In response to an article listing ‘The 25 Most Important American Craft Beers’ Michael Lally at Bush Craft Beer has challenged his readers to think about what might be on a Brit-centric version of that list:
I think we can define ‘craft’ relatively loosely and ‘important’ in a similar way to our US colleagues: It’s one that either changed consumer tastes or how breweries approach making beer. There are a few obvious ones: Punk IPA by Brewdog, Jaipur by Thornbridge, ESB by Fullers.
There’s a survey you can respond to including space to make your own suggestions but here’s some food for thought from us.
1. Traquair House Ale (1965)
Arguably the very first ‘microbrewery’ was Traquair House which commenced production in 1965. It demonstrated that it was possible for small breweries to be opened despite prevailing industry trends, and also that small independent breweries could often do more interesting things than their bitter- and lager-focused Big Six peers — this beer was (and is) at a hefty ABV and very rich.
2. Litchborough Bitter (1974)
Another brewery with a strong claim to being the first microbrewery was Bill Urquhart’s Litchborough based in the village of that name near Northampton. The beer itself doesn’t seem to have been especially exciting but the business model, and Mr Urquhart’s mentoring/consultancy, directly inspired the microbrewery boom that followed.
3. Penrhos Porter (1978)
Porter went extinct; Michael Jackson talked it up in his 1977 World Guide to Beer; Penrhos brought it back. Porter is now one of the quintessential ‘craft’ styles — what you brew if you want to send a signal about history and heritage, and that you’re more less mainstream than Guinness.
4. Firkin Dogbolter (1979)
This is the iconic house brew of David Bruce’s Firkin chain — a strong ale that gave the chain its cult reputation and which was the antidote to the earnest reverence of the real ale movement. Today Gadd’s makes a beer of this name based on a later recipe and West Berkshire Brewery, with which David Bruce is involved, brews a tribute called Firkin Ale. (DISCLOSURE: Mr Bruce insisted on sending us a case even though we don’t take samples these days; it’s extremely good, in a fruit-cakey way.)
5. Franklin’s Bitter (c.1980)
As far as we can tell this was the first UK beer to feature — that is, to make a virtue of — the distinctive aroma and flavour of American Cascade hops. There’s more on Sean Franklin below.
6. Hop Back Summer Lightning (1987)
7. West Coast Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (1989)
Northern Irish brewing genius Brendan Dobbin shamelessly cloned Sierra Nevada Pale Ale until SN asked him to change the name when it became Yakima Grande Pale Ale. A huge influence on a generation of hophead brewers and drinkers. (Conwy Brewery currently produce a version of this beer with Dobbin’s involvement.)
8. Rooster’s Yankee (c.1992)
Sean Franklin left brewing for a bit and then came back with a bang, inspired by Summer Lightning to produce a very pale, super-hoppy, American-accented ale that knocked enthusiasts for six. Mr Franklin handed over the reins of the brewery to Tom and Ol Fozard a few years ago but they still produce Yankee today.
9. Freedom Lager (1995)
Working with a wealthy investor Alastair Hook brewed what would become the first really successful home-grown designer lager, begetting his own Meantime brewery (1999-2000) as well as much later (but quite directly) Camden Hells. A version is available today but it’s brewed in a different city, to a different recipe, by different people.
10. Thornbridge Jaipur (2005)
Though not the first UK-brewed American-style IPA Jaipur was, by our reckoning, the first such beer to be made its brewery’s flagship product. Co-creator Martin Dickie would go on to co-found BrewDog whose Punk IPA was initially a very similar beer. Jaipur is very much still available.
11. Dark Star Saison (c.2009)
Was this the first UK-brewed saison? Please tell us below if you know otherwise. Honestly, we can’t say for sure how influential it was — most UK breweries making saison went to the source (Dupont) or were inspired by US breweries. It appears to be out of production right now.
12. Moor Unfined Revival (2011)
A bit tentative, this one — it’s hard to name a specific beer and pin down the date — but we reckon this is the first unfined pale beer to end up in mainstream pubs, thus kicking off the furious bickering over beer clarity still underway today. It is still available today.
13. Beavertown Gamma Ray (2012)
We’re a bit unsure about including this one, too, but we think it gets the credit/blame for the now ubiquitous rough-hazy-oniony pale ales that so many pointedly hip breweries produce.
14. Wild Beer Co Ninkasi (2013)
Their beers can be variable and (ahem) challenging but this one always impresses us and is the earliest example we’re aware of a British beer that isn’t quite a beer, being a cider-wine-saison hybrid. We think we see its influence in various such Big Bottle brews with odd fruit additives and expect to see more in years to come.
15. Buxton/Rooie Dop Ring Your Mother (2015)
One that we suspect others might overlook: with a historic recipe and modern sensibility this beer kicked off a small resurgence in the brewing of mild. Kind of. It seems to be re-brewed only occasionally.
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We could probably keep going — this isn’t a comprehensive list of every influential beer ever, and it’s certainly not every interesting beer — but fifteen will do for now.
Don’t forget to complete Michael’s survey!