Tag Archives: Buxton

Best new beers of 2014…Buxton/Omnipollo Yellow Belly

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So, the final beer in the six-parter best-of list for 2014 is another collaboration; a peanut butter and biscuit imperial stout. Not a beer style that I ever thought I would write about, but there you go – once again it proves how creatively planned, perfectly executed beers even in styles we don’t expect can still surprise us…



Yellow Belly (11.0%)
Buxton Brewery, Derbyshire (with Omnipollo)
(keg, bottle, September)

Aroma, let’s face it, is the lesser entity when it comes to beer. Flavour is where it’s at, and often – unless you are making a discerning effort to quantify the specifics of a beer – there’s barely a cursory sniff given of the glass at all. It’s almost like the automatic checking-the-milk process you go through midway through making a cup of tea (or is it just me that does that?). Get the beer, quick nose, check everything’s alright, and then you can raise the glass to the lips and begin to actually enjoy it.

But aroma is such an important characteristic, and this particular beer had, quite simply, the best aroma of any I tried in 2014. Born out of the Rainbow Collaboration project – the annual pairing of UK and overseas breweries themed around one of the seven colours – Yellow Belly took the allotted hue to a very different place. Having had every Rainbow beer ever, the ones that tend to stand out are those where the brewers involved think a little laterally – and in this case, it was so lateral as to be pretty much perpendicular.

For Yellow as inspiration, the guys from Buxton and Omnipollo worked around the idea of cowardice – a particular point of note at the moment in the latter’s native Sweden (for full justification of the idea, read this post on Buxton’s website). Dressing the beer up in a KKK wrapper unnerved some people – but it was commentary, not a stunt. And the beer? From the first sniff, the most incredible peanut and biscuit aroma ever – I can only think of a single beer in the world with a better initial aroma – Southern Tier Creme Brulee Imperial Milk Stout.

To play further on the theme of hiding and striking behind a cloak of anonymity, Yellow Belly – a peanut butter and biscuit stout – contained neither peanuts, butter nor biscuits. But they were all there on the taste. Just an amazing feat – the finish was more akin to a Toffifee liqueur, or a blend of Lion bars and alcoholic chocolate milk. Actually, forget Southern Tier’s beer – this was better.



So, that’s it for the fifth running of the traditional end of year best-of list. As ever, at the start of next week I’ll be writing about the beers that so nearly made it into the top half-dozen, as there were plenty more great new beers on the scene than the ones highlighted so far. Following that, at the end of the week it’s the big one – the BeerCast’s Brewery of the Year…

“Oh, we’re really doing it then?” – the story of Buxton’s Double Axe

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Colin Stronge is having valve issues. A new, as yet un-released 8.2% double IPA isn’t co-operating with the bottling machine, meaning a decision is fast-approaching as to whether to struggle on with the protesting bottles, or just keg the lot of it, instead. On the face of it, not exactly the best time to distract Colin with a chat about another big-hitting beer that the Buxton Brewery have just released – but, as ever, he’s instantly agreeable. That beer in question is Double Axe, the 13.6% abv imperial IPA that has recently had the online beer community in rapture (three random RateBeer reviews end with the words ‘Superb.’ ‘A Real Treat.’ and ‘Outstanding’, respectively).

A dual-wield version of Buxton’s all-conquering Axe Edge, Double Axe is a certified monster of a beer. Grainy, nuggety, sweet apricots and peaches – it’s like dessert wine without the fly-trapping stickiness. I ask Colin if brewing Double Axe was something that he and the rest of the team at Buxton had wanted to do for a while. “Oohhhh yeah,” he chuckles. “We’ve discussed it so many times; it’s always been in the back of our heads. But we didn’t have the fermentation space, so again and again it went on the backburner; it’ll appear on the brewplan for a week and then get nudged back.”

“But in August every year, we have a little bit of a quiet spell for two or three weeks. We just kind of decided at that point, we’ve got essentially four or five months worth of recipes that we’ve been working on, that we want to get out of the way; and that [Double Axe] was the first that came up. I pulled out the brewplan one Monday and it was still there, and I thought ‘oh, we’re really doing it then?'” I ask Colin how the brewday went – imagining high stress levels, clanking and hissing pipework, and lots of dials and gauges rattling in the red zones marked ‘danger’. In reality, it wasn’t exactly as tense as that…

“We decided early on that we were only going to brew 10 barrels of it, rather than go for the full twenty,” Colin continues. “So it bought us a little bit of leeway, it meant the mash wasn’t too bad, it meant the transfer was pretty good, it just meant there was a loooot* of hops to be broken up in the meantime. We ended up parti-gyling it, and making a sour out of the second runnings, so it was quite an exciting brewday – it was the first time we’d done that, actually.” The additional beer was a batch of Wolfscote, Buxton’s black sour. Parti-gyling – making two beers from one mash – underlines the experimental outlook taking hold in their brewery.

