They're a really interesting bunch, the youngsters who are driving the British beer scene. Susanna Forbes discovers sax-playing punks, practising Buddhists, cone-fermenters and session singers, as she meets the brewers and their brews
Brian Dickson – Northern Monk Brew Co, Leeds
Volume (litres/week): 2013: 3,200 Now: 9,600
Personality: Gregarious and ever inquisitive.
Current dream beer: Boon’s Oude Geuze Black Label. 'I sat with my idol Frank Boon in Munich last month. I was like a teenager.'
Music to mash to: Two Tone ska.
Famous for: Eclectic flavour combinations, collaborations, community initiatives.
'I love the fact that you can put anything into beer,' says Brian Dickson, head brewer at Northern Monk Brew Co. 'But you have got to get it right. The Pear & Hawthorn Wit was one of my favourites.'
If original ingredient blends is one thing Dickson has sorted, collaborations is another. 'I always learn from them,' he says.
Then there's the hops. His Session IPA came third out of 111 in the relevant section of the 2016 World Beer Cup. 'That's a testament to how well they're doing,' says Stu McKinlay, co-founder of Yeastie Boys.
Dickson's dad had worked in the drinks industry for decades, but it was his time working at renowned Huddersfield beer haunt The Grove that proved to be the real catalyst.
He took himself to Eddie Gadd's in Kent before knocking on Mark Tranter's door at Dark Star in Sussex, then apprenticed himself at dozens of breweries around the country.
He joined Russell Bisset's fledgling Northern Monk brewery in late 2013. Six months after that they landed the Grade II-listed former mill The Old Flax Store to establish the brewery, one floor of
which houses their popular taproom, The Refectory.
Available in 16 countries, Northern Monk's mantra is 'the evolution of tradition'.
What's next? Establishing The Refectory Garden, planting hops.
What others say: 'Brian and the team are straddling that line between drinkability and experimentation in a way that very few manage to pull off. I would put this down to the people Brian surrounds himself with and his untiring enthusiasm for hunting out better beer.' Stu McKinlay, Yeastie Boys
Three to try: Eternal, session IPA (4.1%): citrus meets pine in quaffable mode. Neapolitan Pale (6.2%): ice cream in a glass. Northern Star, mocha porter (5.9%): delectable easy-drinking collab with a local coffee roaster.
What else? Dickson played saxophone in punk ska band Wobbly Bob.
01132 436430, northernmonkbrewco.com
Jaega Wise – Wild Card Brewery, Walthamstow
Volume (litres/week): 2014: 2,000 Now: 8,000
Personality: Dynamic, vivacious, meticulous, generous of spirit.
Mentors: Sophie de Ronde, Muntons.
Current dream beer: 'Raspberry saisons – we had three at our recent beer festival.'
Music to mash to: Old blues and soul classics – Aretha and Nina Simone.
Famous for: Tasty, honest beers; supporting other start-ups; its brewery tap.
'The gate had been locked for 20 years. We took a power saw to it. It means that it's a six-minute walk to the tube rather than 20 minutes.'
Such a 'can-do' attitude is typical of Jaega Wise, head brewer of Wild Card Brewery. As well as its tasty deck of core beers, its bar has put the friendly brewery on the map. It's been there since day one, but because of the location, a light industrial estate, it was hard going at the start.
Luckily, Wise, along with Wild Card founders William Harris and Andrew Birkby, was up for the challenge.
Wise, who hails from the Midlands, did a chemical engineering degree – 'I am a complete nerd. I like to know how things are made,' she says – and survived an office job for a few years before joining Harris and Birkby.
'Growing up in the Midlands, beer is just part of your life,' says Wise. 'Going to the pub is what you do. We were always going to lots of beer festivals.'
It soon became apparent Wise was good at brewing. 'It's big machines and giant chemistry,' she says. Cuckoo brewers initially, the trio secured their own site in early 2014. Two years later, volume brewed has quadrupled and they are about to launch their first lager, The Joker.
Wise loves Maris Otter malt – 'it's crazy consistent' – and experimenting with hops. 'Our Queen of Diamonds IPA is a hop party. Columbus is usually a bittering hop, but I used it for its aromatics.'
