What better place to host the fastest-growing trend in craft beer than in the area of Hoxton, Shoreditch? With sleeve tattoos and an excess of facial hair aplenty, the walk through Shoreditch into Hoxton encompassed the very heart of trendy London and whetted the appetite nicely for an evening of sampling the latest independent beers in cans.
For those like me who enjoy the odd tipple, to be greeted by the chance to enjoy the 13 best beers from independent brewers in the UK and Ireland was a challenge I gladly accepted. The venue was understated and very arty, a perfect venue for the position the beer can industry in the UK currently finds itself. I’m sure in time it’ll outgrow this type of venue in favour of a more ‘glitzy’ affair. For now at least, the venue nailed its brief.
The independent beer can market has grown from only four brands in cans two years ago to now over 100 and based on the success of this year’s event, this growth is set to continue. This progress was exemplified with the attendance list; I noted representatives from Crown, Ball, Rexam and the charismatic Peter Love from Cask Brewing Systems amongst others.
The essence of the festival was launched in October 2015, with independent brewers in the UK invited to submit their beers, regardless of pack format. From over 130 entrants, 36 semi-finalists were selected before 13 were chosen as finalists. Those not already in can won the opportunity to trial their brand in a can for the Festival final. The entries were whittled down to the following:
Category: Ale – Leaping Legend Hall & Woodhouse
Uprising Treason, Windsor & Eton Brewery
Blonde Bird, Greyhound Brewery
New World IPA Northern Monk Brew Co
Category: Lager- Brotherhood Lager, William Bro’s Brewing Company
Liberty Pils, Freedom Brewery
1917, The Little Beer Corporation Ltd
Steam Lager, Redwell
Category: Other- Spicy Weiss, Earth Ale Brewery
Bad Kitty, Brass Castle Brewery
Fireweisse, Firebird Brewing Company
Oatmeal Stout, FourPure
Northern Star Mocha Porter, Northern Monk Brew Co
Once the attendees were able to sample the finalists, washed down with the food on offer, Little Jack Horner’s Sausage Company- possible the best sausage roll I have ever tasted I must add – it was down to business. During the afternoon, an expert taste-judging panel were tasked with crowning the winners, which included industry figures Adrian Tierney-Jones and Annabel Smith, Ben Hume, then Beer Buyer for Lidl (now Head of Wine for Lidl Intl), as well as Martin Constable, chairman of the Can Makers.
For Ben Hulme, the diversity of the beers on offer was the real highlight: “The range of tastes and can designs at the Festival has been nothing short of spectacular and I have really enjoyed tasting each brand. The independent beer industry is one that celebrates innovation and entrepreneurship and these qualities were on display in abundance last night. I feel privileged to have been a judge, encouraging a brilliant industry.”
The sponsors of the event, the Can Makers and the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), crowned Uprising Treason by Windsor & Eton ‘Best in Show ’and they also announced the category winners for Best Ale (Uprising Treason by Windsor & Eton Brewery), Best Lager (Brotherhood Lager by William Bros. Brewing Co.) and Best ‘Other’ (Fireweisse by Firebird Brewing Co.). Uprising Treason was also awarded best ‘New to Can’.
For Windsor and Eton, it was certainly a night to remember. ““Coming to this ceremony tonight, I knew there were other beers competing that I loved and enjoyed so I wouldn’t have thought in a month of Sunday’s that we would win,” said Kieran Johnson, production manager at Windsor & Eton. “It’s been a real, but brilliant shock.
“I am personally very influenced by the US market. It has spent the last ten years showing the world market that the can is the way forward and I’m so glad that the UK is now following suit. I truly believe that the can is the best format to preserve the integrity of the beer and make any beer look awesome.”
Overall, an exceptional event and for me, the Leaping Legend was my favourite for what it’s worth. However, there is perhaps some mileage in expanding the show for next year. You also have to dig deep to find out some information about the event online and the event’s website is seldom updated. As the show grows, it would be nice to see the festival gather some momentum as this burgeoning industry develops and continues to grow like the craft beer movement has in North America.