Tag Archives: Alpha State

Breweries to watch out for in 2014

Last year, right at the beginning of January, I posted a list of breweries to watch out for in 2013. Looking back, the overall pick to take that next step (Cromarty Brewing Co) had a terrific year, and pretty much all of the other choices also produced fantastic beer. Despite the pressures of the recession and the increasingly contested market, the British brewing scene continues to be in good health – and for that, we have to thank the men and women making our beer; for their skill, commitment and imagination. Here, then, is a list of UK breweries who I think will move to that next level over the course of 2014…

SCOTLAND

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Williams Bros – There can’t be a brewery in Scotland with a more exciting 2014 ahead than the brotherhood from Alloa. Following the announcement back in August of a £1m expansion (the ramifications of which I discussed back then), two months later it was revealed they were going halfsies on a new ‘craft’ brewery in Glasgow with the C&C Group (i.e. Tennent’s). Stand by for an exclusive BeerCast report on that particular chestnut very soon, but with so much going on, Williams Bros have to be the Scottish brewery to keep an eye on this year.

 

 

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Tempest – The Borders’ finest were my overall pick to break out in 2012, and they certainly delivered some fantastic beers, cementing themselves in the Scottish brewing scene. The reason I’m tipping them again for 2014 is that, finally, it seems as if the light is at the end of the tunnel for their long-awaited expansion plan. There’s still (at least) one issue to be resolved, but once everything is squared away, the old dairy can be mothballed and Gavin and the gang can spread their wings and really aim for the top. Given the instant success of their barrel-ageing programme (see: Old Parochial), Tempest aren’t far off being there already.

 

 

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Alechemy – This Spring will see the second anniversary of Dr James Davies founding the Alechemy brewery, and it arrives in the middle of a very important year for the Livingston outfit. Following the steady building of the brewery, within the last few months all kinds of things have changed, with multiple hirings, new kit, a re-brand, a barrel-ageing programme, and an entire second line of up-to-the-minute beer styles. 2014 has to be the year where all of this pays off, and the long-awaited bottling line is surely a huge step in the right direction.

 

 

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Arran – I’ve had my differences with Arran Brewery MD Gerald Michaluk in the past (or to be exact, he had differences with me), but yet again this coming year seems to be one that could define his brewery. After the 2012 meta-expansion plan was torpedoed by the Government, Arran have left the Isle of Skye brewery at the altar and will look to open a second mainland brewery instead (at St Fillans on Loch Earn), and then a third at the Rosebank distillery in Falkirk. Share offers, distilleries, bars, bottling – it’s all in there too. Who will stand in his way this time?

 

 

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Innis & Gunn – My outside bet for this year are everyone’s favourite chippers, Innis & Gunn. Loved by many as a gateway to interesting beer, derided by others for not having their own brewery, I think 2014 could be pivotal for Edinburgh/Glasgow’s finest. If you could lay money down on the brewing industry, I might well put a modest each-way sum on Innis & Gunn taking the plunge this year, and breaking free of the Wellpark’s comforting, lager-filled umbilical. So far, I&G have built a hugely successful empire through contract-brewing; surely now is the time for them to stand up and actually become the brewery they, and others, think they should be.

 

 

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St Andrews – I’m listing the St Andrews Brewery here, but I may as well have added their near neighbours Eden Brewing as well – both are in the starting blocks for a fairly big 2014. Eden are expanding their Guardbridge site, increasing brewkit and exploring markets for their products (and also, again, looking at different forms of booze). St Andrews, for their part, have won a Sainsbury’s deal, and have just opened a brewery tap in the centre of the town (having leapfrogged Eden from Glenrothes), and are poised to complement it with a bespoke facility, located right within the centre of this increasingly sought-after beer market.

 

 

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Pilot Beer – Finally for Scotland, keep an eye on the most recently-arrived producers in this list. Having flipped the covers back on their branding, the first Pilot beers are just starting to hit the bar counters. That said, things are very much in the testing phase at the moment, however, and Matt and Pat are girding their loins for an official launch sometime in the spring. Watch out for how they get on; as two Heriot-Watt graduates bringing beer-making back to Leith, Pilot certainly have huge potential.

 

 

ENGLAND

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Greene King – Yes, Greene King. This (fairly safe) bet comes purely on the back of December’s announcement of a £750,000 microbrewery expansion for the East Anglian powerhouse. Having spent a six-figure preliminary fee merely on scouting the project, GK are clearly placing a significant percentage of their eggs in the ‘craft’ basket. Other big regionals have dabbled first, of course, but how the St Edmund brewhouse fares will surely determine whether ‘craft’ is able to become as ‘mainstream’ as Greene King believe.

 

 

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Beavertown – The flood of microbreweries in Hackey has lessened (a little) of late, but one that has recently moved in the other direction are Beavertown. Having relocated a couple of miles eastwards to Fish Island, Logan and his crew have even more of a local community to become a part of. Beavertown are so utterly of the moment that non-‘craft’ beer drinkers may never have heard of them; but there isn’t a British brewery around now that gets more flavour into their beers, or does it with more inventiveness. Beavertown are set for a breakout year.

 

 

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Wild Beer Co – Somerset may be a considerable distance from Edinburgh, but the beers from Wild Beer Co seem to be almost omnipresent here. That’s a testament, in part, to how much of a beer town Edinburgh has become, of course – but also it’s down to the work ethic and experimentation of the Wild Beer team. There’s no shortage of ingenuity at work down in Westcombe; this can be seen both in the number of collaborations they enter into with the brewing industry, and their recently-awarded status of best new business in Somerset. Clearly, the word is out.

