Saturday, 29 October 2011

The Kernel: UK's best brewery?

Whilst deep in beer discussion earlier in the week I was asked which brewery was my favourite. I felt like a catholic mother being asked which of her 13 sons she prefered. How do you choose?

I went away and thought about it over a period of a few days and realised that I don't have a 'favourite' brewery. I have favourite beers, but not a favourite brewery. I did come to the conclusion that if I had a favourite brewery it would be a British one. I love Cantillon, Great Divide, Dechutes, Struisse and Avery but I'll always be more excited about a new beer from a top British micro. May be I'm a little bit patriotic after all.

The answer to 'what is your favourite beer' is fairly simple, because I'm sure we all have favourite examples of certain styles. My favourite pale ale is Goldeneye for example. Yes I know the company I work for makes it, but this is the beer that made me think 'I want to work for them'. It's a pale ale, but very different from any other. I love the uniqueness of the flavour.

Other favourites are Hawkshead Windermere Pale Ale, Lovibonds 69IPA, Dark Star Carafa Jade, The Kernel Imperial Stout, Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale, BrewDog Tokyo, Green jack Baltic Trader, Old Chimneys Good King Henry, Cantillon Rose De Gambrinus etc etc.

So i thought that if I don't have a 'favourite brewery', what do I consider to be the 'the UK's best brewery'? It's a subjective adjective in that context, 'best' meaning what? May be Green King? Their IPA is the top cask seller in the UK, that makes them the best, right? May be Carling, who in 2009 sold 4.1 billion pints in the UK, they are surely the 'best' brewery as they sell more beer than any other in the UK? Is it John Smiths? No, it's not.

The answer came to me whilst drinking 3 bottles of The Kernel. It's The Kernel.

I have recently had conversations with other beer folk regarding The Kernel and I've been parly to some interesting comments, such as; 'It's not difficult to produce one off beers', 'it's not hard to make a good high abv beer', 'it's actually quite easy to make a beer like this'. My tongue is usually bitten, because my automatic response is to try to blurt out 'well you fucking do it then'.

I am not a brewer, so may be these comments are perfectly valid. My reasoning for thinking that these comments are invalid is that if it's so easy to make great one off beers, how do the vast majority of brewers fail. I suspect because it's not that easy. It marries well with the equally invalid arguement that it's easy to brew great beer if you never make the same beer twice. something else I've heard several times. My suggestion is that may be it's easy to brew great beer if you're a great brewer with great idea's. I rather think that has an awful lot to do with it.

The criticism is all born out of a little envy of course, and that's no bad thing really. It's more satisfying to pick holes in people doing great things rather than admit that they are just better at what you do than you are.

Anyway, why do i think The Kernel are the UK's best brewery? Wow factor *. Not every beer has it, but the ratio of 'wow' beers to the 'meh' beers is far greater than any other brewery I have tried.  I have said in the past that above about 6.7% The Kernel are in a league of their own, but below that abv threshold the beers lack the impact. In my opinion at least. Plenty disagree, but as I rarely see let alone drink a Kernel beer below 6.7% it's fairly immaterial.

We drank three last night; Black, Double Black and the Citra/Riwaka IPA. Three beers, three 'wows', with the biggest by far being reserved for the Double Black. An absolutely astounding beer.

These were added to my already considerable list of Kernel 'wows' which include the Coffee IPA, the original Black IPA, Imperial Brown Stout, something that was loaded with Galaxy and blew my face apart, Citra IPA,  Imperial Stout, and S.C.A.N.S IPA.

I am aware that I am not even close to having drunk every beer produced by The Kernel, but to provide that many wows out of may be only 15-20 beers I've tried is more than a little bit impressive.

There is a element of genius in the production of these beers. If it was easy to make beer this good everyone would be, but they aren't, so it clearly isn't.

Imagine how huge they could be with a big brewery, a consistent large volume core range AND the experimental nouse that makes them so special..... I doubt the wait to find out will be long.

*Wow is hard to define, but as I'm sure you know, when you drink a lot of different beers you get used to saying 'That's a good beer' or 'Yeah, I like that a lot' but rarely do you go 'fucking hell, that's amazing'. That's what I mean by 'wow factor', it illicits a response you never get used to.


  1. 'It's not difficult to produce one off beers', 'it's not hard to make a good high abv beer', 'it's actually quite easy to make a beer like this'.

    In my limited experience, all the above are strictly true. It's a pity that more businesses can't justify the production of such items, but you know it's a limited market and beer is a volume business. Thank goodness for the small, self-indulgent producers who can run a successful business making this stuff. Well done them.

  2. Have to agree Chris, Kernel almost never fail to be good and seldom fail to be great. I can only think of 1 average beer I have had from them.