Last week was London Beer City, a week-long celebration of beer in the capital. Purely for research reasons, I threw myself wholeheartedly into the festivities, stopping in at the London Craft Beer Festival for a taste of the new, and the Great British Beer Festival for something more traditional. Talking with beer fans and brewers through the week, a few things popped up over and over again – here’s what I found.
The Wheel of Styles is still spinning
Recently, we have seen an explosion in the number of new breweries in the UK, and with that has come lots of new styles of beer. Generally they’re not actually new, drawing on the past or tweaking current recipes, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down. However, the fads are passing and not too many of them are sticking around as regular releases.
I’m a big fan of gose – a recently revived German sour beer, traditionally brewed with added salt and coriander – but they seem already to be on the way out, along with a selection of other interesting and less interesting beers. They will, no doubt, make their way back into the brewing schedule, but it’s probably best to stock up on speciality beers while you still can.
Saisons and Sours are now standards
While many styles are disappearing from the regular release lists, there are two that are definitely here to stay: saisons and sours. The former was the first post-IPA craft-beer darling, with London breweries like Brew By Numbers and Partizan forming their range around the style, but sours are the new kid on the block – if you’ve not got a sour on your list, then you’re not one of the cool kids. Fortunately, the quality and range of types of sour is pretty impressive in the UK at the moment, and I don’t feel the urge to reach for Belgian Lambics anywhere near as much as I used to.
The past few years have seen the strength of beers rising. While the Great British Beer Festival’s more traditional cask selection started in the region of 3% and rose up towards the heady heights of 8%, the London Craft Beer Festival bumped up higher, happily hitting the teens. However, there were a lot more beers at a sensible strength than in previous years.
They may be lighter in ABV but they’re still full of flavour, with stacks of dry hops making the session IPA – an IPA you can drink for a whole ‘session’ without falling over – a possibility. Along with favourites like Fourpure Session IPA and Beavertown Neck Oil, new entries are now appearing: Brixton Low Voltage is well worth a look.
You’ve got to have a lager
Destroyer of local beer traditions, most popular beer style in the world and location of more crimes against beer than any other style of brewing, lager has until more recently been ignored by UK craft breweries. However, great lagers from around the world have converted many beer fans as well as brewers, as the queue at the Czech/German bar during the Great British Beer Festival attested.
Brewing a good and flavoursome lager is a challenge and many British brewers have risen to it – as with sours, if you haven’t had a go, you’re behind the times. You can look over to the continent, but increasingly you don’t need to go too far to find a good pint of crisp lager – Orbit Nico and Lost and Grounded Keller Pils are excellent examples.
Don’t forget the old favourites
With so many new things appearing every week, you’d have thought that the classics would be forgotten. Definitely not – almost everyone I spoke to at both the Great British Beer Festival and London Craft Beer Festival made a beeline for a favourite beer as soon as they walked through the door. New is all well and good, but don’t forget your favourites.
For me that means raiding our warehouse shelves for Weird Beard Mariana Trench, the closest brewery to my flat, Beavertown Gamma Ray, my go-to if I just want a solid hoppy beer, and Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted, one of the beers that introduced me to the world of hops, back in the olden days.
Our beer selection continues to grow and while we’re focusing on London and Scotland (our home and second home), we’re always after suggestions – if you have any favourite breweries, let us know in the comments below or drop us a line.