It’s been a fair while since I last posted anything. A new job has kept me extremely busy. Fortunately the Christmas break has gifted me with some time, not only to look back over the last year of beer, but also to drink a fair amount of it. I haven’t gone through my Golden Pints before, but after a week of eating, drinking and sleeping, I’m feeling the need to vent some productivity and it seemed like a decent place to start.
Best UK Cask Beer: Oakham – Green Devil IPA
I’ve not drank a lot of cask beer this year but Oakham’s Green Devil IPA is always my first choice if I see it on the bar. In fact all of the Oakham contingent, Inferno, Asylum, Citra, are safe bets – always full to the brim with flavour.
Best UK Keg Beer: Magic Rock – High Wire
Being as indecisive as I am, I’m often plagued with regret when ordering drinks, often wishing I’d have chosen something different. I can honestly say I’ve never once had that feeling when drinking a pint of High Wire. I’ve also drank a lot of the Buxton beers this year – their Axe Edge is always phenomenal and becoming widely available in a lot of Birmingham pubs.
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Beavertown – Quelle Saison/Neck Oil IPA
Beavertown are ridiculously consistent. Along with Camden, they’ve pioneered the production of canned UK craft beer in 2014 and their Quelle probably just about pips their Neck Oil IPA to the post for me, although both were common place throughout the summer months. Even now, drinking either sends me straight back to glorious/thoroughly depressing evenings during the World Cup. A definite recent contender was the By the Horns Brewing Co’s Belgian Space Project, amazing drinkability packed out with a myriad of flavours. The yeasty, sour aroma is almost off-putting on first sniff, but good lord, the subtle spice and galaxy hops don’t half pack a punch.
Best Overseas Draught Beer: Troubadour Magma – Brouwerij De Musketiers
I drank a ridiculous amount of this while I was in Belgium earlier in the year, particularly in Antwerp. In one bar, Gollem, I had a glass of Magma for everything else I tried. In the searing heat, I swear there’s something magically quenching about this beer. You’re so overwhelmed with the overriding citrus aroma, honey-like sweetness and kick you in your groin bitterness, that the alcohol-punch almost passes you by… until you can’t stand up.
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: Stone and Wood – Pacific Ale
This is one of my go to beers, and something I have to order if I see it. It’s summer in a bottle and each gulp takes you closer and closer to a Byron Bay BBQ and away from the gloomy dark nights of Birmingham (sorry, love you).
Best Collaboration Brew: Green Flash and St Feuillien – Belgian Coast IPA
I’ve drank a lot of this over the past year. Occasionally on tap in Cherry Reds, Birmingham and always by the bottle in The Post Office Vaults, it’s a beer which combines the insane Belgian yeasty kick of a the St Feuillien Grand Cru with an insanely hoppy blast of a Green Flash West Cost IPA. Honourbale mention goes to Wild Beer Co and Toccalmatto for their Indigo Child, probably the foulest looking concoction I’d ever laid eyes on at IMBC this year. A hazy, grey beer really shouldn’t be as delicious as this sour.
Best Overall Beer: Straffe Hendrik – Wild Tripel
The single best best beer I drank in 2014, the beer which stopped me dead in my tracks, was the Straffe Hendrik Wild Tripel at the Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges. After sampling all of the beers in the taproom, I was convinced there wasn’t any thing that could top the unfiltered blond and dubbel or the bottled tripel and quadruple, but after seeing my interest in trying everything they had, the waitress brought over this wild little bugger. Brewed just once a year it’s essentially their tripel, refirmented with wild yeast, bringing out an amazing sourness which had me hooked from the get-go.
Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label: Pressure Drop
The contents of these bottles could be awful with the labels looking this good. Luckily the beer is great too.
Best UK Brewery: Wild Beer Co
I’m yet to try a Wild Beer Co creation that tastes like something I’ve had before. On one end you have some of the cleanest pale ales and saisons, in the shape of their Fresh and Solera, while their Yankee Sandwich is a sweet peanut butter cup delight with a thick choclatey bite. They’ve mastered introducing wild yeast to the masses and with a seemingly limitless supply of creativity, who knows what’s around in the corner in 2015. Oh wait, that’s right, they’re brewing a 14% ‘saki style beer’ using the yuzi citrus fruit and a Japanese sea vegetable called Hijiki – sounds about right.
