Making predictions is difficult, but fun; it can make commentators seem like great seers, or complete idiots. (Usually the latter.)
In the wake of the takeover of Camden by AB-InBev a lot of people said, ‘Well, I saw this coming.’ Funny thing is, we didn’t, not exactly:
Most other breweries we can think of with slick branding and accessible flagship brands that aren’t brown bitters — Camden, Thornbridge, Williams Bros — seem less likely, but for some reason, we keep thinking of Purity. An outside chance, maybe, but perhaps worth a flutter.
But we won’t let that stop us from making this our first prediction:
1. At Least One More Big Beer Takeover of a UK Craft Brewer
Others with better insight than us — namely Melissa Cole and Martyn Cornell — seem to be of the view that AB-InBev might have done with the UK for now (UPDATE via Twitter) and will be roving the Continent looking for acquisition targets. Maybe they’re right but we reckon at least one more British brewery will go this year.
‘Who’s next?’ you ask.
We spent a session in the Yacht Inn trying to work this out, reviewing our dodgy predictions from last year, and shuffling the pieces round. Our best guess, based on nothing but gut instinct, is Thornbridge.
Arguments against: Simon Webster told us a couple of years back that they hoped to create a new family brewery, to be handed down through generations; we’ve heard no rumours like those that swirled around Camden; and Thornbridge beers are not as ubiquitous in mainstream bars and restaurants as either Meantime’s or Camden’s.
Arguments for: It is a company run by middle-aged businessmen, not idealistic twenty-somethings; their beer is a fixture in classier pubs across the country, as well as in supermarket chain Waitrose; they’ve increasingly positioned themselves as distinct from ‘bathtub brewers’, emphasising the cleanness and consistency of their products — they are at the not-scary end of craft; and they’ve focused more on lager-type beers in recent years. But perhaps the clincher is that their head brewer, Rob Lovatt, came to them from Meantime, via — wait for it — a very brief stop at Camden.
2. Less Hops; Weird Hops; Hop Substitutes
This isn’t much of a prediction — we already the hop shortage is having an effect. It’s wishful thinking on the part of some to assume that it will suddenly see hip young British brewers and drinkers embracing mild and best bitter overnight but it is likely to lead to:
- An increase in the number of self-consciously craft beers emphasising malt character over hops — more stouts, probably, which can still deliver the required intensity of flavour, especially with the smoke amped up.
- Beers with headlining hops you’ve never heard of, or that aren’t very cool — brewers taking what they can get and making the best of them — ‘Actually, I quite like that oniony character.’
- Grapefruit/mango/lemon IPAs— why waste time and money getting fruit character from scarce hops when you can just bung in the real thing? (Also already happening and has been for some time.)
- And other green things — no lesser authority than Irish super-palate The Beer Nut has declared Lindemann’s-Mikkeller Spontanbasil his beer of the year. Herbs are cheap and easy to grow, let alone buy, so why not?
3. Birmingham Craft Takes Off
We made this prediction in the middle of the year, working on the assumption that every big city is going to have its moment. Bristol’s ‘gone over’, Manchester is all abuzz, and so Brum — the UK’s second biggest city — must be next.
For starters, the Birmingham Beer Bash, which will be back in 2016, must be a sign of something percolating.
The city has also recently gained a few more beer blogs, several of which are represented by The Midlands Beer Blog Collective. We’re reluctant to put too much importance on this latter point — we didn’t mention blogs in our book for this reason — but in London, a glut of online enthusiasm from 2007 did accompany the coming of Kernel et al.
So, talking specifics: we reckon 2016 will see the announcement of at at least one new well-funded buzz-worthy brewery (think Manchester’s Cloudwater); and at least, say, two cool new bars.
(It’s worth noting, though, that Birmingham Beer Bash impresario David Shipman told us in an email in June that he thought 2016 was too soon. He might be right.)
4. A Mainstream Hazy Beer
You’ve got to include a flyer in these things, haven’t you? If this comes off, we’ll look like geniuses and, if it doesn’t, no-one will remember. (Until we remind them in next year’s predictions post.)
What we’ve got in mind is something like Foster’s Cloudy, Stella Troublette or Old Hazy Hen — the kind of beer you might see in a supermarket or a high street pub.
Wait, wait — bear with us!
It would have seemed daft to us this time last year but 2015 has seen the growth of a related category: cloudy cider.
And haziness/cloudiness is just the kind of gimmick big marketing-led breweries love, offering the look of something different, ‘authentic’ (which means something kind of weird to marketing folk) and ‘premium’ without requiring much if any change to the easy-drinking flavour profile. Here’s the kind of thing the cloudy cider folk are saying.
If anything can stop this it’s the perceived connection between hazy beer and impending diarrhoea among British beer drinkers, but then it’s not as if most consumers were crazy about dirty-looking scrumpy a few years back.
UPDATE 24/02/2016: People keep asking ‘What about Hoegaarden?’ so, to clarify, it has to have Hazy or Cloudy in the name and that has to be the primary point of different — Hoegaarden is cloudy but also tastes funny; ditto Erdinger and other German wheat beers. We’re talking about a variant on e.g. Stella Artois that tastes just like Stella Artois but with yeast in it.
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And, finally, just by way of making a public commitment that might help us to actually carry through, here are some resolutions for the blog:
- Drink more silly beer. We’ve been so focused on understanding standards and classics, and drinking our handful of favourites in the pub, that we’ve totally lost touch with the wackier end of the spectrum. In practice, this means a few more trips to Falmouth, more adventurous online orders, and (gulp) probably spending a bit more.
- More people. Interviewing Peter Elvin was the first step on this path. It’s easy for us to retreat into old books — we feel quite comfortable there — but interviews and conversations with brewers, drinkers and publicans are fun too, and faces and voices bring a blog alive. (Supplementary resolution: be less cowardly about taking photographs.)
- More and different pubs. We don’t even need to go far afield: there are pubs in Penzance we’ve never been in. This is ridiculous, and we will sort it.
- Get brewing again. Our home brewing lapsed after a few bad batches but the most recent attempts suggest that, during the hiatus, we levelled up. So, more of that, and especially more historic recipes, e.g. some form of Devon White Ale.