* I can’t really type that, but at this point Colin made the word ‘lot’ last for two full seconds

I pitch Colin an easy full toss – asking if he thinks the UK beer scene is now more receptive to beers like Double Axe and Magic Rock’s Unhuman Cannonball. He agrees almost instantly. “Yeah. Definitely. Unhuman was the beer that made everyone think ‘Oh, you can make a beer that strong and not have it be a big cloying mess?’. I guess in many ways it eased the path a little for us. Other people are nudging at the idea too – for us, it’s connected to our flagship brand [therefore] is something worth doing. We wanted to do it as a trial for us, and a trial for the brewery, to see what kind of fermentations we could pull out of the bag.” I ask him if there are plans to ever brew it again, and he pauses, for the first time in our conversation.

“I’m not 100%, to be honest. The recipe – well, I made such careful notes, this one was ridiculous, daily changes in temperature and what might have happened, because I thought ‘If this beer goes right, it’ll be wonderful. If it goes wrong, it will be a disaster. But either way, I want to know why it happened’.” So, maybe not – but it looks like the steps and quirks have all been logged, just in case the dusty ledger Colin undoubtedly records things in is flipped open to that page in the future. Interesting, though – and to be honest, perfectly predictable, that Buxton look to be eschewing the annual scrambling that generates from Magic Rock’s yearly UHC release.

I finish up – as Colin is unquestionably staring at the irksome bottling machine – by asking him what’s next for Buxton. Where do you go, after a 13.6% Imperial IPA? “Well, like I say, we’ve had this period of a few weeks where we’ve let ourselves go with the new recipes,” he replies. “So we’ve got the new 8.2% double IPA coming out, we’ve just done an 11% imperial stout with Omnipollo, just done a new 11.8% imperial stout of our own that’s another recipe we’ve had on the backburner for some time. We’re just keeping on doing what we’ve been doing, making the best beers we can. Hopefully you’ll see a few more sours from us this year – there’s definitely one new IPA and a couple of new stouts.”

“Hopefully we’ll be touching a few bases people wouldn’t normally associate with us.”

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?

Brewery of the Year, 2013 – Buxton

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There’s a neat symmetry to this; the very first thing I wrote this year, right back on the 3rd of January, was the annual BeerCast ‘breweries to watch’ post. Twelve months later, the very last thing to come from this battered keyboard in 2013 is the nomination of one of those producers as the brewery of the year. That’s not lazy or convenient blogging on my part, by any means – I thought this particular producer would do well largely because of their work ethic (highlighted by their astonishing seventeen-strong ‘core range’). However, over the course of the year, they have taken one inspired decision after another, and are now set for a huge future.

Our brewery of the year for 2013 is the Buxton Brewery.

Buxton already had a great reputation, and following the addition in 2012 of a larger copper (more on which later) and a marketing type in Denis ‘Anorak’ Johnstone, you’d have expected them to improve on that, building on what they have. However, in April what they didn’t have was a head brewer, as James Kemp left for pastures new. Instead of pausing for thought, Buxton founder Geoff Quinn hired ex-Black Isler Colin Stronge – as perfect a brewer for the direction Buxton are taking as I can think of. I was actually standing next to Colin when he found out JK and Buxton had parted company, and – as is typical for me – totally missed the implications of the raised eyebrow with which Colin greeted the news.

Geoff, Colin and Denis are a great fit, and at the same time as undergoing this front-bench reshuffle, Buxton also re-branded. The new logo looks a picture, giving the brewery a more evident link to their Peak District hometown, and a much more obvious presence on bar tops and bottle shop shelves. Alongside this, they also opened up their very own brewery tap, the Buxton Tap House, which serves five cask and eight keg of their own beers (alongside others from guest breweries). For me, this is the perfect summation of the only-brewer-in-town set-up; it underlines the local presence, and helps build your reputation even more. For visiting beer fans, it becomes (dare I say it) a ‘destination’.

In that respect, and when writing that cringe worthy sentence, I realised just how many similarities there are between Buxton and last year’s brewery of the year, Fyne Ales. Both have the provenance that comes with a great track record, then shifted gears from solid blonde and dark ales, changed brewers, updated their branding and then opened a brewery bar (Fyne’s is actually attached to the brewery, although in last week’s storm it almost wasn’t). Does that make this a recommended path to take for breweries wanting to move things forward? Or merely that I need to apply a bit more lateral thought to selecting my breweries of the year?

