The craft beers making an exhibition of themselves

Craft beers from creative microdistilleries are becoming the toast of the art world at Tate Modern

Image: Chris Burke

There are many reasons I love Tate Modern: it’s a place where you can lose yourself for hours in front of a single Rothko, or unleash the children on vast installations in the spectacular Turbine Hall; where you can witness performance art in the morning and avant-garde gigs at night, admire (or lament) 360 degree views of London from the top of the Switch House, eat delicious food and find gifts for that person who has everything. 

I love what the Tate is doing for craft beer too. At any one time, you can find around a dozen interesting craft brews behind the bar on Level 1 (plus a bespoke gin from microdistillery Sacred). And it regularly commissions limited edition brews from interesting microbreweries all over the country to mark special exhibitions or milestones in the institution’s history.  

To celebrate the opening of the Switch House in 2016, the Tate collaborated with Bermondsey brewery Fourpure on a one-off pale ale. The futuristic-looking can it came in was designed by Peter Saville, the artist behind iconic album covers for Joy Division, Roxy Music and New Order. Other collaborations have included a Lichtenstein pale ale with Scotland’s BrewDog, a Paul Klee wheat beer with London Fields Brewery and an LS Lowry ale with Manchester’s Marble Brewery (all with matching artwork).  

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And the Tate has done more quirky experiments too. For the Artist and Empire exhibition it commissioned an extra-hoppy IPA from Harbour Brewing Co in Cornwall and shipped it by sea to Tate Liverpool, in a nod to the original India pale ales that were heavily hopped to last the voyage from England to India. “Beer is just four ingredients, but it can be done a thousand ways,” says Tate’s beer-mad ops director Andrew Downs. “There are so many things you can play with – different yeasts, barrel ageing, acidity, hops, the type of malt – and so much room for creativity.” 

On the last Thursday of each month, Tate Modern hosts a Tap Takeover, where you can meet a guest brewer and taste a range of its beers for just £15. Recent highlights have been Welsh microbrewery West by Three and the fantastic Burning Sky in East Sussex (which does some exceptional saisons). A lot of these breweries also have great artwork – and the Tate likes them to make a feature of it. When Alphabet did a takeover, it brought its illustrator and encouraged people to design their own labels. Burnt Mill from Suffolk created a short film for its event.  

Upcoming takeovers include Gipsy Hill in October and a double-header from Northern Monk and Wylam in November. And from what Downs tells me, there are plenty more new beers in the pipeline. “The Tate is about giving a platform to creative people,” he says, “and this is just another way of doing that.”

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