Where can I really start as I look back over the last year. It was a massive journey for everyone at PSBH; staff, Jonny, customers & everyone in-between. That sounds like an intro to a ‘This is Your Life’ thank you speech haha. The main reason for writing this is to review where I thought beer was at last year and where I believe it is heading.
I think last year was one of the most important years for British beer culture, not only did a handful of amazing new bars open, but people’s drinking habits were beginning to take a massive shift.
Early on in the year we visited the Winter Ales Festival in Manchester, sampling the delights & horrors of some of the ales being produced in this country. I wont go into the bad ones as I would rather focus on the good. One example was the crowd gathering around a certain pump. This pump was dispensing a new IPA from a brewery in Honley, Summerwine. This beer was called Diablo and as we drank our halves we chatted to some of the most important people in the North West’s beer scene. Almost exactly a year on from that point, this IPA by Summerwine graces our bar but on keg not cask. That’s how fast last year’s “craft” beer scene was moving.
This neatly brings me on to talk about beer trends of 2011. I think IPA was one of the biggest in the commercial sense, this almost lost abbreviation was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, as well as in the fermenters of most brewers in many forms.
Traditional British IPAs, Black IPAs, Rye PAs, Double IPAs, IRAs… the list is massive. IPA is such a subjective style, no one alive knows what an original IPA actually tasted like, so every form is a guess and every brew a homage. A lot of the best for me were heavily influenced by craft brewing in America; hop forward, strong and dangerously drinkable. There was however a simmering undertone of a lean to more traditional hop usage, Thornbridge Seaforth springs to mind with the hops Target and Progress being used to great affect. Darkstar’s Green Hopped IPA also used target masterfully as a finishing hop.
The next big one, obviously is keg which has become the driving force of the craft scene in Britain. Whilst Camra may not agree, a lot of exciting things have gone under pressure this year and have brought many new drinkers away from mass produced beer to handmade excellent products. Whether it be key keg, steel or corny.
I will always love cask conditioned beer, but I will also always love keg. Things have changed and I believe all methods of dispense should be embraced and enjoyed by beer lovers.
Now onto Hop trends. This is pretty easy, anything big and American continued to grace our beers. Citra, Centennial, Columbus, Cascade, Simcoe, Amarillo… this list could go on. These have surfaced in many beers and even the big guys are taking notice. However, as these hops started to run out people started using alternative varieties. Nelson Sauvin use has been increasing over the last few years, for all the right reasons, and along with it’s lesser know cousins Motueka, Pacifica and so on, they are helping to bring more interesting flavours to our beer. The latter end of the year brought us beers with Aussie hops. Stella & Galaxy for me have become the stars of 2011, packing an almighty punch into lower gravity pale ales.
So what does 2012 have to offer?
I think this year is going to be even more important than the last as the thirst for new and exciting beers grows stronger. I see the top craft breweries going wild with crazy, unheard of styles that will push the envelope further forward.
Hops this year are going to be thin on the ground, especially the big C Americas. This will push brewers to be more imaginative with what they can get hold of Double Fuggles IPA? Stella and Galaxy are still in abundance so expect more great usage of them. The rise again of noble hops is going to be more widespread with strains coming from the U.S. such as Sterling & Liberty. A few more NZ strains are on these shores too, Green Bullet & Pacific Gem being the most notable.
People working together is going to be massive in 2012 too. We kicked off the year with the ultimate meeting of minds, brewing minds that is, with Darkstar, Quantum, Magic Rock, Red Willow, Summerwine & ourselves brewing a beer together. I think people working together because they love something is always a good thing. The Venus project is another example with brewsters collaborating together to produce a series of one off beers. What a great idea!
A few breweries have caught my eye too. Quantum is going from strength to strength and Tempest are my ones to watch along with the Bristol Beer Factory. The Tap East micro brewery also sounds very interesting although anything made in London is like gold dust now with the likes of The Kernel, Brodies & Camden making excellent beers. I’m keeping my beady eye on Darkstar too. For me, these guys sum up the best in British brewing. Traditional, revolutionary, trend setting alchemy at its best. Just check out their website and look at the first three specials of this year and then you will know where I am coming from.
But it’s not just the UK that excites… Small artisanal breweries are popping up all over the world; Japan now has a flourishing scene and Denmark has Mikkeller, pushing brewing to the next level. Mikkel from Mikkeller is definitely searching to make liquid gold and he is not far off. As I write this Emelisse has dropped into our cellar, another one to watch out for in 2012 from Holland, along with De Molen. All over Europe it’s going brewing mad, Norway is another example with the excellent Nogne O. I have heard rumours of stuff kicking off in Cataluya and even northern France too.
What I’m trying to say is there has never been a better time for beer lovers than right now, so get yourself into a pub and drink something new and exciting, there is enough of it.