By Brody Rossiter
The HonestBrew Independent Beer Awards are back for the third year running! Discover all the award winners below and leave us a comment on what you think of this year’s results. follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more updates from this year’s awards and some exciting collaboration plans.
People’s Choice Award: Northern Monk
After two rounds of Twitter Poll voting, including a late-night deadlock vote between Cloudwater and Magic Rock, Northern Monk were victorious in this year’s People’s Choice Award vote with 33% of the total vote. The brewery faced stiff competition in the final from Cloudwater, Verdant and two-time champs, Newcastle’s mighty Wylam, but managed to fend off the much-loved breweries and claim the title!
The win follows another fantastic year for the brewery as 2018 saw them crowdfund nearly triple their target back in February. Hop City and Dark City have become favourite festivals amongst beer lovers, and the newly-opened Manchester Refectory has already seamlessly slotted in beside the city’s craft hotspots.
We asked Northern Monk Founder Russell Bisset what the win meant to the brewery:
“We’re blown away with the support we received across the two rounds in the People’s Choice Award. The finalists were the cream of the UK brewing crop and it was an honour just to be amongst such good company. To have so many people (9,000 voters across 3 rounds!) resonate with what we do was truly humbling. Most importantly, we couldn’t let our pals Wylam complete the hat-trick and dominate! On a serious note, it means a lot. The fact that HonestBrew, a company that we work closely with and share our values, set the whole thing up, makes the win even sweeter. Thanks!”
Several exciting releases and collaborations that extended beyond beer (discussed further below) no doubt also ensured the brewery clocked up those votes. A massive cheers to the brothers and sisters in Leeds and beyond. If you’d like to find out why Northern Monk are this year’s champions, you can find their beers in the online bottleshop here.
Brewery of the Year: North Brewing Co.
Despite being a cult favourite for Yorkshire-based beer lovers and aficionados across the UK & Ireland, it’s still fair to say that North Brewing Co. fly under the radar of many craft beer drinkers when it comes to widespread notoriety. This year’s Best Brewery title is awarded with not only an accomplished year in mind, but with the hope that many more individuals will discover what we believe to be an incredibly exciting independent brewery responsible for some of Britain’s most unmissable beers right now.
Boasting a core range that seemingly got better with each batch, an array of seasonal releases and collaborations that more than delivered on the hype, it’s difficult to pick out a brewery whose releases were so strong across so many styles over 2018. From Kölsch to Triple Fruited Gose, Coconut and Coffee Porter to Brut IPA, the brewery offered up a kaleidoscopic series of beers that provided both fridge staples and sought-after specials. Furthermore, the collaborations that closed out the year – most notably a wonderfully juicy DIPA (pictured above) brewed alongside Brooklyn’s Finback – gifted many with a beer that would top their year end lists.
Much like last year’s Brewery of the Year winners Northern Monk, North’s efforts to reinforce and foster a sense of community that begins within the brewery but extends far beyond its doors, is not only admirable, but one which ensures Yorkshire and Leeds’ brewing heritage continues to be expanded upon. Whether pulling pints in North Bar, striving to collaborate or fundraising for a local hospice, North’s endeavours have highlighted the impact of independent businesses on not just local communities but the wider craft beer community around the world.
Not content with having some of the year’s most acclaimed releases under their belt, North even managed to squeeze in a new taproom over Christmas, further reinforcing Leeds’ status as one of the UK’s hottest beer destinations while offering a space to enjoy great beer and delicious food from local producers.
To many this result will be a foregone conclusion given the 2018 that North Brewing Co had, for others it may be something of a surprise, either way, it’s a perfect opportunity to celebrate one of the UK & Ireland’s leading breweries and their accomplishments both canned and otherwise. Time to book that train to Leeds.
Breakthrough Brewery of the Year: Wander Beyond
Last year we awarded Dublin’s Whiplash our ‘Breakthrough Brewery of the Year’. We cited the brewery’s “…bold recipes that exhibit both a willingness to experiment and a deep understanding of brewing classic styles”, alongside its distinctive branding and irreverent approach to the industry as the core factors behind that choice.
