Sunday, 13 December 2015

Golden pints 2015


After a couple of day's worth of extremely gruelling battles with Microsoft Word's "jazzy" formatting of my text - only resolved by typing the whole thing out again - I present my first ever Golden Pints round-up.

Best UK cask beer
The one cask beer that really knocked me out was Cloudwater's Special Edition IPA. Reportedly made with 22kg of hops per litre and yet surprisingly mellow drinking, this is the perfect example of the kind of 'tropical fruit juice IPA' that Mark Dredge identifies here. It may not be a style usually identified with cask, but this format is brilliantly suited to the beer, rounding out the hops and accentuating the juiciness. You know when you take a first sip of a beer and realise you'll always remember that moment? This was one of those.
Honourable mentions - Dark Star's American Pale Ale was a cask staple throughout the year - an important beer for me which continues to impress. Brighton Bier's cask offerings were a pleasure, too - they've become extremely accomplished at cramming juicy hop flavour into beers of moderate strength.

Best UK keg beer
Burning Sky's saison l'ete is a beautifully judged beer - tart and complex yet clean and refreshing, endlessly interesting but never hard work. Their seasonal saisons have always been good, but they're seemingly better year on year.
Honourable mentions - Other keg beers that stopped me in my tracks this year included Magic Rock's Cannonball and Siren's Life's a Peach peach cream IPA.


Best UK bottled beer
This category should go to a beer that actually benefits from the bottled format, rather than one that I only tasted in a bottle at home or that was only released in bottles but might have been even better on draught. Another shout out to Burning Sky, then, for their Vatted Porter. Quite ordinary when I tried it from keg, possibly because it was served far too cold, but the bottle was something else entirely - a beer whose mysterious flavours you chase with every sip, somehow eluding you and demanding another taste.
Honourable mentions - the second of BrewDog's Born to Die bottles, released in November, was one of the year's best overall beers - so fresh and vital.

Best UK canned beer
Fourpure Pils has almost constantly been in my fridge throughout 2015. I loved its assertive hop character and bitterness at first, but I swear it changed throughout the course of the year, becoming cleaner, less bitter and more floral with noble hops than before, and even better for it. I'm all for cans in principle, but the quality is still hugely variable - some beers I know to be excellent have really disappointed in this form. A beer that's consistently good in canned form is all the more commendable.
Honourable mentions - the aroma of tropical fruit on popping the tab on Vocations' Heart and Soul session IPA is inviting, and the flavour delivers, too. One of the best session-strength beers of the year.

Best overseas draught
I was lucky enough to travel a lot this year, and there are many contenders, but Schlenkerla Marzen straight from the barrel at their Bamberg pub is unbeatable.
Honourable mentions - I think about the house pils at Berlin's Eschenbrau brewpub shockingly often; its creamy body, bitterness and savoury depth of flavour, the gorgeous, tight, fluffy head which tastes of lemon pith. I'd give anything to have a litre in front of my right now.

Best overseas bottled beer
I loved 2015's Duvel Tripel Hop, this year with Equinox. When fresh, it was vibrant with lemon and hemp, and a little age allowed for a harmonious union with the classic Duvel taste.
Honourable mentions - Birrificio Sorrento's Syrentum - another beer that makes a virtue of the bottled format - made a lasting impression on my summer holiday this year. I tend to daydream about it a lot.

Best overseas canned beer
I can't think of any spectacular examples, but canned US IPAs seem to reach these shores in better shape than their bottled equivalents. Westbrook IPA, Oskar Blues' Pinner and Ska's Modus Hoperandi all vastly exceeded my expectations in the can.


Best collaboration brew
I only tried Magic Rock and Siren's MRS Brown in a bottle as the keg version was (understandably) prohibitively expensive, but it was a stunning beer. For an idea that sounds wacky on paper (bourbon-barrel aged imperial brown ale with pecan, maple syrup and vanilla), it all came together beautifully. Sipping a glass of this beer is a fun experience, exploring the flavours as they slowly reveal themselves one by one. Considering the attention paid to scandalously rare, imported barrel-aged stouts, by rights everyone should have been losing their shit over MRS Brown.

