tomorrow for the next in the series of best new British beers of 2015, selection number four – a fruit beer from the north east of England. Beavertown finished off their amazing year by seeing head brewer Jenn Merrick voted the Brewer of the Year by the British Guild of Beer Writers – and very well deserved it was, too.

Best New Beers of 2015…Cloudwater Bergamot Hopfen Weisse


Following the initial nomination of Wild Beer Co Yadōkai yesterday, the annual look back at the most memorable new British beers continues. There are four other places to fill in the list, and for the next choice, we head off northwards from the plains of Somerset to the city of Manchester. There, a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Station, you’ll find one of the breweries of the moment. In the spring, one of their launch line-up really stood out…

Bergamot Hopfen Weisse (6.0%)
Cloudwater Brew Co, Manchester.
(keg/bottle, March)

Beers of the Year, Breweries of the Moment, Cask Ales of the Millenium. All these lists have to be put together with a touch of tongue in cheek – it’s all subjective, after all – but one of the producers that beer people have talked about the most this year have to be Cloudwater. That stems in part from the publicity they generated at launch, and also from the fact that Paul Jones and his assembled team are well funded and have the internet savvy to get noticed. But it also results from the fact that their beers have well and truly followed this up – Cloudwater are absolutely walking the walk, just over a year since they first appeared.

New breweries fly out of the gates all of the time – I have recently written about how Cloudwater got started, so I won’t go over it all again here, but from the first tasting of their beers they have only got even better. Back then, at a tasting at Edinburgh’s Hanging Bat, an excited/nervous Paul and head brewer James Campbell talked through their philosophy and what they wanted to achieve, and did so over some beers that didn’t quite hit the mark (which is only to be expected), but many more that were seriously, seriously accomplished.

And that is the key word here, I think, why so many people have grasped what Cloudwater are trying to do. It’s not just hype. Their beers totally deliver. I’m more a cask fan, but it’s their keg offerings that have really come through in their first year of operations. Their seasonally-changing IPA, their Citrus Gose, and chief amongst all – the Bergamot Hopfen Weisse. Brewed with bergamot lemons added to the kettle during the boil, and again in the fermenter, of all the Earl Grey beers I’ve tried, this has been the standout (James’ previous brewery Marble occupied the top step, with their Earl Grey IPA).

I fully believe we should give new breweries time to settle in. But every now and again you try a debut beer from a brewery and realise that they have nailed it at the first attempt. Cloudwater’s Bergamot Hopfen Weisse was very definitely that beer, this year.

Check back tomorrow for the third in this series of best new British beers of 2015, which hails from the equally great brewing city of London. Find out then what beer it is. Cloudwater went from strength to strength over the course of the year, and their double IPA also has found its way on many people’s best-of lists for beers of the year…(but not mine, one beer per brewery maximum!)

Best New Beers of 2015…Wild Beer Co Yadōkai


The second week of December; time for the annual look back at the most memorable new British beers of the year! I say it every year (well, I copy and paste it) but the UK brewing scene seems to get in better shape, producing stunning beers as the imaginations of our brewers continue to make headlines. Over the next five days, I’ll be listing my picks for the best new beers of 2015. As they are roughly in order of release, for the first selection we head all the way back to the very start of the year, for that perfect moment – a beer the like of which I’ve never tasted before, that made me re-consider a whole lot of things…

Yadōkai (13%)
Wild Beer Co, Somerset
(bottle/keg, January)

I only ever had this beer once, from a bottle poured as part of a pairing dinner hosted by the then-new Spit/Fire bar in Edinburgh, and featuring the twin delights of Wild Beer Co and chef Tim Anderson. A super-collaboration beer, it was brewed at Wild Beer with Tim and the guys from both Spit/Fire and Blackfriars. In a nutshell (which is hard for a beer like this) Yadōkai is a Sake Inspired Ale produced with flaked rice in the malt bill, and then augmented by yuzu, sea buckthorn and two different types of seaweed, before being fermented out with Wild Beer Co’s Somerset saison yeast. The entire idea was to make it ‘multi-Japanese’ to fit Tim’s culinary passions – and goodness me did they manage it.

On arrival at the table, it looked like a strangely coloured glass of white wine – and from that moment on, all it did was make you ask questions. The first of these is clearly – ‘but is it a beer?’ Intentionally brewed to be flat and served cold, it’s like nothing I’d ever tasted before (and I include sake in that). Sweet and dry at the same time; salty, fruity and tart. Every sensation at once. But it wasn’t overkill – I think the coldness and the deliberate lack of carbonation held everything in check, which was incredibly clever (or lucky, but I’m definitely going with clever).

It’s a fantastic example of how thinking about a beers’ serve can make it work – the coolness gave the saki elements a chance to come out, and as it warmed to room temperature these were replaced with more familiar beer-related flavours such as apple and pear from the yeast, and a touch of tropical fruit. With the dry finish, the final outcome was was although it tasted of saki, it really also reminded me of beer. It was fairly astonishing. Every once in a while you get to try a beer that makes you re-evaluate what you thought you knew about your favourite pastime. And this was very definitely one of those.

For another wrestling with Yadōkai (to similar effect) check out this review from Alcohol and Aphorisms. Head back to the BeerCast tomorrow for the second (in order of release) best new British beer of 2015, which hails from the great brewing city of Manchester. Check back then to find out exactly what it is. Andy and Brett at Wild Beer went on to release yet more stunning beers throughout the course of the year, but it was this release right back at the start that really stood out for me…