No immunity to innovation
The field of amazing new breweries on the scene this year is so strong that we couldn’t just stop with the heroes of the Beer52 box, so we ask Melissa Cole to round up her most exciting discoveries of the past 12 months.
Saturday 28 August 2021
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Ones to Watch
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The pandemic may have put a pause on draught pints flowing, but it cannot abate the determination and creativity of the beer world, and there are some very exciting new projects indeed springing up. From nanos to cuckoo brands, to the resurrection of long-lost brewing heritage, it’s all happening out there, and offers consumers who have been shaken by recent toxic revelations, real hope of supporting local businesses over those with questionable practices.
Direction and purpose
It’s a damning indictment of my cynicism these days that when Merakai Brewing Co. started lighting up my Instagram with positive messages and super-slick branding, I was concerned a bunch of bandwagon jumpers had joined the beer party… well, I’m delighted to say I was wrong.
Within a few moments of cracking open a can of the 4.2% Three Little Birds pale ale, I could tell the beers weren’t just hype and within an even shorter time on the phone with co-founders Emma O’Neill-Parsons and Olly Parsons, that they aren’t just all about the pretty cans either.
Based in Uckfield, East Sussex, Olly is responsible for the brewing and Emma for the marketing and branding, and the pair are determined to make space in the beer world for a more diverse set of people from championing discussion around mental health, commissioning women and people of colour for their can artwork, working with small start-ups like Sammi Marwan’s Hop’T hot sauce and their next project, which should be revealed by the time you’re reading this, is about tackling the issue of ableism in the beer world.
Olly puts it rather succinctly when he says: “You go to festivals and it’s lots of me walking around and it shouldn’t be the way, I’ve got friends who come from diverse backgrounds but they don’t feel like they’re being spoken to and we are just trying to help by being a change to that.”
With Emma adding: “Obviously our efforts reflect our resources at the moment but it will grow as we grow, sometimes it’s going to be subtle and sometimes it’s going to be in your face, and we are happy to do that for our community, to raise awareness amongst the average beer drinker who isn't affected by these barriers and who don’t have to think about what it’s like to not be considered the norm.”
I have to say, the only norm I want to see coming out of Merakai is the consistency of their beers, which Olly stresses are getting better and better with each batch, but if the We Like You Berry Much Gose at 6.5% keeps getting better, it’s going to prove quite ruinous.
And, given how hot it’s been recently, I’m also going to follow the pair’s advice to pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes before drinking it next time, just someone remind me to set a timer!
Howling at the Moon
Rich White, an American in London and horror film fan, could never call his brewery anything other than Werewolf Beer. And, if all goes well, by the time you are reading this article, the last small bureaucratic snag he was facing with local authorities has been smoothed out and his Camden-based brewery and tap room will be a go.
White is former head brewer for London Brewing Company and responsible for taking their beers from good to consistently great, and striking out on his own was really only a matter of time.
Before the brewery and tap room opens however, he has an excellent collaboration lined up with London’s famous Prince of Wales Theatre, to sponsor a special showing of American Werewolf in London on its 40th anniversary and is also sponsoring a series of other horror movies. So, if that’s your thing and you like good beer and horror movies, then get booking now.
Personally, I’m going to wait until I can sit in one of the four ghost train cars that White has managed to snag, and enjoy a Creepster American Brown Ale 5.1%, because I love the style and if past experience of White’s versions of them are anything to go by, it’s going to be a belter.
On one of my few forays out of London since all this bother began was a few days in Manchester, and I couldn’t help but stop by Beer Nouveau to take a peek at all the hard work Steve Dunkley and his equally committed cohorts had put into the new beer garden.
What I didn’t expect from my flying visit, however, was to be given a new beer by Dunkley from a brewery I’d never heard of called Steelfish and then told that, actually – somewhere behind all the stock for new bottle shop The Cat in The Glass that he was also housing – were the two founders cuckoo brewing at the back of his unit.
As I picked my way through the chaos, I finally found myself chatting to Ali Combes and Simon Goodier, and instantly taking to their attitude to the beer world and brewing in general.
The pair are pals who met at the Chorlton home brewers club, the home of which is The Font in Chorlton (and how they got their name, Steelfish being a type font), and decided to take the professional beer making plunge, on a part-time basis, whilst sitting in the ubiquitous Manchester rain on a park bench, sharing a socially distanced beer.
According to Combes, the conversation on the evening effectively boiled down to ‘if not now, when?’ and with Dunkley’s seemingly indefatigable support, they took the plunge and hope to have their own set up and taproom in the not too distant future, which I’m sure will bring Goodier’s marine engineering background and Combes’s financial one into play strongly.
Personally, I look forward to visiting and the beer to look out for is Small Achievement, a 4.1% pale ale that hits all the right spots of malt and hop balance, with pings of citrus.
