(Shamelessly nicked from Boak & Bailey)
In a year where divisions have been ever more stark – and I’ve found myself physically confronting hatred for the first time in my life – beer (generally) brings people together.
Yes. There are still all kinds of issues in this bubble we inhabit. Especially in respect for women in this industry. But, overall, beer is one of the few things that made me smile this year.
So I’ll start with a controversial move. By splitting Best UK Brewery into 3 categories.
1. Because it’s MY #GoldenPints, and
2. Because I couldn’t name just one.
Best UK Brewery : Cask – North Riding Brewery.
Because I genuinely believe (and have spouted this REPEATEDLY to my amigos this year) that Stuart Neilson and his merry band are THE cask specialists.
I’ve had some simply EXCEPTIONAL beer this year from NRB. I can now get it more frequently over these hills and chase it wherever I can get it. My visits to Stalybridge Buffet Bar have increased substantially this year. Because Caz gets a regular delivery.
It’s not just the dark stuff (although they’ve developed a BIG rep for those), it’s the Pales too. As you may see below*
And the move to bigger premises at Snainton won’t hurt. A lovely new (and much larger) facility. And stunningly attractive views…..
Best UK Brewery : Keg – Runaway Brewery
Runaway are a puzzle to me. Not the brewery. Not the beers. But WHY they aren’t “up there”. Being talked about. Because – for me – they are the Alpha in consistency of excellence.
Core Range may be a dirty phrase amongst the Crafterati, but the attention to detail, the focus on getting a beer right, TIME AFTER TIME, it’s not easy. It takes graft. It also takes COJONES to swim against the tide. That incessant demand for something new.
But. I shit you not. When I see Runaway Pale, or American Brown (probably in my Top 3 ISBF beers of all), I’m on them like a Vampire on a blood bag.
And Mark Welsby is one of the nicest people in beer too.
Best UK Brewery : Overall – Marble
These awards have always been simple for me.
Whose beers do I drink the most. And that – across cask and keg and can and bottle – comes back to Marble.
You can’t BEGIN to understand how pleased I was to hear they would do a presentation of their funkier beers during Manchester Beer Week at the Rivington Tap Beneath The Trees. Nor how HORRIFIED I was to learn that I’d be on anti-biotics.
But I still went. Just for a sniff. Literally. Ask Carl.
I’ve been in The Arch a lot this year. I’ve drunk a LOT of Marble. In all formats. And everything I’ve had impresses me.
But that Radler at Seshfest though……. p
This year though, it was closer. Because I’ve also drunk a lot of Torrside. And never failed to be impressed there either. And wherever I go in the North, I keep hearing “That Torrside are good”.
Yes. Yes they are. So an “Honourable Mention”
Best New Brewery – Pomona Island
I know that they launched in 2017. Late 2017. But my calendar runs from ISBF to ISBF. Call it the Salfordian Calendar if you will. And this year, I’ve drunk quite a bit of Pomona. And never failed to be impressed.
If you are from outside of Manchester, keep your eyes peeled. I have a feeling these guys will soon outgrow their current kit. They’ll need to. They’re damn good.
Because their beers were exceptional.
Beer of the Year : Cask – US Session v36 (Citra, Summit, Ekuanot)* (North Riding Brewery)
One afternoon. After “helping” to brew a collab for the #ISBF5 Ticket Launch Bash, I sat in the North Riding Brewpub. I fancied something light. Sessionable and tasty. And this drew my eye.
I had six pints. It blew me away with the intensity of flavour, the body, packed into this little thing. It was utterly delicious. I’d have stayed all night if I could have. But I had a train to catch.
I hated that train.
Honourable Mention : Titch (Rammy Craft). In my opinion, the most talented young brewer in the area.
Andy Morrison originally created the recipe for this. Now he runs / owns the brewery. Keep an eye out, I expect big things from Andy in 2019. