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Best craft beer 2023: The tastiest craft beers in the UK

Why drink generic, corporate lager when you could be enjoying the best craft beers brewed in the UK today?

The best craft beers can add a real touch of class to your beer shelf, not to mention heaps of flavour. While you may love nothing more than cracking open a cold Budweiser on a sunny afternoon, it’s actually a wasted opportunity to try something more original and potentially more delicious. Craft beers come in all varieties, so whether you like lagers, porters or traditional ales, the UK’s finest craft breweries are here to quench your thirst. And by drinking craft beer, you’ll often be supporting the work of a small, hard-working business, rather than the international conglomerates that run most of the alcohol trade.

Admittedly, the craft beer scene can seem a little much at first, with all those fanciful names and cans covered in outlandish artwork. And yes, some people can be snobbish about craft beer, but don’t let that put you off – craft beer is for everyone. You don’t have to know which hop varieties were used in the latest collaboration between two Kickstarted micro-breweries to enjoy a good beer. You can just try new things and see what you like.

If you don’t know where to start or are simply looking for a change from your usual tipples, we’re here to help with this selection of delicious UK beers. There are plenty to be cracking on with, from standard IPAs to coffee-infused porters and non-alcoholic beverages. Before our product roundup, you’ll find a quick buying guide that should answer any questions you might have about craft beer. And of course, please remember to drink responsibly.

Best craft beer: At a glance

How to choose the best craft beer for you

What are the different style of craft beer?

A good first step towards choosing which craft beer to try, is to hone in on the styles you like best. Among the dazzling variety of beer styles brewed in the UK, some of the most widespread include:

  • Pale ale: light, biscuity and often hoppy
  • IPA: hoppy, malty, and alcoholic enough to weather a journey on the seven seas
  • Stout: dark, toasty and often with sweet notes
  • Lager: light, refreshing and variable in flavour, reflecting many regional and national varieties
  • Bitter: mellow, easy-drinking – and, of course, bitter

This is not to mention the many other popular styles, which include sour beer, porter, table beer and mild. As you try various different styles of beer, you’ll come to learn which ones usually bring you the most interest and enjoyment. Think of this as a singularly pleasant process of trial-and-error.

What qualifies as a craft beer?

In the UK, there’s still no official definition for “craft” brewing. However, based on the criteria laid out by the Brewer’s Association in America, we can build a loose framework for classifying craft beers made in the UK. First of all, a craft brewery needs to be mostly independent. That means that a multi-national alcohol company should not own a significant share of the company – say 25% or more.

That leads to the second point, which is around distribution. Small breweries don’t have access to the large-scale brewing facilities or advanced supply mechanisms used by global corporations, so the amount of beer they can produce is comparatively small and it isn’t sold in as many places. If you can find it in supermarkets all over the world, it probably isn’t a craft beer. There are some exceptions, like Scottish “punk” brewer BrewDog, but not many.

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Does craft beer taste any different?

In terms of the beer itself, there are a few hallmarks that tend to set craft beers apart from corporate brews. One is the use of traditional ingredients, such as malted barley, but you’ll also find that many craft beers use experimental ingredients, giving them unique flavour profiles. Citrus fruits feature heavily in craft IPAs and pale ales, while darker craft beers (porters and stouts) often include soya, lactose and even certain nuts.

Is craft beer more expensive than regular beer?

As mentioned, craft brewers don’t benefit from the scale of production and global distribution networks employed by multinational brewing corporations, so they can’t sell beer as cheaply. However, beer lovers tend not to mind because they know they are paying for a quality product and understand the extra effort that’s gone into making and shipping it.

Is the ABV of craft beer similar to regular beer?

ABV describes the percentage of alcohol in the drink. Craft beers tend to be pretty strong relative to mass-produced mainstream beers, and this can sometimes be hard to taste if the beer is very flavourful. With this in mind, always check the ABV before you drink, and take it easy. This isn’t a Yates’s.

Is craft beer suitable for vegans?

Many craft beers are suitable for people following a vegan diet, and plenty come with a Vegan Society certification on the bottle or can. Bigger alcohol companies like to use filtration and fining aids such as isinglass or gelatine for beer production, meaning they aren’t suitable for vegans or even vegetarians. Craft brewers tend not to rely on these animal-based ingredients, so the beer they produce is often naturally vegan.

But you still need to check labels. Many craft beers, particularly stouts and porters, contain lactose to achieve a silky mouth-feel. Happily, some breweries, such as Moor Beer Company, make 100% vegan-friendly beer, so if you’re vegan you can safely crack open one of their cans without having to read the small print. In the review below, we’ve noted which beers are vegan-friendly.

How we test craft beer

Upon first pouring any of the beers on our list we take note of a number of visual and olfactory features, such as the beer’s colour, aroma, opacity, effervescence and the size and texture of its foam head. When drinking a given beer, we look to see how well its taste and texture matches up with its listed flavours and its style. To give some examples, a standard IPA should be robust and hop-forward, something like an NEIPA should be milder and fruitier with a slightly more viscous texture, while a mango sour should have a pleasant tang and a tropical fruit flavour.

