Sunday, 22 December 2013

In pastures green…or Golden Pints 2013

What’s best about best when it comes to beer and — if you think about it — pubs? Is it the moment, the surroundings and the time in which the moment occurred, the memory, the nostalgia, the feeling of being somewhere beyond the ken of day to day life, the spontaneous, out-of-the-blue event that can knock one sideways with its sense of chance; or is it the carefully considered, pondered over, politically correct, look-at-me, pencil chewing collection of choices spread out in front of one like a crowded table cloth?

I’ve made my living by working on books that celebrate the lure of the list, so another list should be easy, but given that the aim of this blog has always been to write outside the constricts of my working life, this listing is harder than a list I have to write that puts money in the bank; so there’s an inevitable laziness and fatness to its construction, an indiscipline even, but also a joyous sense of letting loose, running across a meadow like a dog after a rabbit. So let’s go. As the bloke at the bus stop said: trap one, trap two.

Best UK Cask Beer
As much as I like hops and the joy that they bring to my soul, I have also spent 2013 reminding myself that malt has a place in the construction of beer, which is why the most memorable cask beer that leaps to the forefront of my mind is Adnams Broadside, as sampled and glorified and glowed over at the Anchor in Walberswick. I would also like to mention: Exe Valley’s Winter Glow at their pop up bar in Exeter, Fuller’s Black Cab in the Mad Bishop & Bear and a pint of ESB in the Bear in Oxford, which was so entire in the way it embraced all points of my sensory compass that I remembered why I loved it. Oh yeah, Hook Norton’s Old Hooky continues to bring forth both smiles and similes. 

Best UK Keg Beer
Anything by Camden, but I really loved the collaboration they did with Doug Odell earlier in the year, am too lazy to look up the name, but it was very very gorgeous. How about a glass of Freedom Organic Dark? Yes please. Or maybe, Partizan’s muscular Quad, the finale to a good night out, as drank at the Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington. And not forgetting Wild Beer’s gorgeous cucumber beer, which I had in a pop up bar in Bath, on a hot summer’s day.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
I think I’ve only had one UK canned beer and that was from Camden, while on the bottle front I was bowled over by Ilkley’s ‘triple hopped IPA’ The Chief, which as I wrote at the time it lifted up its leather-trousered, boot-clad leg and got onto a Guzzi Cali and roared off along the highway. Buxton’s Axe Edge, Westerham’s Audit Ale and a couple of beers from Siren, whose names I didn’t note also impressed. Then Meantime’s Imperial Pils was an intriguing drop.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
Easy. I was in a bar in Malaga, a craft beer bar, which on the European mainland seem to becoming as ubiquitous as Irish bars were once (see my thoughts on them in the Czech chapter in Three Sheets to the Wind), and I ordered a glass of Dougall’s 942 Pale Ale, a fragrant (as in peach and orange ripe skins frotting each other until the cows come home) beauty of a beer with a weighty mouth feel and a dancing almost Sufi-like whirl of refreshment through the whole of the gulp. And it’s from northern Spain. I also ended up in Rimini twice this year on a couple of assignments and rather enjoyed Forst Sixtus in a sort of sports bar. And while I remember I rather enjoyed the creamy Schwarzbier at Hausbrauerei Eschenbrau in Berlin. Hold on a minute I’ve also just recalled Brooklyn’s Soriachi Ace and Lagunitas IPA, more of them please as well.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
In can I enjoyed Ska’s Modus Hoperandi while in bottle I also continue in my reverence for Orval — I’m just about to start work on a bottled beers book (another list!!) so that might easily change.

Best Collaboration Brew
Is that between breweries or writers? With breweries I enjoyed Moor and Arbor’s Dark Alliance, while Wild Beer’s decision to invite Mark Tranter and Kelly Ryan over to produce Shnoodlepip also brought a smile to my face. On the writers/breweries side I enjoyed Melissa Cole’s Siberia with Ilkley and the various Brains continental beers; and in the spirit of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf I would like to mention the India Pale Bock I did with Arbor. Lovely beer, but then I’m not a brewer.

Best Overseas Brewery
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Bellevaux in the Ardennes, where a coachload of beer judges were met by locals holding flaming torches and the village band; the beer, especially their Black, was good as well. Can’t recall if I have visited any other overseas breweries apart from Bellevaux and Val-Dieu this year. Oh and I enjoyed a couple of glasses in the brewpub U Tří růží in Prague earlier this year.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013
It’s got to be Burning Sky, whose Saison à la Provision had a leathery, lemony, bitter, orange, dry, bracing character while the large long dry finish reminded me of one of those long endless runs that I seem to vaguely remember on Ski Sunday. I drunk it with the ferocity of a wolf coming down on the fold.

Pub/Bar of the Year        
My local pubs the Bridge Inn and Woods never fail to satisfy me, good company and good beer — what else do you want in life; but in my travels I have also had my head turned by Hops & Glory in Islington, the Exmouth Arms just down the road and the Three Horseshoes in Batcombe; but my favourite at the moment is the Swan in Stratford St Mary, which is Mark Dorber’s second pub. It is brilliant — an old school village pub with a new wave range of beers, including Soriachi Ace, plus great food (pig cheek croquettes). And in the commodious garden at the back there are hop poles with First Gold and Bodicea growing. 

Beer Festival of the Year
Don’t seem to go to too many anymore, enjoyed the one at the Bridge Inn in May, especially as it is a five minutes walk for me; I also enjoyed the Birra del Anno event in Rimini.

Best Beer Book or Magazine
Beer continues to impress, while I love All about Beer and look forward to seeing what new (ish) editor John Holl has in store. Audacity of Hops, Craft Beer World and the regular Brewery History Society quarterly publications (if you are not a member then I would recommend joining them immediately) also made my life more bearable.

Best Beer Blog or Website
When he can be bothered to stir himself out of his cave, Pete Brown still smashes it (you could say the same for Zak Avery), while I also enjoy (and occasionally get infuriated by) Boak & Bailey, Alan McLeod, Martyn Cornell, Chris Hall and Pivni Filosof. However, if I am going to choose a best of, then it’s Northern Snippet — it’s more about pubs than beer, but for sheer enjoyment on the ups and downs of the licensed trade it’s unmissable. 

Beer App
Will Hawkes’ thingy. Are there any else?

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
Simon was the best, but my favourite tweeter these days is Dai Llama, but that’s not beer.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Bit of self PR here, but I was very proud of the BritishGuild of Beer Writers dinner, where myself, Mitch Adams and Tim Hampson arranged Camden US Hells with chilli jam brushed smoked salmon, Wild Beer Modus Operandi with pheasant and a venison sausage roll and Partizan’s Quad with stout ice cream and a salted caramel dessert. Try it at home and let me know how you get on.

Cor that seemed to take forever.

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