What’s been good in 2013? Here’s my ‘Golden Pints’ post. I’ve dropped all the categories I’m not interested in – and added a couple of my own, with a view to making it a record of my experiences rather than just a list of beers I like.
Best UK Cask Beer
I called this one a while back. It has to be Ticketybrew Pale Ale. Very variable, but actually not in a bad way. A mighty beer.
Best UK Keg Beer
I’ll say Marble Vuur & Vlam, of which I had a third one night on my way home from the Beech. Also a mighty beer, and I guess there’s no point complaining that it would have been mightier still on cask.
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
I was very impressed with Harbour IPA.
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
That would be De Struise Pannepot.
Best Overall Beer
I guess this should be one of the above category winners, but (SPOILER) I don’t want to give everything to Ticketybrew. I’ve been really impressed by JW Lees’ Manchester Star, both in bottle and (more recently) on draught – a proper stonking old Burton. Plus if you drew a line between Pannepot and Ticketybrew Pale Ale, it would definitely be somewhere in the middle.
Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
Ticketybrew (by a short head from Red Willow) – elegant, immediately visible on the bar and always nice to see.
Best UK Brewery
I quite like the look of what JW Lees are doing at the moment, especially when free beer is involved. But the prize goes, after some consideration, to Ticketybrew. They’re new, their range is quite narrow and in a few years’ time they may just look a bit one-note. I don’t think so, though – I think they’re on the verge of great things.
Best Overseas Brewery
Rochefort (but ask me again in a month’s time; the Orval I bought on holiday is still aging).
Pub/Bar of the Year
Last year I nominated Pi, with De Nada close behind. A year on and I’ve more or less stopped going to Pi – my main haunts are De Nada and Font, unless I’ve got Spoons’ tokens to spend. But I’ll be perverse again and nominate another pub entirely: the Beech, a proper old pub which seems to have cracked the virtuous circle of beer quality and demand (as I hoped it would when I wrote the linked post), with a range that always includes Landlord and usually includes something from Salamander or Oakham. Busy Suburban Pub Serves Decent Beer Shock.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
The Font Chorlton, which opened last March, has given me some of my peak beer experiences of the year, but I don’t much like it as a bar – it’s not the most relaxing environment. (It’s possible that 50-year-old solitary drinkers aren’t their core demographic.) So I’ll give it to the only other bar I’m aware of that opened this year – Out of the Blue. Well worth the detour, as long as the length of the detour is two miles or less; otherwise, perhaps not so much.
Supermarket of the Year
Definitely Carrefour. Over here, Sainsbury’s have their Great British Beer Hunt, even if the execution is rather variable; Tesco have a surprisingly good American range; and Morrison’s four-for-£5 deal across all their bottled ales is very hard to beat. (I don’t know if it’s a permanent thing, but it certainly seems to be on whenever I go into Morrison’s.) But I might never have encountered the Harbour IPA but for the GBBH, so I’ll nominate Sainsbury’s.
Independent Retailer of the Year
Chorlton is bizarrely over-supplied with beer shops – it seems as if the tiniest, grottiest off-licence will sell you a Summer Lightning or a Bengal Lancer, and for the more upmarket ones the sky’s the limit: can of Hitachino Nest with your Mars bar, sir? I don’t frequent any of them much – I have a strong psychological resistance to paying a great deal more than supermarket prices for beer that probably won’t be a great deal better. But I do like Tiny’s Tipple, despite the awful name. (While I do like small dogs – and Tiny seems to be a very nice small dog – I’m not really thinking ‘dog’ when I’m in the market for beer. Besides, it’s not his tipple, is it? At least, I hope not, for the sake of his tiny weeny canine liver. H’mph.)
Best Beer Blog or Website
I was actually in the queue to throw plaudits at the feet of Boak & Bailey (assuming that’s what you do with plaudits), when it struck me that there’s a beer blog I’ve enjoyed even more than theirs this year: Pete’s. Pete spruced up his blog towards the end of the year, and the new look seems to go along with a change in style – his writing voice seems clearer now (if that makes any sense at all), as well as being more forthright and, frankly, more grumpy. It works for me, and I hope he carries on in the same vein. He also gave us the best description I’ve read in a long time of getting drunk on cider.
Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (of the Year)
Back in 2009 I bought a bottle each of Marble Decadence and Special, followed in fairly short order by bottles of the raspberry (lambic) and cherry (kriek) versions of Decadence. (Then they carried on producing specials – some less affordable than others – and I stopped trying to keep up.) Since the blighters only bottle their specials in 750 ml – and I’m the only serious beer drinker in this house – all four bottles stayed unopened until I could find an occasion both special enough to justify opening a tenner’s worth of bottle and relaxed enough for me to drink fairly hefty amounts of very strong beer. This Christmas it was finally the turn of the last of the four – the Special, a 10.7% barleywine. And it was… fine. OK, it was better than fine – rich, heavy, herby, complex, undertones of hop bitterness, lots of generally good stuff going on; it just wasn’t much better. I could taste the heat of the alcohol, for one thing, which didn’t seem right – least of all after four years in bottle. So farewell then, socking great bottles of short-run beers with double-figure price tags. It’s been fun… just not that much fun.
Disappointment of the Year
De Garre and the eponymous tripel, in Bruges. Shorter: the bar was uncomfortably brightly-lit, uncomfortably noisy and uncomfortably packed with loud beer geeks, and the beer was just disappointing – very heavy, very ‘hot’, and very much as if somebody had brewed a half-decent tripel and then decided to up the ABV to 11% (perhaps in a spirit of juvenile competition with Het Taktikel Nukleare Pinguïn down the road).
Discovery of the Year
I was lucky enough this year to taste two of the more localised famous beers of Britain, in one case for the first time. The Blue Anchor Spingo ales I had in August were very nice – especially the Flora Daze, and especially especially the, er, Special – but the real eye-opener of this year was Batham’s Bitter. (As recommended by Pete. Great minds…) What’s it like? Well, you know how it tasted, the first time you drank a pint of beer and really enjoyed it? It’s like that. You know the way that a pint of good old-school brown bitter – Woodforde’s Wherry, say, or Harvey’s HSB – you know the way it builds and develops as you get down the glass, till when you drain it you just fancy another one? It’s very like that. You know the flowery delicacy of an abbey tripel or a really good perry? It’s surprisingly like that. And you know how sometimes a pint of 3.8% bitter is just the best thing you could possibly have – even, or especially, after you’ve been drinking big stouts or IPAs? It’s exactly like that. (Batham’s is actually 4.3%, but doesn’t drink even that much strength.) It’s light, it’s thin, it’s sweet (it’s made with actual sugar, purity freaks) – and it’s beautiful.
Blogging Resolutions for Next Year
I will drink more session bitter. (I’m defining ‘session’ as ‘<4.5%’; apologies to Ding, but if Batham’s Bitter isn’t a session beer I don’t know what is.)
I will not mention that the keg version of a beer was inferior to the cask (or speculate that it would have been if I’d had the cask). More generally, I will stop going on about my experience of ‘craft keg’ beers, unless it changes interestingly (e.g. I find one I really like.)
I will try and stop going on about ‘craft beer’. Really. (But note the word ‘try’!)
And above all: I will remember that this stuff is supposed to be fun.
Happy New Year!