The craft beer movement has seen increasingly discerning British drinkers turn away from generic, mass-produced beers and lagers – and their quest for better quality brews has revived Britain’s historic beer market of late.
“There is little doubt that the growth in British craft beer has helped boost the overall UK beer market, which saw growth of 2.6 per cent in 2018, the biggest increase for 45 years,” says Mike Brenner, chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA).
Now, an impressive total of ten UK breweries have featured on RateBeer’s newly unveiled ranking of the top 100 brewers in the world, including both larger and smaller scale breweries – from Northern Monk in Leeds to Wylam Brewery in Newcastle.
A Manchester brewery even scooped a spot in the top ten, with a global ranking of eighth best in the world. More than 33,000 brewers worldwide were considered in the making of the list, and the results are a result of over 4.2m independent consumer and industry reviews.
The brewery ranked number one worldwide is Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont, United States, which boasts a family-run legacy as far back as 1788, and an on-site taproom in which visitors can sample the likes of their wood-conditioned Leaves of Grass ales, brewed with organic spelt, organic oats and hops from neighbouring Whitefield Hop Yard.
In America, a craft brewer is formally defined as a small, independent brewer with an annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales).
However, there are no formal requirements for a beer to be labelled “craft” in the UK - though a craft brewery can be loosely defined as one which produces beer on a much smaller scale than large, corporate multinationals. Often independently owned, craft breweries place greater emphasis on techniques, flavour and authenticity.
SIBA say craft remains one of the fastest growing categories: standard lager, in contrast, is in significant decline (by as much as 22.5% over the five years from 2019) as Brits opt to drink less, but better. Meanwhile, Mintel’s latest consumer trends report shows that younger consumers increasingly favour “genuine”, handcrafted brews with trusted values and a story to tell.
With that in mind, allow us to present Britain’s top ten breweries according to RateBeer (in descending order), as featured in the Top 100 Best Brewers in the World 2019 list, published this month…
10. BrewDog, Aberdeenshire
With a ranking of 99th on RateBeer’s list, BrewDog is a craft brewery and pub chain headquartered in in Ellon, Scotland. Founded in 2007 by James Watt and Martin Dickie, who started out selling their brews out of the back of a van, It quickly became the UK’s fastest growing alternative beer brand.
It’s well-known for its cult golden Punk IPA, a riot of grapefruit, pineapple and lychee with a spiky, bitter finish. BrewDog set out to open 33 new bars last year, increasing their number of outlets from 84 to more than 100, and in 2018, it opened the world’s “first craft beer hotel”, The Doghouse.
9. Siren Craft Brew, Berkshire
Siren Craft Brew’s Broken Dream, a 6% ABV coffee porter, was named Champion Beer of Britain by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) in 2018. The prolific Finchamstead brewery, founded in 2013 and now rated the 71st best brewery in the world, released 100 brews in 2019 alone.
Its Project Barista initiative experiments with coffee and beer (we’re talking innovations like the Ristretto Negroni, a 6.7% ABV Indian Pale Ale with liquorice root). Seasonal beers include Ten Dollar Shake, a fruit smoothie IPA with mango and papaya and a thick mouthfeel (6.5% IPA). You can discover them all at the tap yard, tasting room and bottle shop, which often has street food stalls at the weekend.
8. Northern Monk Brew Co, Leeds
This West Yorkshire brewery with a reputation for small-batch collaborations and seasonal ranges featured 54th on RateBeer’s list. Northern Monk is housed in a Grade II-listed former mill thick with the aromas of malts and hops at the heart of Holbeck Urban Village, now a regeneration zone. Upstairs, The Refectory serves tempting British small plates to visitors alongside draft beers.
Founder Russell Bisset nods to the monastic brewing heritage of the north of England, but the brews are progressive: think Neopolitan Ice Cream pale ale (6.2% ABV) in summer, and brews with a twist, like the Salted Caramel Star porter (5.2% ABV), year-round. Don’t leave without sampling the flagship new world Session IPA, Eternal.
7. Magic Rock Brewing, Huddersfield
Another Yorkshire brewery, in 45th place according to RateBeer. Established back in 2011, Magic Rock founder Richard Burhouse and head brewer Stuart Ross are inspired by local brewing traditions and the vibrant US craft beer scene.
