Top Two Breweries of 2011

by Steve

Guys at a bar in Australia, during World War Two.

As we get steadily more festive, I get steadily more thirsty, so this seemed a good time to run down my favourite breweries of the year, as part of my non-acclaimed Top Two series.

In at Number Two…

2. Great Divide

A Great Divide beer bottleI’m sure I’ve harped on about this before here, and elsewhere, but design is really important to me in terms of beer. I think a beer should be presented well, it should look as good as it tastes. Maybe I’m just superficial, but I like a handsome pump clip or bottle label. If a brewery has a strong aesthetic then there is a good chance that they care about every aspect of their operation – and such attention to detail will lead to good beer, right?

Great Divide beers look great. Clean, strong design. Great typography. Clever use of colour. I could spot one of their beers a mile off. I appreciate any beer that looks to move past the myths ‘n’ magic iconography so many beers fall back on, or double entendre inspired nonsense. It shows a  brewery wanting to appeal beyond the insular boy’s club stereotype of beer geekery. Such great design helps make their beer more accessible and appealing.

Naturally, none of this would matter if the beer was horrible, but I love the stuff. It is easy to drink without being bland, has a depth of flavour without veering into Stunt Beer territory. Great Divide beers have been a reliable fall-back whenever I’ve been at a loss at what to buy on one of my fancy-beer-buying-missions.  I’d love to always have a six-pack of ‘em in my cellar. I should probably work on that.

And my Number One Brewery of 2011 is…

1. Kernel Brewery

Kernel beer bottlesIt is funny how much the craft beer movement seems to be influenced from a number of different angles. This is generalising wildly, but it seems like a lot of US craft brewers were influenced by old UK styles, and then the new breed of UK craft brewers were influenced by those US styles informed by those UK styles, and on it goes. It kind of reminds be of the sixties music scene, with The Beatles influenced by US R’n’B, then US bands influenced by The Beatles, who then influenced etc etc and so on and so forth. Probably a clumsy analogy, but you get the point.

And Kernel seem to have the best of both worlds. They produce a wide variety of pale ales that seem particularly indebted to US styles and through them have been invaluable in showcasing to me the subtleties of different hops. They have really been a bit of an education. Oh, and they taste great.

Their darker beers, meanwhile, draw on old English recipes and are challenging, yet not completely unapproachable. If a beer can be rewarding, their beers certainly can.

Yes, they look great too. The simple brown label with the beer style stamped on it really accentuates the ‘craft’ aspect in craft brewing, looking simple, stylish, and nodding to home brewing traditions.

To top it all, they are based in beautiful South London, so I can get hold of their beers really easily. I ought to visit the brewery one of these days too. While the likes of Meantime are based even closer to me, I don’t have the same attachment to them that I’ve developed over the past year with Kernel beers. It will be fascinating to see how this young brewery progresses.

Top image from National Library of Australia, via Flickr

Great Divide image from MacKinnon Photography, via Flickr

Kernel image from hungrybrowser, via Flickr