When Britain’s oldest brewery offers you a pastel-coloured beanie hat, you know there’s something afoot. If it wasn’t backed up by a good beer you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was just another gimmick, where the frills make up for what’s lacking in the liquid.
But no, I’m at Craft Beer Rising, and in my glass is Bear Island Triple Hopped Lager from Shepherd Neame. As with many venerable brewers, Shepherd Neame has embraced the pilot brewkit and is playing hard with more punchy flavours.
Launched at last year’s Craft Beer Rising, its predecessor, Bear Island East Coast Pale Ale, has already leapfrogged Spitfire to become the brewery’s second bestselling ale across its pub estate. Triple Hopped Lager has just landed (see 'Top picks' below).
But if you’re already known for your strength of flavour, where do you go next? For Black Sheep, its pilot brewkit offers a playground as well as a trial space. While milkshake IPAs might not fit with its core offer, under its 5 Barrel Project moniker, Mango Milkshake IPA seems just right. Only 20 kegs of each are produced, but it’s memorable and will win new fans.
Reaching into the craft beer space takes a different form depending on where you start from. For uber-traditional Timothy Taylor’s, where cask is king, we’re not talking a milkshake IPA. Rather, Hopical Storm is a worldly hop blend, all British grown, done Timothy Taylor-style and deliberately kept sessionable.
Marston’s are at it too. We’ve known for a while about DE14, its pilot brewery named after the HQ postcode. There, as well as experimenting, the brew crew get to engage in a different way with the new breed of beer lover. This year’s CBR crop of beers included a coffee porter, Chapadao, the winning beer from Marston’s 2018 Brew Your Own Beer competition.
Smaller breweries always share something special at Craft Beer Rising. Often showcasing small batches that will run out, they want us to fall in love with the brewery as well as the beer. It’s a different way of building business. You as the buyer need to engage.
Bad Seed is a case in point. Its sour beers were the first to sell out during the trade session, perhaps partly due to the novel approach it takes. Each kettle sour batch is split into two: one is dry hopped, the other has fruit added. While the moreish Citra Sour I tried has already run its course, the next pair – dry hopped with Ekuanot and Idaho or fruited with mango and passion fruit – will be on sale imminently via Eebria Trade.
It’s not just flavour but format that the big guys play with to target the ‘craft’ market. Hopical Storm is in 33cl rather than 50cl bottles, and that’s the size Bear Island East Coast Pale Ale will launch in April. In cans, it’s the other way around, with both BrewYork and Bad Seed transitioning from 33cl to 44cl. As well as more volume, this offers more space for artwork. Yet more of a chance to engage with the all-important consumer.
Top picks from Craft Beer Rising
Shepherd Neame, Bear Island Triple Hopped Lager
Named after the island opposite Shepherd Neame’s home town of Faversham where a bear was marooned (yes, really), this mixes European and American hops. Typically poised, there’s citrus and mandarin zest notes aplenty, with true texture and a welcome lift on the finish.
4.6%, POA/30-litre keg, Shepherd Neame, on trial in Shepherd Neame estate, due to launch this summer
BrewYork, Kaijuice American Pale Ale, Yorkshire
BrewYork is only three years old but already creating waves with its beers and tap rooms. Its Kaijuice offers beautiful freshness of mango and pineapple flavours. How come? Technique. Hops aren’t used for bittering, but rather added later and at lower temperatures than normal, a growing trend among those not wanting to lose aromatic intensity.
Timothy Taylor’s, Hopical Storm, Yorkshire
Six different hops feature at various stages. Light fruit-salad notes mingle with mango and zesty citrus atop a light-to-medium malt base and a pleasing sparkle.
4%, POA/12x33cl, Timothy Taylor’s
Cotswold Imperial Pilsener, Gloucestershire
Longer maturation from one of Britain’s only dedicated lager breweries. Having been matured for nine months – that’s one helluva commitment – this shows a beautifully rounded malt depth and an almost marzipan note to the flavour.
7.3%, £23/12x33cl, Cotswold Brew Co
Coronado Brewing Co, Weekend Vibes, IPA, California
Craft Beer Rising always offers a telling glimpse of what’s across the pond. This year 22 US brewers made the trip, showcasing IPAs in all their glory, as well as sours, Brut IPAs and much more. This San Diego Pale Ale – that’s a DIPA to you and me – from Coronado, one of California’s earliest craft breweries, has incredible depth of tropical flavours from its Mosaic, Citra and Simcoe hop cocktail.
6.8%, POA/56.8cl, The Bottle Shop will be supplying in the coming months
Anything else? Ask about a trade ticket to Taps, 29 March, where Craft Beer Rising meets Birmingham’s award-winning foodie event, Digbeth Dining Club. The exhibitor brief includes a request for beers that are new and innovative. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.