The Beer52 Award winners 2019
Meet this year's winning breweries
Wednesday 02 October 2019
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Beer52 Awards 2019
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This August, we celebrated the best and most popular breweries to feature in our subscription box over the past 12 months. The inaugural Beer52 awards were unveiled at Shoreditch's Strongroom Bar, among an invited audience of brewers, beer writers and our loyal Beer52 members.
The Garden Brewery
***Best EU Brewery - Gold***
This devastatingly cool Croatian outfit is based out of an old factory unit in Zagreb, next to a mountain of forlorn, obsolete Coca Cola vending machines. The team has made the space their own, with a world-class taproom, playing host to big name musicians and DJs from all over the world, including Lee Scratch Perry, Jazzy Jeff, DJ Nu-Mark, Pete Rock and Andy Weatherall. This is less surprising when you learn that Garden founder, Brit Nick Colgan, is a well-known musical tastemaker and former studio manager to UB40; indeed, the entire brewery grew out of Nick’s desire to brew his own beers for the various music festival he organises.
And what excellent beers they are. In the expert hands of head brewer Tom O’Hara, Garden’s core line-up reflects Croatia’s love of big and hoppy brews, from the fruity Citrus IPA to the bold and bitter west coast-style DIPA, which fresh out of the tank is a dank and aromatic treat. More recently, Garden’s take on the NEIPA style has become one of the favourite Friday night picks in the Beer52 office – juicy, refreshing and surprisingly balanced.
“Over the past year we’ve made a lot of different specials,” says Tom. “Now we want to pick the best of those and start honing them.”
Garden was already a strong contender for EU brewery of the year before we tasted its NEIPA, which absolutely blew out socks off. Members agreed that these unassuming cans really deliver the goods on the beer front, so we’re delighted to have them in the box once again.
***Best EU Brewery - Silver***
Trzech Kumpli (which translates roughly as ‘three pals’) has a brewery 90 minutes from Krakow, behind a sausage factory deep in the Polish countryside. But for the chance to sample such amazing beers fresh from the tank, I would have made the journey on my hands and knees.
The brewery’s story started a few years ago when Piotr, an avid home brewer, joined forces with a gang of his old primary school pals from the town of Tannow – Irmina, Tymek, Maciek and Adam – to take his hobby to a professional level.
The location couldn’t be more perfect. The town of Żywiec has long been famed for the quality and softness of its water, with Archduke Albert of Austria notably choosing it as the home for his brewery in 1852 (the brewery bears the town’s name, and is now owned by Heineken).
There seem to be very few styles the team won’t tackle, from black IPAs to saisons and even a big, unctuous Russian imperial stout. Piotr clearly loves recipe creation, having started out as a home brewer making a mess in his kitchen.
The fact that Piotr is still driven by a love of experimentation is likely to stand him in good stead. Like any other national craft beer scene with a bit of momentum behind it, there is pressure on Polish brewers to keep their fans well supplied with the latest and greatest styles.
“I’m not sure people’s tastes are getting more sophisticated, but they’re definitely getting more demanding,” he says. “Three years ago, if you’d released to the market a Russian Imperial Stout or Baltic porter, people would have been blown away. But now it's just like ‘meh - it's a very standard, basic Russian Imperial stout. 2.5 on Ratebeer!’ People are expecting all sorts of crazy stuff – coffee, vanilla, maple syrup – to make it stand out.”
***Best Newcomer - Gold***
Conceived and born in the tiny backroom of The Antelope pub in Serbiton, Big smoke has earned its place as one of the hottest young UK breweries, thanks to the sheer quality of its beers.
“We first opened the brewery about six months after taking over The Antelope, and it was the classic brewery on a shoestring,” recalls Rich Craig who, along with co-founder James Morgan, realised his long-standing brewpub dream back in 2014. “We didn’t really have enough money to do it, but we beavered away in that space and along the way got a few accolades, including Best New Brewery in Greater London in 2015.”
Success quickly meant a larger, dedicated facility for Big Smoke, but Rich says those early days of pouring pints in between brewing, and really getting to chat to the customers, shaped the kind of brewery it is today.
“We’ve always relied on that feedback from the customers quite heavily, especially in the early stages,” continues Rich. “When we were trialling recipes we asked people to be brutally honest about what they thought. It’s been a really great thing
for us and for the brewing team especially; it’s meant the brewery and the pubs – we have four now – have really been side-by-side on this journey. We feel that’s a big point of difference for us.”
There’s no doubt Big Smoke is a core-focused brewery, which we thoroughly approve of, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also experiment. For example, it recently brewed a collaboration beer with another Beer52 favourite, Sligo’s Whit Hag.
“We’d love to do more experimentation and collaboration
in future,” concludes Rich. “But at the moment we’re getting so much great business through the pubs, as well as restaurants and retailers that we’re running just to keep up with demand. We’re definitely not complaining though – we’re just really glad people seem to like the beer as much as we do!”
