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…
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.
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 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.
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.