2011 Beer of the Year Preview

As things wind down over Christmas, the attention at BeerCast HQ turns towards our annual Beer of the Year Show. We tally up the scores achieved by each ale podcasted over the last twelve months, and take the four highest scoring for a re-sample. Which beer will follow on from Odell Isolation Ale and become our BOTY for 2011? Our BeerCasts this year featured 43 different beers, but only four can make it to the BOTY show. Well, four including ties…

Our first finalist is the highest scoring beer of 2011 – Kernel IPA Citra (7.2%). This is the second time that one of Evin O’Riordain’s India Pale Ales has made our BOTY show – last year the excellent IPA C.S.C. (Centennial, Simcoe, Chinook) made it, although it was beaten into second place by the winner from Odell. Since then, the Kernel’s Citra showcase beer wowed us with it’s hop flavour, scoring 91% in BeerCast #59. This makes it the third-highest scoring beer in our history (behind two other IPA’s, from Caldera and Stone). Yeah, we’re unashamed hop fans.

Next up for this year’s BOTY Show (in order of the scores they received), we have a tie. With scores of 87% – Thornbridge St Petersburg (7.7%) and Het Anker Gouden Carolus Christmas (10.5%). The first of these is from a UK brewery that needs little introduction to British beer fans. Bakewell’s Thornbridge have been producing quality products for years – and their Russian Imperial Stout St Petersburg is no exception. Sampled on our 7.5% and over duty protest BeerCast #64, the rich, deep flavours made a huge impression on us – and it takes a deserved place in the final.

The second of those beers was one of the undoubted surprises of the year. Our Christmas Specials have produced finalists before – three years out of four (with two going on to win our coveted Beer of the Year). So maybe having a festive beer scoring so highly shouldn’t have taken us aback – but Het Anker’s Christmas beer really did. It had the perfect balance of Belgian flavours and winter notes, with a generous helping of alcohol. Even Shovels – notorious for not ‘getting’ Belgian beer, gave it a 9/10. That was very much the surprise of the year – but one well-deserved.

So that gives us three of our four finalists. Trouble is, we then have another tie for the last spot in our BOTY show. What to do? Well – how about extending the final to five challengers, and inviting all of the beers in? With that, we have two American beers that came from BeerCast #58 – our Stateside Special. In the red corner – Rogue Brewing’s St Rogue Red Ale (5.2%). In the…green…corner – Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest (6.7%). Two titans of the US craft beer scene – both scored 85% – how could we include one at the expense of the other?

Rogue’s red ale has the lowest abv of our five finalists – at 5.2% (which probably says something about the BeerCasters). Our panellists loved the depth of flavour and the balance of malt – so we’re really looking forward to re-sampling this one. Sierra Nevada made our BOTY show last year – but we were unable to source their Harvest 2009 wet hop ale due to its rarity (and the snow). This year we featured their more available Kiwi hopped Southern Hemisphere Harvest, and really had to give it a whirl in the final. A different beer, of course, but it made the last fou…five in its own right.

BeerCast Beer of the Year Show 2011 lineup…
Kernel India Pale Ale Citra
Thornbridge St Petersburg
Het Anker Gouden Carolus Christmas
Rogue St Rogue Red Ale
Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest

So we can look back at another great drinking year on the BeerCast. We’ll be recording the BOTY show in early January with a specially extended panel. Stay tuned for surprises, controversy, and personal highlights, and in the meantime everyone associated with the BeerCast wishes our readers and listeners a fantastic Christmas and New Year, and all the best for 2011.

2010 Beer of the Year Show
2009 Beer of the Year Show
2008 Beer of the Year Show
2007 Beer of the Year Show

BeerCast #66 – Christmas Special 2011

Merry Christmas from the BeerCast to all of our readers and listeners! Our fifth annual Christmas Special podcast is another festive frenzy, as we review six seasonal beers and give our thoughts – both on the contents of the bottle and the ‘Christmassy Factor’ of the label (i.e. whether looking at it puts us in the festive mood). Our first beer brings the seasonal puns straight away – Cotleigh Red Nose Reinbeer (5.0%), from Somerset. We then head to Belgium and sample Het Anker Gouden Carolus Christmas (10.5%), before dealing with the litre growler containing Williams Brothers Nollaig (7.0%). Our fourth beer is another Scottish entrant – Sinclair Atlas Clootie Dumpling (4.3%), named after a traditional Orcadian pudding. After that, it’s back to the continent for De Ranke Père Noël (7.0%), and we finish on a traditional note with the 2011 vintage of Anchor Special Ale (5.5%) – which we taste every year on our Christmas BeerCast. The festive panel this time are Richard, Grooben and Shovels.

