It’s an utterly sparkling, adventurous and intoxicating time for beer right now. The number of British breweries is pushing 1400, and there are 70 in London alone – in 2006 there were only two in the capital.
Hundreds of small, highly experimental craft brewers have sprung up in garages and industrial estates using borrowed, begged or second-hand equipment. They are infusing beer with chilli and chocolate, ageing it in whisky barrels, hopping the hell out of it, and they still can’t make the beer fast enough to satisfy a new, young, discerning drinkers who want to be floored by the hop-smacking, flavour-packing, tongue-partying beers. Big-brand bland beer it ain’t.
Here we’ve picked out thirteen frankly, cuckoo-minded beers from around Britain, yet remain true to what a great beer is: quality, balanced, and most of all, drinkable. Cheers!
Beavertown Heavy Water Imperial Stout, 9%
A Sour Cherry and Sea Salt Imperial Stout? Yes. Please. Beavertown are rightly known for their superb core range of hop-forward beers, and their wild, comic-style artwork. This Imperial Stout (Imperial tends to mean strong) has been aged in Scotch whisky barrels. The saltiness and, indeed, cherries, add a levity to a beer that could have been cloying. It’s unlike any stout you’ll try all year.
Siren Limoncello IPA, 9.1%
Siren, based in Berkshire, are one of the most experimental British brewers, yet manage to make their beers eminently drinkable. A case in point is the Limoncello IPA. Clocking in at a whopping 9.1%, this tart beer was designed to taste like limoncello. Loads of lemon zest, lemon juice and a very big stack of hops that impart a lemony flavour were used. It was then ‘soured’ for 24 hours. The result is a truly unique brew to savour.
Wild Beer Co Modus Operandi, 7%
I could have pretty much chosen any brew from the Somerset’s Wild Beer Co; experimentation is something of a philosophy for them. Beer is made up of four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast. And it’s the latter that is the new frontier. Wild Beer have used a sourdough yeast (and it really does make the beer taste like sourdough), the Modus Operandi takes an old English beer and adds flavours you wouldn’t believe you could find in a brew, all because of a mix yeast and barrel ageing. Strong, tangy, challenging.
Thornbridge Charlie Brown Peanut Butter Brown Ale, 6.2%
The Peak District brewery produces some of Britain’s best beers. Jaipur and Kipling are widely available and simply fantastic beers, but they don’t rest on their laurels. Head brewer Rob Lovatt loves to turn out a huge range of beers from classic styles to the occasional out-there brews. Take Charlie Brown Peanut Butter Brown Ale. It really does taste of peanuts, yet it’s thrillingly gluggable and not too sweet at all.
BrewDog Tokyo, 16.5%
The Scottish craft beer pioneers (slowly taking over the world) are constantly releasing a bewildering range of beer (including some pushing 40%ABV). High on any beer geek’s list is Tokyo*, an ‘Intergalactic Stout’. It’s loaded with jasmine and cranberries, and is hopped to hell. Oh, and then aged on French toasted oak chips. An astonishing amount of flavour.
Waen Brewery Chilli Plum Porter, 6.1%
That tingle on the back of the tongue? That’d be the chilli hit. The plum notes are noticeable on the nose and this porter – a dark beer like stout – is one to cosy up with on a dark, cold night. Waen Brewery, run by Sue Hayward and John Martin in Wales, turn out other imaginative beers, including Snowball, a hefty coconut stout.
Pressure Drop Wu Gang Chops the Tree, 3.8%
Now London’s Hackney Marshes may not seem an obvious inspiration for a beer, but the crew at Pressure Drop have been known to take to the commons around London to forage for ingredients. Dandelion and burdock in Strictly Roots, and bay in the delicious ode to a German wheat beer that is the esoterically-named Wu Gang Chops the Tree.
Meantime Chocolate Porter, 6.5%
Porter is a dark beer that naturally has the roasted flavours of cocoa, coffee, molasses and a gentle smokiness. For London brewery Meantime, that wasn’t enough, so they packed their Chocolate Porter with real chocolate. Nom, nom. This is a dessert of a beer.
Brew By Numbers' Strawberry & Mango Witbier 5%
Another brewery that are clearly having a lot of fun, but never ones to add ingredients for the sake of it. Brew By Numbers add real fruit to their Strawberry & Mango wheat beer, but also balance it with green tea. They are constantly changing recipes, so if this is sold out – hit up something else. It’s bound to be good.
Buxton Brewery Very Far Skyline, 5%
Where wine and beer meet: this is a barrel-aged Berliner Weisse. Deconstructed, a Berliner weisse is a gorgeous low-alcohol, pleasantly sour white beer. Buxton have then aged this in Chardonnay barrels adding a clear taste of white wine.
Sharp’s Chalky’s Bite, 6.8%
It was perhaps inevitable that Cornish brewmasters Sharp’s would collaborate with seafood chef Rick Stein who makes his home in the county. The result is Chalky’s Bark and Chalky’s Bite, named after Rick’s beloved dog. Chalky’s Bite is made with wild Cornish fennel and aged. The result is tailor made for seafood.
Bateman Black Pepper Ale, 5.1%
Remember when crisp companies reintroduced the little bag of salt again to sprinkle yourself? It was a gimmick that didn’t work. Well, how about a little sachet of black pepper to add to your beer. It could have been so easily dismissed, if it didn’t add quite so much to this strong pale ale. It has a naturally peppery aroma thanks to the hops, but why not dial it up? A gimmick it ain’t.
Oliver’s At the Hop, 5.5%
This isn’t a beer, it’s a cider. But, once it has fermented, buckets of Cascade hops are added in a process known as dry-hopping. Cascade is a powerful US hop, known for it’s citrusy flavours it imparts in big IPAs. Used with apples, the result makes for a fascinating cider.
Daniel Neilson is the editor of craft beer magazine Original Gravity%.