For this list in particular, we also look into and try to give you a clear idea of a beer’s craft credentials. Since craft beer is not a protected legal term in the UK, we try to help our readers to understand and differentiate between fully independent breweries, ones part-owned by larger manufacturers and beers that are not independently produced but label themselves as “craft” due to their flavour and style.

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The best craft beer you can buy in 2023

1. Thornbridge Jaipur: Best standard craft IPA

Price when reviewed: £23 (12pk) | Check price at Thornbridge BreweryJaipur is Thornbridge Brewery’s flagship beer and something of a modern classic. First brewed in 2005, some consider it to be the UK’s original craft IPA. It has only grown in popularity since its launch, garnering over 100 international beer awards including a Gold Medal at the World Beer Awards 2016. Using six hop varieties, Maris Otter malt from Norfolk and a healthy dose of citrus peel, Jaipur is a well-balanced IPA for drinking on any occasion. With an ABV of 5.9%, it definitely makes its presence known, yet it still manages to feel lighter than its strength suggests.

Though its beers are now distributed in over 30 countries around the world, the Derbyshire-based Thornbridge Brewery remains proudly independent, and still produces all of its beer at its founding location in Bakewell, Derbyshire. Jaipur is still its best-known beer, and it’s the perfect introduction to Thornbirdge’s impressive, award-laden range.

Key details – Liquid volume: 330ml; ABV: 5.9%; Country of origin: UK; Suitable for vegans: No

2. Brixton Brewery Electric IPA: Best IPA for flavour

Price when reviewed: £38 (12pk) | Check price at AmazonIf there’s any beer worthy to take the name of Brixton’s buzzing Electric Avenue, this joyful IPA would be a fitting candidate.

Electric IPA shocks the senses straightaway with sweet, fruity notes, many of them deriving from the beer’s bouquet of cascade, centennial, amarillo and mosaic hops. Afterwards, you get a satisfying bitterness that lingers long about the tastebuds. It’s refreshing, summery, and has a nice, modest level of fizz that leaves space for the flavours to sing.

Whereas some beers lose their appeal towards the bottom of the glass, we found that Electric IPA kept us interested with its rich and evolving flavour profile.

Key details – Style: IPA; Liquid volume: 330ml; ABV: 6.0%; Brewed in: London; Suitable for vegans: Yes

3. BrewDog Elvis Juice: Best grapefruit craft IPA

Price when reviewed: £6.50 (4pk) | Check price at SainsburyArguably BrewDog’s best beer to date, Elvis Juice is a delicious grapefruit-infused IPA that has heaps of citrus flavour and a tangy kick at the end. It’s refreshing and juicy, with a bitter edge that rounds it off perfectly and stops it from being sickly sweet. As well as a tidal wave of grapefruit, you’ll also pick up hefty notes of orange peel, all carried on a robust, malty base. At 6.5% it’s definitely on the stronger side, but not quite at Double IPA levels. Like many of BrewDog’s beers, Elvis Juice is Vegan Society-approved.

But just how independent is BrewDog these days? Having sold 22% of its company to TSG Consumer Partners (owners of Pabst), the Scottish brewer is no longer the independent craft brewery it once was. That said, it’s still majority-owned by the founders, board members and members of the general public, known as “Equity Punks”. For now, it still counts as craft.

Key details – Liquid volume: 330ml; ABV: 6.5%; Country of origin: UK; Suitable for vegans: Yes

4. Tiny Rebel Cwtch: Best red ale

Price when reviewed: £41 (24pk) | Check price at ClickNDrinkCwtch (rhymes with butch) is a word that means “hug full of love”. That’s according to Welsh brewery Tiny Rebel, anyway, which set a record back in 2015 by being the youngest-ever brewery to win Champion Beer of Britain with its ale, Cwtch. The amber-coloured beer puts a unique twist on the traditional Welsh red ale through the use of fresh American Citra hops, delivering a balanced, fruity taste that’s mixed with rich, caramel malt. If you like ambers and reds, you’ll love Cwtch.

Founded in 2012 by brothers-in-law Bradley Cummings and Gareth Williams and originally operating out of a garage, Tiny Rebel has gone from strength to strength since its inception. And despite its astounding growth and awards success, it remains the smallest microbrew operation covered on this list.

Key details – Liquid volume: 330ml; ABV: 4.6%; Country of origin: UK; Suitable for vegans: Yes

Check price at ClickNDrink

5. Timothy Taylor’s Landlord: Best pale ale on-draught

Price when reviewed: £2 (500ml bottle) | Check price at TescoA roundup of independently brewed UK beers would not be complete without this iconic traditional ale from Timothy Taylor’s Brewery. When Landlord was first quaffed, in 1952, the term ‘craft ale’ wasn’t yet in popular use – and we’re sure some real ale aficionados will baulk at Landlord’s inclusion on this list.

Nonetheless, Landlord hits many of the criteria that matter to craft beer lovers. The beer is brewed at an independent, family owned brewery, it falls under the popular pale ale style, and most importantly it has a beautiful flavour profile, mingling hops with an underlying rich maltiness.

