Friday, 2 January 2015

Golden Pints 2014

Here are my Golden Pints for the year. I've dispensed with a couple of categories along the way... for example, I've barely bought a beer in a supermarket, so I'm not best placed to pick a winner.

Best UK Cask Beer - Weird Beard Dark Hopfler. Disclosure out of the way, I spent a few weeks working full time at WB in September. This particular beer dates back to the spring, when Daniel Vane ruled the brewhouse roost and turned a leftover imperial stout mash into a masterclass in marrying the extreme with the sessionable. Just 2.5% but with masses of body, lots of body and huge aroma from a big dry hop, I can't think of a more memorable pint I've had this year.
Honourable mentions: Siren Broken Dream was excellent whenever I had it, and Brew By Numbers, despite being new to cask conditioning their beers, were serving a stellar cask of Coffee Porter at the brewery just before Christmas.

Best UK Keg Beer - I've drunken proportionately more keg this year than any other year, so this is much harder than it has been in the past. Reliable old favourites like Magic Rock Cannonball and Thornbridge Tzara are still fantastic, but the one beer that sticks in my mind is Wild Beer Bibble. A draught-only pale ale, it was memorable for being so reserved. Soft in texture, not overly bitter, but with a clarity and freshness of flavour that so many brewers tend to overlook in favour of the extremes. The most drinkable beer I had this year, and perhaps the only keg beer that I drank pint after pint of in a single night. Honourable mention to the crazy Siren/Evil Twin Even More Jesus BA beers that were put on for the Evil Twin Meet the Brewer in London in January. The coffee version was ridiculously over the top but all the better for it.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer - It's Wild Beer again, with their Beyond Modus. Ostensibly a deluxe version of their flagship Modus Operandi, the extra barreling and blending has turned it into a woody, complex beast that nods to the best of the Flemish classics. The sort of beer that just wasn't being made in the UK just a couple of years ago.
Honourable mention to Burning Sky's Monolith, a dark funky beer which, like Beyond Modus, was novel, complex and very tasty, and the Brewdog's Black Eyed King Imp, which was the first time in years that one of their beers surpassed their rhetoric. Their best brew since AB:04.

Best Overseas Draught Beer - It would be easy to go for one of the crazy limited beers from Copenhagen Beer Celebration here, or for a classic like unfiltered Pilsner Urquell from the wood or Cantillon Fou Foune, which was as great as ever at Borefts and on Zwanze Day. But I'm going for Dieu Du Ciel!'s Moralité, a collaboration with The Alchemist that was probably the juiciest IPA to cross the Atlantic this year. When it was served at their Meet the Brewer event at Brewdog's Clapham bar, it was a rare occasion when a big group of beer geeks were unanimous in agreement on the beer of the night.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer - Hill Farmstead Vera Mae, which came all the way from Vermont via a beer trade. A beer of incredible subtlety and reserve, but bursting with flavour and zip. Massively drinkable, which is a shame as I'll likely have to travel all the way to Vermont - and get very lucky with my timing - to drink it again. Honourable mention to Blaugies' Saison d'Epautre, which I drank a lot of once I found it for sale in Luxembourg, and to Stone's Enjoy By, which Brewdog air-dropped in to hopheads across the UK in the summer.

Best Collaboration Brew - I guess it has to be DDC Moralit√©, although Green Flash's collab with Cigar City, their cedar-aged rye wine Candela that was served at CBC, was similarly stellar. I also enjoyed Weird Beard/Elusive's Lord Nelson, as did a lot of people, and the aforementioned Siren/Evil Twin Jesus beers. Beavertown/Naparbier Bone King was quite good too, the Finger series from Siren/To Ol was great, and Shnoodlepip remains undefinably brilliant.

Best Overall Beer - By the tiniest margin, and because I'd love to have a keg or a cask of it at home at all times, it's Wild Beer Bibble.

Best Branding, Pump Clip or Label - Magic Rock is still the most coherent and eye-catching around. I think Josh Smith's work for Weird Beard is great, and I really like the Brewdog rebrand too - at first glance it looks like shit, but on bottles and cans it's a mile better than their tired old wacky branding of the past few years.

Best UK Brewery - Incredibly hard to choose this year, but for their consistently high quality across a range of styles and in every method of dispense, Magic Rock stand out. It could easily have been a number of others: although not mentioned above, I think Buxton have had a stellar year. Thornbridge's relentless consistency is incredible, Siren are knocking out some fantastic beers at the moment, while Wild Beer's dizzy highs make their occasional bum notes entirely forgivable.

Best Overseas Brewery - Brasserie Cantillon are the best overseas brewery.

Bar\Pub of the YearClick for full details

Best Beer Festival - On paper, it should be Copenhagen Beer Celebration, but this year it came very close to disappearing up it's own arse, with too much focus on 'out-there' beers and morning sessions starting at 10am. No-one wants to have to fight through a scrum to drink 15% imperial stout for breakfast. So instead it was a toss up between Borefts, which was typically brilliant this year, and Independent Manchester Beer Convention, which just shades it. Excellent venue, perfectly curated beer list, insightful seminars, pop-up tastings... A few tweaks away from being the definitive British beer festival.

Independent Retailer of the Year - My ideal beer store would be a neighbourhood corner store with good prices, a comprehensive stock of local beers (especially if you have the likes of Arbor and Wild Beer in the region) and bottles of Bracia and Halcyon from Thornbridge. Its shelves would be dotted with limited edition barrel-aged runs from Siren in amongst imports like Stone Ruination and Augustiner Hell. It would have bottles of Cantillon Lou Pepe sitting on the shelf. And, best of all, it would have a golden retriever to greet you on entry and follow you around as you make your selection. It would be Favourite Beers of Cheltenham.

Best Beer Book or Magazine - Boak and Bailey's Beer Britannia. Just a brilliant piece of work from start to finish. With so much going on at the moment, there will probably be scope for a follow-up soon, focusing just on the last decade.

Best Beer Blog - Matt Curtis at Total Ales, whose passion for writing interesting and challenging pieces is only matched by his love for Camden Town Brewery and Chris Hall. Quick mentions for The Evening Brews, the fantastic Good Beer Hunting, the BeerCast for their work in dismantling Brewmeister, and for Boak and Bailey, who enhanced their already strong claim to be the most influential beer bloggers around.

Best Beer App - Fiz. Hahehaheha!

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beery Twitter - Chris Hall, although he almost lost it by selling his old cshallwriter Twitter handle to Russian separatists.

Best Brewery Website - The Wild Beer website is beautiful, and a good match for what they produce.

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