This is my first ever Golden Pints, and it’s been a tricky one. My exposure to pubs has been pretty sparse this year (a new baby has put paid to that!), so I’ve struggled with some of the categories. However, I’ve drunk A LOT at home, so this category has been difficult for another reason entirely - there’s so much to choose from!
That said, I’ve given it a go, and without further ado, here they are!
Best UK Cask Beer
The cask category is the first stumbling block for me. However, looking through my Untappd history, one checkin transported me back to a Damascene moment in the Euston Tap, drinking Wild Beer Co’s Bibble for the first time on cask. I’d had it canned before, and enjoyed it, but the cask version was sublime.
Sometimes it can be hard for a really hoppy beer to work on cask, but this was delicious. The hard edges that you found in the can version were softened out beautifully and the Mosaic really rose to the top. I could drink this all day.
Best UK Keg Beer
I got lucky with this one, and, on a rare night out in London with friends, I paid my first visit to Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green and managed to catch the sublime Cloudwater Double IPA on tap. A perfect example of a double IPA - this was all tropical fruit, piney bitterness, and ridiculously easy to drink given the ABV. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Best UK Bottled Beer
Liverpool’s Mad Hatter have been going great guns this year, matching weirdly experimental ideas with good old fashioned solid brewing expertise. I haven’t had as much chance as I’d like to try all their beers (we don’t get much in the suburbs of north Brum), but their Sorachi Face Hugger was a delight.
I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with Sorachi Ace, having brewed with it myself a few times, it can be a tricky hop to get the right balance with - in the wrong hands you can end up with a beer that tastes like a Bounty bar gone wrong. However, this gets the balance exactly right, with subtle coconut, a touch of lemongrass and the clove and banana from the hefe yeast. Like most Mad Hatter beers, it shouldn’t work, but it really does. Genius.
Best UK Canned Beer
This was a tricky one. It’s been a big year for the can. I predict (through nothing other than reckons) that next year will be the year that cans become fully accepted by the mainstream - maybe we’ll see a UK traditional brewer put on of their craft efforts into a can?
This year it was a toss up between Five Points’ IPA, which works so well in a can, or Beavertown’s Skull King. As I’m a sucker for novelty, I’m going to go for Skull King. It might not be an everyday beer, but my God, is it special - mouth puckering grapefruit, soft peach, and beautiful toffee malting, followed by a warm boozy finish.
Best Overseas Draught
Again, my limited exposure to pubs this year makes this tricky, but I am lucky enough to have Cellar Door in Four Oaks only a few minutes from my house. They’ve recently invested in a 5 tap keg lineup, and do a nice line in takeaway growlers.
Not long after they installed the lines, I spotted Heretic’s Evil Twin, despite the name of the beer being the same as a brewery run by a certain member of the Bjergsø family (which makes it very hard to find on Untappd), this is a hoppy, dank number that is amazingly well-balanced. My expectations were pretty low, but I was taken by surprise by this, and it’s become a firm favourite ever since.
Best Overseas Bottled Beer
I’ve been drinking a fair few wine barrel-aged beers this year - Siren’s All of it Please, and Mikkeller’s Nelson Sauvignon are two standouts for me that show that mixing the grape and grain isn’t always a terrible idea. However, the top of the barrel-aged pops for me this year has to be Dieu Du Ciel’s Dernière Volonté Réserve Spéciale. A black IPA aged in pinot noir barrels may not sound like a recipe for a good time, but this was wonderful, picking up the subtle notes of pinot noir against a background of uncompromising, spiky hoppiness. I couldn’t stop thinking about this for days after.
Best Overseas Canned Beer
My first post on this here blog was a review of Westbrook Gose, and I’m still in love with it. Gose is a tricky style to get right, but this shines in all the right places - Dry, salty, sour and refreshing. I’ll keep coming back to this again and again.
Best collaboration brew
I do a bit of running (although I’ve not been doing much recently), and one of my number one beer moments this year was after doing my first 10k, cracking open a growler of Siren’s Life is a Peach with friends. It was pretty much the end of the keg, and it was thick with yeast and peach, but damn, what a fine beer. You don’t see much lactose in any beer besides milk stouts, but this was a masterstroke. I wish this was more widely available.
Best Overall Beer
Going through the beers I’ve already listed, I’m struggling to pick out a favourite from them all. I like them for different reasons, so I’ll probably go for the beer I’ve reached for more than others - Saison Dupont may not be new, or particularly exciting, but I could drink it all day long given the chance. It’s often imitated, but never quite equalled.
It’s very difficult to discuss branding without mentioning Beavertown. Nick Dwyer’s bold, vivid artwork has translated brilliantly from bottle to can, and makes their product stand out a mile on shelves. I don’t think anyone touches them in that sense at the moment.
Best UK Brewery
Siren have had a tricky year this year, losing their head brewer, Ryan Witter-Merithew to Hill Farmstead in the middle of the year, but they’ve barely missed a beat since then, with some excellent collaborations with Crooked Stave and the aforementioned Life is a Peach with Omnipollo. Their core range still continues to be a go-to for me when I see it about, and I’m confident 2016 will be another corker of a year for them
Best New Brewery Opening 2015
Cloudwater surprised a lot of people this year with their no nonsense, seasonal approach to brewing. Every quarter sees a new core range from them, and there’s always been something to surprise and delight. From their Hopfenweisse, which made me see hefeweizens in a brand new light, to their DIPA, Cloudwater have been knocking it out of the park this year. Long may they continue.
Pub/Bar of the Year
As I’ve mentioned, a new baby on the scene has clipped my wings a bit, but I always enjoy a trip to the Craven Arms in Birmingham. On the outside, the Craven looks like any other backstreet boozer, but inside, it’s a revelation for the craft lover. As well as the standard keg offering, it’s got one of the best craft cask lines in the West Midlands, and has regular meet the brewer evenings. It’s even got Guinness and Carling on tap for all your mixed ability drinking needs.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2015
Although I’ve only managed a fleeting visit, I love what Tilt (again in Birmingham) are doing. With a stripped back, Nordic-style interior inside a hitherto neglected (and beautiful) shopping arcade in Birmingham, Tilt has a massively knowledgeable and passionate team, a great range of keg beers and no fewer than seven (at the last count) pinball tables. They also take their coffee as seriously as their beer, and have recently taken on Gary Dyke (formerly of Hasbean) as their coffee ‘sommelier’ (my words, not theirs). They also have a mouthwatering range of cakes!
I also really like the fact that they’re working towards being a real community hub, offering a space for mother and baby groups, book clubs and kids pinball mornings (outside of alcohol licensing hours, obvously!)
(Header image - Real Ale :-) by Chris_Parfitt)