Burning Sky Brewery (East Sussex), Big Drop Brewing Co (Maidenhead) and Moorland Spirit Company/Hepple Gin (Northumberland) make up the shortlist for the 2018 award, which was won last year by Somerset brewery Wild Beer Co.
The inclusion of Big Drop Brewing Co is further evidence of surging interest in low and no-alcohol drinks products in the UK. The brewery, founded by Rob Fink in 2016, is dedicated exclusively to making 0.5% ABV beer.
Fink said: “When I launched Big Drop Brewing in November 2016, lots of people told me there wasn’t a demand for full-flavoured craft beers with such a low-alcohol content. In fact, as I suspected, there was demand, but no one had been listening to what those drinkers wanted or providing them with a realistic option.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that Big Drop’s ground-breaking response to this change in drinking behaviour has been recognised by the judging panel of the BBC’s Food & Farming Awards and am looking forward to sharing further details of our business plan with them.”
Burning Sky was founded in 2013 by former Dark Star brewer Mark Tranter, and seeks to draw inspiration from both Belgian and British brewing traditions. The brewery makes extensive use of oak vats, or foeders, alongside an array of wooden barrels for the ageing and maturing of beers, and is one of only four producers in the UK to use a coolship to produce spontaneously fermented beer.
Tranter said: “It’s not something that we entered or asked people to vote for us in. I didn't know anything about it until we were asked for some samples for the judging process.
“It’s nice in a lot of ways, especially because it’s not just within the beer market that we have been recognised. Being judged by your peers is lovely, but being recognised as a drinks producer and being up against all those different people gives you a real sense of achievement.”
On his expectations for the final round of judging, Tranter added: “Well, we've got a third of a chance of winning it. Wild Beer Co has done really well and makes some really great beers, but just because it won before it doesn't mean we will. There are some interesting producers in the final three, especially the guys producing 0.5% ABV beer, which is a whole new market in itself.
“Two weeks ago, I didn't know we were in it, and now we are in the final three out of 400. I'm just happy to have got this far."
Completing the shortlist is Hepple Gin. The brand is the result of a collaboration between chef Valentine Warner, world-renowned barman Nick Strangeway, drinks developer Cairbry Hill, countryman Walter Riddell and distiller Chris Garden.
They are based at Hepple in the Northumbrian Moors, one of the most botanically vibrant environments in England, where they pick their own green juniper and other wild aromatic plants.
The BBC Food & Farming Awards were launched in 2000, to mark the 20th anniversary of Radio 4’s The Food Programme. The awards honour those who have done most to promote the cause of good food and the Best Drinks Producer category recognises the latest ideas in the drinks world as well as the producers keeping great traditions alive.
The final round of judging will take place by the end of May with winners announced on Wednesday 13 June 2018.