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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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?