The best craft beers (2021): the best beer and ale revealed
Updated: Tickle your taste buds with our choice of the best craft beers.
Craft beer, although without an official definition in the UK, has been on a meteoric rise over the last decade. The amount of breweries and, of course, beers, available has shot through the roof giving drinkers an almost overwhelming choice, so picking the best craft beers has been rather tough.
UPDATE:Alongside this best craft beer guide, we have started up a beer of the week, where we will highlight new beers that we have been enjoying. It doesn't mean that they will land in this list but it will give you a wider selection of the beers on offer and give you insight into what we've been testing. Head to our article for more information and, more importantly, some brilliant beers to try.
The scene is more diverse and vibrant than ever before, with breweries across the UK and beyond pushing the boundaries of what beer can be.
So much so that this isn’t some definitive list - we know that’s basically impossible. It’s a list of what we think you should be sampling right now. You’ll find a range of different breweries and beer styles here. There’s something for everyone.
We have updated this guide with even more fantastic beers - below you will find 15 of the best beers we have tried of late.
If you haven't guessed by now, here at Shortlist, we love a good beer - so, we’ve decided one shortlist just isn’t enough. We’ve now put together a best American beer list to prove there’s more to the States than Bud Light. Over there you’ll find everything from IPAs to Milk Stout, so you’re bound to find a bottle to your tasting.
Before you head over there, though, here is our pick for the best craft beers around right now - vote up any that you have tasted and are fans of!
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Best craft beers
1. Leigh on Sea - Crowstone - 5.5%
A black IPA is something of an illusion beer but it’s more than just a trick and it’s very unusual to find one in a core range line-up. While it looks like a porter or stout, the beer is heavily hopped to provide the big hit of citrus hoppiness you expect from an IPA.
However, there are no less than seven malts used here for a blend of flavour including bread, caramel along with, importantly, bitter chocolate and coffee. This one is balanced perfectly and has a smooth, creamy texture, too.
2. Thornbridge - Jaipur - 5.9%
There’s no debating that this is one of the best IPAs around. Jaipur has won over 100 awards worldwide including Gold at the World Beer Awards.
Jaipur tastes great on cask, keg and bottle, and is now available in stunning bright orange cans making it a perfect fridge filler. The blend of six different hop varieties such as Cascade and Centennial give it a big hit of aroma, bitterness and flavour in true American IPA style.
3. Lost and Grounded - Keller Pils - 4.8%
The Bristol-based brewers have created what has quickly become the go-to lager of the craft beer world. A crisp and clean beer that will quench your thirst any time you crack open a can thanks to the expert blend of German pilsner malt and three varieties of hops.
Fun fact: Lost and Grounded's hand-drawn labels make a panoramic scene when you put them all side-by-side.
4. Vocation - Love and Hate - 7.2%
New England style IPAs have become hugely popular in the last year. This is an India Pale Ale but not as you know it.
Unlike Jaipur, it’s thick and hazy thanks to the addition both oats and wheat. The triple dry-hopping treatment means the juicy stone-fruit flavours are not exactly subtle. As the name suggests, you’ll either love or hate it but there’s only one way to find out.
5. Siren - Broken Dream - 6.5%
Now we don’t actually suggest you have this instead of your morning brew, but Broken Dream is a breakfast stout, meaning it has been brewed with oats and coffee.
This is a thick and luxurious beer with a deep and complex flavour. As well as oats, there are six different malts including a smoked variety. There’s also lactose which adds to the body and flavour.
Siren won CAMRA’s Supreme Champion Beer of Britain 2018 for Broken Dream.
6. Five Points - Railway Porter - 4.8%
Nestled in the railway arches in Hackney, Five Points is quietly making some of the best beer in the UK.
Railway Porter provides a huge punch in the face (in a good way) of aroma and flavour with more than just notes of burnt toast, chocolate and coffee. Dark and delightful, yet this beer is still somehow incredibly smooth and drinkable.
7. Deya - Steady Rolling Man - 5.2%
There are a number of beers challenging for the title of UK’s best pale ale but Deya’s has to be the winner.
