So Who Are the Usual Suspects?

Claude Raines as Renault in Casablanca (1942).

In a comment on that Jeff Alworth piece about British beer, Barm put into words something we’ve noticed as a permanent background grumble in the blogoshire:

The publicity… goes to those breweries with well-thought out marketing strategies, ambitious export programmes and PR agencies… So you shouldn’t form your picture of what is going on in Britain based on the UK mass media, or on beer blogs written by a small number of extremely passionate extreme beer drinkers.

Of course it’s not only the bloggerati/crafterati who have their favourites — just look at winners of CAMRA’s various beer competitions over the past couple of decades.

On the whole, we think the breweries that get the most collective attention from whichever quarter tend to deserve it because their beer is reliably good and/or they do interesting things — that is, interesting things with their beer, not publicity stunts. It’s the wisdom of the hive mind. (Or stupidity of the herd, depending on your point of view.)

This has been on our minds for a while which is why, at a beer festival in January, we made a point of drinking only the products of breweries that ‘get ignored’, as the grumblers have it. There was nothing wrong with beers from Branscombe Vale, Exe Valley or Topsham, to name three, but they were literally nothing to write home about, and not just because they were in traditional styles: they weren’t as exciting as really good pints of Fuller’s London Pride or Harvey’s Sussex Best. Blogging about them would be like reviewing reams of paper on Amazon.

But we want to explore this a bit more, so, without over-thinking it, please tell us below:

  1. which UK breweries get more than their fair share of attention and
  2. which get unfairly overlooked.

To minimise the effect of the hive mind, we’ll keep comments in moderation and, assuming anyone responds, will make them all visible at 16:30, UK time.

70 thoughts on “So Who Are the Usual Suspects?”

  1. It only seems fair that we join in too so…

    Usual suspects: at the moment, ‘everyone’ (i.e. the most interesting writers) seem to be fixated on Camden, Beavertown, the Wild Beer Co and Magic Rock. We mention the latter two in Brew Britannia, and will be mentioning the other two in our 2015 Brew Britannia update, cos they’re interesting in various ways.

    And, as we’ve said above, we’re not sure there are many breweries that get unfairly overlooked. We’ve always been impressed by J.W. Lees beer but the only person who seems to like them, or at least to write about them, is Tandleman, so maybe there’s one.

  2. The large southern regional brewers seem to get more attention than equivalents up north, not that id really want to champion them. Equally we hear more about small London startup than northern equivalents (northern monk for eg) . Brew dog cant change a bottle label without a dozen blogs discussing it so massively over hyped. Looking locally great heck, mallinsons, arguably ilkley all underrated. Kirkstall spring to mind but they are playing a long game only bottling one beer at the mo so not much for those outside the area to talk about. my local camra group bang on about a brewery id prefer not to give publicity of naming but are frankly crap but theyd be complete unknowns outside of the area. Oh and I fear magic rock and hawkshead will appear on someone’s overrated list so I’ll get my disagreement in early.

  3. From a purely London perspective, Camden fits category 1 perfectly – yes, they make some decent beer but dear God do they (and their fans) like to make it sound like they invented brewing.

    Redemption, on the other hand, rarely seem to get a mention – despite (IMHO) making some of the best ‘traditional’ beers in the capital.

  4. I’ve always thought Holdens get overlooked – when they are producing great Black Country bitters and mild in a similar way to Bathams – it’s frustrating they don’t have a social media presence and their beers (like Bathams) aren’t seen often outside the Midlands, but I guess their business model works for them and, like Bathams, they don’t feel the need to put it out there and distribute their beers. But I miss getting a pint of something like Golden Glow just as much as I miss Bathams – yet no-one else in the beer twitterati/blogosphere seems to talk about them? I would say it’s perhaps because they aren’t making “extreme” beers, but look at Bathams – they are a well-revered traditional family brewery granted near-mythical status; why do Holdens not pick up similar accolades?

