- Best UK Cask Beer
I was on a CAMRA bus trip to the wilds of Northumberland where the branch had just presented a certificate to the wonderful landlady of The Star Inn, Netherton, Vera Morton-Wilson. The pub has appeared in The Good Beer Guide for 40 consecutive years. It was was dropped unceremoniously from the 41st edition by a Jobsworth because some pathetic rule hadn’t been followed – but that’s another story.
Whilst on the return leg of the bus trip I received a tweet from the UK’s Federal Reserve of Beer: @Andy_911 he was in The Central Bar, Gateshead drinking an amazing new IPA from Mordue Brewery’s ‘Panda Frog’ sideline. It was called Pandamonium.
Now normally The Central Bar and amazing IPA’s wouldn’t be uttered in the same sentence but how wrong I was, to say this was the finest UK IPA on cask I’ve ever tried is no understatement.
Andy and I sank about 5 pints each of this glorious homage to West Coast hops. Sublime passion fruit, mango and lychee with a sweet citrus orangey bitterness all in a silky smooth golden body.
You can keep your Pliny, that evening the Gateshead end of the Tyne Bridge might as well have been the sunset pier in San Diego.
• Best UK Keg Beer
Fruit Tea Saison from Buxton Brewery. This was at IndyMan beer convention hosted in the bloody gorgeous Victoria Baths. Normally when the brewer serves you their beer you have to be nice and nod and say mmm lovely etc… but this was for real. Red juicy berries, sweet tinged alcoholic Vimto with a luxurious tannin hit from the tea addition. Master brewer and dog lover Col Stronge did well here.
• Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Canning is the future, more about that later – but getting bottling right is so much of an art form especially for pale beers. Right temperature, right conditioning, and right closure all with the stress of a short shelf life for flavour capture. Allendale have got it spot on with their small batch hand bottled “End” range, Kernel have spent a small fortune on their own automated line without filtering the fuck out of it. Best bottle? A big cold 500ml Kernel Citra IPA ….when its 1 week old.
• Best Overseas Draught Beer
I’ve been very lucky this year with a few trips abroad, starting 2013 off in Saint Martin famous for one of the most dangerous runways in the world I would love to say Presidente Lager, if only for its branding to send Melissa Cole into meltdown.
But of course the Caribbean isn’t famous for its beer bars, New York is. In late March I found Founders All Day IPA on draft in Coopers Craft & Kitchen on 2nd Avenue, that beer made us late for dinner with friends one night then on our last day (for one last hop hit) it nearly made us late for check in – Best overseas draught All Day long.
• Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
I love canned beer, it’s easy to transport, good for the environment and keeps beer fresher for longer. I wish someone in the UK would come up with one of these mobile canneries. Any craft brewery in the US worth its salt cans its beers.
Yeah it’s an expensive investment, but so is having kids, and this would pay you back in glory! This week I drank a 3 month old Imperial Saison from Brewery Vivant which was zinging and mouth puckeringly fresh, like it had just been brewed, why? It was canned.
This doesn’t win the Golden Pint though.
Chicago’s Spiteful Brewing Alley Time in cans does – everything you want from an American Pale Ale resinous yet fruity but sharp ‘come back for more’ bitterness PLUS you can take loads back in your luggage because its canned!
Note: I have had a couple of bottles of Stone Brewing’s “Best Before” IPA which is Gods own juice, as its so rare in the UK it gets 2nd spot. If you ever visit the USA do everything in your power to grab some bottles – just wow.
• Best Collaboration Brew
I’ll be honest here, I’m no big fan of collaboration beers – we all know it’s just an excuse for brewers to compare each other’s sparge arms and play top trumps with mash tuns.
A couple of years ago Otley and Melissa Cole came up with ‘Thai Bo’ – a lemongrass/galangal infused pale ale which I quite liked. This year the BrewDog collaboration with Tempest came up with “Marmalade on Toast” – smashing stuff. I’m still waiting for a bottle promised to me by @PJ too 🙂
• Best Overall Beer
Errm.. Thornbridge Kipling of course.
• Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
No one supports our local artists up here in the North East so, yeah yeah we all love the fantastically whacky Magic Rock designs and the sexy bottle swirls from Siren but come on, someone has toiled away to come up with these beauties:
• Best UK Brewery
I can’t pinpoint one here, so this year it’s a tie between The Kernel, Magic Rock, Siren and Beavertown. That lot lined up on any bar would keep the most jaded of hipsters happy till hometime.
