10 Years of Fuss — 21 Beers that Defined the Last Decade of British Brewing
10 years doesn’t seem like a long time within the history of brewing in the UK. But looking back, the beer landscape has changed remarkably since 2009. You could say we’ve never had it better.
Even a decade ago, beer was not considered cool. If you were interested in beer back then, your options were limited. Beyond regional cask beer in pubs and supermarket shelves with limited categories such as “real ale” or “world beer,” there wasn’t a great deal of choice.
Fast forward to today, and good beer is almost everywhere. Over a 10-year period, we have seen the number of UK breweries more than double, to around 2,500. The availability of quality beer is such that you can now walk into any supermarket across the country and find styles ranging from intensely hopped double IPAs to fruited sours.
How did we get here? Beer has become so normalised and accessible that it’s hard to remember when that wasn’t the case. To look at a bar’s list today, you could be forgiven for thinking we have always had hazy pales and unfiltered pilsners in our lives. Even for those of us who’ve lived through it, we’ve almost forgotten the days when good beer had to be sought out (though, for beer drinkers who aren’t based in a major city, those days are probably nearer at hand).
Here at Pellicle, we’re motivated to champion producers we think best represent our industry, along with those we believe the future belongs to. But first, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past decade with the help of our writing team, plus some of our friends from the food and drink industries.
These are the 21 beers that defined the British beer scene during that time—according to us, anyway.
Thornbridge Jaipur & BrewDog Punk IPA
The origin stories of two of the UK’s most influential beers are helplessly intertwined. You may already know that brewers Martin Dickie and Stefano Cossi were involved in the development of Jaipur, shortly after Thornbridge was established in 2005—and only a moment before Dickie went on to co-found BrewDog and release Punk in 2007.
Back then, both beers were similar in taste, appearance, and ABV. Jaipur still floats at 5.9%, but Punk, which used to measure in at 6%, is now a more supermarket-friendly 5.6%. In their heydays, both beers used pale malts alongside liberal amounts of New Zealand and North American hops. And they’ve changed over the past decade, either a little or drastically, depending on who you speak to. But if they’ve evolved, so has the market around them—and this is due, in part, to the breadth of their influence.
Punk is arguably the more recognisable beer these days—it even has its own TV ad, which first aired during Season 8 of Game of Thrones—but what would it have been without Jaipur? I’ll leave that answer to the philosophers among you.
Pint is a beer that’s very close to my heart—I was lucky enough to do the first brew of it way back in 2007. It was a Saturday morning and a first date with my now-partner, Janine, who is also a brewer. It was also the first time we had used non-organic hops at Marble: Liberty and some New Zealand varieties. We tweaked the hops over the years, but the basic premise for Pint remained the same: a dry, bitter, low-gravity golden ale with mountains of fruity, tropical hop character.
We could never make enough of it, especially as it became somewhat fashionable after winning at loads of beer festivals. It also helped that a few beer writers and beer geeks championed it on Twitter and elsewhere. To James [Campbell], Colin [Stronge] and I, it was just the kind of beer we wanted to drink.
We only ever made it in cask—big aroma charge, dry-hopped in the fermenters, then each cask was dry-hopped too, without exception. When I left for Thornbridge, I didn’t drink it for years—maybe because I was too emotionally attached to Marble, and I wanted the happy memories to remain. Eventually I got over myself, of course. I’ll happily drink it these days. It’s changed, but then everything always does.
Fyne Ales Jarl
Now almost 10 years old, Jarl was one of the first UK beers to showcase Citra, which quickly became craft beer’s favourite shade of “juicy.” Citra shapes Jarl’s aromatic stratosphere of kiwi and grapefruit, but the core of this majestically sinkable 3.8% cask beer is lightly chewy, extra pale malt on a tightrope of cleansing bitterness. It melts and lasts on the palate like lemon cake.
Jarl remains a welcome port in the storm of “new” on any tap list, displaying vibrancy and restraint in equal measure. It arrived a little too early, perhaps, yet has become all the more necessary with each passing trend.
It seems somewhat absurd today that Moor’s decision to stop using finings in their cask beers was cause for controversy in the early 2000s, but a quick Google search throws up a torrent of articles from aspiring beer bloggers with titles such as “Is Britain Ready for Cloudy Beer?”
Alongside the now-forgotten put-down of “London Murky,” aimed at breweries such as The Kernel, “cloudy” beer was very much taboo before Moor came along and challenged people’s perceptions and prejudices with one simple idea: “unfined beer tastes better.” Moor put their money where their mouths were, and in side-by-side comparisons on the bar, the unfined versions of beers such as Revival, Raw, Nor’Hop and So’Hop prevailed. They’ve remained “cloudy” ever since.