We do tend to find that Landlord loses some of its charm towards the end of these 500ml bottles, so perhaps consider sharing one with a friend for the best experience from first sip to last.

On a side note, this beer is out-of-this-world if you can get it on-draught from a pub with a well-kept cellar (our reviewer recommends Whitelock’s Ale House in Leeds!)

Key details – Style: Pale ale; Liquid volume: 500ml; ABV: 4.3%; Brewed in: Keighley, Yorkshire; Suitable for vegans: Yes

6. Beavertown Lazer Crush: Best alcohol-free IPA

Price when reviewed: £1.60 (per can) | Check price at Sainsbury’s

A common misconception with alcohol-free beer is that lack of alcohol results in a lack of flavour. Beavertown’s Lazer Crush is a great example of why this simply isn’t the case. Using three types of hops, this NA beer is chock full of flavour. The deep hoppiness is balanced wonderfully by the sweet notes of peach, orange and mango, while the hints of earthy pine and bitter grapefruit round it all off and ensure the beer doesn’t become sickly sweet.

Beavertown was launched in 2011 by Logan Plant, the son of legendary Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant. Since then, the brewer has been making mostly IPAs, with some limited edition seasonal beers thrown in for good measure. In June 2019, it lost a sizeable chunk of its independence when Heineken bought a 49.5% stake in the company. That being said, Logan and his wife Bridget still own 50.8% of the company between them; let’s hope they retain the majority going forward.

Key details – Liquid volume: 330ml; ABV: 0.3%; Country of origin: UK; Suitable for vegans: Yes

7. Lost and Grounded Keller Pils: Best craft lager

Price when reviewed: £2.80 (per can) | Check price at WaitroseUsing German pilsner malt and three hop varieties, Lost and Grounded’s Keller Pils provides the classic lager taste that drinkers the world over are familiar with, but there’s much more to it than your typical mass-produced lagers. The yeast and the fact that it’s unfiltered give the beer a big mouthfeel, but the refreshing lager taste and subtle floral notes from the hops keep the drink light and crisp.

Founded in Bristol in 2016 by Alex Troncosco and Annie Clements, Lost and Grounded has wasted no time in laying down its mark in the craft beer game. Alex helped make breweries Camden Town and Little Creatures what they are today, but when the former was bought out by international beer titan AB InBev, he left to pursue his dream of owning a brewery of a more humble nature with his partner Annie.

Key details – Liquid volume: 440ml; ABV: 4.8%; Country of origin: UK; Suitable for vegans: Yes

Check price at Waitrose

8. Fourpure Lager: Best craft lager for newbies

Price when reviewed: £21 (12 x 330ml) | Check price at OcadoCraft lagers are sometimes overlooked in roundups of craft ales – perhaps because the style is associated with the sort of mass-produced beers that have divided opinion in the UK since the 1970s.

However, this dry, hoppy beer from London brewery Fourpure proves that there’s good reason to explore the world of craft lager. We liked this beer for its light, floral flavours, and loved it for the sheer refreshment it provided on a hot summer’s day.

If you know someone who is reluctant to swap their mass-produced beers-of-choice for a crafty alternative, Fourpure Lager could be an ideal intro.

Key details – Style: Lager; Liquid volume: 330ml; ABV: 4.2%; Brewed in: London; Suitable for vegans: Yes

Check price at Ocado

9. Magic Rock Dark Arts Surreal: Best craft stout

Price when reviewed: £3 (440ml can) | Check price at Asda

Dark Arts might just be the perfect stout. The simple delight of its flavours – a satisfying maltiness that lingers at the back of the mouth, and a slight carbonated bitterness – testifies to the complex understanding which has gone into making the beer. The four different malts at play contribute gorgeous notes of chocolate, and by our lights, dried fruit.

We found that this beer was superb when served at room temperature, whereas cooling tends to obscure its beautiful, toasty flavours.

Immensely drinkable though Dark Arts may be, it’s pretty strong at 6.0% ABV. Sip gently to ensure you don’t take a devilish turn.

Key details – Style: Stout; Liquid volume: 440ml; ABV: 6.0%; Brewed in: Huddersfield; Suitable for vegans: Yes

Check price at Virgin Wines

10. Salcombe Brewery Devon Amber: Best bitter

Price when reviewed: £16 (8pk) | Check price at Salcombe BreweryThis is a lovely, traditional best bitter, brewed by a modern craft brewery in the Devonshire countryside.

In terms of flavour, Devon Amber struck us as pleasantly malty and sweet. But arguably the beer’s greatest virtue is the wonderful clarity of the liquid. After testing the beer, we learned that all Salcombe Brewery beer is made with Devonian springwater, drawn up from a borehole beneath the brewhouse – and it shows.

At 3.8% ABV, Devon Amber could be a good, ‘sessionable’ choice for those who are keen to avoid consuming too much alcohol. True to its name, the beer has a fabulous amber colour that looks great in the glass.

Key details – Style: Bitter; Liquid volume: 500ml; ABV: 3.8%; Brewed in: Ledstone, Devon; Suitable for vegans: Yes

Check price at Salcombe Brewery

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