Good Beer Hunting

A British Invasion — UK Brewers Line Up to Pour at Hunahpu’s Day

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Cigar City Brewery’s annual Hunahpu’s Day festival will have an increasingly international presence in 2018, with breweries from more than 10 different nations represented at the event. Earlier this week, the Florida brewery tweeted the names of the 17 international breweries that will be pouring, from Russia’s AF Brew to Estonia’s Põhjala. Of particular note, there will be four British and one Irish brewery in attendance: Beavertown, Magic Rock, Marble, Northern Monk, and Galway Bay Brewery.

One might argue that 2017 is the year that British and Irish craft breweries started to truly rise up on the modern, global brewing stage. September’s Beavertown Extravaganza certainly felt like a coming of age for the UK scene, with almost 70 breweries pouring at the event.

There’s evidence, too, that the U.S. market is eager to get a taste of UK brewing culture, especially judging by the last 12 months. In January, Manchester’s Cloudwater was named the fifth best brewery in the world at the annual RateBeer awards—the first British brewery to earn a coveted top 10 spot. In the months since we’ve seen UK breweries increase their presence in the U.S., either through distribution or events such as the Firestone Walker Invitational, Modern Times Festival of Dankness, and at the Shelton Brothers’ Festival.

“It’s a great feeling being invited to such a well-known festival. This will be the third year we've attended, and it’s a lot of fun,” Magic Rock’s managing director Richard Burhouse tells GBH of Hunahpu’s Day. “We've known Cigar since their involvement in the Rainbow project in 2015, and they're good friends of the brewery. The U.S. is never going to be a big sales market for us, but invites for festivals are a great opportunity for us to get feedback and learn from the most dynamic and progressive beer scene in the world.”

Indeed, UK breweries pouring at U.S. festivals is nothing new. The likes of Buxton, Beavertown, and Siren have also poured at U.S. events like the Shelton’s Festival over the past four years. But the increasing number pouring at next year’s Hunahpu’s Day is perhaps indicative of U.S. drinkers’ willingness to broaden their horizons.

Cigar City brewmaster Wayne Wambles, a self-confessed Anglophile, has been collaborating with British breweries since 2014. For him, inviting UK breweries to pour in Tampa next March is simply an extension of the same hospitality experienced on his visits to the UK.

“A large part of our ale culture was brought to the USA by the British,” Wambles tells GBH. “These new developments in America have gained popularity in the UK as well, which are now being produced in the UK and brought back to America again. [It’s] a colorful history to say the least, and the relationship is obvious, when you realize all of this."

Many have said, including by myself, that the modern UK brewing scene has been lagging behind the U.S. both in terms of quality and pervasiveness of craft beer itself. Craft beer still only makes up a miniscule 5% of the UK beer market, compared to the albeit-still-relatively-small 12% in the U.S.

An increasingly crowded market brings more challenges, of course. As the U.S. passes 6,000 breweries, so too does the UK top 2,000. And in a crowded marketplace, obtaining and maintaining relevance becomes more important to brands than ever before. What better way to carve out a slice than by pouring at one of the most anticipated beer events in the world? Much like in the U.S., there's also an increasing amount of pressure on smaller UK brewers by large craft brands, with many of America’s largest craft brewers looking to the UK market in order to sustain a healthy growth curve.

But at the end of a very long, beer-drenched day, a festival such as Hunahpu’s is a great opportunity for brewers to strengthen relationships through collaboration, shared ideas and, of course, partying together.

“Social media is increasingly making the beer world a smaller place, and international breweries are an integral part of the best festivals nowadays,” Magic Rock’s Burhouse says. “The sense of community amongst brewers is what makes the beer industry so exciting to be part of.”

—Matthew Curtis