  5. There’s only so many murky, oxidised, overly bitter and under/over carbonated 330ml bottle/can dressed in lovely labels I can take. Then reading about how amazing those breweries are from people tanked up on free booze at launch parties irks somewhat when i’ve paid £4.50 for an undrinkable bottle of faulty swill.

    I realise the topic is who is overhyped and I haven’t actually named anybody. If I could say the whole region of London is overhyped I would probably encompass most of the breweries I’m thinking of. Partizan being an exception as a brewery that fits into the lovely label category but is also one I’ll buy a bottle of whenever I see it as I like them very much)

    Overlooked: Wild Beer Co.

  6. Not necessarily overrated but you’d sometimes think Beavertown and Siren were the only two breweries to have opened in the last ten years! Alongside BrewDog and Wild Beer, but they have been a bit more unique in their approach/brewing so you can see why they would gain more publicity..

  7. For me, the following are breweries who’re reliably good, but don’t overtly “play the marketing game” (at least in my opinion), whilst making interesting high quality beers

    Salopian
    Bristol Beer Factory
    Cromarty
    Siren
    (I might add a few more when I think of them)

  8. There are breweries that just get more than their fair share of being talked about – generally because they’re seen as hip for some reason: in that category I’d put Beavertown & Camden, at the moment (the searchlight of hipness is always on the move). Then there are those that have a better reputation than they deserve, i.e. that over-promise & under-deliver; in that category I’d put Wild and Kernel.

    Breweries that get unfairly overlooked: I don’t think Red Willow are rated as highly as they should be, but the outstanding nominee in this category has to be Ticketybrew: they never get any attention, despite doing just about everything ‘right’ (distinctive USP, distinctive and typography-heavy labelling, wide and innovative range of styles, 330 ml bottles…). Is it because they haven’t gone big on kegging, or is it just a North/South thing – or a London/Not London thing, to be more precise?

        1. doesn’t matter. if the name of your brewery is an unfunny pun, you’re about as craft as a pint of slater’s top totty.

  9. Not sure I am satisfied it has much to do with “hive mind” so much as clever business folk who most skillfully manage the propagation of information. Given one of the most important foundational characteristics of the beer expert is access to the junket, promotional tours, etc – and only certain brewers can offer them the resulting discourse is pretty natural. Layer on that in house social media staff why wouldn’t the discourse be manipulated? EP Taylor would have admired it all greatly.

  10. OVERRATED:

    I’m gonna call it – well made, yes, but it’s been a long time for me since a Jaipur *zinged* and on that score I feel Thornbridge gets more praise than it deserves.

    Goes without saying that BrewDog get more *attention* than they deserve, but I admit Punk IPA has so hiked the level of the distress purchase that in my eyes they have been – and continue to be – a major force for good.

    (In London at least, Punk is widely available even in corner shops.)

    Of the London murky crowd, I think Beavertown’s Gamma Ray is wildly over-praised. The flavour is good, but the hops taste hidden by the haze. Conversely, their 8 Ball Rye IPA is beautiful, so it’s evens.

    UNDERRATED:

    Rooster’s seemed to me over the last five years not to get nearly the attention it deserved, though early signs in 2015 are that this is changing quickly with their canning roll-out. I’m delighted for them.

    Oakham make the very best pale ales in the country – pin bright, clean, bitter. They win major CAMRA awards and get solid contracts (e.g. M&S) but never seem to attract the fanboy *buzz* other breweries get. I think they deserve disciples.

    Back in London, Pressure Drop doesn’t have the hype of the Bermondsey crowd, which is a pity because their Pale Fire bests BBNO and even Fourpure efforts in my book (though I love Fourpure pils just like everyone else).

    1. I wish Oakham would make some more hawsebuckler or whatever it was called. All their other beers taste very similar. I love Citra as much as the next man, but its everywhere at the moment.

      Even crappy pubs that don’t really “do” real ale have citra on.

      Same could be said of Dark Star Hophead.

