The rise of the craft beer revolution
It’s never been a better time for quality ale because something spectacular is going on down the pub! There’s a revolution going on. Away from football sponsorship and mainstream media, beer has been reinventing itself. Across the country, micro-breweries are refreshing, reviving and reinventing beer as we know it.
Real ale revolution
Today, there are more than 1,700 breweries in the UK, and that number is rising. And what are these small, local breweries producing? Easy, craft beer. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown might seem an unlikely hero for the UK’s independent breweries but when he was Chancellor in 2002, he set in motion a process that has seen the UK return to the forefront of the brewing world. The Progressive Beer Duty meant small brewers got tax breaks. As a consequence, the number of independent breweries in the UK exploded. Talk of the UK’s pub industry is often couched in doom and gloom scenarios – understandable when around 30 pubs close their doors every week. But the unstoppable rise (and rise) of this island’s craft brewers is cause for much celebration.
What is craft beer?
Without wanting to muddy the waters at the outset, this isn’t as straightforward as it should be. There is no universally accepted definition of what craft beer is. Daniel Sylvester, one of the men behind the London Craft Beer Festival,describes it thus: “Beer that has been created with an individual recipe that is of a more experimental nature. It’s usually a lot more flavoursome and a lot more extreme in taste than what people are generally used to with, say, standard lager.” Think big flavours, big tastes and a fresh alternative to mass produced fizzy lager and bland ales in other words.
Is it similar to real ale?
No. Real ale is often produced in a cask and can be quite flat, hence people talk about the English liking warm beer. Craft beer is usually produced in kegs and it uses a lot more experimental hops, usually based outside of the UK. Hops from New Zealand and the US are currently very popular. Most right-thinking beer fans, however, are just celebrating this golden age for ale.
What types of craft beer are there?
Probably the most widely known and easily appreciated of the major styles, pale ale is a catch-all term to describe beers that are light to copper in colour, bitter and generally hop-forward. Pale ales in many guises have been produced in England since at least the 1700s, though it’s the generally the intensely aromatic, ultra fruity, American hopped ones that are most strongly associated with the new wave of craft brewers both here and in the US.
IPA (India Pale Ale)
Similar in style to a pale ale but with more alcohol and more hops, India Pale Ale got its name in the 19th century when UK brewers sent stronger versions of their pale ales to British India – the higher alcohol and hop content ensuring it could last the long journey at sea. IPA is now the most popular craft beer style in the world, the modern version developed throughout the 1980s by pioneering US craft brewers characterised by big US hops, high bitterness and a medium malt body weighing in at 6-7.5% alcohol.
Though originally a term to describe a stronger version of any beer style, stout these days refers to the stout porters that dominated the London beer scene in the late 18th and early 19th century. First gaining popularity with the East End workers for which the style is named, stout porters are deep brown or black and have a rich, roasted character often associated with cocoa and coffee with any hop character firmly in the background. Particularly popular with craft brewers is the Imperial stout -generally 8% and above – prized for its complexity of flavours that can include dried fruits, dark chocolate, smoke and spice.
A new and exciting style, Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale emerged from the craft brewing mecca of the US Pacific Northwest in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Black IPAs are dark like a stout but hopped like an IPA. Light to medium bodied, they’re usually dominated by fruity, piney, resinous hop flavours with hints of chocolate and caramel from roasted malts in the background. Fairly strong at around 6-8.5%, they finish dry with high bitterness.
Though normally considered a fault in brewing, a new wave of craft brewers are harnessing sourness to create a range of unique, high acidity beers, taking inspiration from traditional Belgian and German sour styles. Sourness is achieved by introducing bacteria such as lactobacillus & pediococcus to the beer which as well as giving a refreshing tartness, can add complexity and savouriness. Many craft brewers will also age their sour beers in oak barrels, softening the acidity and adding texture.
The pick of the crop
Your dad thought it was a warm bottle on a pub shelf drunk by an old man in a flat cap. You think it’s the perfect gateway to a world of endless beery goodness. Somewhere between lager and dark brown bitter, cool not cold, refreshing not bland, flavourful yet not too challenging: it’s a mainstay of any self-respecting beer cellar.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – 5.6% ABV (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, California)
There are two types of craft brewer – those who started off by attempting to recreate this perfect Californian pale ale at home, and those who are lying.
Camden Pale – 4.9% ABV (Camden Town Brewery, London)
When served in pubs, it’s on tap rather than via a traditional real ale handpump, proving that beers can be cold and fizzy, clean and dry, and still full of flavour.
Bitter & Twisted – 4.2% ABV (Harviestoun Brewery, Scotland)
Zingy and zesty, rounded, sweet and dry: the kind of beer that would make the world seem a better place with a rosy glow even if it didn’t have alcohol in it.
5 Barrel Pale Ale – 5.2% ABV (Odell Brewing, Colorado)
Another leading US craft brewery, Odell has been brewing for 23 years, and this is one of its A-list beers. As with all good pale ales, pine and citrus prevail, with a dry finish, making it dangerously drinkable.