1. Red Nose Reinbeer
Cotleigh Brewery, Wiveliscombe, Somerset.
500ml glass bottle

Cotleigh began as a five-barrel startup in an old farmhouse near Tiverton in Devon. Their first beer was Tawny Owl Bitter, debuting in 1979. Success came quickly enough for them to relocate from the Cotleigh Farmhouse to Wiveliscombe in Somerset within the year. Having expanded since, they produce a range of beers – the majority named after birds of prey. Having celebrated thirty years of brewing in 2009, they continue to support the Hawk and Owl Trust with charitable donations. Their Christmas beer might not feature an owl – but it does have a robin on the label, perched on the antlers of the maniacal reindeer…

What They Say
“Guaranteed to give you a nice red glow like Rudolph, this is a highly recommended drink. A smooth long lasting finish with chocolate, toffee and nuts. Pale, Crystal and Chocolate malts; Goldings, Fuggles and Northdown hops.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – I like it – toffee aroma, nice bit of roast, some fruit 7
Grooben – Doesn’t have that thick Christmassy thing going on 6
Shovels – Smoky aroma, slightly pruney, not my cup of tea 5

Label Christmas Rating
8/10 I bet that’s the reindeer Santa breaks out when he has to go through the Gorbals (Grooben)

2. Gouden Carolus Christmas
Brouwerij Het Anker, Mechelen, Belgium.
330ml glass bottle

In 1471 a community of Beguines (a Catholic lay religious order) began a brewery in the Flanders town of Mechelen. Four hundred and one years later, the facility was acquired by Louis Van Breedam – who changed the name to Het Anker (the Anchor brewery). Fast-forward to 1960 and Het Anker produced a range of beer, owned a brasserie, and a local hotel. Their main line of beers these days are Gouden Carolus – named after the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who was born in Mechelen; to a man titled ‘Philip the Handsome‘). Today we sample their festive Christmas beer.

What They Say
“A strong, dark ruby red beer with character, it contains an alcohol percentage of 10.5 % VOL. Brewed in August, the beer rests a few months to reach an optimal balance. Three kinds of hops and six different kinds of herbs and spices define the rich taste of this Christmas beer. Top-class!” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – That’s cracking – an awesomely Christmassy beer 9
Richard – Star anise flavour, more herby than spicy, great
Grooben – Sweet but not cloying, this really is top class 8

Label Christmas Rating
10/10I don’t think you can get much more Christmassy than that (Richard)

3. Nollaig
Williams Brothers Brewery, Alloa, Scotland.
1 litre glass bottle

BeerCast fans will need little introduction to the beers from Alloa’s Williams Brothers Brewery. One of Scotland’s most prolific producers, the company began life in the Glasgow homebrew shop operated by siblings Bruce and Scott. Having an interest in historical recipes, their Heather Ales range includes the flagship Fraoch heather ale, Kelpie seaweed ale, and Alba – a 7.5% spruce beer we sampled in BeerCast #61. Today we try a brand new release (literally; it appeared the day before our recording) – Nollaig – a 7% beer brewed ‘with Christmas trees’.

What They Say
“We have brewed this special festive ale using malted barley, a variety of high impact specialist hops and hand picked spruce tips which are only ripe for picking during a two week window in the spring. The resiny sweetness of the spruce and malt is countered by a huge hop character, which is just delicious. Limited batch of 800 bottles.” [Label tasting notes]

What We Say
Grooben – Unusual and really sweet, it’s definitely been crafted 8
Shovels – Sweet, piney, sprucey, slightly bitter, it’s a cracker 8
Richard – Like drinking a Christmas tree – the hops make a difference, there’s other things to it 8

Label Christmas Rating
7/10 It’s like a no-frills present (Shovels) Without the tinsel it would be nothing, but it’s a good package (Grooben)

4. Clootie Dumpling
Sinclair Orkney Brewery, Quoyloo, Scotland.
500ml glass bottle

Founded by Roger White in 1988, the award-winning Orkney brewery started in untypical surroundings – an old school house in Sandwick. In June 2004 they merged with the Atlas Brewery of Kinlochleven, to form Highland and Islands Breweries – which in turn was taken over by the Sinclair Brewery Ltd in 2006. Recently we sampled the punchy Skull Splitter as part of our big abv protest BeerCast #64, but today it’s their session-strength Christmas Beer. BeerCaster Grooben – who was raised on Orkney – confirms that a Clootie Dumpling is a traditional steamed suet pudding.

