There was a slight bitterness in the North, a tangible harrumph when London went from ‘beer wasteland’ to ‘totes craft’ in the space of about six months in 2012.
The North was and is well populated with the type of brewery that brews hop forward pale ales. Roosters Brewery in North Yorkshire is rightly considered a pioneer – almost coining YPA (Yorkshire Pale Ale) as an official beer style.
Across the Pennines the laudable Marble could easily be considered as the UK’s original craft brewer. The likes of Magic Rock were making big waves coming in second place in the RateBeer Top breweries of 2012. Everything pointed towards the North cementing its reputation as UK beer’s engine room.
Then it all flipped, the Big Smoke – a bastion of flat brown beer and bubbly heads – suddenly got wise and breweries started popping up left right and centre. Helped in part by the presence of seriously forward thinking breweries like The Kernel, experimenters like Brodies and the more commercial savvy of the likes of Meantime and Camden Town, London got to grips with its drinking problem.
The honourable efforts of the likes of Phil Lowry in setting up the London Brewers’ Alliance in 2010 encouraged a collaborative approach and soon a burst of fresh new breweries such as Partizan, Beavertown and Pressure Drop shot in to the consciousness of the UK quaffer. And so began a renaissance of experimental brewing and tidy modern branding.
The bar scene in London was quick to wake up too. Once to get something decently hoppy you’d have to get over to The Rake or further afield to the White Horse in blummin Parsons Green. Once London started rediscovering its beer mojo it didn’t take long for bored publicans and bar owners to see the light.
There was a massive market right on everyone’s doorstep and with those sales the little breweries could grow quickly. As with anything that catches afire in London momentum is easy to gain, the media like an easy beery story and the UK craft beer trend began in earnest. What was once a bit tired and lacklustre became the avant-garde of UK brewing as London and London beer boomed.
Back up towards ‘The Wall’ things progressed. Without the support of a shiftless national media or a ready made market Northern breweries faltered somewhat as cities took their time playing catch up.
Yet 2015 looks to be the year where the balance is to be redressed; expansion from leading lights such as Magic Rock and Kirkstall Brewery are nearing completion. High-end craft beer kudos from the likes of Buxton and Thornbridge Brewery operating on full steam will pull the focus back towards the North.
A resurgent Manchester scene is seeing a clutch of great new breweries headed up by the brilliantly modern and utterly on-point Cloudwater brewery alongside Runaway, Alphabet and several others.
There’s even a brewery only dropping sour beers in Chorlton (so craft!). Hull is not left out with Atom showing promise and further up Northern Alechemy is doing strong work. There are moves to coalesce the scenes within their own brewers’ alliances – something that ought to be encouraged.
As ever there are rumblings about trends expiring and ‘peak craft’ but in my assessment with this massive influx of breweries the bar has been raised yet again, there are a huge amount of drinkers still out there to be won over and thousands of pubs and bars looking for something new – the future is bright and hoppy.
Matt Górecki, ex-North Bar, independent beer consultant, and founder of the embryonic Zapato Brewery (@briggatebeer)