Either way, the year Buxton have had has been spellbinding. I’ve said it before, but there isn’t a brewery in the country that makes a ‘big three’ anywhere close to Imperial Black, Tsar and Axe Edge. Since Colin joined they have added such notables as Jacob’s Ladder, a whole raft of saisons and sours, and upped the ante on barrel-ageing. At the same time, regular standouts such as Gold are released now in regular and dry-hopped versions, and even the aforementioned Axe Edge has been re-jigged using kiwi hops for a completely different iteration. In short, their beers this year have been as good as any from any UK brewery I have tried.

And all of this, everything Buxton have achieved in 2013 (which is clearly quite a lot), has happened on the background of a kit size several brewers have told me is unsustainable. They only have a 5bbl mash tun – which is seriously small (although the 10bbl copper certainly helps). To gain the reputation they have on a kit that size, you need to really go all out, all the time. Currently Geoff and the team are putting together a new, larger brewery; Colin was scouting Italian bottling lines recently, and just yesterday Geoff tweeted a borderline pornographic photo of a new boiler. Once all is in place, things will really get interesting – until then, with the determination, creativity and decision-making they have displayed in 2013, Buxton are deservedly our brewery of the year.



This is my last blog post of 2013 – so, many thanks to everyone for reading the BeerCast this year, particularly those who commented on the posts, or followed me on Twitter or Facebook. It’s been another fantastic year for British brewing, making it a pleasure to write about (and on that note, thanks again to the Guild of Beer Writers for awarding me beer website of the year). I’ll be back at the start of 2014, and will be naming some of the breweries to watch for the coming twelve months. Until then, have a very happy and beer-filled Christmas and Hogmanay! Cheers!

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…

Breweries to Watch 2013 – five months on…

At the beginning of January, just as the year started, I posted a list of British breweries to watch out for in 2013. Despite the ongoing financial pressures, the scene here is flourishing – more breweries are opening now than ever (in living memory, at least). Having said that, it’s still a tough industry in which to survive, of course – requiring long hours, hard work, and the ability to fend off constant demands of needy bloggers. Speaking of which, five months down the line from the original post, it’s time to check back with those eleven breweries, and see how they have been doing, as we approach the halfway point of the year…



SCOTLAND

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Cromarty Brewing Co
I pegged Cromarty Brewing Company as the brewery to watch this year, and so far Craig Middleton hasn’t let us down. His latest effort rolled off the production line on the Black Isle last week – a 2%, triple C-hopped, ‘un-stout’ (joining in with one of the brewing trends of the year; beers between 2 and 3%). Keeping up with demand has been Craig’s biggest problem to date – so the recent arrival of two 32hl and two 16hl conditioning tanks is great news for Cromarty fans. Having effectively doubled capacity at the brewery, Craig should now be set to keep a regular stock in place, secure even more accounts, and rightfully become known throughout the UK.



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Arran Brewery
Arran Brewery MD Gerald Michaluk went all-in for 2013, having announced a merger with the Isle of Skye Brewery, and a huge expansion plan that included a mainland bottling plant, distillery and series of bespoke bars. However, the wheels came off in fairly spectacular fashion when the Scottish Government turned down his FPMC grant application. After issuing a few withering press releases, Gerald re-grouped and is blazing ahead with parts of the project anyway – although the Skye merger is off, the Falkirk Brewery is set to continue. Also, Arran cider will soon appear, as will an historic Iron Age ale, and a whey wine. Distribution has begun to the continent, and Arran have also recently become the first UK brewery (to my knowledge) to begin producing sake. ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ still holds sway on Arran, clearly.



Knops

Knops Beer Co/Archerfield Fine Ales
I predicted a massive leap upwards for Bob Knops this year, as back in January he was waiting for the Archerfield Estate project to come on-line in East Lothian (with some nervousness, no doubt). Five months down the line, the brewery is there, the people are rolling in, and the beers are heading in the opposite direction. As well as the core range, for the first time in a while Knops Beer Co released a new beer under their own label; the Spring-reveal of Knops ‘Premier Bru’. The creativity that had been kept in check for so long due to the vagaries of contracting has finally being released. With a stable base from which to build – and a huge amount of physical space in which to do so – Knops are really starting to kick on and should have a hugely productive year from here onwards.



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Fallen Brewing Co
Speaking of contractor breweries, one of the half-dozen that operate in Scotland at the moment are the Fallen Brewing Company; another one-man operation getting beers out via the TSA plant in Throsk. At the moment, Paul Fallen is still in the process of getting his own brewery established – since the new year, the business plan has gone out and the multi-stranded planning applications are nestling in the appropriate pigeon-holes. Once everything comes together, expect a flood of beers to come from the Kippen plant – until then, keep watching Paul’s Twitter feed.