• Best Overseas Brewery
Founders Brewing based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Their beer ambassador, Gabe Rains, took me and the Mrs on a tour (on a non tour day) then presented me with a free box of All Day IPA in cans You have to see their obsession with cleanliness, best kit and best ingredients to understand why their beer tastes so great even though their FV rooms are on an industrial scale, it’s like walking through a car park of Saturn 5 rockets! A lesson in success by making the beer they themselves like to drink and constant reinvestment of profits.
• Best New Brewery Opening 2013
Not 100% sure if these guys started in 2013 but my vote goes to Siren Craft Brewing, amazing artwork, amazing beers. Half mast QIPA – that is all.
• Pub/Bar of the Year
Even though I love it like my own front room, The Free Trade Inn takes a rest this year thanks to a couple of visits to the mighty Grove in the UK’s beer capital – Huddersfield.
God knows how they fit all the beer on tap into their cellar, a worldwide collection of the finest beers always on offer. Of course, there’s local offerings from the likes of Mallinsons, Hand Drawn Monkey, Magic Rock and Rat Brewery all located within 1 mile of the pub.
Massive Keg and Cask selections all served with expertise from the self-confessed beer geeks working behind the bars. It’s a proper pub as well, punters from all walks of life, amazing bar snacks and a great beer garden too.
One thing missing – a pub cat, well you can’t have it all.
• Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
An easy winner for me is – The Bridge Tavern located right under the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle it’s a brewpub with staff who know how to look after the punters and a night shift brewer Joe, who brews at 3am thanks to silly elf and safety laws.
An amazing upstairs deck strewn with 10 foot long chesterfields and heater lamps that actually work. The outside area utilises the bridge span itself as a huge Geordie iconic umbrella during our lovely summers.
• Beer Festival of the Year
If you go to one beer festival, go to Borefts. Based at the DeMolen brewery in Bodegraven, a few miles outside of Amsterdam, it will change your perception of beer geekyness forever. One minute I’m drinking an 11% barrel aged sour stout served to me by the king of hipsters (whom I later discover to be a Mikkeller brewer), the next minute Dom Driscoll (the production manager at Thornbridge) is giving me extra-large measures of their fantastic Raspberry Stout and dry hopped Jaipur whilst looking after our luggage! Plus they have neat little glass washing devices which are worth the trip alone.
• Supermarket of the Year
Waitrose, they sell Kipling really fresh, and always have it in stock.
• Independent Retailer of the Year
Coppers in Brunton Park, Newcastle wins again this year. Huge selection, friendly staff and massive discounts if you’re a CAMRA member. ‘Drew the gaffer with his ideas of opening on onsite mini brewery and roof terrace for a corner shop is both mad and inspired. Can’t wait to see it come to fruition. They do tasting events every Saturday too.
• Online Retailer of the Year
I’ve used Brewdog once this year, that was easy enough. I suppose if you’re getting the stock straight from the brewery, which helps when you’re after the freshest stock.
Beer is usually purchased on my travels rather than on line.
• Best Beer Book or Magazine
CAMRA’s “What’s Brewing?” paper and “BEER” magazine are offering more laughs in the letters pages than Viz these days. The arguments, mudslinging and non-facts about Keg v Cask and Craft v Traditional are still being bandied around by know-it-all’s every month, marvellous reading!
• Best Beer Blog or Website
I’m just getting into RateBeer – yeah its full of Americans unintentionally using euphemisms such as “two-finger thick beige creamy pillow “, “wet and hoppy” and “750ml growler to the face” but quite a handy indicator especially when in the US confronted by dazzling selections which seem to be available in beer shops on every street corner.
• Best Beer App
Craft Beer London – excellent mapping and up to date reviews, even though I might disagree with a few of the ratings it’s a must have when you’re stuck down the smoke in an unfamiliar part of town or when you need to plan your beery route whilst actually out and about.
• Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
I’m quite fond of the OTB ramblings coming from the boy’s @TheBodega_SJF a proper pub on Westgate Road, Newcastle. You can generally rely on the contents being dry, amusing and up to date.
“Due to projected high demand, pints will be available on a first-come, first-served basis”
• Best Brewery Website/Social media
Have you seen some of the arty shots coming from
• Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Anyone remember that cheese filled sausage wrapped in thick, thick bacony stuff cooked on a spit at the Borefts Beer Festival? Slices of that went rather well with Toccalmatto’s Sagrantino red wine barrel aged Russian imperial stout, you’re dribbling on your keyboard/phone now aren’t you?
Well thats my Golden Pints for 2013 – a massive year for beer and travelling, some extraordinary people met, some fantastic breweries visited and some astounding beers tasted.