What They Say
“A light tawny beer. It has an aroma of spiced fruits and dried fruits, with hints of smooth roasted malt. Clootie Dumpling has a soft rounded palate, with flavours of dried fruits, citrus fruits and spices.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – I don’t mind the additions but it needs more body
Richard – Inoffensively spiced, but nice and gingerish 6
Grooben – It falls into the “let’s put spices into a beer” trap 5

Label Christmas Rating
4/10 It looks like a Christmas pudding, that’s Christmassy (Richard)

5. Père Noël
Brouwerij De Ranke, Wevelgem, Belgium.
330ml glass bottle

In 1994, a Belgian by the name of Nino Bacelle – who came from a lemonade manufacturing background – began brewing at the Deca brewery in Woesten. Two years later, and with partner Guido Devos on board, Brouwerij Nino Bacelle became Brewery De Ranke. In 2008, they opened their own facility in Dottignies, producing 2,000hl of beer annually (60% of which was for export). Nino’s original 1994 beer is still going – Guldenberg – but they have several more, including a festive Christmas brew called (and with a label featuring) Père Noël.

What They Say
“A fantastic Christmas beer, but one that defies the universal custom of a stronger, spicier beer for the holiday season. It combines a fine balance of malt and hops, complex character, a refreshing dryness, and a gorgeous cellar aroma – but is distinguished by its festive copper colour.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – No huge departure here from Belgian beer in general
Shovels – For a Belgian, it’s not bad. I prefer the spruce beer 7
Grooben – It’s a good beer, decent amount of alcohol 7

Label Christmas Rating
7/10It’s a bit half-assed – a badly drawn Santa hugging a beer (Grooben)

6. Anchor Special Ale 2011
Anchor Brewery, San Francisco.
535ml glass bottle

It wouldn’t be a BeerCast Christmas Special without the latest special festive ale from Anchor. Each year they produce a highly secret recipe, slightly different from all previous years – the 2011 vintage is the 37th in the series. The 2006 edition topped our beer rankings for a long time, and was eventually crowned beer of the year in our 2007 Beer of the Year show, (during which we also tasted the 2007 one). The 2008 version also scored well, before a dip over the last years with the 2009 and 2010. There are never any tasting notes as the San Francisco concern keep the exact ingredients classified, but expect spices, piney freshness and all kinds of winter flavours.

What They Say
“Created in the style of a dark and malty, strong scotch ale, with the addition of selected seasonal spices to compliment the festive season.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – Not as junipery as before, the sweetness comes out
Richard – More sprucey than other Anchors, but more balanced 8
Grooben – Backs up the aroma with flavour better than the previous couple of years 8

Label Christmas Rating
8/10 It is just a tree, but to us this beer is now synonymous with Christmas (Shovels)

– (clockwise from top left) Shovels, Grooben, Richard

BeerCast panel verdict
Het Anker Gouden Carolus Christmas 26/30
Anchor Our Special Ale 2011 24½/30
Williams Brothers Nollaig 24/30
De Ranke Père Noël 21½/30
Cotleigh Red Nose Reinbeer 18/30
Sinclair Orkney Clootie Dumpling 17½/30

  • Listen to the episode on Soundcloud here:

Keep those comments and emails coming in – many thanks to everyone who has taken the time to comment on our website this year. Our next podcast is the big one – our fifth annual BeerCast Beer of the Year show. We’ll have the five highest scoring beers from our podcasts this year, sampled by a specially extended panel. Stay tuned for a BOTY preview…

Best new beers of 2011…the best of the rest

List-making is par for the course at this time of year – which explains our recent flurry of posts detailing our favourite new British beers. The trouble with compiling lists, however, is that you can’t add everything (unless it’s one of those Channel 4 shows like ‘the best 100 children’s breakfast cereals’). Listing our six – and I’m not sure why we decided on six – best new beers that were launched in 2011 left plenty out of the picture. But here they all are!

