Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Golden Pints 2013

2013 has been a year of change and upheaval for me personally, and as a result I've had to take a step back from beer exploring and appreciation, and from blogging about it too. But that doesn't mean I haven't been taking advantage of any opportunity that arose to continue learning about beer, talk about beer, and drink good beer - and to unfortunately encounter some not-so-good beer along the way as well.

So in the hope that 2014 will allow me to write about it sometimes too, I've made a stab at rounding up my 2013 "Golden Pints" - it will be interesting for me to see how this pans out, as for the first half of the year I was still firmly routed in the Birmingham beer scene, but now I am in the quite different beery landscape of London.

Best UK Cask Beer 
I've struggled a bit with UK draught beer since the move to London - I seem to be constantly hopeful I will find something 'pintable' - i.e. a great-tasting beer, in perfect condition & temperature, flavoursome but not overpowering - one that you taste, and then know you will enjoy by the pint, good enough to make you rearrange your plans to stay in that pub for another couple. But I've been regularly disappointed during pub visits - sometimes it's the beer selection, with the beers themselves not seeming that great; sometimes it may be down to the chosen dispense method not suiting the beer as well as another might; and sometimes it's the condition they're served in. But sometimes you strike gold and find one that seems to consistently hit the spot, wherever you've come across it. This year, @Darkstarbrewco Green Hopped IPA was the one that did it for me.

Best UK Keg Beer
Easy - Beavertown Black Betty.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
My access to great UK bottled beer has taken a huge nosedive since moving away from Brum, and the excellent beer emporiums of @StirchleyWines and @CotteridgeWines - I've had to resort to more supermarket beer shopping, and the bottled beer that has kept me going with it's consistent loveliness is the Oakham-produced Marks & Spencer Citra, so it gets my overall vote. I've still managed to try some new UK bottles when out and about, and two that really impressed were Weird Beard's Fade To Black, and Arbour Ales Down Deeperer. Wish they were in my beer cupboard right now!

Best Overseas Draught Beer
Probably Ska Modus Hoperandi - as I seemed to come across this on draught a few times this year, and it always delivered.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Too difficult to choose just one for this category, so it's a three-way split between Weihenstephaner Kristallweiss, Rochefort 10, and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA - was very lucky to have a bottle of the latter given to me by @HillstersBrew and it brought back lots of memories of drinking it on draught in NYC.

Best Collaboration
The Fyne Ales / Wild Beer Co. "Cool as a Cucumber" - I really felt this was something outstanding and different when I was lucky enough to find some on draught in London.

Celt artwork
Best Overall Beer
The beer which has sustained me the most this year - M&S Citra.

Best Pumpclip or Label
I really like the Celt Experience branding and labels - with the artwork on 'Barbarians Beverage' being my favourite.

Best UK Brewery
Very difficult to pick a favourite, as there are well-established breweries who are turning out consistently good beer but still having time for experimentation, and new breweries coming along all the time. Of the 'new crop' of breweries, those that innovate and experiment with a range of styles while turning out very desirable beer - though I didn't get to drink much of their output this year - it's Magic Rock.  For being solidly good at what they do, year in, year out - and for beer that I have craved throughout 2013 since moving 100 miles away from it - Bathams!

Best Overseas Brewery
I've been able to try a fair few overseas beers this year from excursions around London's "craft" bars, but this has also led to some disappointments as well as delights. So again I'm going to choose something reliable - the brewery that turns out my favourite ever Belgian beer - Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy de Rochefort.

Best New Brewery opening 2013
Really enjoying much of what I've had from Weird Beard - looking forward to more!

Pub/Bar of the Year
A bit of a late entry to the list of places I go to seek out good beer - but over the past couple of months I've had some great visits to The Black Heart in Camden - I've always found plenty of interest on each visit, on cask, keg or bottle, and it's been great to drink beers from @AlechemyBrewCo, Sierra Nevada, @FyneAles and others while listening to Dead Kennedys, Fugazi, and a plethora of alternative sounds. I also really loved the food from Kimchi Cult, who were in residence in the Black Heart kitchen until December - so I hope they can source new food providers for 2014 who are just as amazing!

Best New Pub/Bar opening 2013
It's hard to believe the Craven Arms in Birmingham has been re-opened less than a year - it very quickly became the Friday night beer Twitterati haunt of choice, and I'm sure it will continue to go from strength to strength under the keen stewardship of Chris and Sharon.

Beer Festival of the Year
With all the upheavals of the year, I didn't get the opportunity to visit many festivals, but I have no doubt that if I had, I would still be voting for the Birmingham Beer Bash - amazing to see such a fantastic event in my 'home' city (even though I'd just departed from Brumland at that point!) and I wrote about how amazing it all was in this blogpost.

Best city for beer in the UK
Edinburgh - I didn't get to visit there this year, but I have kept an ear to the ground and had regular reports from chums in residence, and definitely think I would find the biggest and best selection of beers there.

Supermarket of the Year
Waitrose still has the best beer selection on it's shelves - can't argue with Oakham Citra and Thornbridge Kipling!

Royal Mile Whiskies

Independent Retailer of the Year
Since the move of cities I've struggled to find shops I can easily get to, with an interesting and well-priced beer selection - so I was really pleased when I visited Royal Mile Whiskies in Bloomsbury and found they had a whole fridge of exciting Scottish beers - I'll be back!
Online Retailer of the Year
@AlesByMail really went the extra mile for me this year, finding a way to deliver beer to my door during the evening, when I could be in to receive it - very grateful to them for this!

Best Beer Book or Magazine
Haven't had much time to read through my beer books this year, and have quite a backlog waiting for more settled times so I can dive into them with a pint in hand - but I'm currently reading "The Search for the Perfect Pub: Looking for the Moon Under Water" and it's an enjoyable read, though does seem to have an anti-smoking-ban bias! 

Best Beer Blog or Website
Same as in 2012 - @BoakandBailey is where it's at!

Best Beer App
Untappd - I use it every time I have a beer, to record my impressions, keep note of what new beers I've had, and to look up what other people have thought of a beer when faced with a long list of ones I haven't had before and time is too short to work through them all!

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
The beery Twitterverse is much, much poorer for the very sad and shocking passing of @simonhjohnson - he brought laughter, silliness, enthusiasm and insight and was an all-round great chap to have met. He extended a friendly welcome and encouragement when I first joined Twitter and contributed so much to the sense of an online beer community. He's missed by everyone, but his spirit lives on in the support expressed to @BecEmerald by everyone he engaged with online, even if they hadn't actually got to meet him IRL. I don't think I could give this award to anyone other than Simon.

Best Online Brewery Presence
I don't think I had much call to visit brewery sites in 2013; of those I visited, Celt Experience
have quite a nice looking site.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Belgian stout and oyster beignets. It's simple, and it works.

In 2013 I’d most like to...
Find a reliable source of "pintable" beer in London - I miss you, Barton's Arms!!

Sláinte, and a good year of beer to all!