Saturday, 14 January 2012

Breweries to watch out for in 2012

I've been reading a lot of blogs lately regarding the 'breweries to look out for in 2012' and I suppose it all depends on who you are and what you want from a brewery as to who you should be paying attention to.
A lot of them seem to be local specific, which makes sense if you're concentrating on microbreweries.

These are the breweries I will be looking at with interest this year, the breweries that I expect to do exciting things, grow or divert from their current tune and beat a new rhythm. A lot of them are established breweries, but breweries don't have to be new for them to be interesting.

1. The Kernel

Best brewery in the UK? I think so, and I think they are by a considerable distance. I'm not interested in the arguements about brewing one off beers and core ranges, volume producing etc. When I open a beer and it makes me sing on the inside I tend to think the brewer has done a good job. The Kernel beers do this more than any other brewery, so for me they are hands down the UK's beer producer.
This year will be an interesting time for The Kernel. A new kit is going in (Evin tweeted this morning a picture of it arriving) vastly increasing the capacity, I believe to 20bbl. For me this makes the Wizard of Druid St (I might have bastardised a nickname there, but I heard someone saying that or something similar) and his team the guys to watch.
More kit, more capacity, more staff, more beer, more distribution, more more more. More of this I can cope with.

Will the new kit and the volume affect quality and impact of the beers? Having met Evin a few times I think it is fair to say that he is not a man in a rush. I have no fear, only rabid excitment.

2. Highland Brewing Co.

In my opinion Rob Hill is the best brewer in Scotland. If you want your beer to be in exactly the condition you expect it to be in, when you expect it to be in that condition and you want your beer to be faultless then Rob is your man. The fact that Highland win almost every Scottish beer award they enter every year with virtually the same beers, is testament to the fact that if you're after cask ale the rest are still quite a way behind (Fyne Ales aside).
The beer market is beginning to change however, and Rob's son Lewis is champing at the bit to do some new things. They recently announced a new 9% Imperial Stout (not sure how that will differ from the Imperial Porter, but I'm sure time will tell) and having had a few chats with Lewis recently I'm quite excited by what is to come.

3. Brodies

Sometime in 2011 James Brodie took on a new recruit, Jonathon Queally. Jonathon is a stalwart of the London craft beer consumption scene and if I recall correctly, is addicted to Mikkeller. It appears Jonathon brews with the same passion and nihilistic enthusiasm that he drinks with. The brewery are apparently solely responsible for the worlds exciting hop shortage, which is a phrase that I like hearing. The Dalston Black IPA was a triumph and the collaboration with the Kernel 'Stella for Breakfast' was one of my beers of 2011. Expect great things.

4. Hardknott

This is based on one beer, Vitesse Noir. The Hardknott branding is a bit too 'BrewDog' and the beers thus far have left me not cold, but only lukewarm. Sort of fake style over limited substance. Vitesse Noir is an exceptional beer. I drank my first one with a friend and had a reaction I've never had from a beer before, silence. For a good 5 seconds neither of us said a word. If you can get that response you can make great beer and Hardknott is a small company clearly finding it's feet. On that basis I'll be watching closely and will happily try the rest of the range again.
The move to key keg products would probably benefit the majority of the beers due to the style. (Go on cask boys, have a crack at that statement).

5. Hawkshead

Owned by a very straight talking former journalist (Alex Brodie) with beers brewed by a man who has clearly become one with his brewkit (Matt Clarke) Hawkshead are in prime position to become a byword for quality in regional brewing. They aren't that big yet, but their beers are of the quality that they could become that way ober the next few years.
The core range is of the Highland/Fyne Ales level of quality and you'd be hard pushed to find a better session beer in the UK than Windermere Pale Ale. They already keg a lager, so expect to see more keg products as Matt starts to get more creative. The 2011 Brodies Reserve was an excellent dalliance in to whisky aging.

6. Moor

Justin Hawkes Somerset brewery is now a 20bbl craft beer haven with beers going all over the UK through the Mitchell and Butler cask ale network. Few cask clips make me go 'Ohhh' but when I see a Moor one, I do get a little bit giddy. My first experience of Moor was through some bottles kindly sent to me by Rich Burhouse and from that point I've been a massive fan. JJJ IPA is a stonker of a beer, although anything over 7.5% will now be for export only, thanks to the UK Government's tax on people with taste.
Moor produce kegged beer, they produce unfined cask beer and they are coming to a pub near you.... if you're lucky.

7. Camden Town Brewery.

The desire for growth at Camden is almost BrewDogesque. The man at the helm seemingly has money to burn and a very definite idea of where his brand is heading, up. The appointment of Mark Dredge at a time where social media plays such an important part in the growth of small breweries is a savvy one and if you head to the brewery you'll be able to hear Mark saying things like 'I'm not allowed to touch that' whenever he is near brewing equipment. I empathise wholeheartedly.
However, since his start date there has seemingly been a slight and positive shift in image as 'Camden Ink' is testament to. Speaking to the brewing team you get the feeling that increased capacity is going to allow them to come out of their collective shells and start brewing beers outside the core range. What they can produce remains to be seen, but they are collecting a team who on paper can really produce the goods, and Camden Ink is an excellent beer to start the revolution.

8. Summer Wine Brewery

Mad mad mad mad mad mad mad mad mad mad mad people. From the bizzare beer names (wait for the new one, it's completely bonkers) to the unrivalled desire to innovate. Whether it's beer or equipment you get the impression there is almost nothing these two can't design or make between them. Still small, still working on a kit held together with bungy straps SWB manage to produce a ludicrous number of beers. I am sure that brewery is some sort of TARDIS.
This is a brewery still finding their feet, but with a very definite goal. A brewer who is now nailing consistency helps and James seems to be on it these days. Small breweries need time to grow. I would hang my hat on SWB producing the most exciting beer of 2012.

9. Buxton

I'll confess to knowing the square route of knacker all about this brewery, but the beers I've had so far hold enough to make me think this is a brewery on the up. The Black Rocks I had on cask was awesome and the Axe Edge is a cracking double IPA. Former Thornbridge brewer James Kemp is at the helm, and when you look at where some past Thornbridge employees have ended up (BrewDog, Epic) you can justifiably have high hopes.The branding is a little way off, but small breweries have to start somewhere. Getting the beers right is key, they seem to have done that.

10. Black Isle Brewing Co.

I considered leaving us out of this because I didn't want this blog to become semi advertorial. I then considered what would I do as some one impartial. I'd put us in, and much higher up too.
The aquisition of Colin Stronge from Marble has had unforseen results and it's pretty evident to everyone I speak to about this coming year that I am stupidly excited. You don't have to like every beer your brewery produces, but you do have to believe in every beer you produce. If you think one of your beers isn't up to scratch, you have to change it. We had some good beers and some great beers. We also had a couple of shockers that for reasons we couldn't explain sold really well. Colin has gone about the slowly slowly catchy monkey business of make subtle changes with each brew to gradually tweak the beers. There is only one we are not happy with now, and that's the next change to be made.
We have one cracking distribution deal in place with Adnams and hopefully another with a very well known purveyor of craft beer coming soon. The brand and beers are evolving.

So they are my 10 breweries to watch in 2012. I have absolutely no doubt I'm wrong. There are plenty of other breweries I will be watching such as Magic Rock, Thornbridge, BrewDog, Fyne Ales, Tempest etc. It's an exciting time.



  2. They had a few Thornbridge on at the Haymarket last night. Quite enjoyed a Kelburn Nollaig Mhor there last night.

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