Well, we did actually mention Kernel IPA Double Black during our nomination of stablemate IPA 100 Centennial. It was almost a coin-flip decision on which of the two made it – they were both sublime. Other beers put out by brewers who made it into the top six were RedWillow Ageless, and Tempest Citra and Canyonero. Ageless in particular drew great praise in 2011.

Looking at Kelso’s Tempest Brewing – Canyonero was one of the more remarkable beers I’ve had for ages. On the face of it, a 5.9% bitter. But the Pacific Jade and Wai-iti hops produced all kinds of aromas and flavours – oak, vanilla, pepper, toffee, spices. Staying in Scotland, this year was a fine one for Black Isle – and their new Scotch Ale and Black Stout could make 2012 their best year yet. They could have made the list, easily.

One of the most blogged-about brewers of the year weren’t represented either – Huddersfield’s Magic Rock. Yorkshire pundits featured them heavily in their ‘best of’ lists – and with good reason. Human Cannonball, Dark Arts, High Wire – all superbly drinkable, and from a pretty much brand-new producer, Magic Rock have really hit the ground running.

Other great new beers that debuted in 2011 – Fyne Ales Sublime Stout, Meantime Yakima Red, Dark Star Carafa Jade and Thwaites Old Dan. Give me each of those on a night out, and I’d be a happy man indeed. The last twelve months have been a great vintage for British brewing – let’s hope the next twelve are even better…

If you have a standout new beer – then let us know in the comments section. Next up on the BeerCast, our annual Christmas Special podcast – our panel get to grips with six festive beers. After that, we preview our most important BeerCast of the year – our fifth annual Beer of the Year Show. Stay tuned…

Best new beers of 2011…Summer Wine Cohort

Our final best new release of 2011 is a beer that appeared only a few weeks ago – from a small-scale brewery in Yorkshire. The Summer Wine Brewery have been going for about three years – but recently have firmly thrust themselves into the crosshairs of the bloggerati. All of their beers pack a punch (which is probably why) – their double black Belgian rye IPA is no exception…

Cohort (7.5%)
Summer Wine Brewery, Holmfirth, Yorkshire
(keg, released November 2011)

Stop me if you’ve heard something like this before – “We plan to tear up the rule book & brew beers that demand you sit up & take note by shaking up your senses.” Taken from Summer Wine’s website, it reads straight from the Fraserburgh school of beer marketing. If SW plan to go along the BrewDog route, they’ll need some seriously thumping beers to back up the talk. Luckily (or skillfully) they seem to be walking the walk – their strong IPA Diablo is a pithy grapefruit monster, Barista a caffeine thunderbolt.

Andy and James have also crossed the ultimate ‘craft’ line, by laying down a beer in barrels – Kopikat, an imperial vanilla coffee stout. Co-incidentally it was just after sampling another imperial VCS (Harknott’s rollocking Vitesse Noir) at the Free Trade Inn in Newcastle, that I got to taste Summer Wine’s Cohort for the first time. The beer scene in the North-East of England is thriving, and pubs from South Yorkshire to the Scottish border have been taking SW’s beers recently – a sure measure of their popularity.

Cohort was jet black, with a tiny, tight fizzy head. Once the beer warmed a little, the aroma was fabulous – resinous hop mixed with roasty malt. Clearly they love to pile zingy hops into everything, and the balance with the slightly spicy roast from the rye was really something. It may seem that 7.5% is the new 5% – but these kind of beers are just so full of flavour – and clearly Summer Wine are on to a major winner.