      1. Citra is far from “everywhere” outside a stone’s throw from Cambridgeshire. It’s scarce here in that London.

        And in any case, I see sufficient variety in their wares – Citra ain’t JHB ain’t Sea of Tranquility. I don’t rate Mompesson’s Gold (sp.?) but it is different.

      2. oakham and dark star are, unfortunately, not everywhere. Perhaps in your tiny bubble they are everywhere.

    2. I’ve never really liked Jaipur. Its too strong and too perfumed. On keg it is ok, but on cask its undrinkable.

      1. Yet in every blind tasting I’ve taken part in or indeed seen reported, the cask version wins. The keg version is vastly inferior but you’ve already said you don’t like the beer, so there’s little mileage there.

        1. almost certainly selection bias. If you did a random sample of the population, the results might be different.

  11. We hear way too much about Brewdog. My list of breweries that don’t get nowhere near enough coverage is long, but includes Salopian Brewery, Oakham, Harbour Brewing Co., Old Chimneys, Green Jack Brewing to name but a few.

  12. I really like Beavertown beers, but they do get a lot of coverage. An obvious candidate would be BrewDog too.

    I think if only from a historical perspective, Zero Degrees gets overlooked as a craft brewery that was producing interesting beer for years before it became fashionable to do so. Was delighted they got a nod in your book.

    Funny you should mention Harvey’s, as their variety of beer is generally overlooked. So much more to them than a great pint of Best.

  13. nice one

    1. this is tricky as most of the most mentioned breweries in UK do deserve it and most are actually chronically under-recognised in comparison to US brewers for e.g. Possibly Kernel & Brodies get over mentioned in comparison to other London that are better.

    2. Again tricky, I always try to mention those I think aren’t getting much attention…I probably don’t know about the others! Redchurch and Grain spring to mind. Stewart and Pilot, cromarty, elixir.Hopcraft and Steel City ( a lot of these are mentioned in ratebeer circles but dont see as much in the blogoshire). Wiper & True and Moor.

    3.There are also some that are mentioned a fair bit but deserve even more attention: burning sky, buxton, brew by numbers, marble, tempest

  14. A truly brilliant brewery that I hardly ever see mention of in blogs or press is Oakham, masters of the citrusy session beer but also great in other styles too, and they have a fair sized operation. ( I could list some wonderful small breweries but there is no point in bemoaning their lack of presence as they are too small to have much reach beyond the immediate locality). The only brewery who had a lot of hype but whose beers disappointed me is Arbor. There are other obvious candidates for in-your-face self promotion and fandom but I like their beers and the press is ultimately good for raising the profile of the industry, so they’re fine by me.

  15. To keep this all in one place, a couple of suggestions from Facebook:

    ‘Celt Experience. Bad name, little publicity, but superb beer.’

    ‘Thwaites: I know they’re not trendy or anything, but I’ve never had a bad drink of anything that has their name on it or the Crafty Dan incarnation. Greene King for “the usual suspects.”‘

    And one from an email we received from a reader a couple of weeks back: Celt Experience are overrated and get lots of attention because their branding is good.

  16. I think some breweries that don’t fit exactly into craft or family brewery miss out. For me, breweries I love that don’t seem to get a lot of love are:

    Lymestone
    Great Heck
    Westerham
    Chapel Down
    Mallinsons

    There are lots of others I’ve tried at least one really good beer from, but haven’t had a chance to try more as yet. Having a weekly beer subscription definitely helps me appreciate just how many good breweries are out there though.

  17. Here in Wirral, Brimstage sell everything they can brew without any problem. They stick to Wirral, Chester and Liverpool. Their Scarecrow bitter is how Landlord should taste and Rhode Island Red has flavour and a depth that is far superior to Hawkshead Red (which I like).
    I agree with the plaudits for Joules and Holdens.

