Travel Story Crafty ales brew up a storm in the UK

From "beer yoga" to home brewing classes, the craft beer revolution means that boutique brews are no longer a novelty. 

As I walk through a bar to join a backroom beer-brewing class, something unexpected enters my line of sight. A group of young women are necking pints of beer while in the middle of a strenuous yoga class. I stop and peer into the yoga studio trying to work out what’s going on.

Sensing my bemusement, my brewing guide Jack Briggs (pictured above) laughs and explains that it is London Fields Brewery’s new beer yoga class. That beer has crossed over with a trendy exercise such as yoga is indicative of how much the perception of this alcoholic drink has changed.

Beer has become cool. Not much more than a decade ago beer was, rightly or wrongly, widely considered to be a “bloke’s drink” and many of the beers on offer in Australia and the UK were ordinary in quality, similar in taste and pumped out by giant brewing consortiums.

There didn’t seem to be much care or passion in beer brewing. Beer was created quickly and cheaply, intended for a mass market with tastes not overly discerning. Operating in the shadows of these giant brewers were a small number of tiny independent brewers.

In the 2000s that number went from being small to medium to large before, in the 2010s, it became enormous. These days it is estimated there are more than 1000 small breweries in the UK, making it one of the world’s hubs of boutique beer. A similar craft beer revolution has taken place in Australia, with the country’s craft beer industry now worth close to $500 million a year, according to a recent report by US market research company IBISWorld.

In this time craft beers have gone from being a novelty to very much mainstream. 

At your average Perth barbecue or London dinner party you’re now almost as likely to see people drinking a boutique beer you’ve never heard of as a world-famous brew such  as Heineken or Corona.

Bored with the watery taste of such mass-produced beers, many drinkers savour the unique flavours created by passionate craft brewers. In the UK, some such independent operations are trying to pass on their skills to the average punter via home-brewing workshops.

Home brew, like beer itself, used not to be fashionable. Commonly it was perceived to be for drinkers on a budget. Its main selling point was its cheapness. But it, too, has become more sophisticated, more artful as craft brewers have found ways to bring their techniques into the homes of beer fans.

Tourists can do home-brew classes at Brew Club in North London, UBrew in East London and London Beer Lab in the city’s south. Then there’s London Fields Brewery in East London, which opened in 2011, with the small brewer quickly earning itself fans via its Shoreditch Triangle IPA and Easy IPA. It invites guests into the backrooms of its Hackney facility to learn tips for making a topnotch IPA at home.

In my class are a group of guys on a stag do, an American couple and a German man who seems particularly serious about the art of brewing beer. Jack gives a brief overview of London Fields Brewery and the craft beer sector and then begins to talk brewing. It’s more complicated than it seems at first glance, and the nitty-gritty wouldn’t make for particularly interesting reading. But the workshop is fun, interactive and informative.

I leave feeling I could quite comfortably start my own tiny brewery at home. As a keen consumer of beer, it’s an appealing idea. On the bus back into central London I begin thinking of a brand name for my beer — “RO’C Solid” perhaps. 

It is easy to understand how so many craft brewers have emerged across the world due to just this fascination with experimentation. Unlike what it may once have seemed, there’s definitely a craft to beer.

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