As we approach the new drinking year – and all the best for 2014 to everybody, of course – it’s time to look back and run through my Golden Pints for 2013. Once again, it’s been a fantastic year for British beer. Long may it continue! Now, where did I put that bottle opener…
Best UK Cask Beer Despite the massive and welcome surge in British keg beer; aka the erstwhile ‘craft keg’ (or, as I have been told in one establishment, “we have cask beers here, and our craft beers are over there”), I still prefer cask beer. I think it appeals to what I love; balance, subtlety, tradition, and so forth. Having said all that, the best cask beer I had this year was Harbour’s Aji Limon IPA, a 6.8% chilli-infused, barrel-aged IPA from Cornwall. Second choice, Moor’s Empire Strikes Back, which trialled the then new Jester hop, and was absolutely fantastic. Incidentally, I had both of those in January. Oh, I’m going to squeak in a vote for Cromarty’s Coconut Brewed Awakening, as well, before I move on, as it was a beery equivalent of every non-cola soft drink you ever had as a kid.
Best UK Keg Beer Has to be Fyne/Wild Cool as a Cucumber, which I polished off in ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ fashion at the Bow Bar back in the heat of the Edinburgh summer (a phrase I have never typed before). Despite what I wrote in the previous paragraph, I love kegged beer too, for a multitude of reasons. Context isn’t just about where you are and how you feel, it’s also about serving method. With that in mind, some other stunning kegged beers I had over 2013 include Beavertown Bloody ‘Ell (as perfect a beer as I’ve had for a long time), Marble Black Marble (every sip was different), Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss (of course, it was stunning), and Buxton’s rebooted NZ Axe Edge, which could well be an improvement on the original, although each time I have the other, I change my mind…
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer I’ve found myself drinking less bottles, of late, yet I still have plenty in the cupboards. Nonetheless, there have been some crackers in 2013. Kernel’s Biere de Table was stunning, as was Stewart’s Ka Pai IPA. Everything by the Bad Seed Brewery was hugely impressive, as was the ever-reliable Tempest Brewing (peaking with the wonderful Old Parochial). I also really liked Partizan’s Saison Grisette Lemongrass, as well. Great stuff. To be honest, the bottled beer I’ve had the most of this year has been Harviestoun’s Ola Dubh – and it’s just as good as it was when I first discovered it years ago.
Best collaboration brew I’m going to avoid the ones I had anything to do with, of course – the one that stands out immediately is Thornbridge’s jaunt with Sierra Nevada that produced Twin Peaks. British malts, US hops, and the result was (to me), like a lemoned-up version of SNPA. Fantastic beer. Other collabs I enjoyed – aside from Cool as a Cucumber, obviously – the Arbor/BrewDog Toasted Coconut IPA I had at the BrewDog collabfest was fantastic, and there still isn’t a better low abv Scottish beer than the criminally under-rated Cromarty 2 Craig’s.
Best Overseas Draught beer At IndyMan, I ended up with a random punt on To Øl’s Liquid Confidence, a 12.2% chilli imperial stout. Despite saying recently how much I’m not a fan of chilli beers, that’s the second to make my Golden Pints. It was incredible. I’ll give second place to Dominion’s Oak-Barrel Stout at Jake’s Place here in Edinburgh, which is (in my opinion), another beer that should get more plaudits than it does.
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer Cigar City’s Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, at one of Craig Garvie’s tastings, that sticks in the memory. De Cam Oude Lambiek that I had aged from three years was better, however, and is the best bottled beer I’ve had this year – it was just incredible. Odell’s Myrcenary is another stunning beer, and one I drink whenever I can. Also in this list should be Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo, now canned and over here with far more regularity.
Best Overall Beer Fyne/Wild’s Cool as a Cucumber. The best drinking moment I had in 2013, no question.
Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label I still think Magic Rock have the best branding in the UK. Each time I think they have gone as far as they can with the theme, the names, and their style, they do something like Custard Pie, and it just makes me smile. No-one does it better. I’m also going to vote for Odell, as their bottled beer labels are the best in the business.
Best UK Brewery Buxton!
Best Overseas Brewery Crumbs. I’m going to go for Sierra Nevada, still the go-to foreign brewery for me, as they started it all off, back in the day.
Best New Brewery Opening 2013 Bad Seed certainly roared out of the blocks, all of their debut beers were superb, I thought. I’ve been impressed with the beers from Top Out Brewing, as well. Ditto SIX°NORTH.
Pub/Bar of the Year My local, the Stockbridge Tap. I’ve never had a bad pint there, and I know I never will.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013 I really like Jake’s Place, here in Edinburgh, because they are trying to do something different, with the bourbon matching, and beers from Dominion and Fordham. It might not be that new, but new to me was the Holborn Whippet this year, I enjoyed a visit there, much as I did to the Well and Bucket. But 2013’s newcomer has to go to the Vintage in Leith, which is as good a bar as there is in the country, and has the best charcuterie I’ve ever tasted.
Best city for beer in the UK Edinburgh!
Beer Festival of the Year As I missed FyneFest this year, it would have to be IndyMan, which was even better than the first time around; a near-perfect combination of location, beers and music.
Supermarket of the Year The only supermarket I ever buy beer in is Waitrose, but I’m going to vote for Booths, as it’s from my hometown and really supports British beer.
Independent Retailer of the Year Edinburgh has so many great independent retailers, just go to any other equivalently-sized city to see how lucky we are. They are all great, but I’m going for the Beer Hive, as Pete always keeps me there for half an hour, chatting about what’s going on.
Online Retailer of the Year I’ve only used Ales by Mail this year, so it would have to be them
Best Beer Book or Magazine Again, I could vote for Hot Rum Cow, based on the content and layout, but as I’ve done things for them it might be a conflict of interest. It is the best alcohol-related magazine I’ve seen, though. Best Beer Book? Great Yorkshire Beer, by Leigh Linley. A great read, and about the people, rather than just a list of tasting notes.
Best Beer Blog or Website There are so many around at the moment, I really enjoy the writing on The Evening Brews, it’s really quite brilliant. Phil’s Beersay is also really well put together, as is Chris Hall’s Beer Diary. The blog I read most, though, is still Adam’s Walking and Crawling, as it’s different to any other blog out there, and celebrates the sheer joy of exploring pubs you’ve never visited before.
Best Beer App The only one I use, and sparingly, is unTappd
Best Beer and Food Pairing Any beer goes with any food
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer WhatJoeWrote – he reminds me of a modern version of that 80’s bank advert with the bloke who says ‘on Friday night, I’m on the other side of the wall’. Only angrier.
Best Brewery Website/Social media I think the way BrewDog have changed their angle towards their staff and projects, and away from the bullshit, really needs to be mentioned.