Since moving to the UK from the US, Doreen from Great British Chefs become quite an avid fan of British cask ales, and one of the best places to sample a massive variety of British beer is the Great British Beer Festival. With over 800 cask ales, ciders and beers from abroad to taste, this is a brilliant place for seasoned beer drinkers and novices alike. Doreen previews this year’s event & suggests some dishes to serve with her favourite British beers.
The Great British Beer Festival will be taking place this year in Kensington Olympia, London from 7-11 August 2012. Whether you are planning to attend, or if you are just looking for some new things to try at your local pub, here are ten excellent British breweries to start you off on a delicious beer adventure. This is hardly the be-all and end-all of exceptional British breweries, as there are many that I didn’t have room to include on this list—merely some great breweries from all around Britain that you’re likely to find at GBBF or in your local pub that supports British microbreweries.
Thornbridge Brewery - From Derbyshire, Thornbridge has been crafting excellent brews for the past 7 years. Their IPA, Jaipur, is a wonderful citrusy ale that would go beautifully well with an Indian chicken curry or a beef burger.
For a more classic bitter, the Lord Marples is the way to go—with its remarkably smooth taste and light malt, it makes a fabulous session ale. When the weather heats up, Thornbridge’s Wild Swan is a wonderful light pale ale to try, and their Brother Rabbit, a golden ale, is also quite refreshing.
Marble Brewery - Manchester’s Marble Brewery not only produces outstanding ales, but these cask ales are absolutely organic and vegan. Their Ginger Marble is an incredibly flavourful beer which tastes of ginger and honey—you have to try it for yourself. Marble’s Manchester Bitter is another favourite ale that’s quite enjoyable and would pair well with a good plate of sausage and mash or its vegan equivalent. My favourite beer from Marble that I’ve tried so far has been the Lagonda, an IPA with a gorgeously hoppy flavour that is pronounced and brisk without being too bitter or sharp.
Redemption Brewery - Redemption Brewery produces 6 outstanding cask ales which are brewed to a high standard. As the brewery is based in Tottenham, London, many pubs in the area serve Redemption’s excellent ales, so this is a great one to look out for if you miss it at GBBF.
For a lovely pale ale, the Trinity is one to try, particularly for people new to drinking cask ales. Redemption’s Big Chief, an excellent IPA, is another favourite, but I really enjoy the Fellowship Porter. Smooth, dark, roasty and intriguing, their porter is a sumptuously-flavoured pint that would be fabulous alongside a slice of chocolate cake or a plate of saucy ribs.
Magic Rock Brewing Co. - Magic Rock has only been brewing beer since last year, but their output is absolutely phenomenal. The eye-catching badges for their ales signal a definite difference from other breweries in the UK. The Huddersfield brewery has a extraordinary collection of beers, and it’s hard for me to pick favourites. The Curious Pale Ale is a lovely way to start an evening, and it would be fantastic with a plate of fish and chips.
Another good one is the Rapture Red Hop Ale, which is a richly-flavoured beer with strong citrus and green pine notes. Magic Rock’s High Wire Pale Ale, however, is hands-down one of my favourite beers from the brewery, with its robust notes of grapefruit, citrus and pineapple that sparkle on the tongue.
Red Squirrel Brewery - Brewing since 2004 in Hertfordshire, Red Squirrel Brewery has put out some wonderful cask ales. Their London Porter is quite a lovely and flavoursome dark beer, beautifully malty with chocolate tones that are wonderfully rich in the mouth. It’s an ale I wish I could see more of in the pubs near me! For something a bit brighter on the palette, the Redwood American IPA is a great balanced ale—well-hopped yet tempered with a nice maltiness—that would be terrific with a nice pork or mushroom pie.
Fyne Ales - Fyne Ales are based on a working farm in Argyll near Loch Fyne, and they produce some excellent ales that are definitely worth a try. The Avalanche is a great pale ale with a fine crispness to it that would lend itself well to fish and seafood dishes. If you fancy something with a bit more of a roasted barley-type taste, the Highlander is a classic ale that would play well with barbecued chicken if you’re having it with food, but it’s also a great choice for a post-dinner evening pint.
When the Christmas season gets closer, keep an eye out for Fyne Ales’ Christmas ale, Holly Daze. It’s a marvelous malty ale that foregoes some of the spices often found in Christmas beers in favour of just being a solidly delicious quaff and a welcome respite during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
Dark Star Brewing Co. - One of the older breweries on this list, Dark Star began brewing in 1994 in Brighton’s Evening Star pub. Now based in Partridge Green in West Sussex, Dark Star Brewing Co. produces a large list of beers that can tickle the tastebuds of many. Their Hophead pale ale is a brilliant light ale that features bright floral tones along with the crisp, cleanness of Cascade hops. Their American Pale Ale (APA) is a sensational pale ale that takes inspiration from across the pond. Richly-hopped with a fresh bitterness that holds notes of citrus, herbs and pine, the APA would be well-suited to summer barbecues or a post-picnic pint.
Redwillow Brewery - Masterful beers from Macclesfield, Redwillow has a wonderful range that’s definitely worth exploring. Their award-winning pale ale, Wreckless, will definitely be making an appearance at Great British Beer Festival, so try it before the festival runs out. Also keep an eye out for Directionless, another exceptional pale ale with an interesting citrus sweetness. For a more traditional English bitter, the Feckless is beautifully smooth, and would pair well with rich roasted vegetables or beef dishes. When in season, Redwillow’s Heartless chocolate stout is profoundly amazing, with delicious dark chocolate and rich cocoa malts that is one of my favourite beers, full stop.
Otley Brewing Company - This Welsh brewery from Pointypridd creates some exceptional ales available in cask and in bottle. Their Otley O4 Columbo is a great pale ale that uses American Columbus hops in the brew, resulting in tasting notes of green pine and sharp citrus. This is a wonderfully bitter beer that will stand up well to strong flavours, such as spiced meats. The O5 Gold golden ale is less sharp, but still flavourful, being a wonderful choice for a post-work pint with friends.
Brodie’s Beers - A phenomenal brewery from Leyton in East London, Brodie’s has a great range of beers suitable for many tastes. Their Bethnal Green Bitter is a wonderful session ale brewed with English hops for a full-flavour without any sharpness—a delicious companion to a Sunday roast. If you’re looking for something with a bit more of an edge, give the Dalston Black IPA a go. Richly fruity, with flavours of pineapple, citrus and brisk hops, this is an exceptional beer best had on its own.
The Great British Beer Festival will also be featuring cider and perry from throughout the UK, as well as a large collection of beer from outside of the British Isles, including craft beer selections from America and Australia, alongside favourites from Belgium, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.
Day tickets for the Great British Beer Festival are £8 for non-CAMRA members, £6 for CAMRA members. For a season ticket for multiple days, it is £23/£20 for non-members and members. Check the opening times on the GBBF website to make sure you arrive in time to enjoy the festival. Soft drinks will be available for designated drivers and those attendees who don’t wish to drink, and there will be a number of food stalls at the event with a range of food. For more information, visit the Great British Beer Festival website.
Have you had any beers from these breweries? Do you have any other British breweries you’d like to include? Do you have a favourite style of beer? What are your favourite foods to eat with beer?