Last time I wrote about some promising new brewers that I first came across in 2011. This time I'll be highlighting ten more breweries that I think are worth keeping an eye on this year. Some are quite new, others are most definitely not. There won't be any new names for the well-informed. But I'm expecting (OK, in some cases there's an element of hoping too) they will all raise their game and progress to even better things in 2012. As before, the list is in no particular order of merit.
Craft beer range of monthly specials that included a cloudy wheat beer and an American style IPA, neither of which I got to try. Then there was Old Dan, a strong 7.4% ale that I didn't feel quite hit the spot but was certainly a move in the right direction. However, I was really impressed by Tavern Porter, a roasty slightly smoky bottle-conditioned porter with plenty of rich chocolate notes. There have been other encouraging signs within the old guard and I really just singled out Thwaites as indicative of that. I'm hopeful of more progress in the year ahead.
Superior London Porter, one of the first Brodies beers I tried, and one of the relatively few regulars in their range, remains a favourite. A recent distribution deal with Boggart means that Brodies beers are likely to get out and about more.
WINDSOR & ETON
Guardsman and Knight of the Garter and, for quite a while, made little else. The appearance of Conqueror, a black IPA, signalled a more expansive intent and it quickly became a signature brew. A stronger version - Conqueror 1075 - and Republika, one of the best British lager interpretations I've come across, followed. I don't expect a plethora of new and experimental brews from these guys but I do anticipate further development, in that same measured and considered fashion, in the year ahead.
Big Chief was one I particularly liked in 2011. Redemption has certainly developed a local market with plenty of success and, of course, the idea of local consumption is certainly one that is gaining traction. But local is, in itself, not enough. Local but not very good and not very interesting doesn't really do it for me. Thankfully, Redemption manages to strike an excellent balance. Having recently had the opportunity to sample some of Andy's small batch home-brews, there could be a lot more interesting and adventurous beers to come. Assuming, of course, Andy is given the leeway to produce them.
Resination, a full-bodied 7% IPA with bags of pungent, sticky orange and grapefruit hop character
500 Minute IPA, a 10.7% monster crammed with hop character, was indicative of the willingness to take a walk on the extreme side here. In a less extreme, but still assertive mould, Yakima Valley American IPA more than held it's own alongside some US IPAs from across the pond at the Great British Beer Festival.
Decadent & Desperate, a 120 IBU "C" hop showcase particularly took my fancy. These guys never make the same brew twice and, if you really want to experience a vitriolic tirade, just suggest they use more crystal malt. I don't expect too much to change here (unless, of course, they decide to go full time) but I would like to see more of their beers finding their way out of their Sheffield heartland.
Hop Bomb, which I supped at the Great British Beer Festival was right up there with the efforts of any of the better known hop loving brewers in terms of impact and depth of flavour. It was one of the few beers at the festival that made a big enough impression on me to go back for a second. And it's a reminder, if any was needed, that it's not just the usual suspects that can produce beers such as this and make a damn fine job of it. More please.
Porter was a particularly fine example, in a fairly traditional style and an excellent illustration that a beer does not necessarily need bells, whistles and the kitchen sink to make a big impression. The Plough in Norwich, which is operated by the brewery, is a very convivial spot in which to sample their wares.
Axe Edge, Black Rocks and Tsar would all be on my shortlist for beers of the year. And, as far as traditionally styled session bitters are concerned, Buxton Bitter is in the top flight. Things are already great here, but I'm confident they can only get better.
Inevitably with a list such as this, as soon as I'd finished typing I found myself thinking of other brewers I felt I perhaps should have included. So much so that it almost became a "20 to follow" article. But I had to draw the line somewhere and the UK beer scene is so vibrant these days that there are bound to be worthy candidates that get left out. So, many thanks to all the brewers that have provided me with so much enjoyment over the last year, often for so little reward. I raise my glass to all of you.