So’Hop represented so much that was right about beer back then. In addition to being hazy and unfined, it was sessionable, and brewed with hops exclusively from the Southern Hemisphere, which, at the time, were some of the very best in the world. It has gone on to gain countless accolades, but its greatest achievement is its ability to stand strong—almost 10 years since its launch, and despite some formidable competition—as one of the finest pale ales brewed in the UK.
The Kernel Table Beer
Regardless of the table beer’s long history, both at home and in Europe, the first example of the style that will spring to mind for many British drinkers is The Kernel’s. A stalwart of the low-ABV category, this pale ale, brewed with an ever-changing roster of hops, is testament to their brewers’ skill. With Table Beer, The Kernel proved that neither flavour nor balance need to be sacrificed when making so-called “small beers,” and so helped open the door to innumerable other low-ABV beers. It’s still, in my mind, the best easy-drinking, session beer on the market.
Summer Wine KopiKat
“No” came the answer from the other side of the bar at Pimlico’s Cask Pub and Kitchen. I had asked for samples of the very limited, barrel-aged beers that were pouring at that night’s event, before begrudgingly stumping up the cash for both. It was May 5, 2012, and I had been blogging about beer for five months. The beers were from Summer Wine (as in Last of the…), based in Holmfirth, Yorkshire. They were both imperial stouts infused with Kopi Luwak, aged in a 1983 Caol Ila barrel and a 1997 Clynelish whisky barrel, respectively.
Both iterations of KopiKat were sensational, and as I sat in my corner of Cask, unknown and alone, I watched a group of people who would later become beer-industry friends and peers have similar revelations. Apart from the one absolutely hammered guy who threw an entire glass, shattering it against the adjacent wall. Despite the low point, that night now feels like a hugely significant moment in the origin of London’s modern beer culture.
Beavertown Gamma Ray
The way I remember it, when Gamma Ray first appeared on the scene, it spread across London like a collective fever dream: all at once, those blue-and-orange, spacemen-bedecked cans were everywhere. At the time, some five-odd years back, Gamma—Beavertown's 5.4% American Pale Ale—felt like a striking departure. It was vivid, punchy with citrus, more than a little indebted to American craft brewing traditions. If it's no longer quite so unusual today, Gamma Ray still remains an almighty crushable piece of London lore.
Brodie’s London Sour
Utter the words “King William IV” or “Bunny Basher” in 2019, to even the biggest London beer fans, and you will most likely be greeted with shrugs and confused faces—but this wasn’t always the case. Started by James and Lizzie Brodie in 2008 in the back of the King William IV in Leyton, Brodie’s made beers that were well ahead of their time. They also put on now-legendary events, such as the Bunny Basher Festival (during which more than 50 beers were poured over the course of Easter Weekend).
Although Brodie’s were ahead of the curve with their single-hopped pale ales, collaborations (like Big Mofo Stout with Mikkeller), and experimental releases (such as the 22% ABV Elizabethan), it’s London Sour that stands out as their biggest contribution to British beer. Up until its release, imported beers such as Berliner Kindl Weisse, bought from specialist off-licenses, were as close to the style as you could get in the UK. However, by the end of 2013, thanks in part to London Sour and its fruited variants, kettle sours were everywhere. Nowadays, sour beer is well and truly established. Many breweries produce kettle sours as part of their core ranges, and others, such as Edinburgh’s Vault City, make fruited sours almost exclusively. Without Brodie’s, it’s unlikely that that would have come to pass.
Lovibonds Sour Grapes
Lovibonds Sour Grapes was the brew that literally made me shout “stop the presses!” eight years ago on my first book, Let Me Tell You About Beer, because I just knew it had to be included. Before 99.9% of other contemporary UK brewers shook off the shackles of the idea that only Belgians could make barrel-aged beers with Brettanomyces, Jeff Rosenmeier turned an accidental Lactobacillus infection in his flagship wheat beer into an English pinot noir barrel-aged Brett masterpiece. And I will never forget the fact that he turned up to the launch of said book with a chilled CamelBak of it, and took great glee in pouring his bonkers beer into people’s glasses and sitting back to watch their confused, but quickly delighted, faces. (Apart from my mum—she was NOT a fan. Sorry, Jeff!)
Magic Rock Unhuman Cannonball
Whilst annual and limited releases exist within the British beer scene, none quite match the experience of Magic Rock’s Unhuman Cannonball. Here is a beer whose release days are akin to music festivals, with customers setting alarms to purchase limited quantities online, and frantically hitting refresh to ensure their basket contents are still available.
