What Happened to the United Craft Brewers?

United Craft Brewers logo.

United Craft Brewers (UCB) launched in the UK last year and seemed to be a pretty big deal, but has since fizzled out. How come?

Having written about it at some length last summer, and being nosy, we approached one of the founder members, Richard Burhouse of Magic Rock.

Our impression from various interactions over the years — we’ve never met him — is that he’s a relatively straightforward person not prone to spin and we thought we might rely on him to give us a fairly direct answer.

Here’s what we got from a short phone call.


So, what happened?

Like I said when we agreed to speak, there’s not a lot to say. I’m conscious of… I don’t want to criticise any individuals.

The main issue was not being able to come to a definition. I thought we were making progress but it sort of slipped away. It kept falling down on technicalities, like, what happens if you’ve outside influences and investors. What percentage? Etcetera. It was all very nebulous, hard to pin down.

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Saison Season Pt 2: The Herbalist

When we announced our plans to taste a bunch of UK-brewed saisons, several people told us we had to try The Herbalist, a collaboration between Magic Rock and Adnams, and so Adnams sent us some (10 litres!) in mini-casks.

We’re not sure it really fits this project — it’s a one-off seasonal, so there’s not much point in us recommending it (more on this general issue in a future post); and it’s a draught rather than bottled beer. But of course we were keen to try it and, as it happens, it did prompt some relevant thoughts.

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Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

That was an idle Tweet from the pub (Wetherspoon’s) where we’d just had a pint of real ale billed as ‘rum and raisin’ from a brewery we’d never heard of.

We didn’t expect much but it was actually pretty tasty — a solid, fairly dark best bitter. Based on how we codified our thoughts on expectations back in January, it was merely enjoyable but unexpectedly so, and therefore a pleasant surprise.

As for the mention of hype, we did, unfortunately, have in mind Siren/Magic Rock/Beavertown Rule of Thirds. (We say ‘unfortunately’ because it has become the centre of some fractious debate between brewers and drinkers.) Back in October, it was trailed thus:

The Rule of Thirds takes 1/3 of each of our individual recipes and process’ & promises to bring together the best of each of our flagships and come up with something greater than the sum of the parts. Which is no small boast.

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Magic Rock & Lervig Farmhouse IPA


This is the second farmhouse IPA we’ve had this year, so we’re going to start referring to ‘FIPAs’ as if they’re a ‘thing’.

Magic Rock are on our list of trusted suppliers, and their Salty Kiss was our favourite beer of 2013. That, combined with rapturous comments from Connor Murphy and others, made us keen to track down a bottle of the FIPA they brewed in collaboration with Norwegian brewery Lervig during our time in Sheffield last week.

We found it just as we were leaving town, at the Sheffield Tap, which remains one of our favourite places to drink in the entire country. One 330ml bottle cost £5.25 which made us wince, but was soon forgotten when we tasted it.

It was startlingly good, and fantastically exciting.

Magic Rock & Lervig Farmhouse IPA.It reminded us of the first time we tasted Duvel Triple Hop, or perhaps even of our reaction to our first bottles of Goose Island IPA going on for a decade ago: somehow brighter, shinier and louder than everything else around. It was more complex then a standard hop-focused IPA, and less fusty than a standard saison. Greater than the sum of its parts.

With a train to catch and one eye on the clock, we couldn’t really give it the attention we wanted to, but kept saying ‘Wow!’ and ‘Cor!’ and, finally, dashing for our platform, ‘We need to get some more of that.’

Back home, we ordered four more bottles from Ales by Mail at £2.99 each, plus P&P. On Wednesday night, we opened one and found it… very good indeed, but not revelatory. Last night, we tried another, this time a little less chilled, and had the same reaction: it was delicious, but it didn’t make us faint in ecstasy.

Over the course of a few bottles, we found similarities with the Schneider Hopfenweisse, with tons of ripe strawberry, banana, and candied orange. Something in the aroma reminded us of Thai food, and we eventually decided on lemongrass and (perhaps unsurprisingly) coriander. We’re sort of done with ‘pairing’, but it certainly stood up to a sweaty soft-rind French cheese, with the beer gently doubling the funk. The final impression was of a long bitterness, which rides right on through all the cameo appearances by members of the fruit salad ensemble.

It’s also worth noting that we have yet to pour it anything other than cloudy. To us, this only made it look juicier and more appetising, but we realise not everyone has the same tolerance for heavy fog.

Magic Rock Lervig Farmhouse IPA, on balance, helps to make the case for specials and one-offs, which some dismiss as a distraction: a beer like this can only take you by surprise once, but, boy, is it fun while it lasts.

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A Cattle-Prod to the Taste Buds

Berliner Kindl Weisse.

Magic Rock Brewing have been in experimental mode lately, augmenting their core range of hop-driven ales with forays into the far corners of European beer styles.

Circus of Sour pump clip.While we share some of Ed’s concerns about British brewers playing around with styles before they’ve really got to know them, Magic Rock’s Gose-style beer with grapefruit juice (unfortunately named ‘Salty Kiss’) is a front-runner for our beer of the year.

With that in mind, we were excited to come across Circus of Sour, their attempt at a Berliner Weisse. It isn’t flavoured with fruit and hasn’t been cross-bred with any other styles: it’s a more-or-less straight up attempt at a style which scarcely needs any tinkering with to shock British palates. Classical, but still quite mad to those of us brought up on brown bitter and Foster’s.

At 3.5%, Circus of Sour is a touch stronger than Berliner Kindl Weiss — a beer which, merely by outliving its competitors, has become the standard for the style. COS tasted much fresher than any bottled Kindl we’ve ever tried, and seemed a more vibrant shade of yellow. It has a sherbet, popping candy quality, reaching into the back of our mouths and tightening all the screws. Like a grown-up version of sour home-made lemonade, perhaps. (Oh — Pete Brown’s already said that.)

We enjoyed watching our not-especially-beer-geeky companions taste it. Each of them in turn expressed disgust, puckering their lips and scrunching their eyes, as if taking cough medicine. Then, a moment later, their eyes popped open: ‘Actually, that’s not bad.’ The consensus was that it was summery and truly refreshing.

Could Berliner Weisse, then, have more mainstream appeal than our instincts might lead us to expect?

We found it on sale at the Stormbird in Camberwell, South London — a craft beer bar which we remember from its days as an overcrowded, DJ-led ‘style bar’ called the Funky Monkey. Though some of the kegged US IPAs on sale seemed a bit flat and past their best, and wouldn’t go out of our way to visit, we liked the place well enough and will certainly pop in again if we find ourselves in the area.