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Beer and fashion have not always walked hand in hand. In the pre-craft era, beer appreciation - particularly of the Camera variety - was often unkindly characterised as rather crude: unkempt beards, socks worn with sandals, poor personal hygiene. It certainly wasn’t thought fashionable, but like so much in the beer world, that has changed.
Beer - or, at least some of it - is now in vogue. You only have to stroll into one of the many beautiful beer-focused bars in Britain’s major cities to realise that. Alternatively, visit a bottle shop and have a look at the packaging: beer now has the sort of cosy relationship with art and design that would have seemed comically unlikely 20 years ago.
Some breweries are most fashionable than others. It doesn’t make them the best breweries in the UK but it does offer some idea of what it takes to capture the public’s imagination. All of these breweries are serious about quality and packaging, and most of them focus on modish styles, particularly New England IPA.
Named the second best brewery in the world by the American website Ratebeer in 2017, Cloudwater has undeniably captured the imagination of British beer drinkers (or at least the subset that cares about what’s new). The decision to focus on New England IPAs - and to document the creative process online, often in exhaustive detail - has proven to be a smart move, and the branding is sharp and contemporary. Based in Manchester, Cloudwater is soon to open a bar in Bermondsey, the most fashionable of London’s brewing neighbourhoods.
Beavertown wasn’t the first craft brewery in London, but it has quickly become the most well-known. Following closely in the footsteps of Camden Town, which established a reputation for spot-on branding and crisp, clean beer, Beavertown has benefitted hugely from the artistic talents of Nick Dwyer, the young man who is responsible for its superb, skull-heavy branding. Founder Logan Plant, meanwhile, no longer brews - at least not regularly - but his ethos still holds sway. The beers tend towards the hoppy, with flagship Gamma Ray having quickly become a London icon, but there’s plenty more to Beavertown than that.
Some breweries are fashionable with drinkers; others are feted by brewers. Burning Sky fits into both categories. Mark Tranter, formerly of Dark Star, produces an impressive variety of beers, from IPAs to Saisons, but it’s when he introduces beer to the inside of a barrel that things get really interesting. Perhaps his best beer is Cuvee, an annual release, which is a blend of barrel-aged Saison with Lambic imported from Belgium and aged at the brewery in Sussex. It is utterly delicious.
When you see how much effort some breweries put into being cool (often with no return on their blood, sweat, and tears), The Kernel seems almost miraculous. It isn’t, really: this brewery emerged from a trip founder Evin O’Riordain made to New York about a decade ago, and was set up before London’s current beer mania began, in 2009 (The Kernel can take a lot of the credit for causing that mania, too). The key is consistency - of message and beer. The branding is simple, and the beer is still based around the original plan, which focused on American pale ales and old-school London dark beers. Happily, there’s plenty more than that these days, including an excellent series of London Sours (the Damson is particularly good).
Having originated in a sea container in Cornwall, Verdant has built a reputation on 440ml cans full of hugely aromatic, opaque New England IPA. Verdant is a small brewery, in a thinly-populated part of the country far from the major cities, so its success is particularly noteworthy. Their stock-in-trade is full-flavored beers with intriguingly odd names: Track & Field, say, or Fruit Car Sigh Exhibition. Like Deya - another well-regarded West Country brewery which makes soft-textured, extravagantly hoppy beers - the artwork is excellent, too.
The article is contributed by Will Hawkes. He is a freelance journalist specialising in beer and travel. He is an author of Craft Beer London, a guide to the city's burgeoning beer culture and a regular contributor to a host of publications including The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post and Beer Advocate.
The London Beer Competition (LBC) is an annual beer competition, organized by Beverage Trade Network, the leading online platform dedicated to connecting the global beverage industry. LBC recognizes and rewards beer brands based on quality, value for money and packaging. Know more about the competition here.