Best overall beer
Of those mentioned so far, it would be the Cloudwater cask IPA. But in truth, their DIPA was the best beer of any kind I tasted in 2015. Achievements like this suggest a shortening of the gap between the UK and the US, and it's extremely exciting.


Best branding, pump clip or bottle label
Something about the design for Thornbridge and Brouwerij 't IJ's American Wheat Ale is irresistible to me. Luckily, the beer is also very good. I loved the simplicity and elegance of the original Chorlton branding, and it's a shame they've now changed it. I also have to mention Hopvana from Guinea Pigs!, which I drank in Seville. Confronted with a fridge full of unfamiliar Spanish beers, I chose this purely because of the audaciously goofy label and ended up loving the beer.

Best UK brewery
Something tells me Cloudwater will be doing well out of this year's Golden Pints. The beers are excellent, the seasonal approach is original and really works, and they're making exactly the kinds of beers I want to drink, to the point where it's almost like they're reading my mind. UK hopped lager, cream ale, hopfenweisse, brown ale - these are all styles I wish more breweries were attempting.
Honourable mentions - The aformentioned Chorlton would have been my choice for brewery opening of the year, but I just checked and they actually opened in November 2014. Still, they've had a great run. Sour beers were a persistent trend throughout this year, but nobody took such an interesting and creative approach as Chorlton. The Woodruff Berliner weisse is a great example - a simple idea, but ingenious, and a great beer. They're also doing interesting stuff with yeast strains salvaged from DDR-era Berliner weisse bottles and canning their beers. I can't wait to see what they come out with in 2016.

Pub/bar of the year
I've always loved the Evening Star in Brighton, but throughout this year it's become the pub I visit the most. The beer list is always great, even better now that they've installed more keg lines, and the atmosphere is uniquely interesting whilst always hospitable and friendly. A proper pub serving a variety of great beer.
Honourable mentions - Visting Kulminator in Antwerp was a highlight of my beery year, even if I was unfortunately pushed for time. Just sitting in the cluttered bar, flicking through the jaw-dropping beer list and sipping on a draught Avec les bons veux was pretty much beer perfection.

Supermarket of the year
Marks & Spencers. Some of their new 'craft' range is god-awful, but some are excellent, especially where Adnams are involved, and they're the only supermarket stocking a good range of British craft beer. Yes, we all prefer to buy our beer from independents, but supermarket beers were an important step in my discovery of great beer, and I'm sure there are shoppers stumbling across Buxton and Fourpure in M&S and embarking on a wonderful beery journey.

Independent retailer of the year
It's still Trafalgar Wines and it always will be. They always have what I'm looking for, the prices are the best in the city and you've got to love the sheer unpretentiousness of the place - it's all about the beer here.

Online retailer of the year
I've only ever used Beers of Europe - it's good enough that I've never wanted to try anywhere else. The website can be a pain to navigate, but the range of (especially German and Belgian) beers is excellent, the delivery costs are reasonable and they get your order to you in no time.


Best beer book or magazine
Obviously it wasn't released this year, but Michael Jackson's Beer Companion has been constantly by my side this year, always an inspiration. The Best Beer in the World by Mark Dredge did come out this year, and was a great read from another writer who has been a massive inspiration to me. A far more interesting book than it sounds, its really the antidote to the proliferation of 'best beer' list books - a thoughtful meditation on what makes a beer great, giving equal attention to the Orval monastery and the 'proudly macro' Budweiser facility in St. Louis.

Best beer blog
I've lost many hours of my life to Ron Pattinson's Shut Up About Barclay Perkins this year. This stuff should be required reading for anyone with an interest in beer, even if many of the details in the table he's so fond of go right over my head.
Honourable mentions - Chris Hall writes eloquently and seriously about beer without veering into Pseud's Corner territory. Mark Johnson's output has been funny, insightful and affecting.


Simon Johnson award for Best Beer Twitterer
Twatty Beer Doodles, for a (very funny) taste of reality whenever the beer world takes itself too seriously.

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