2018 shifts the focus onto an equally exciting yet more experimental prospect of the craft beer industry. Manchester’s Wander Beyond have captivated beer lovers with a series of bold and brave flavour combinations that have consistently delivered in terms of both uniqueness and deliciousness. Examples of such daring releases have included their Milkshake Session IPA (Mini Milkshake), a Chocolate Strawberry Ice Cream Imperial Black IPA (Bloom) and a Mango & Passionfruit Imperial Milkshake IPA (Octopod).
Similarly to Whiplash, branding plays an important part when it comes to enjoying Wander’s wondrous brews. Especially colourful illustrations adorn their cans, bottles and pump clips, acting as evocative introductions to the flavours that await. Opening a can of Wander Beyond beer quickly becomes a transportive experience that not only relocates your taste buds to a new world of flavour, but triumphantly delivers on expectations of your imagination.
As 2018 progressed many drinkers grew increasingly skeptical of craft beer’s transformation into something that often didn’t represent classic interpretations of beer anymore. Lactose additions, a fruit bowl of adjuncts and ever-increasing ABVs proving to be just three of the many points of contention. We’ve shared those concerns regarding drinkability and sustainability, yet Wander’s confident execution of styles that defy the norm has assured us that there’s always room for adventure when it comes to beer.
Some may draw comparisons to certain Scandinavian industry contemporaries, we’d highlight Wander Beyond as a homegrown producer that currently stands as one of craft beer’s most unique, ingenious and acclaimed young breweries that will no doubt continue to excite and delight throughout 2019.
Best International Brewery: CR/AK
Throughout 2018 we championed numerous breweries from mainland Europe. From France’s Brasserie Popihn to Estonia’s Pühaste, Poland’s Browar Stu Mostów to Switzerland’s White Frontier – we scoured the Continent in search of its most exciting new independent breweries and ensured they ended up in the fridges of beer lovers across the U.K. and beyond.
Back in summer, ‘The HonestBrew Beer Tour’ showcased a diverse lineup of breweries at London Craft Beer Festival, offering a chance for those in attendance to get a taste of new and unmissable brews that will surely become firm favourites in future. From devilishly indulgent imperial stouts from Catalonia, to reviving and fruit-packed sours from Wrocław, the electric array highlighted just how action-packed and quality-driven the European beer scene currently is.
Despite the influx of beer of the highest quality from Europe over the last twelve months, one brewery still managed to stand out from the crowd in 2018. Delivering big on both style and substance, Italy’s CR/AK hail from Padova, a city in Northern Italy that’s roughly a forty minute drive from Venice.
From a session IPA that defied all expectations of the style, to a complex selection of fruit and grape ales, CR/AK offered up a bounty of accomplished and progressive beer that spanned several styles. The brewery developed a comprehensive mixed fermentation and barrel ageing programme, even investing in their own farm to source fruit and precious microflora. This combined with working alongside local vineyards and barrel experts, all looks set ensure the brewery’s labours will result in something truly unique. Nevertheless, the feedback wasn’t always positive. CR/AK quickly responded by tweaking their recipes ands returning with new and much-improved versions of their core releases, highlighting the brewery’s admirable quest for perfection across their entire range in the process.
James Beeson highlighted the strength of CR/AK’s offering when pitted against their U.K. counterparts. He stated “…CR/AK passes its test with flying colours. These beers comfortably hold their own in an increasingly crowded pale beer market, and should rightly be held in just as high regard as their UK equivalents. And I’m not just saying that because they come in pretty cans.”
October saw the release of ‘Giant Guerrilla’ – the culmination of two years of experimentation and collaboration with breweries including New York’s Other Half and Florida’s Cigar City and the U.K.’s own Magic Rock. Giant Guerrilla was a wonderfully tropical and balanced DDH DIPA that exceeded our already high expectations of the brewery’s hop-forward beers.