    1. Thought Brimstage were fantastic when I visited Liverpool, wish they would send some 2 East anglia

  18. There is a lot of hype around a growing number of rock star breweries up and down the country. Each one seems armed with legions of loyal bloggers/tweeters devoted to their “tribe” and defending the honour of the realm.
    The drum thumping gets hysterical at times and I often feel like grabbing said convert and shouting
    ” It’s beer for crissakes, not a vaccine against cancer! ”

    I have at one time or another not enjoyed a beer from most of the much lauded breweries. So not going name and shame.
    Breweries like Green Jack, Padstow, and Orkney are probably derseving of a more attention in my opinion.

  19. (I’ll second Roland’s call on Westerham. Their Grasshopper on cask is simply delicious. All beers well made.)

  20. If you read London based blogs, you’re going to hear about London breweries. If you read Manchester based blogs, you’re going to hear about Manchester breweries. That’s just the way it is.

    1. Mmm. Some truth. But equally there is still buzz in London about Marble despite the beers being – how to put this politely? – in a transition phase.

      1. I personally feel the marble beers are still massively underrated- and don’t get the credit they deserve.

  21. Underrated old-school breweries: Lees, Timothy Taylor, Evan Evans, Felinfoel. (Great to see TT getting some recognition – it’s been a long time coming.)
    Underrated “old new breweries”: Phoenix, Pictish, Abbeydale, Rooster.
    Underrated crafties: Siren, Oakham, Liverpool Organic, Celt Ex, Hopcraft maybe, plus T’brew of course.

    1. We’ll be touching on that in a follow-up post but, yes, if London breweries get a lot of attention, it’s possibly because bloggers and writers outside London aren’t doing whatever it takes to get people interested in the breweries in their regions.

      1. Basic function of population?

        What is it, about 15% of the UK’s population within the M25?

        Would the average level of education, tech savvyness, and money to burn piss farting about beer also be greater?

        There’d be a critical-mass/networking type affect too.

        London’s simply got more noisy opinionated beer gits than other places. 🙂 And I don’t think they have an automatic duty to get themselves to the far flung corners of the UK (anywhere outside the M25).

        [I don’t actually think London is that much over-represented generally, but maybe that’s just because I don’t pay it too much attention to London folk. Over half the high-profile craft-scene breweries I can think of are outside of London. [I do think it has too many not-very-good breweries with too high a profile.]]

        1. London has a bigger catchment of drinkers and beenfits of close proximity for distribution (splitting distro costs to get further afield) and good transport links to rest of UK; so more so than any where else they get written about outside of their home turf. Also more bloggers writing about the beer=more bloggers elsewhere wanting to try the beer=self fulfilling prophecy

          Birmingham is second biggest though only tenth the size of Greater London…though off the top of my head can’t think of many bloggers in that area (plenty of ratebeerians and untapp’ders though)

  22. “over-rated” – none. this descriptor is normally is used by people who are upset that other people like a thing that they think is rubbish. just keep it under your hat (or just moan about it with like minded mates in private) and let people get on with enjoying what they like, kill joy. the world will not end, you can still enjoy the thing that you enjoy.

    under-rated – poppyland. norfolk legend. will remain under-rated as he only brews 10k bottles a year and does’t want to expand. great beers though.

  23. “I love Citra as much as the next man, but its everywhere at the moment.”… Nicely encapsulates just about everything that’s wrong about beer geekery.

    I agree that Oakham Ales are chronically under represented by beer writers. I suspect this is because they make the fundamental mistake of just doing what they do fabulously well without pandering too much to the golly-wow fad drinkers.

    1. are they? Didn’t Citra and Green Devil basically sweep the board on the bloggers “beer of the year awards” a couple of years ago?
      Didn’t Citra just come runner up in CAMRAs best beer of britain awards to much hullabahoo?

      Its also name checked in mainstream media outlets all the time.

      I think if you had to ask your average beer drinker to name a good example of one of these new pale and hoppy beers, most would say Brewdog Punk – but Oakham Citra would probably be next, ahead of anything Thornbridge or Beavertown et al do.

      I swear some people just don’t pay attention.

          1. well indeed, hence the irrelevance of Tyson’s remark.