Stiff Upper Lip – 3.9% ABV (By The Horns, London)
Set up last year by university friends Chris Mills and Alex Bull, the Earlsfield-based brewery has had a huge year so far, with its ales beginning to appear in more and more pubs. This light pale ale – perfect for drinking in summer (when it finally arrives) – is worth seeking out.
Goldeneye Pale Ale – 5.6% ABV (Black Isle Brewery, Scotland)
Fresh, unpasturised and organic (the water comes from a borehole drilled deep in the Black Isle bedrock), this pale ale is up there with best Scotland’s craft brewers are producing.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
The beer style that started it all. The original version was an export beer from the UK to the Indian Raj. The revived, updated IPA is the ultimate showcase for the delights of hops. And you thought it was just another name for a weak bitter…
Goose Island IPA – 5.9% ABV (Goose Island Beer Co, Chicago)
Makes New Zealand sauvignon blanc redundant with its pine, gooseberry and grassy aromas, leading you into a clean, crisp yet full-bodied beer where the bitterness should, in theory dominate, but is, in fact, perfectly balanced.
Meantime IPA – 7.4% ABV (Meantime Brewing Company, London)
An authentic-as-possible recreation of the first generation of London IPAs from the late 18th century. Full-bodied yet elegantly balanced, the ideal beer to take to a dinner party – especially if the food is spicy.
Punk IPA – 5.6% ABV (BrewDog, Scotland)
Behind the hype, it can be easy to forget that BrewDog creates some incredible beers. Punk is almost tame by the brewer’s standards, but is outstanding by any other measure: hugely fruity and slinkily resinous with a dry, bitter finish.
Diablo – 6% ABV (Summer Wine Brewery, Yorkshire)
This rapidly growing Yorkshire brewery (it only started in 2008) produces a wide range of beers, all of which are worth investing in. Diablo is packed with US hops, and is a fine example of an IPA.
Great Eastern IPA – 7.4% ABV (Redchurch Brewery, London)
Another new London brewery, Redchurch, based in Bethnal Green and set up by former lawyer Gary Ward last year, brews ales all named after parts of east London. Its Great Eastern IPA is also inspired by the US: it’s strong (7.4% ABV), and made with US hop varieties such as columbus, nugget and cascade.
Cannonball – 7.4% ABV (Magic Rock, Huddersfield)
Huddersfield’s Magic Rock is creating some of the most exciting brews on the market, and this, its flagship IPA, is a perfect example. If you only try one IPA this year, try this: you will never want a weak lager again.
Dalston Black IPA – 7% (Brodie’s, London)
A beer that has all the characteristics of an IPA (strong and hoppy) yet is dark in colour with hints of licorice due to the addition of roastedmalt.
Revelation – 5.9% ABV (Dark Star, Sussex)
It always said that the point of beers this strong is that you don’t drink them by the pint. They show that beer is more diverse than that. But you will drink this one by the pint. You won’t be able to help yourself.
Porter and Stout
Porter and stout are very similar styles, with the latter starting life as ‘extra stout porter’. Some people are very clear about what the difference is between porter and stout. Unfortunately, they disagree on what that difference is. So don’t worry about stylistic niceties – just enjoy these wonderful, rich, complex beers.
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout – 0% ABV (Brooklyn Brewery, New York)
Imperial stouts take beer into the same territory as heavy red wines or even liqueurs, but at much lower ABVs (yes, 10% is high for beer, but not high for alcohol generally). This one works as a digestif, an accompaniment to dessert or even dessert itself.
The Kernel Export (Stout) – 7.2% ABV (The Kernel Brewery, London)
The Kernel’s Evin O’Riordain doesn’t like giving tasting notes for his beers – he believes you should use your palate and decide for yourself. If you do, you’ll decide that this is smooth, chocolatey and utterly irresistible.
Saint Petersburg (Imperial Russian Stout) – 7.7% ABV (Thornbridge, Derbyshire)
Inky, smoky, peaty, sinuous and silky, with hints of molasses and liquorice – a testament to the sheer jaw-dropping vista that malt, hops, water and yeast can conjure up between them.
Yeti Imperial Stout – 9.5% ABV (Great Divide, Colorado)
Another US brewery that led the craft revolution, Great Divide makes beers that have been aped across the world. Yeti is a good place to start your stout adventure: full of flavours of toffee, nuts and chocolate.
Milk Stout – 4.5% ABV (Bristol Beer Factory, Bristol)
An historic drink, recreated and made in the traditional way by Bristol Beer Factory, this contains lactose (hence the name), giving it a slightly sweeter taste. Hard to drink just one…
O6 Porter – 6.6% ABV (Otley Brewing Co, Wales)
Brewed in Pontypridd, Otley’s award-winning porter is the perfect example of what a porter should be, with notes of dark chocolate and coffee.
(Article source: Short List)