In the three years since their conception, CR/AK have already signalled a dramatic shift in Italian brewing and highlighted the importance of freshness and cold chain transportation when it comes to hoppier styles. Their branding has remained consistently refined and beautiful, their approach to brewing has been forward-thinking and responsive, and the final product has ranged from highly-drinkable to outstanding.
Spirit of Collaboration Award: Hackney Brewery
Collaboration is an omnipresent tenet of craft beer these days. If you were to cast your eyes across the ranges offered by retailers it would be rare to find a selection free from a collaborative offering. Earlier this year Chris Martin questioned whether this climate of collaboration was just a marketing gimmick? Or a genuinely purposeful pursuit that whets beer lover’s appetites, offers an invaluable platform to lesser-known breweries, and provides a valuable learning experience for those joining forces inside the brewery.
Last time we awarded the “Spirit of Collaboration” award to a single beer brewed by several breweries, namely ‘Cloudwater/Lost & Grounded/Verdant – Loral & Ardi’. We stated that it was “An exceedingly drinkable Tripel produced by three breweries whose beers dominated our drinking habits throughout 2017, Loral & Ardi was a three way dance of flavour, imagination and collaboration.”
This year we’re awarding the prize to a single brewery who have released several collaborative beers. Alongside consistently pushing out an ever-improving lineup of core releases and specials, Hackney Brewery teamed up with three of New York’s most in-demand breweries (Barrier, Finback & KCBC) brewed-up a technically brilliant passion fruit coffee sour with Ozone Coffee Roasters, and even managed to fit in a UK tap takeover tour with Barrier Brewing Co.
We joined Hackney and Finback for the brew day of their collab, Deep Water IPA and witnessed the London brewery’s dedicated approach to collaboration first hand.
Brody Rossiter stated “While transatlantic collaborations may well be a new trend to Hackney, the brewery are no strangers to community when it comes to craft beer. The approachability of Hackney’s beer is matched by the approachability of the team behind it – that includes the four legged additions of Bruce and Gruff. Since its conception in 2011, the brewery has grown to become a much-loved fixture of London’s vibrant brewing landscape and one which will remain and evolve for many years to come.”
You can read the full article here.
From Transatlantic team-ups to homegrown experimentation, Hackney ensured that the spirit of collaboration was very much alive and kicking throughout 2018 and we’ve no doubt that they’ll continue to help build and shape a community that extends far beyond the Capital’s borders.
Visual Excellence Award: Pressure Drop
Brewed in London since 2013, Pressure Drop beer has become a mainstay of craft loving Capital dwellers’ drinking habits. From celebrated core offerings, to a revolving lineup of seasonal specials, to headline grabbing collaborations, the Tottenham-based brewery boast an eclectic collective of technically sound and tasty beers.
Beyond the beer itself, another constant amongst Pressure Drop’s range is attractive and eye-catching labelling. Showcasing the work of a diverse range of artists, graphic designers and photographers. 2018 once again confirmed Pressure Drop’s status as patrons of the arts, with each and every bottle bearing the mark of these creative forces.
From the playful illustrations of Lauren Humphrey to the colourful paintings of Annette Zera, Pressure Drop’s bottles have provided a canvas for the work of several creatives. The brewery collaborated with Hoxton Mini Press’ street photography symposium, ‘Street London’, on a series of limited edition labels for their celebrated pale ale ‘Pale Fire’. They even sorted us out with our own unique seasonal label for their Belgian-inspired pale ale, Pfaff.
The end of 2018 found Pressure Drop brews finding their way into cans accompanied with designs from longtime collaborator Matt Jeffs. The addition of cans now offering even more real estate for works to occupy; a factor that has already created some stunning labels at the beginning of 2019.
From the impossible space of German expressionism to intricate landscapes of faraway lands, Pressure Drop have never failed to present their beer in a unique, engaging and often beautiful manner. Next time you’re lucky enough to have one of their bottles or cans in your hand, be sure to take in the whole picture.