Best Overseas Brewery: Left Hand Brewing Company
I was taken by Left Hand the first time I sampled the Milk Stout Nitro. Luckily, with my local craft beer off-license stocking a wide-selection of their beers, it didn’t take me long to make my way through most of them. Founded in 1994, they’re an established craft brewery, with each beer packing a boat load of truly distinguishable characteristics and eye-catching, often animal-themed branding. Animals are awesome.
Best New Brewery Opening 2014: Northern Monk
Was it 2014? I think they might actually have set up shop late 2013, either way I only got to know of them properly this year. The Black IPA is killer.
Pub/Bar of the Year: Firefly, Worcester
As I’ve previously harped on about, The Firefly has pretty much everything you want in a pub. Cracking craft beer, an excellent mix between a cosy atmosphere downstairs and great music upstairs, as well as a sprawling two-tier beer terrace you just don’t usually see in a city centre. Outside of the second city it’s definitely the bar I’ve drank the most in this past year.
Back in Birmingham, John Bright Street still remains Birmingham’s beer playground. With Brewdog, Cherry Reds and The Victoria all neighbours, ‘quiet drinks’ always seem to escalate once you diverge down onto JBS.
Away from the Midlands, 6 Degrees North in Aberdeen is a prime example of a craft beer bar done to a tee.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2014: Pure Bar and Kitchen
Purity Brewing Co continued their domination in Birmingham and the Midlands by opening their first premises back in the spring, serving their range of draught and cask beers with familiar guests and a well stocked fridge, alongside some superb dishes. Since then they’ve teamed up with Michelin starred Birmingham restaurant Adam’s to deliver a food and drink pairing evenings in their bar on Waterloo Street – one of the coolest places in the city to have a pint and a scotch egg.
Beer Festival of the Year: Birmingham Beer Bash
I’m obviously very biased on this one, but BBB is a fantastically diverse and well organised craft beer event considering it’s still in it’s infancy. The location is spot on, the street food is delicious, local and of the highest quality and the beer is phenomenal. I visited IMBC in October – obviously, an amazing, much bigger occasion – but it isn’t hard to envisage Birmingham Beer Bash rivaling Indy Man in the coming years.
Supermarket of the Year: Tesco
I’ve seen definite improvements with Tesco’s craft beer stock in the last year or so. Collaborations with other breweries have also been a triumph, their rye pale ale and saison are affordable and impressive and the Brewdog and Tesco double IPA packs a real punch.
Independent Retailer of the Year: Cotteridge Wines/Stirchley Wines and Spirits/ Wine Lord
I couldn’t decide on this one, Cotteridge and Stirchley have a ridiculous range of beers, but Wine Lord has the location, meaning I can stumble there for more beers when I run out on a Saturday evening.
Online Retailer of the Year: N/A
With so many indie retailers on my doorstep I never really feel the need to order beers online, that said, I have a Beer Hawk voucher I received for Christmas so I guess that will need to be spent at some point.
Best Beer Book or Magazine: Beer and Food – Mark Dredge
Great book, extremely informative, with fantastic food/beer pairings and a lot of recipes I’ve tried over the past six months – the IPA steamed fish is a winner.
Best Beer Blog or Website: Chris Hall
Always topical and insightful and doesn’t pull any punches. His Designed to be Human article last month was one of his best.
Best Beer App: Twitter
Twitter is still my main source of news and reviews for beer. Also, It might just be because I’m an avid Jamie Oliver fan, but I’ve actually been really impressed this year with the DrinksTube channel, in particular the Craft Beer Boys and Sarah Warman, who I’m sure, have educated and inspired more craft beer drinkers.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: Mark Dredge.
His Twitter and Instagram accounts are full with beer and culinary delights. Although, while you’re sitting at your desk on a rainy Monday morning when he’s chilling on a beach in Brasil it does make you hate him ever so slightly.
Best Brewery Website/Social media: Camden Town
Camden have really smashed it this year. Yes, they’ve put out great beer (their One Hells of a Beaver collab was inspired) but they’ve proved that they actually think about how they’re going to market their new beers and not just scream about it on social media and expect drinkers to be interested. This year they’ve introduced crowlers to beer lovers in London, had a massive 7 days of IHL drive to promote their new India Hells Lager and even took to the summit of Selfridges to brew some one-off creations. All of which was thoroughly documented on their always up to date website/social media channels. Bravo!
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Beer can chicken
A pairing in the very literal sense. The beer can chicken has been one of the best collisions of beer and food in a long time.