Three Is the Magic Number
I was gutted when West Midlands brewery Lab Culture Brewing shut down; it was producing beers that intrigued and delighted me, and being attached to a hydroponic farm set up appealed to my food side too, but, it was not to be (I did secure the last of the Lime All Yours Basil however, and I’m eking out my supply like a miser!).
So, I was delighted when I heard that John Waterson was going to set up a new brewery Trinity Brew Co. with Rob Huckfield former lead brewer at Attic and Mike Dines, who had been friends since their time at Davenports.
Multiple hurdles caused by Covid, like shipping costs for their Chinese kit sky rocketing along with being delayed, also brought with it some benefits, such as opening the tap room in stages as the various levels of restrictions were also lifted, it all actually proved helpful.
With all three partners having wildly varying tastes in beer, from WCIPA to mild, you can imagine that the beers are an eclectic bunch, but all exceptionally well executed.
Waterson is very optimistic about the future too: “We are hopeful to take on some staff soon too with a brewing apprentice likely to be brought on board this year and some tap room staff to relieve the pressure on the three of us as it’s pretty full on six days a week right now.
“We are looking to grow the tap room, currently only open Friday and Saturday, and do more events, with beer and food pairings, a home brew club and continue to expand the food vendors we have at weekends.”
And like many brewers, they have dreams to collaborate with their brewing heroes and get invited to the big beer festivals, but, as Waterson points out, “first it would be nice to pay ourselves a wage”.
Well, if they keep brewing a West Coast IPA to the standard of Sleep Walk Dance at 6%, with its pithy, bitey grapefruit and pine and a gloriously fresh finish, I think those invitations will start to flow pretty fast.
Square on the Jaw
Open a brewery in lockdown and you’ve got to roll with the punches right? Well, in Ben Hughes’s case, it was more ‘roll with the broken ribs’ but I’ll get back to that later.
Based in Twickenham, London, Hughes had a very clear and concise concept of what and how he wanted to build his business and to operate for its first phase, installing a 30 hectolitre kit that he knew he could operate himself, and it has turned out to be a near perfect model for Covid times, albeit, he says “accidentally”.
As people started to focus on local producers and retailers, he couldn’t have timed Jawbone Brewing opening better he says: “The locals have more than kept us afloat by rocking up and buying cans from the door.”
Afloat being an apt metaphor for someone whose brewery is in a boat yard by the Thames, which is also where the inspiration for the can art and names come from.
As mentioned earlier though, it’s not been without its trials, a flaw in the floor laying caused it to become black ice in the winter and whilst running to catch an overflowing HLT on Christmas Eve, Hughes promptly smashed into the under back, breaking five ribs, before having to finish the brew and then entertain family at his home the next day.
This story came up whilst discussing the organic nature of the evolving line of beers, catering to a pretty traditional beer drinking market but producing core beers that are a few hops on from the local staple London Pride.
He casually mentioned that his first batch of Longshore Gang IPA was significantly darker than the second, as it spent somewhat more time in the kettle boiling as he limped around the brewery after his accident, but that potentially that really suited the market he was aiming for, just to get their attention… it certainly got mine, but perhaps not for reasons of the beer!
However, he’s already moving things along at a pace: as we go to press, he’s releasing a charitable beer with Dallaglio RugbyWorks, as the ex-England rugby captain used to live on a house boat called Bardot beside the boat yard (which was accompanied by a tale about the commissioned artist for the can and pump clip thinking it was too ugly and painting the one next door that made me laugh) and is squarely aimed at the local multi-pint drinkers at 4.2%.
But he’s not leaving his more adventurous side, honed at breweries like Weird Beard, completely at the door. He also recently released a raw ale, that got quite a lot of local acclaim, much to his surprise. And, he’s not afraid of doing some daft stuff either: “My next release is Lucky Day IPA, a bit more toward the juicy/hazy side, at 6.2%.
“You wouldn’t really know it but the can artwork is actually going to be a picture of bird poo… I’d had a new vessel for less than three hours when a bird came and left a big deposit, so we took a picture and we wanted it to be a little inside joke.”
And while I may have spoiled the joke by sharing it with you, Hughes’s beers are definitely to be taken seriously and I see a lot of the 4.2% Bone Idle Pale Ale in my future.
Others to Watch:
Bell’s of Belfast - another historic name resurrected for modern times, now brewed at the Deer’s Head, which is on Lower Garfield Street in the city, previously known as Bell’s Lane, it is good to see Northern Ireland grappling back some of its brewing history.
Coalition Brewery, London - the multi-talented Charlotte Cook has taken the reigns at Coalition and the improvements in this relatively young cuckoo brand are legion already, it’ll only get better.
Allsopp’s, Sheffield - a name for the ages, bought back by the family and given new life. Intrinsic to the history of IPA, Allsopp’s was subsumed by larger brands and eventually abandoned, before becoming entangled in both Carlsberg and BrewDog’s vast corporate holdings, and although not back in a Burton-based home, it is once again independent.
Cover photo © Coalition Brewery
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