            I think most people who take any kind of interest in beer will have heard of Oakham and know exactly what they do – sell a wide range of very nice but often largely indistinguishable citrusy cask ales. As they’re more of a craft crossover brand, they’re available in pubs that don’t really “do” craft. As a result, 90% of the time, whenever you see an Oakham beer, you know it will be the nicest beer available in the pub.

            If there aren’t many stories about them on blogs, its because they’re not doing anything worth blogging about. That doesn’t make them unknown or underexposed by any stretch of the imagination.

  24. Ha. I don’t think you needed to worry about the hive mind. This just confirms that most of the crafterati have very fixed ideas. There are some obvious contenders for over hyped but the fact is that some of them do make consistently good beer whilst some of the so-called overlooked named on here don’t. Possibly why they are overlooked?

    There is plainly, as in most media coverage, a North-South divide and, yes, it is tiresome hearing how the latest London murky is amazing and awesome, but I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

  25. Tom Madeiros at Twickenham Fine Ales and previously at the excellent but defunct Grand Union is a fantastic brewer who deserves more column inches.

    I am not concerned about brewers receiving too much, deserved, praise or others not gaining recognition. I would like to see a large number of micro brewers driven out of business and writers must tell the truth about the bad brewers and to metaphorically put the boot in. (For Northeners this would be just about any Dave Porter 3 day training course brewers)

    Thwaites, bah and pah.

    1. Tom left Twickenham last year and is now brewing for Quercus in Devon. Thankfully, his replacement at Twickenham is just as fine a brewer – Stuart Medcalf, formerly with WJ King.

      And yes, Twickenham is a brewery that doesn’t get the notice it deserves. Another one to add to the list, maybe, is Fuller’s – yes, it’s London-based like so many bloggers, but tends to get eclipsed in the publicity stakes by the newest-and-murkiest.

      Plus as with several of the others mentioned above, it is unfairly tagged by the crafterati as “boring brown bitter”.

  26. A lot of ‘over-rated’ and ‘under-rated’ chat here, which I don’t think was the point of the original post.

    The usual suspects are the usual suspects and I don’t think I can add to the names already discussed. There are breweries that get more credit/attention than in my opinion is truly deserved, but there we are. In South Wales, everyone knows who Tiny Rebel are now, but how widespread is that knowledge otherwise?

    I’m surprised that breweries like Waen, Colchester, Brickworks, Mighty Oak and (to a lesser extent) Celt Experience aren’t more widely discussed, and what about Salopian? They make some really interesting stuff but (because of their location?) are not talked about a great deal. I agree with the mention of Pressure Drop as well, but their relative lack of exposure can be tallied with the availability of their best beers, in my view.

    Maybe we can sort all this out by supporting our very best bloggers AND professional writers to make a real fist of supporting the little guys. There’s no point everyone trying to do it by themselves – it’s all just noise.

    1. “A lot of ‘over-rated’ and ‘under-rated’ chat here, which I don’t think was the point of the original post.”

      You’re right — we are more interested in coverage, although, having said that, there’s some overlap between over-rated and over-exposed, as exposure tends to go with being rated.

      1. Yeah, that was my thinking. I don’t *really* see the difference. Overrated/underrated vs over/under exposed – same difference in my book.

        Hamer mentioned Tiny Rebel – I think they have serious cred in “the scene” but agree they aren’t bracketed in with Beavertown, Magic Rock et al. as one of the “buzz breweries.”

        I’d add Crouch Vale – Amarillo was well ahead of the curve. But there again I’m not sure they’re innovating enough *now* to get fresh buzz. But I’m always glad to see their beer on.

        1. But BrewDog, for example, get a lot of exposure from people who *don’t* rate them putting the boot in.

      2. The thing is, how many articles can you write on a brewery that just does what it does, as well as ever, but doesn’t do anything particularly newsworthy, like launching a new Saison or something?

        An Oakham Saison would be interesting. I deeply wish they’d bring hawsebuckler out on draught though.

