Friday, 16 December 2016

Golden Pints 2016

Best UK Cask Beer
After first drinking Kissingate's Murder of Crows at the Sussex CAMRA festival in March, I was lucky enough to sample it three more times, always in situations where a 10% monster was a foolhardy choice. But if it's on the bar, I have to order it, because it hits the perfect balance between straight-up delicious and fascinatingly complex. Rich coffee, caramel and muscovado sugar form its foundation, before a balasmic sweet and sour tang takes over, finally wiped out by a dry, tannic finish. A decadent treat.

Best UK keg beer
I'm awarding this to the keg beer most firmly imprinted on my memory - Wylam's Club of Slaughters, which stopped me in my tracks. The malt character is conventionally smooth and warming, all chocolate and berries, but acts as a vehicle for blue cheese funk and deep, savoury, lingering peat smoke.

Best UK bottled/canned beer
At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, I opened a bottle of Wild Beer's Squashed Grape, starting as I meant to go on. This beer has the weirdest discrepancy between smell and taste; the aroma is of neglected public toilets and damp, which makes for a pleasant surprise when the taste is vibrant, refreshing and unusual. Sweet, then dry, tannic and quenching, with a final kiss of tart grapefruit.

Best Overseas Draught
Birrificio Italiano Tipopils. Having previously been let down by a limp bottle, I was delighted to find this on draught at Ruzanuvol in Valencia, and on top form. I often daydream about its bubble-bath head and deep smack of grassy hops. 

Best Overseas Bottled/Canned Beer
Oude Gueuze Tilquin á L'Ancienne at Craft Beer Co. in Brighton after receiving some good news. Who needs champagne? Beautifully balanced between tart and sweet, with a savoury, husky fruit skin quality and a very crisp, dry finish. Simply beautiful.

Best Collaboration Brew
Three's Company, an IPA born of collaboration between Cloudwater, Magic Rock and J.W. Lees and utilising the latter's 4709th generation yeast strain. A glorious beer all round but conceptually, I love the idea of ultra-modern and established traditional breweries sharing ideas and learning for one another. Let's see more of this sort of thing.

Best Overall Beer
2016 was the year of the double IPA - a bandwagon style, but one that I rarely tire of when done well. Cloudwater led the way, and of their efforts I particularly enjoyed v3, v5 and v7. Brew By Numbers' 55|03 with Citra, Mosaic and Wai-iti was right up there, and Gun's Sorachi Ace DIPA was an absolute dream for those like me who can't get enough of this odd, divisive hop. However, Beavertown's Double Chin was the pick of the bunch, and gets extra props for amplifying an existing beer (their Neck Oil session IPA) without losing the essence of the original. 

Best UK Brewery
I've always held Burning Sky in high esteem, but they're on fire lately. All of their beers - from sessionable cask classics to IPAs to mixed-fermentation saisons - demonstrate great delicacy, and their ambition and imagination is astonishing. They introduced a few new beers in 2016, amongst them Gaston, which is probably the most accomplished use of an estery Belgian yeast strain I've yet encountered from a UK brewery. They've also just announced that they'll be installing a koelschip next year, so 2017 promises even more excitement.

Best Overseas Brewery
I'm not sure whether Stone Berlin really counts, being more of a European outpost of an American brand than a brewery in its own right. They're my pick, anyway, with the important caveat that I don't unreservedly love any of their beers. However, Stone was one of the first US brands to fascinate me as a beer novice, and I was repeatedly let down by stale bottles and lifeless kegs before giving up altogether. Cracking open a fresh can of Ruiniation, I felt a wave of boyish excitement and even if the palate-pumelling bitterness isn't really to my taste these days, I had to smile because my younger self would have been blown away. 

Photo: Rebecca Pate @ Brewing East

Pub/Bar of the Year
The Evening Star again. It's the pub I go to the most, and the one I'd insist all visitors to Brighton must visit, both for the beer and the people-watching. An honourable mention for The Westbourne in Hove - a smaller but lovingly curated cask and keg selection, good food and a friendly atmosphere. 

Independent Retailer of the Year

Trafalgar Wines, as ever. Scandi minimalism and growler stations are all well and good, but I prefer the unpretentious approach here - it's basically a small room packed to the rafters with beer. Prices are reasonable, and if I go in for something particular, I'll almost always find it. I'll also give Beer Shop St. Albans a shout for their always interesting selection, particularly on 750ml curiosities. 

Online Retailer of the Year
I don't need to rely on online retailers, but I put in at least one order to Beers of Europe every year, primarily for their German and Belgian selection which is slightly lacking locally.

Best Beer Book or Magazine
It didn't come out this year, but I've been really enjoying Jeff Alworth's Beer Bible. I'll use it for reference in the future, as it's well researched, but it's also a joy to read in cover-to-cover because Jeff is so fun to read.

Best Beer Blog or Website
Alec Latham's Mostly About Beer was a happy discovery this year. Nobody is writing about beer the way Alec does - pub crawls that verge on psychogeography, a beer festival write-up that includes an ode to a gas container, and so on. He's certainly never boring. 

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