Now in new colourful labels but the beer inside remains the same with a slightly hazy appearance and a soft and pillowy body. It’s quaffable with peachy, apricot aromas and tropical fruit flavours but there’s just enough of a bite from the alcohol to keep things in check. A true modern classic.
8. The Kernel - Table Beer - ~3%
You won’t find Bermondsey’s The Kernel posting iceman pours on Instagram or various other cliche craft things. But this seemingly unassuming beer with it’s simple brown paper label is one of the most loved and influential of the last decade.
A beer for any occasion, it’s the benchmark for lower abv beers and is the brewery’s version of cask in a bottle or keg getting second fermentation for additional flavour. The abv varies slightly with each batch, as do the hops that go in but regardless, it’s incredibly flavoursome and full-bodied for such a simple beer.
Refreshingly quaffable and resolutely reliable.
9. Fyne Ales - Easy Trail - 4.2%
In a blind taste test, Easy Trail came out on top as the best session IPA, although you’d be equally happy with the ones we tried from the likes of Northern Monk, Rooster’s and Redwillow.
Narrowly pipping it, Easy Trail fits the bill perfectly for the style having been ‘inspired by leisurely walks through rural Scotland’. More than just a suitable abv, it has a balance between a light biscuit malt flavour, a medium level of citrus bitterness and is rounded off with a slightly creamy apricot yoghurt body.
It’s a fridge-filler you’ll want to go grab another of as soon as you take your final sip.
10. Wild Beer Co - Sleeping Lemons - 3.6%
Sours beers are an acquired taste but don’t write them off until you try them. This is a gose, which is a German style typically brewed with coriander and salt.
Wild has taken the style in a Moroccan direction by using the tradition of preserving lemons in salt - there’s also a lime version. You can expect a tart and refreshing experience that’ll go perfectly with fish if you don’t like it alone.
Also look out for the gin inspired by this beer.
11. Buxton - Rain Shadow - 10%
A readily available imperial stout is a rare thing but the Peak District’s Buxton is on hand for this kind of beer.Despite being moved to smaller 330ml cans, Rain Shadow is no small beer.
At 10% there are lashings of throat-warming booze and the flavour is a celebration of speciality dark malt with notes of coffee, burnt toast and chocolate. Buxton also has a rye barrel-aged edition at 12% and Tesco sells the very similar 8.5% Storm Shadow.
12. Wiper and True - Milk Shake - 5.0%
You can think of this as a 'pudding beer' but you don't have to have it after dinner. It's silky smooth, chocolatey and moreish with a nice hit of vanilla.
It’s called a milk stout due to the addition of lactose sugar. This gives it a sweet and think texture akin to a milkshake. Well-balanced ingredients make it sweet without being sickly and thick without being cloying. The perfect milk stout.
13. Duvel Moortgat - Duvel - 8.5%
No decent craft beer list is without a Belgian beer and Duvel is a true classic. There are only four places in the UK you can get it on draught but you’ll find it tastes just as good, if not better, from a bottle where it undergoes secondary fermentation.
It’s a strong blonde ale with a fruity flavour and distinctive hop profile. If you like regular Duvel, make sure to check out the Citra Triple Hop version for a modern twist.
14. Brick Brewery - Peckham Rye - 4.7%
Tucked in a railway arch behind Peckham Rye station, Brick is a hidden gem of London’s brewing scene. The core range features many of the usual players but this red ale is a standout and not just because many other breweries no longer make them.
A complex malt bill including rye and carared is then brought together with a blend of classic ‘C’ hops - Chinook, Cascade and Columbus - resulting in a perfect balance of sweetness, spice, pine and citrus
15. Brouwerij Boon - Oude Gueuze - 7%
Lambic is not a style for everyone but if you enjoy the sour end of the beer scale then this is a classic.
The style is Belgian and undergoes spontaneous fermentation from wild yeast. A Gueze is made from blending young and old batches together. The sourness here is mellow followed by a long dry finish, giving it a champagne-like quality.
Drinking this beer is considerably more enjoyable than trying to pronounce it. If it seems daunting, try the kriek (cherry) version first.