***Best Newcomer - Silver***
Bradford’s Salt Beer Factory has really made a splash in the UK scene this year, thanks to a £1.7 million investment by the award-winning Osset Brewery and a number of high-profile hires to get the beer flowing. The project – which includes one of the coolest taprooms in the country – has been three years in the making, and it shows; Salt seems to have sprung into the world fully formed, with a great brand and absolutely on-point beer.
There’s no dipping of toes evident here, as Salt’s launch range included IPAs, NEIPAs, stouts and lagers in keg, cask and can, with a raft of big-name collaborations already set up for the coming months. There’s also brewery tours, merch on display and even another new bar – Craft Asylum – opening its doors in Leeds in November.
We’ve nabbed the super-refreshing Jute session IPA for this month’s box, a slightly hazy, highly drinkable brew, with zesty notes of grapefruit and orange peel and a good wallop of hoppy bitterness at the end. Salt picks up our Best Newcomer award not just for the quality of the liquid though, but also for how it’s charged headlong at the market with real intent. We believe it’ll go far.
***Best Dark Beer***
Hailing from the beautiful Scottish Borders, Tempest is one of the nicest breweries you’ll ever find, and their beers are excellent to boot. Awarding its Alba 89 coffee and vanilla porter the gong for best dark beer was an easy choice; it was a member favourite, and also one of our beers of the year in the office (having tried it fresh from the tank, I immediately reserved an eight-pack for myself). Best served not too chilled – so all the subtle roast flavours can really breathe – Alba 89 presents wonderfully restrained vanilla and coffee notes, rather than burnt bitterness, giving it a savoury, nutty, rounded quality.
“We let the beer sit on whole coffee beans for 10 days after fermentation, a lot like you’d do with dry hopping,” explains head brewer Dougy Rowe. “The coffee itself comes from a local roaster called Three Hills, who picked out something especially for us. The main ways we infuse flavour is by putting the ingredient directly into the kettle, or putting it in the tank after fermentation. The thing about putting it in the tank is you’ve got alcohol in there, which gives you more extraction, even at 4.8%. Then you just give it time.”
It’s shaping up to be an exciting 2019 for Tempest, following a couple of years of really impressive growth, with a couple of high-profile collaborations on the cards, and a possible move to a new brewery site with dedicated taproom. Needless to say, we intend to check in on the team’s progress as frequently as our livers allow.
Siren Craft Brew
We make no secret of the fact that we’re massive Siren fans here at Beer52, and consider its Soundwave IPA to be a true modern classic that will stand the test of time. In short, it was an easy pick. Unfiltered and unfined, Soundwave was hazy before hazy was cool, and packs in some big, fruity American hops, perfectly balanced with malty sweetness and a smooth mouthfeel, before a piney, resinous finish. It’s such a pleasure to have it back in this month’s box, and we’re all planning to stock up online.
Arguably, the secret of its success is that Siren has always put its money where its mouth is. Where some other breweries pay lip service to their ingredients, Siren spends big on raw materials and has a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to quality. It’s also been well-known (and loved) for its barrel ageing programme since day one, and continues to be one of the UK’s best brewers of barrel aged beers. Let’s be honest: you have to pity whoever looks after the finances there, but it all seems to work out.
Having just turned six, Siren continues to go from strength to strength, with a relentless slew of new and updated brews, amounting to an equivalent of two new beers a week. Despite the end of its annual Rainbow Project collaboration series last year, Siren also continues to collaborate enthusiastically with its peers around the world.
If you’re looking for a desert island beer, look no further than Soundwave IPA.
What to say about Five Points that hasn’t already been said? A worthy winner of our staff pick, Five Points is one of the most consistently great breweries in the country; a yardstick of quality against with other breweries young and old measure themselves. Particularly when new beer tastings begin to feel a little like taste bud roulette, the sight of a Five Points can is manna from heaven – you know it’s going to be excellent before you even crack the seal.
Ed Mason, along with business partner and head brewer Greg Hobbs, established his Five Points under the railway arches of Hackney Downs station in East London back in July 2013. From the outset, Hackney has not just been a core part of the brewery’s identity, but also home to a loyal base of local customers. It’s even named for the landmark five-way junction that sits 100 metres from the brewery floor, where five of East London’s major roads meet.
“I had always had an aspiration to brew my own beer, at the time it felt like there was a real gap in the market,” Mason says of his decision to add brewing to his hospitality resume.
A long time fan of cask ale, Mason and business partner Greg Hobb’s were—like so many of us—also inspired by the flavourful modern beers arriving from the United States. Mason comments that even as recently as 2010, London brewers were still predominantly focused on brewing British styles.”
While it continues to delight hunters of new beers, it’s Five Points’ core range that gives the brewery its identity. Its classic Railway Porter remains Mason’s favourite beer to this day and, if you’ve never tried this on cask, we recommend heading to Five Points’ own Pembury Tavern pub as soon as is practicable.
***UK Brewery of The Year***
Read Matthew Curtis's in-depth profile of Northern Monk here
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