Beyond the hysteria, the beer delivers with impactful flavours and an ever-changing annual recipe that has helped retain interest over the years. Today, it’s still a major yearly event, and has evolved from 660ml bottles to taproom launch days to the promotion of the Cannonball run. Unhuman Cannonball remains a milestone in the current beer scene.
Wild Beer Co. Ninkasi
The first time I cracked a bottle of Ninkasi was back when I was working at Friends of Ham in Leeds. The fact that the beer was dosed with Champagne yeast made it feel indulgent and celebratory; even the wax seal brought with it a sense of occasion (it helped that this Belgian-style saison was perfect for pairing with food, particularly the fatty charcuterie and cheeses we served). Featuring high levels of carbonation, crisp orchard juiciness, soft tropical flavours, and a little dry funk, Ninkasi was memorably complex and exciting. Wild Beer Co. were refreshing because they were thinking differently, and brewing for the future. This beer preempted the brut IPA trend we see today.
Siren / Mikkeller / Hill Farmstead Limoncello IPA
There was a time when novelty beers were actually novel. These days, one can hardly move for piña colada NEIPAs or Malört-barrel frappé stouts [I would totally drink this—Ed], but back in 2013 we had barely emerged from the dark mild ages. When Siren released Limoncello, it felt positively avant-garde. Not because it was a full-on fruit beer—we’d seen that kind of thing before—but because it really attempted to nail a flavour profile outside the realm of “normal” beer, to deliver the same boozy-zippy-lemony-holiday-in-Italy joy of actual limoncello. And of course, it helped set the stage for the ongoing trend of fantastic citrus beers that have changed the connotations surrounding “fruit beer” forever. I mean, who doesn’t love a lime gose, a blood orange pale ale, a yuzu hopfenweisse, or, of course, a lemon DIPA?
Crafties love pale lager now, but they didn’t used to. Back in 2011, even Camden Town’s founder Jasper Cuppaidge wasn’t sure: he told me then that Camden Ink—a stout—might become his brewery’s flagship. Some chance. It was his tireless, slightly manic efforts that made Hells (and subsequently lager) acceptable to people who—until that point—just wanted hops (with a side order of hops). It has got better and better since, thanks to Alex Troncoso, Rob Topham, and acres of AB InBev-financed stainless steel. It’s crisp, clean, dry, and full of Germanic malt character: a timeless flavour—or so you’d think.
Buxton / Omnipollo Yellow Belly
In 2014, a group with roots in the neo-Nazi movement became Sweden’s third-largest political party. The worst part, according to Omnipollo’s Henok Fentie: its backers hid their support behind a veil of anonymity, and votes were around 40 percent higher than what people had admitted in exit polls. Inspired, Fentie teamed up with Buxton Brewery in Derbyshire to create a beer with “equal amounts of spinelessness”—a peanut butter and biscuit imperial stout (made with neither peanut butter nor biscuits), and draped in the most famously hateful costume of all: a KKK robe.
In case the message wasn’t clear enough, they named it Yellow Belly. I would have bought it based on the concept alone, but the resulting 11% ABV pastry stout lived up to the hype, becoming arguably the greatest—and certainly most infamous—example of its kind. Haters will say it tastes like a vanilla Yankee Candle [It does—Ed], but don’t hear a word of it. Yellow Belly is burnt butter, Christmas pudding, crème caramel and cinema foyers; it’s an occasion, a bundle of fresh tobacco, a dram of Islay whisky, an OTT jamboree of all things dark and decadent, and a vital reminder that, yes, beer and politics do mix.
Burning Sky Saison à la Provision
In 2013, Burning Sky made a timely intervention in the history of British “sour” beer, and reminded us what it is to be elegant. Kettle souring had firmly made its mark in the UK as a fashionable process, but without the history of the continental brewers and the intense QA of the US, British drinkers were exposed to a slew of aggressively soured beers. Saison à la Provision glided into the scene, guided by the careful and tenured hands of Mark Tranter. On first taste, I remember feeling that the game had changed. This was a “sour” beer unlike any other being produced in the UK at the time. Even more unbelievably, it was core range, too.
There was acidity, but it was balanced—it knew where to stop before becoming vulgar. The aroma had a prominent funk, but gracefully avoided the barnyard and blue-cheese cellar on its way to the nose. However, Saison à la Provision was more than just elegance: it gave us an approachable way to taste and discuss mixed fermentation. Up until then, mixed-ferm beers were only limitedly available: coveted bottles were brought back from the US, or featured within the annals of the lambic brewers and blenders. But now, an example of the approach was available on our shores in 330ml bottles, or even on draught. Saison à la Provision gave more to UK-based drinkers than just “sour” beer: it helped us further explore that branch of the beer family tree, it added Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces to the British brewing lexicon, and it gave us the opportunity to talk about mixed fermentation with confidence.
