Here are my best of the year, where I’ve got an opinion.
Draught Beer: Red Willow Remorseless. A mighty DIPA from a brewery that keeps getting better. Strong runner-up: Marble Magic, a collaboration with Magic Rock which was apparently the hoppiest thing they’ve ever brewed – it was certainly slap-in-the-face hoppy. It was also 3.3%(!) and very, very drinkable.
Bottled Beer: Fuller’s Past Masters Double Stout. Just wow. The other Past Masters beer I’ve had didn’t knock me out, but this was extraordinary. I’ve got a bottle ageing as we speak.
Pump clip / Label design: Red Willow. Initially I wasn’t sure that the “-less” naming system was going to work, but I think it was a really good choice – memorable and distinctive. The ‘willow’ emblem is striking and rather beautiful, and the embossed bottle labels are class.
Pub / bar: I’m tempted to nominate local newcomer De Nada; they may still be finding their feet (and a clientele), but they serve some good beers in excellent condition (generally from Boggart, Lancaster and Brightside). Top jukebox, too. But for quality, consistency, variety, Red Willow beers, free peanuts and an excellent soundtrack, Pi takes the crown. (I hope I can give it to De Nada next year.)
Brewery: it has to be Red Willow. Early on, I had some worries about an old-school malty sweetness that seemed to be colouring a lot of their lighter beers, but I think that’s a thing of the past. Beers of real depth and subtlety, across the range from oyster stout to pale bitter.
Bloggers: the esteemed B&B, whose comment section is my blog-from-blog. Being based in Cornwall makes the blog particularly interesting – they even mention the Blue Anchor from time to time.
Festival: NWAF didn’t disappoint.
Open category: Best pub for playing music: the Beech, Chorlton. Followed by the Briton’s Protection (upstairs room) in central Manchester, and er. Hard to beat the Beech, really. A dishonourable mention to the Lloyd’s (Chorlton), where the following conversation took place, one quiet Saturday afternoon, between the barman and a friend of mine:
“Would you mind turning the music down a bit? A few of us have been busking and we’d just like to play for a bit in the corner, if that’s OK?”
Barman: Sorry, no, I can’t do that.
“Oh. Well, in that case, is it all right if we just get our instruments out anyway? We won’t be disturbing anyone.”
Barman: No, if you do that I’ll have to ask you to leave.
In 2013 I’d like to: meet some bloggers (again); review some more beer; avoid pointless arguments; not write about ‘craft beer’.