Beer of the Year: Donzoko – Northern Helles
2018 was a year often defined by excess when it came to craft beer. Bigger fruit additions, lashings of lactose, higher ABVs, and increased hopping rates were but a few of the factors that contributed to our unquenchable thirst for the next ultra-grammable release. As we move into 2019 it would seem brewers and beer lovers are refocusing and once again striving for quality, approachability and drinkability over Instagram infamy. Leading breweries are beginning to refine rather than perpetually reinvent – hopefully offering drinkers a more satisfying, less hit and miss experience as a result.
One beer that confidently and consistently provided that satisfaction throughout the latter half of 2018 was Donzoko’s Northern Helles. The unfiltered lager offered a crisp and refreshing respite from the more “luxurious” leanings of many releases over the year – reminding us all just how satisfying, and palate cleansing, a great lager can be. However, though the flavour profile and recipe of a lager may well appear more simplistic that your average New England IPA or pastry stout, that absence of excess leaves very little margin for error.
After studying Chemistry at both Newcastle University and LMU Munich, Donzoko Founder Reece Hughill set to researching and developing his recipes to create faithful representations of classic German styles that still remained unique to his Hartlepool-based brewery. The resulting Bavarian style lager delivered on both fronts possessing a sweet malt base, floral hop notes and a crisp finish. After arriving on the festival scene, Northern Helles quickly became a go-to brew for attendees and brewers alike, earning widespread praise for its technical proficiency and downright crushability.
With distinct branding courtesy of graphic designer Sean Edgar, and a flavour profile that roots itself in tradition before expanding upon its influences with a Swiss lager yeast and Kiwi hops, Northern Helles quickly became an HonestBrew team favourite as we closed out 2018. Whether it was a pint supped inside Newcastle’s Free Trade Inn, a first taste at a festival or a can in the office on a Friday night, the beer proved that less done well, can certainly equate to more when it comes to the final drinking experience. We have no doubt that Donzoko and their Northern Helles will garner more fanfare throughout 2019 as beer lovers wants shift towards more approachable and sessionable beers.
A fresh batch of Northern Helles will be landing in the online bottleshop mid-February. Join the waitlist here to be emailed when the beer is available.
Beer Icon Award: Siren Craft Brew
In the wake of brilliant year for Reading’s Siren Craft Brew, and the promise of a 2019 filled with several exciting prospects, there’s no better time to look back at the brewery’s accomplishments and award them our second ever Craft Beer Icon Award.
Founder in 2013 by Darron Anley, Siren quickly became one of the UK’s leading forces when it came to delivering flavourful and quality-packed craft beer to the masses. Thanks to an acclaimed lineup of flagship beers and special releases such as their much-loved ‘Caribbean Chocolate Cake’, Siren were named ‘Best Brewer in England’ by RateBeer users back in 2015. A year later we would name them our ‘Top British Brewery’, highlighting the skill, passion and innovation at play when it came to the creation of a Siren brew. Those philosophies we reaffirmed in 2018 as Siren were rewarded for their increasingly progressive approach to brewing with an Innovation Award. We stated…
“Siren’s commitment to continuing to push the boundaries undoubtedly deserves recognition. A plethora of monstrously good barrel-aged delights (including the latest edition of their Maiden blend), hop-forward festivals of juice, numerous delicious collabs, the invigorating “Project Barista”, a delectable range of dark beers and a core range that remains packed with quality and diversity – all highlight Siren’s innovative and enchanting approach to modern beer.”
2018 found Siren ready to forge ahead with plans for the future. A highly successful Crowdfunding campaign and the £1.2m raised by beer lovers thirsty for more made that possible. Despite bidding farewell to The Rainbow Project (the brainchild of Siren’s former Head Brewer, Ryan Witter-Merithew) after five year’s of collaboration that allowed a selection of the world’s most exciting breweries to join forces, Siren show no signs of complacency. With plans to increase capacity and install a top-rate canning line, 2019 may well be their most action-packed year yet.