Well, that’s it – our six best new British beers of 2011. Tomorrow we’ll be posting the ‘nearly beers’ – we had to narrow the field down somehow, but there were far more than six great new beers around this year. If your latest favourite hasn’t been listed yet, it may well be tomorrow…

Best new beers of 2011…RedWillow Fathomless

Only two more posts to come in our best new beers of the year feature – and for our penultimate gong we pay a visit to Macclesfield, and another producer who had a breakout year in 2011. Toby McKenzie’s RedWillow Brewery has set the blogs abuzz recently with some cracking beers – and a faithful rendition of a British classic is the next in our best new UK beers of 2011…

Fathomless (5.2%)
RedWillow Brewery, Macclesfield, Cheshire
(cask, released October 2011)

We’ve not seen much of Toby’s beer in Scotland to this point, but drinkers across the North of England are becoming familiar with the characteristic egg-shaped pump clips of RedWillow. His refreshingly honest, PR-free blog is well worth reading, as it charts the highs and lows of being a small, start-up brewery. It was in Leeds that I first tried his beer, in the excellent Mr Foley’s (named after an old-time local property baron) – on the bar that day was RedWillow’s oyster stout – Fathomless.

This particular style has been around for a long time – and dates back to when oysters and stout were a popular pairing (before anyone used the term in the ‘craft beer’ sense). There are a few on the market today – although many (such as those produced by Marstons and Adnam’s) contain not a single bivalve. This is probably down to cost, ease of brewing, and the perception of oysters that many people have. For Fathomless, however, Toby and a couple of mates spent an entire day shucking the little guys – ending up with 250 for the boil.

Oysters have such a delicate flavour, that boiling them into a beer can potentially leach the flavours away – but the joy of Fathomless is that you can clearly pick them out. Jet black, with dark, oaty, malty aromas (Toby had to hand-roast the oats in his kitchen oven) – there was also a slight briney tinge to the nose. The rich stout flavour was followed by a thick, ozoney edge to the finish – a fantastic aftertaste. A perfect fireside beer, Fathomless was a wonderful reward for Toby’s hard work.

Join us tomorrow for our final choice – who will make the list? If your pick doesn’t – stay tuned as we’ll also be posting the ‘nearly beers’. RedWillow’s strong IPA Wreckless recently won gold at the 2011 SIBA North awards – and speaking as one of the judges, I’d say it was well-deserved…

Best new beers of 2011…Kernel IPA 100 Centennial

Yesterday we brought you one of the breakout brewers of 2011 – Kelso’s Tempest Brewing. For the next of our best new beers of the year, we move on to the breakout brewer of 2010 (and possibly 2011 as well) – London’s finest; the Kernel Brewery. Evin O’Riordain and his team are capturing the attention of not just bloggers, but people who’s opinions actually matter.* They released some stunning beers this year, one of which had to make our list…

Kernel IPA 100 Centennial (10.1%)
The Kernel Brewery, London
(bottle, released June 2011)

Attempting to limit the Kernel’s contribution to our best new beers feature was pretty tricky. They’ve put out some crackers over the last twelve months – IPA Double Black, Pale Ale Riwaka, IPA Borefts Rye, IPA Super Alpha Pacific Jade. In fact, there’s your top five new Kernel beers of the year, right there (when put with our choice – IPA 100 Centennial). In the interests of fairness, we’re limiting everyone to a single entry in our feature (look out for the beers that nearly made it, after our sixth and final winner).

This particular IPA has a nice story behind it – being an inventive chap, Evin decided to celebrate his 100th brew by producing a 10.0% Centennial-packed IPA. In the end, he missed the abv by 0.1% (in typical Kernel style, by going over – not under). We wrote about it in August – conveniently for our 300th post. As a brewery, they are astonishingly prolific – some would say maddeningly so. Hardly ever producing the same beer twice, it keeps the tickers on their toes – but it makes it harder to latch on to everything that comes out from the Bermondsey arches.

This brewing potency is down to a few reasons – most obviously a lack of brewspace on their current kit, and the sheer creative talent that obviously abounds there. Whatever they put in their coffee, I could do with (it’s probably hops). The 100 Centennial smelled like sweet orange syrup, laced with plenty of booze. Powerful alcohol flavours, finished off an almost jam-like hop marmalade taste – with the Centennial fighting back with a touch of dryness. A tremendous sipper – it was a suitably amazing celebration, and deservedly one of the best new beers of the year.

Join us tomorrow for our next choice – we have only two left, and it’s off to the North-West of England for selection number five. In 2011, the Kernel also celebrated winning SIBA Champion Bottled Beer of Britain (Export Stout London 1890), and then Brewery of the Year by the British Guild of Beer Writers. What will 2012 bring for Evin and the team – Olympic glory?

* To paraphrase the Simpsons