With core, limited and collaborative collections, Magic Rock is known for funky illustrated branding created by designer Rich Norgate. They now export to over 25 countries worldwide, serve up street food and host an annual session beer festival, SeshFest, each June. Their second taproom recently opened in the Yorkshire town of Holmfirth; we like their Dancing Bier take on a German lager, pale and crisp with German magnum, saphir whole leaf and hallertau hop varieties.
6. Wylam Brewery, Newcastle
Hot on the heels of Magic Rock in 44th place, Wylam Brewery is based at the picturesque Palace of Arts exhibition park. Overlooking a boating lake, it serves as a pitstop for craft beer enthusiasts after a scenic trail walk across The Town Moor and Nuns Moor.
The 30 barrel microbrewery and tap room and tap kitchen is open Thursday-Sunday, serving British small plates like crispy lamb belly and anchovy dressing alongside their keg, cask and bottled beers like Wylam Gold, a traditional English golden ale (4% ABV) and A Never Ending Series Of Question Marks (a collaboration with De Molen, a renowned brewery in Bodegraven in the Netherlands). Beer geek heaven.
5. Fuller’s Brewery, Chiswick
This brewery, pub and hotel chain is famed for its iconic London Pride ale, brewed using home-grown British hops to 4.1% ABV, with notes of biscuit, dried fruit and piney herbs. They also brew Frontier, a lager with refreshing citrus notes, in London. Fuller’s currently has 400 managed and tenanted pubs throughout London and the South East where you can sample their brews, including The Half Moon in Herne Hill and The Fox and Hounds in Lyndhurst, but you can also book a brewery tour and visit the shop and on-site bar at their Griffin Brewery in Chiswick.
4. Buxton Brewery, Derbyshire
The tasting room at Buxton Brewery, overlooking the brew house, has six keg lines and a large selection of bottled beers. Flagship brews in the core collection include the Centennial IPA (5.4% ABV), but we also like Rain Shadow – a dark, heavyweight stout, crammed with intense, deep-roast speciality malts (10% ABV). The brewery started out in founder Geoff Quinn’s garage in 2009 with a batch size of just 40 litres. Now, the brewery makes upwards of 30 distinct brews, plus numerous special editions.
3. Verdant Brewing Co, Cornwall
Based in Falmouth, Verdant specialise in hoppy beers which are unfiltered, unfined and vegan friendly.
Founders Adam Robertson, James Heffron and Rich White raised over £1m via Crowdcube to expand their brewery in January last year, and release freshly brewed beer including pale ale, India pale ale (IPA) and double IPA (DIPA) every Friday via the Verdant online store. You can also visit the Verdant Seafood Bar, a cosy taproom by the Quay with eight taps serving Cornish fish dishes, or The Experiment a taproom in a Hackney railway arch (a joint venture with Pressure Drop Brewing).
2. The Kernel Brewery, London
In 11th place on RateBeer’s list, this Bermondsey brewery promises to give you “beer that forces you to confront and consider what you are drinking”, with “upfront hops, lingering bitternesses, warming alcohols, bodies of malt”. They brew pale ales, India pale ales and old school London porters and stouts, and open every Saturday from 9am to 2pm to sell beer directly from the brewery.
They also host regular cheese tastings and tap takeover events. You’ll find their brews for sale across the UK, at the likes of Bacchanalia Wine Merchants in Cambridge to take away, and to drink in at Hop Hideout in Sheffield or at York’s House of the Trembling Madness ale house.
1. Cloudwater Brew Co, Manchester
The only British brewery to feature in the top ten breweries in the world according to RateBeer, this Manchester brewery celebrates the changing seasons, collaborating with different artists (like Atelier Bebop and Louise Sheeran) to create special edition packaging.
You can visit the tap room and brewery shop on the Piccadilly Trading Estate throughout the week, and tours and tastings run regularly, but do book tickets for those in advance – they sell out fast.
They also have a London tap room on Bermondsey’s Enid Street. As well as the likes of their bold, punchy DDH (double dry hopped) 5.0% ABV pale ale, Cloudwater’s low and no soft drinks include pineapple and yuzu soda.
Visit ratebeer.co.uk to view the global Top 100 Best Brewers in the World 2019 list in full