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Alechemy Brewing
Livingston’s Alechemy Brewing Co blasted on to the scene last spring, and over the first few months of this year they show absolutely no signs of slowing down. Owner James Davies can’t get new fermenting vessels in fast enough, and has taken on new members of staff to help with the near-incessant demand. Currently, the expanded Alechemy team are busy sourcing kegging equipment to begin taking their beer in yet another direction (bottled beer having appeared a few months ago). With house beers and dedicated Alechemy taps appearing all over Edinburgh (the latest being the Bow Bar), and custom beers also increasingly prevalent – look for Alechemy’s beers to appear in England with increasing regularity. They have also even re-branded their Twitter feed



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BrewDog
2013 could become the key year for BrewDog, as the grace period following the opening of the new Ellon plant draws to a close, and the legions of punks look for something tangible to result. Or maybe they don’t, as the enjoyable/infuriating marketing juggernaut rolls on – spearheaded by the recently re-announced BrewDog TV show. Will ‘BrewDogs’ catapult James and Martin into the mainstream they so desperately crave? Beer releases this year have been largely positive so far, and the subtle re-shuffling of lines has moved Alice Porter and Jackhammer more towards the forefront. Similarly, will the next few months enable BrewDog to move more into more established markets, to cash in on the success of their bars? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, yesterday’s tweet from James Watt hints at yet more to come – something concrete? Or PR fluff?



ENGLAND

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Buxton Brewery
Over the other side of the border, the pick of English breweries to look out for this year (in January, at any rate) was Buxton. That was largely down to their breakout 2012 – building up to a seventeen-strong lineup, with a double-figure number of standouts. Pound for pound (or barrel for barrel, really) there are few better British breweries out there. So, this year, there may have been cause for concern when they lost James Kemp, their head brewer, in April. But stepping into the Peak District Purofort’s is Colin Stronge, ex-Black Isle and Marble, and one of the most riotously inventive brewers out there. With Denis ‘Anorak’ Johnstone also recruited (from Scotland, as with Colin) to cover sales and marketing – Buxton have tied up key positions and are ready to up the ante again in the second half of 2013.



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Arbor Ales
Arbor are a brewery very much with an eye on the future, and having released more beers than ever north of the border, since January I can see where they are going. Beer is all about experimentation – and the great thing about trying new producers – as I did when I sampled Arbor’s Impy Stout (produced in collaboration with Raw Brewery), is the feeling of warm recognition when other beers subsequently creep into your drinking field of vision. For Edinburgh beer-fans, the April takeover at the Hanging Bat widened that field enormously, with crackers such as Goo Goo G’joob and the brilliant Lime in the Coconut. We’re a long way from their south-west base of operations, but so far this year, Arbor are spreading to all parts – and that is very much a good thing.



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London Fields Brewery
Since opening for business in 2011, the London Fields Brewery have been firmly part of the resurgence in brewing in the other capital. As there are dozens of new producers in the city, with several in Hackney itself (where London Fields are located), they have needed to raise their game recently, just to maintain position in the pack. Although the beers have been well received – Shoreditch Triangle IPA is a cracker, for example – a recent foray into hosting the London’s Brewing event did not go well, and resulted in a fair bit of negative publicity. However, the intention was honourable (stepping in on behalf of the London Brewing Alliance); whether it has dented their momentum, or their enthusiasm for hosting further events, time will tell.



Hawkshead

Hawkshead Brewery
In the original post back in January, I mentioned Hawkshead as “having all the ingredients to become the kind of ‘big regional’ that everyone can aspire to.” I don’t know if that’s exactly what they have in mind, but for the time being, their size may preclude it. However, the compliment stands – Hawkshead produce some stunning beers, across the full range of the brewing spectrum. It’s been a quiet year so far for them (up here in Scotland, I mean), but I have no doubt there are some interesting beers coming out of their amazing Staveley beer hall. I suppose I should get off my backside and get down to their summer beer festival at the end of July, rather than waiting for them to come to me…



WilburWood

Great Yarmouth Brewing Co
Finally, I selected Great Yarmouth to be on the list purely because of the head brewer – Wil Wood, and what he had achieved at Fyne Ales. After taking the long journey from Argyll to East Anglia, I’d expected the beers from his new brewery to be just as good. However, what I wasn’t expecting was the reason behind the move. After only a few months, Great Yarmouth Brewing Co has (effectively) been wound up; it was a Trojan horse for the newly re-launched Lacon’s Brewery. This famous British company, a Norfolk institution, received a lot of publicity a few weeks ago, when the return was announced – but I’m not sure how many realised Wil’s new brewery was a directly-related dry-run. Well, Great Yarmouth’s loss is the whole of East Anglia’s gain – it looks like the suggestion to watch their progress was well-founded.