What's next? 'Playing with fruit' on the pilot brewkit.
What others say: 'Jaega Wise brews highly quaffable, classic beers. In the current brewing scene where many drinkers are fickle and respond to hype, this is why Wildcard Brewery is doing so well in a very crowded market.' Jane Peyton, School of Booze
Three to try: Jack of Clubs ruby ale (4.5%): where it all began. Queen of Diamonds, IPA: exotic fruit flavoured (5%). The Joker, lager: fermenting as I write…
Anything else: Wise is also a professional session singer.
020 8935 5560, wildcardbrewery.co.uk
Bradley Cummings & Gareth Williams – Tiny Rebel Brewery, Newport
Volume (litres/week): 2012: 984 Now: 19,680
Personality: Enjoyably intense; focused yet casual.
Influences: Brewdog, Thornbridge.
Current dream beer: Cantillon (Cummings); Theakston Old Peculiar, on cask (Williams).
Music to mash to: With a ‘really young brew crew’, it’s a real mix of sounds. ‘From dubstep and The Beach Boys to the Manic Street Preachers.’
Famous for: Winning gongs, punchy beers, lively bars.
It's no mean feat to win SIBA's Brewery Business of the Year. Particularly when you're only four years old. But then Gareth Williams and Bradley Cummings had already scooped Overall Champion Beer of Britain
for Cwtch (pronounced Cootch, meaning 'cuddle' in Welsh) at CAMRA's 2015 Great British Beer Festival. And opened Cardiff's first independent beer bar, the Urban Tap House.
A tidy, talented band of brothers (-in-law), Williams and Cummings have a straightforward vision: good beer, something different and a wish to stay rooted in the South Wales community they grew up in.
A taste of Brewdog Punk IPA in the mid-noughties was what lit the fuse. After that, Williams became an ardent home brewer and the pair travelled the land to find good beer. Frustrated about the lack of choice where they lived, in 2010 they hatched a plan: to 'spend two years on the business plan and the recipes' and 'to go and buy
a good kit', says Cummings.
'We didn't realise the potential. It just snowballed,' says Williams. 'Within the first year, the brewery became self-sufficient.'
Williams has a big passion for yeast. 'So many breweries overlook this aspect,' he says. He reckons their own passion played a part in their big win for Cwtch.
The year after launching, they opened the Urban Tap House in Cardiff, following with its Newport sibling in 2015. Back at the brewery, cask accounts for two-thirds of production, and exports now reach 20 countries.
What's next? The Tiny Rebel Newport Food & Drink Festival on 1 October, not to mention expansion.
What others say: 'Gareth and Brad from Tiny Rebel have quickly established themselves at the forefront of craft brewing. Their beers match their vibrant marketing while also managing to effortlessly tap into the traditional cask market.' Jake Douglas, Salopian Brewery
Three to try: Hadouken (7.4%): green forest meets tropical fruit bowl. Clwb Tropicana (5.5%): incredible intensity of exotic fruit aromas. Dirty Stop Out (5%): sumptuous, velvety smoked oat stout with nine malts.
01633 547378, tinyrebel.co.uk
Craig Middleton – Cromarty Brewing Co, the Black Isle
Founded: Late 2011
Volume (litres/week): 2011: 1,600 Now: 10,000
Personality: Happy, calm, capable, creative.
Influences: Cantillon, Magic Rock Brewing, the USA.
Current dream beer: 'I love my sours. Nightmare on Brett from Crooked Stave, or Tart of Darkness from The Bruery.'
Music to mash to: Bruce Springsteen.
Famous for: Drinkability, a Heston-like approach to ingredients.
'The whole flat was devoted to brewing,' says Craig Middleton, speaking about his time at Glasgow University. He'd caught the bug, and two years later he swapped his engineering degree for the world-renowned Brewing and Distilling BSc at Heriot-Watt.
A trip to Colorado to visit friend Chad Yakobson, now of Crooked Stave brewery but then working for Odell’s, was equally thought-provoking. 'They were so ahead. People were into all sorts of styles.'