 

 

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Alpha State – I’m going to be honest here, other than the name of the man behind the operation, I know absolutely nothing about Alpha State. And yet, this is one of the great things about drinking beer; turning up at a bar one night, taking a punt on something called Alpha State Citronvand, and being hugely rewarded. Jonathan Queally is making some spellbinding beer – alongside the Citronvand, Neapolitan and Sorachi Red IPA formed as good a trio from the same producer as I tried in 2013. I can only imagine the kinds of beers that will emanate from Alpha State this year – but I’ll be keeping an eye out, that’s for sure.

 

 

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Bad Seed – I know I’ve mentioned Bad Seed quite a bit recently, but their debut beers were as good a launch line-up as I can remember. Hailing from rural North Yorkshire, their decision to make beers they liked rather than beers that would fit the local scene was hugely brave; as they start to get more widely noticed, that decision should hopefully pay off handsomely for them. Look for the word to spread wider in 2014, as Bad Seed’s bottles make it to thirstier parts, and they take steps down two very popular modern-day beer roads, those marked ‘kegging’ and ‘collaboration’.

 

 

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Buxton – Only a couple of weeks ago I picked Buxton as my brewery of the year for 2013, so they really had to be in this list. The main reason is that as I write, the Peak District resounds to the clang of hammers and the soft Irish cursing of Colin Stronge. Once the new Buxton brewery is fully online, and their capacity increased accordingly, look for all of the reasons why they were so good last year to be multiplied by a similar factor. If everything transfers to the new facility (and I’ve no reason to doubt it won’t), Buxton could be on the brink of something very special.





I’ll be revisiting this list later in the year to see how the breweries are getting on, and whether tipping them for greatness was the right way to go or not. Which breweries do you think will have a great twelve months?

Best new beers of 2013…the best of the rest

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Last week, as is traditional for the second week of December, the BeerCast was turned over to the newcomers – the six best new British beers of 2013. They were, in my eyes (in order of release):-

Harbour Aji Limon IPA
Magic Rock Salty Kiss
Tempest Old Parochial
Fyne Ales/Wild Beer Cool as a Cucumber
Bad Seed Saison
Beavertown Stingy Jack

Of course, with twelve months of full-on beer drinking under the (gradually expanding) belt, there were plenty more that could have made the list. As we move into the final blog-posting week before Christmas, it’s time to look back at the rest of the great new British beers we were lucky enough to try, and run down some of the ones that were just as outstanding as the six mentioned last week.

Arguably the stand-out brewery in terms of individual beers that tickled my tastebuds was Alpha State – any of their offerings could easily have made the top six. In fact, it was touch and go as to whether their fantastic Sorachi Red IPA was going in, meaning it was probably the seventh-best beer I had in 2013 (there’s something for the pump clip). Their Neapolitan was also superb, one of the best home-grown dunkelweizens that has been released for a very long time, and another beer that made me reconsider a style.* Citronvand, also (which the photograph above comes from) – pretty much every Alpha State beer I managed to find, essentially.

*Well, consider a style, maybe. Been a while since I was fully versed in the lore of the dunkelweiss

Collaboration beers were, yet again, another trend of the brewing year, and although Fyne and Wild’s Cool as a Cucumber made the top six, there were a few ‘meeting of the minds’ beers that just missed out. Coal Porter, produced by Alechemy and Elixir Brewing Companies, was an absolute cracker, and the pick of BrewDog’s collabfest was also (so nearly) one of the beers of the year; the Imperial brown coconut IPA made by Arbor and the staff from BrewDog Bristol. Likewise, two stand-out dual-brewery offerings that I tried at the Thornbridge takeover of Islington’s Craft Beer Co deserve a mention; Coalition (made with Terrapin Brewing) and the fabulous Twin Peaks, co-brewed with Sierra Nevada.

Two Kernel beers really stood out (‘only two?’ I hear you ask) – the fruit-laden IPA Mosaic, and the perfectly balanced London Sour (although that might well have been released in late-2012). Elsewhere in the other capital, Camden’s Seven Hop Lager proved that golden and fizzy need not be boring – not that we needed reminding of that – and further north, Buxton’s White Wine Saison was the pick of their incredible takeover of the Hanging Bat. Also on drinking trips oop North, an otherwise disappointing trip to Friends of Ham in Leeds was rescued by Summer Wine’s Devil Loves Simcoe, and Marble’s Black Marble also stood out from a trip to the North West.

Ending in Scotland, as I am duty bound to do, four fantastic beers proved that our brewers here are as good as any in the world. Take four styles – a lager, an IPA, a Black IPA, and…er…a pink peppercorn and lychee fruit ale (file under: speciality). I don’t think you’d get four better depictions of those beer types than the following; Alechemy’s Stereotype, which was, for a lager, perfectly hopped (i.e. just enough but not too much); Stewart’s spellbinding Ka Pai IPA; Well Fired Black IPA from Tryst, which I had once, on cask, back in January; and Elixir’s taste-sensation that was Jump the Shark.

Yes, the overall winners of the new beers of the year were largely unusual and rare – a salty beer, a chilli beer, a cucumber beer, etc. Is this what modern brewing is about? Well, yes and no. Most importantly, those were all examples of beers that could have been truly awful if not thought about creatively, planned carefully, and brewed perfectly. The beers in this post today were also superb, and representative of a huge range of styles, from lagers to sours. Yet again, it’s more evidence of just what great shape the British brewing industry is in.



With that, there’s one more post to come in 2013 – our brewery of the year. Who will it be? And were there any beers that you tried this year that should have been in the above list? Let me know in the comments…