  27. OK, I’m just not good at just keeping my mouth shut.

    Too much love for what they are beer-wise:

    – Adnams (but arguably the best of the “established” brewers)
    – Camden (ridiculously so, but they’re in London… so…)
    – Many crap London micros (too many to name!)

    I will often enjoy beers from Adnams and Camden, they make some good beer. Camden’s headline stuff is just bland, Hells is not even nice for a lager to me, and I _do_ enjoy a “good” (IMO) lager, Pale Ale is a pale shadow of the style. But they’re a good price, folk drink them by the bucketload, and thus definitely a good product – I’d put them on a bar in preference to most macro-lager any day. Adnams on the other hand manage to keg regular beers of more flavour interest than Camden but without the song and dance…

    Hm, maybe I should have put Adnams in the other list?

    Borderline are perhaps Beavertown and Magic Rock… but then again, IMO these really are stand-out breweries for beer flavour and consistency. When someone hands me yet-another-fucked-up-hoppy-beer I tell them to go buy something “equivalent” from Magic Rock and taste alongside their beer. I hope they follow my advice, I picture them then going off to have a quiet sob in a corner.

    Breweries I’d beat more of a drum about.

    – Adnams (fuck, I don’t even know my own mind)
    – Buxton (they do get some good ‘rec’ tho)
    – Grain
    – Moor
    – Redemption
    – Roosters
    – Summer Wine
    – Many good small breweries (including some in London) who really can get the beers as good as any of the breweries mentioned above but are probably never going to get the recognition because they don’t know how the play the game, win the fans, or get their branding right. Sadly it isn’t _all_ about the beer… life sucks, hey? Some will nail it eventually, many won’t. Some are happy small and unknown and don’t really care. They’re probably the happier ones.

    Mostly these do have a pretty good following, they make fantastic beer… I just think they get less airtime than less good breweries.

    Now… I happen to distribute most of those I’d beat more of a drum about. It’d be a bit bloody daft if I was selling beer I didn’t highly rate though! That’s why I was hesitant about posting really… anything I say and do must now come with a disclaimer.

    Grain is one of the few breweries in my region other than Oakham that I think has a chance of standing out nationally purely on the back of the beer they brew (as opposed to size, price, or branding). That isn’t to say there aren’t other fantastic breweries, there are many that I like. But for reasons of style, consistency, size, or just ambition I don’t think they’re at the same level of potential.

    I’ve no doubt now offended several hundred people 🙂 Not to mention breweries I know and love who I’ve failed to put in the 2nd list!

    I don’t like this sort of thing because people will jump to the conclusion that I particularly hate or despise some brewery or another. There are very few breweries that I actually have any reason to despise, and none of them are mentioned in this text.

  28. Just thinking about the breweries unfairly overlooked. Crouch Vale got a mention and their Brewers Gold is a cracking beer. Others worth a mention – Mauldons (especially Blackadder) at their Brewery Tap, Larkins, Mighty Oak, Burton Bridge, Stringers, Hop Back, Woodfordes and Saltaire. All produce a wide range of beers which I’m happy to see on the bar.

  29. marwood “(For Northeners this would be just about any Dave Porter 3 day training course brewers)”

    So that’s three of the North West/Yorkshire’s finest damned then. You heard it here: Mallinsons, Wilson Potter and Silver St are all bobbins.

    And that’s just off the top of my head.

    FFS.

  30. Cheers to Lorraine & Birkonian for the good mentions of our Brimstage beers (Wirral, Merseyside).

    As Birko/Steve suggests, we “don’t get around much”self- delivering all we brew – keeping a close eye on our casks & beer quality.

    We’re dipping toes into bottling on a small scale, but I don’t see us changing much any time soon, so I guess we’ll remain under the radar for a while longer 🙂

  31. My local micro, Twickenham Fine Ales, is now the second-oldest micro in London, produces excellent “boring brown” beers, is widespread in pubs around its manor, but because it’s in untrendy West London tather than in hipster East, North or South-East London, gets nothiong written about it at all. Boo!

Comments are closed.