Back home after graduation, Middleton joined forces with his parents to set up Cromarty Brewing Co. Their first beer, Happy Chappy – an apt name for his dad and him – is subtitled New Wave Pale Ale, and with its fragrant orange and green pine notes and balanced bitterness it sets the tone for the characterful, poised beers to follow.
It's not just hops. Middleton loves his malts too – his Ghost Town porter boasts 10 – and he experiments with wild yeast and barrel fermentation. 'It is great that brewers are having to use different ingredients,' he says, thinking of current hop shortages.
His Cone Head Collab with Tempest Brewing Co saw him shin up the trees to 'harvest' the cones. These were lightly toasted before being put in the boil, with more cones added into the maturation tank – dry-coning, if you will.
What's the key to handling these diverse ingredients and variables? 'Get everything correct,' he says. 'The oxygen levels, the temperature – everything. Fresh beer is best. We don't hold huge stocks.' Still only 28, I sense the journey has only just begun.
What's next? Lagers, wild yeast and barrels.
What others say: 'I'm proud to have Craig as our local brewer. His mix of traditional and new-age styles perfectly fits the wide tastes of our rather varied customer base. In addition to his creative approach you can count on the scientist in him to provide consistent and flawlessly conditioned beer in cask, keg or bottle.' Jim Anderson, The Anderson, Fortrose
Three to try: White Out, Session White IPA (3.8%): dangerously drinkable. Red Rocker, Red Rye Hop Extravaganza (5%): perfect hop/malt balance. Ghost
Town, Mysteriously Malty Porter (5.8%): delightfully chocolate driven.
01381 600440, cromartybrewing.com
Paul Jones – Cloudwater Brew Co, Manchester
Founded: Early 2015
Volume (litres/week): 2015: 4,800 Now: 9,600
Personality: Principled but pragmatic, hippie-like hipster.
Inspirations: Cantillon, Sierra Nevada, AleSmith, To Øl, The Kernel, Buxto Brewery, Magic Rock Brewing.
Current dream beer: Tegernseer Hell: 'If I could get this on draft, I would carve my name on the stool.'
Music to mash to: Rock, Celtic punk.
Famous for: Seasonality and flavour.
Within a year of releasing its first beer, Cloudwater had created 70 others and was turning new accounts away.
Cloudwater may still be young, but it benefits from the clear-headed vision of its two founders: former record producer and sound engineer Paul Jones, and James Campbell, former head brewer at Marble Beers.
The name Cloudwater comes from an old Chinese poem about wandering novice Buddhist monks and the way that a beginner brings precious few preconceptions to the task in hand. 'I was a practising Buddhist for eight years,' explains Jones.
Beer mingles with Jones' love of food and seasonality. He met Campbell when they worked together at Indy Man Beer Con in 2012.
'I wondered whether the modern beer drinker would mind not having a core range,' says Jones. 'I wanted to keep moving with the seasons. For example with the hops.'
Thus beers are named first by the style and the season – for instance: 'IPA, Spring-Summer' – followed by the hop(s). As the year evolves, so too do the malts and hops.
Dealing in proper ingredients – and lots of them – doesn't come cheap. Jones' DIPA (double IPA) sells regularly for £9 a pint up and down the land. 'We are not wary of applying the same margins. As long as the consumers get the flavour they expect then I don't think they will be disappointed.'
What's next? More barrel-ageing experimentation – 'we'll probably have 200 by the end of the year'; expansion; a modern beer bar.
What others say: 'I really like the approach Cloudwater has taken to seasonality and branding, rather than sticking to the old core range format. But those guys really need to work on their beard game. Room for improvement there!' Stuart Ross, Magic Rock Brewery
Three to try: DIPA v3 (9%): 100 on RateBeer; I'm not surprised. IPA Citra (6.5%): fragrantly punchy, creamy and lightly bitter. US Light Comet (3.6%): pine and tropical fruits, hoppy. (The last two are from the Spring-Summer range, try the corresponding Autumn-Winter brews.)
0161 661 5943, cloudwaterbrew.co