So the final ‘best of last year/look out for this year’ post has rolled around again – stretching the whole thing out into February. It’s the annual list of 10 Scottish and English beermakers who are going to have breakout years, or will otherwise be interesting to watch, to see how they get on. This is the fifth time I’ve done this, although it really doesn’t feel like it (you can check out previous years’ predictions here; 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).
Whilst everyone has seemingly gone craft beer crazy (either with a positive or negative reaction), the skill, commitment and imagination of the men and women that make our beer hasn’t changed – whatever polarising term is used to describe it. So here is the list of Scottish and English breweries who will move to that next level over the course of this coming year, or who have interesting stories to watch (with apologies as ever to producers in other parts of the UK, who’s scenes I know less well)…
Swannay Brewery – My overall pick to have a breakout year won’t be a surprise to many people north of the border – but that’s kind of the point. The ex-Highland Brewing Company are a near-household name in beery circles here, but I have a feeling that more and more people will discover just how brilliant their beers are in 2016. Rob Hill is the best brewer in Scotland, and with son Lewis adding new offerings to their supremely consistent cask series, Swannay have a one-two punch to rival any other. With a new identity, and online sales finally available, this could be the year
Highland Swannay will become more lowland and everyone can enjoy the fruit of their considerable Orcadian labours.
Edinburgh Beer Factory – Few new breweries hire an entire art gallery to launch their wares, and fewer still open up with just a single beer (and a lager at that). EBF arrived on the scene last Autumn with a big-budget launch of their Eduardo Paolozzi-inspired lager at the Dean Gallery of Modern Art. That is a serious statement of intent – but one that isn’t a huge surprise given the brewery is a venture of the Dunsmore family (John Dunsmore being the ex-Chief Executive of the Tennents/Magners owning C&C Group). Look for a swift escalation of their presence in 2016, and Paolozzi doing for lager what Innis & Gunn did for barrel-aged beers.
six°north – Another producer on the rise, albeit at less stratospheric rate than the EBF, are S°N. And not before time, either – the self-styled (and entirely accurate) ‘Belgian Brewers of Scotland’ have come a long way since the days of their small site near the seafront in Stonehaven, with a larger production brewery and two dedicated bars – and a third to open in the centre of Edinburgh shortly. They may brew six degrees north of their spiritual homeland, but the beers produced are as faithful a representation of those beers as any you could wish for – and now with more of their own bars than ever, plus increasing distribution deals, look out for six°north as this could very much be their year.
Fallen Brewing Co – One of the joys of the Craft Beer Revolution (or whatever else you want to call it) is the choice we now have, from breweries ever more local to us. Nigh-on perfect Belgian beer from Stonehaven? Sure! Habanero, date and cacao Imperial Porter from rural Stirlingshire? Why not! That’s the latest upcoming release from Paul Fallen, and it reflects the recent inventive upturn from his Kippen brewery. Paul’s beers have always been brilliantly well made, but you get the sense that he is only now revelling in the joy that owning your own production brewery can truly yield. Keep an eye on other outgoings from the old railway station brewery over the course of this year.
Elixir – Ok, so this might be more of a personal plea than anything else, but the brewing world is a far less creative place when the West Coast Whirlwind isn’t firing on all cylinders. Elixir Brew Co’s Benjamin Bullen has been all too intermittent of late in his beermaking, and that is a huge shame for anyone who loves beers a little out of the usual. Let’s hope 2016 means a regular return to the brewery frontline for Elixir, as it has been fairly quiet since the launch of Benjii’s Imperial Scotch Ale ‘Benedictine Groove II: Enter the Flagon’ at the end of August. There isn’t a single beermaker in the country with as much creative force when he gets going – here’s hoping more of that Aussie Chutzpah is rolled out as soon as possible.
Cloudwater – I’m not sure if there was an English brewery who generated more of a steadily-rising buzz amongst the beer community last year than Cloudwater. Right from the off – way before that, in fact – people got on board with the messages emanating from the Manchester brewery created by Paul Jones and his Northern dream team. And so far, all of that has proved well-founded. The broad span of styles, dispense methods, and the rotation of Cloudwater’s core lineup every four months – there really is something for everybody. And over the course of the year ahead, as they continue to key in those beers, they are going to be the brewery to keep an eye on to see how their beers, and company, develop.
The Wild Beer Co – Another fairly obvious – but no less welcome – choice for a brewery to have an amazing year are Somerset’s finest; the Wild Beer Co. Is there a brewery right at this moment with a better range of well-made, inventive beers? An easy pick for a breakout year, but with the recent arrival of their first bar and restaurant (Jessop House, in Cheltenham) they are setting their sights ever higher. And there are few other breweries who I think could make a better go of it than the Wild Beer Co. Look for them to expand as they continue to become the next big player in the UK craft scene.
Lost & Grounded – Social media has many pros and cons, but one of its greatest uses is watching something come together as it happens – and this also holds true for new breweries. Cloudwater certainly used this to their advantage – and this next pick are similarly one to watch as their brewery just begins to take shape. Ex-Camden Town brewing director Alex Troncoso and his partner Annie are starting up a production facility in Bristol called Lost & Grounded, and with their skill and reputation it is already being talked about as one of the breweries to watch in 2016. Still at the exciting/terrifying stage of ordering equipment and advertising for staff, the beers are a while away – but keep an eye on their progress as they will be worth it.
Mondo Brewing Co – A lot of these predictions are based on reputations, as breweries who have been solid for years (or extremely good for less long) look like they are due for making the leap. This particular pick is all down to my recent personal experience. A visit last week to Mondo Brewing Company in Battersea was rewarded with a series of excellent beers and a mightily impressive kit and group of people. Look out for a blog post on that visit soon, when I get a chance, but these days to make a scene in London is only going to get harder for breweries due to the increasingly ultra-competitive market – but from first-hand experience, Mondo are going to make it with room to spare.
Elusive Brewing – Finally, we end this lightning-tour of premonitions in the Royal County of Berkshire, and with yet another hugely exciting prospect. Multi award-winning homebrewer Andy Parker is a hugely talented beermaker, and the chance to saddle up and head out into the wide world of brewing is a deserved next step. Up to this point, Elusive Brewing’s beers have been released as collaborations (peaking with 2014’s BOTY candidate Lord Nelson), and the time has finally come for steel to be ordered and drainage channels cut, in Andy’s own brewery in Finchampstead. From this Spring, if all goes to plan, Elusive Brewing’s beers will be a lot easier to track down, and that can’t come soon enough.
So, what do you think? Any breweries out there who you think will have breakout years in 2016, or have stories that you really want to follow? Let me know in the comments. As ever, I’ll be checking back with these breweries at the mid-way point of the year, to see how they have been getting on…