Mad Hatter Tzatziki Sour
I first brewed Tzatziki Sour in July 2015 when I was head brewer at Mad Hatter Brewing Company in Liverpool. I'd been on two holidays that year: Brussels and the Greek island of Symi. I wanted to brew a beer that took flavour inspiration from both places: the lambics of Belgium, and tzatziki, the cool and refreshing cucumber-and-mint yoghurt dip served in every beachfront Greek taverna.
Gaz and Sue, then-owners of Mad Hatter, had gone on their own summer holiday for three weeks, and told me to "brew whatever you like.” I used the Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria cultures found in fat-free Greek yoghurt to kettle sour the wort (a technique I'd learned from Matt [Clarke], head brewer at Hawkshead), fermented it with a Bastogne Belgian Ale Yeast, then added cucumbers and mint in the fermenter.
It came out tasting perfect. It was the first time in my fledgling career when the finished product tasted exactly how I'd planned when first dreaming up the recipe.
I was originally going to call the beer “Symi Brussels Sour,” but then my pal Joe Dick posted on Twitter something along the lines of "Omg you've brewed a tzatziki sour!" and the name stuck.
Gaz and Sue returned from their summer holiday and asked what I'd brewed in their absence. I told them I'd made a tzatziki sour. They were kind of incredulous until I poured them a sample, and they got it. The beer was an instant success. People had never tasted anything like it before.
It wasn't all praise, though. My favourite criticism of the beer came when I was having an existential brewer’s crisis, sitting on the toilet at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning reading Untappd reviews of my beers. It said "Tastes just like tzatziki. I fuckin’ hate tzatziki. 0.5/5.”
Cloudwater DIPA v3
Cloudwater's DIPA v3 was one of the first New England-style IPAs brewed in the UK. In 2016, it was radical, the kind of rarity that drinkers previously had to go to Vermont to source: beguiling as a peach, luscious with hops, pillowy soft. Back then, it also came packaged in glass bottles, was made without flaked oats, and had a dry-hop charge of nine grams per litre (24 grams per litre is the brewery's current standard). If the original DIPA v3 would strike contemporary drinkers as underwhelming, then, that's only testament to the pace of Cloudwater's development. Fittingly, the brewery released DIPA v3.1 last year, which updated the recipe to match contemporary tastes and expectations.
Lost and Grounded Keller Pils
Keller Pils isn’t just the name of a beer. It’s an exclamation of joy made upon seeing its blue-and-green font lens along a T-bar’s line-up, or upon reading its name on a menu, or upon glimpsing it chalked up on a beer board alongside the name of its maker, Lost and Grounded.
It’s a go-to pint at the pub, an ultimate park beer in the sun, and an ideal fridge-filler when you need something easy-drinking at home. Keller Pils stands as an example of beauty in simplicity, and a wonderfully delicious one at that.
DEYA Steady Rolling Man
Although New England-style beer has had a huge impact on the British beer scene since its initial boom, and although it can seem ubiquitous at times, few modern beers have made as much of a mark as DEYA Brewing Co’s Steady Rolling Man. The brewery’s pale ale has, for some time, been a benchmark for those brewing hoppy beers in this country. Before founding DEYA, Theo Freyne brewed at Odell in Colorado; since arriving back in the UK and establishing DEYA, he’s worked to push British hoppy beer forward. Thanks to their flagship Steady, DEYA are absolutely leading the charge in their field.
Mills / Oliver’s Foxbic
I can say “I was there” when the first-ever bottles of Mills Foxbic were poured. Never mind that I had absolutely no idea who founders Gen and Jonny Mills were back then, and had never heard of their new brewery, which focused entirely on mixed and spontaneously fermented sour beers.
I was at the Hereford Beer House, at the behest of owners Jonny Bright and Amélie Varin, for an event showcasing the ciders of local producer Tom Oliver and New York’s Angry Orchard, owned by Ryan Burk. This was a moment when what is currently happening in cider really clicked for me. But the highlight of the night was when Tom opened bottles of Foxbic, a cider/beer hybrid he had co-produced with Mills. I’ve rarely seen a room get as excited about a beverage. Within the space of a single evening, this young brewery had started its journey towards becoming one of the most vital beer producers in the country.