August of 2018 also saw Siren’s Broken Dream Breakfast Stout (a beer first released back in 2013) awarded the CAMRA Supreme Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival – a prestigious win that highlighted the brewery’s dedication to quality over time.
Within five years Siren have accomplished an incredible amount, releasing a consistently deliciously and innovative range of acclaimed beers, while fostering collaboration across the globe and acting as wonderful ambassadors of British beer. 2018 cemented their status as Beer Icons and we’re confident that the future will continue to build upon it in a myriad of exciting ways.
Best Beer Festival: MASH (Barcelona)
HonestBrew’s Cormac Wall tells us why Barcelona’s Mash festival is this year’s Best Beer Festival…
Beer festivals are constantly evolving and adding new bells and whistles to their offering, but at their heart they should be gatherings that feel like they bring the larger beer community together.
Brewers get to meet up with old friends or make new ones while drinkers get to sample a smorgasbord of beers that are both familiar and new – from hard to find national heroes to international must-try breweries. The atmosphere of the city has a huge part to play in determining whether everyone goes home feeling like they’ve been part of a celebration of good beer.
Mash Festival in Barcelona is the festival that stands out for us last year as one that encapsulates all the elements we love in beer festivals. Two of the cities leading brewers, Garage Beer Co & Edge, come together every year to draw up a festival that further cements the city and the country’s reputation for good beer. The festival combines huge international names like Monkish, Trillium and Cloudwater with hometown heroes from Catalonia that local drinkers love. The strength and depth of European brewing was also well represented with the vibrant brewing cultures from Poland, Portugal, Iceland, Italy and Ireland all available for sampling by curious drinkers.
When the festival closes, the party is only just beginning and the laneways outside are buzzing with attendees drawing up plans for which late night craft watering hole they’ll attend when the gates shut. Every bar in the city welcomes the festival goers and stays open until late with the sound of dozens of different nationalities discussing their favourite beer or how tricky it might be to get tickets for the Barcelona match on Sunday. Waking up the next day and heading to the beach with a can of fresh IPA, a Jamon stuffed roll and new friends is enough to restore anyone’s faith in the power of craft beer to create wonderful moments you’ll remember long after a festival is finished.’
Craft Innovation Award: Northern Monk
2018 found many breweries capitalising and building upon the popularity of the previous year’s trends. With New England IPA still dominating the drinking habits of beer lovers, breweries understandably doubled down on the joose. Northern Monk joined the ranks of those breweries, giving the people what they wanted when it came to beers overflowing with tropical flavours, a soft mouthfeel and low bitterness. Their post-Hop City 2018 collab with New York’s Equilibrium, Infinity Vortex, being a year highlight for countless hop hunters.
Nevertheless, when it came to branching out beyond the DIPAs, TIPAs and indulgent imperial stouts, the Monks continued to release more complex styles that offered drinkers new depths of flavour and challenged us all to be more adventurous. IPA variants loaded with unexpected adjuncts, farmhouse ales and sours were just a few of the styles that regularly made their way out into the wild. The brewery continued to collaborate, releasing another Trilogy that showcased beer’s three core elements: Malt, Yeast and Hops. They entered the world of food and beer with the Culinary Concepts series all while continuing to expand upon the more sessionable/low ABV end of the beer spectrum with the refinement of releases such as ‘Striding Edge’.
Northern Monk’s innovation throughout 2018 extended beyond their beers as they continued to embrace and celebrate elements of creative and captivating sub-cultures. From visual artists such as Tank Petrol to Vague Skate Mag to fell runner Ricky Lightfoot, the brewery took craft beer out of its box and introduced it to a wider audience with striking artwork and engaging storytelling.
There’s no doubt that Northern Monk’s innovation throughout 2018 was a major factor in their People’s Choice win. Not every attempt to take beer somewhere new and exciting paid off, but the majority managed to arrive at a unique destination we’d happily revisit. Last time we named them the best brewery in the UK, this time one of the most innovative, who knows what Northern Monk has in store for us throughout 2019… but we’re certainly excited to find out.