OMG. Even just a fortnight ago I felt like we were lined up to drop out of the top 10 breweries in the world (as voted by RateBeer users) in the annual RateBeer Best awards. That we've climbed from 5th last year to 2nd this year is a complete surprise! We started the year by evaluating, from memory, all the beers we brewed last year. “Damn, this is hard.” said one of our management team. “Pretty sure I’d have scored these all differently at the time” worried another. It was a great exercise in analysing which beers stood out for their bold, positive impact, and which were beers we now looked back upon in shame.
Here’s a chart of our scores for your consideration. We’ll use this chart, and the list behind it to eliminate last year’s mistakes, from bad ideas, to recipes that didn’t hit our targets, to awful hops and hop burn that shouldn’t have made it into our beer, and beyond. Successful recipes will form the basis of our 2018 focus, after we’ve scrutinised them to evaluate whether they are fit to help evolve beer in the UK. What is 2018 beer is a question we’ll obsess over all year (along with many other questions too). Scores range from 8 down to -8, with 8 for beers we are happy with, 6-7 for ok, 4-5 for must try harder, 0-3 for FFS, and <-1 for the shame!
The chart shows a disturbing amount of flops – beers that we were either ambivalent, or positively embarrassed about, far too many beers in the middle of the road of our in house scale, and, thankfully, a good number of beers we look back on at doing just what we hoped they would.
Our management team's (Mark Cotterrell/Brewery Manager, James Campbell/Co-founder and Head Brewer, Hannah Murphy/Head of Retail) equally top scored beers from 2017 are as follows:
Chuckle Du Haut (De Garde collab)
DIPA JW Lees (part of a British yeast DIPA series)
Tremendous Ideas (Other Half collab)
DDH IPA Citra
Loral & Ardi (Lost & Grounded and Verdant collab)
NE DIPA Ekuanot
Chocolate Imperial Stout
Imaginary Dreamscapes (Other Half collab)
Pale Centennial Ekuanot
Chubbles (The Veil collab)
Taco (The Veil collab)
Name TBD (J.Wakefield collab)
Black Forest Stout (Lervig collab)
Mobile Speaker (Dry & Bitter collab)
Exit Right (Garage collab)
NE DIPA Mosaic Citra
NE DIPA Citra Mosaic
What really struck me last night, looking through the best new beers of 2017 list, of which a staggering 11 out of 50 are ours, was just how many of the beers we hold in high esteem ourselves were also the beers Rate Beer users seemed to enjoy the most. It’s obviously thrilling to see that so many people have been really happy with at least some of our beers.
If the chart and my intro above leaves any room for doubt, let me be as clear as I can – we still have a long way to go before we’re anywhere near happy with all the beers we make. Yes, there are times we’ve jumped for joy when we hit our targets and canned a beer that had us all smiling over the results of our hard work, but if 2018 is centred around anything it’ll be ensuring we look back this time next year even happier with our beer.
Of course, there are many here in the UK for whom their jam is lager, or saison, or traditional beers that session well, that may find this accolade difficult to feel good about because their favourite brewery isn’t us. No drama folks. We’re not trying to please everyone, nor are we confused about the limits of our ability or focus. I hope the light that this further accolade shines on the UK beer industry, one founded in one of the most loved beer traditions in the world, and flourishing through a vibrant modern beer scene, raises the profile of every instance of excellence this country has to offer. This isn’t a win for Cloudwater (though we are absolutely buzzing today), this is absolutely a win for Manchester, for the North, and for the whole of the beer scene here in the UK that is one of the most demanding and commanding markets in the world.
Our most heartfelt congratulations to our friends and peers around the world, with a special shout out to our friends and peers here in the UK that landed a place in the top 100 (again, in many cases): Beavertown; BrewDog; Buxton; Fuller's; Magic Rock; Northern Monk; Siren; Tempest; and The Kernel. Additional special mentions for Burnt Mill for their placing as best new brewery in England, West By Three for best new brewery in Wales, and Cross Borders Brewing Co for best new brewery in Scotland.
Forever grateful for your support in our quest to make better beer,
Paul, and the entire team here at Cloudwater.
PS, efforts to dismiss RateBeer awards outright, or diminish their value or impact have already commenced, and we’ll undoubtedly face further criticism along the lines of “They’re not really thatgood.” “Such and such is way better.” “RateBeer is a weird community of people that only drink thimbles of beer and don’t know what they’re on about anyway.” And the classic “I just want to see the UK scene stay underground and not get any global recognition, ever.”
RateBeer awards are consumer driven, and whilst it's convenient to label RateBeer's user base as this or that (reductive, dismissive generalisation), it's worth stepping back and seeing the bigger picture – some people like certain new beers from last year a lot. That's all it is. These accolades aren't best seen as a challenge to a world view (unless your view is one of your way or the highway), quests for sway as a tastemaker (nobody is suggesting the industry stops listening to all the feedback we get IRL, on Twitter, etc, or the professional judgements we make ourselves, nor that anyone stops flagging up styles that don't cause buzz amongst as many people), or anyone's ability to be nice to both the people behind the beer and the thousands enjoying it. This is just one angle on what's going on, flaws, pros, and all.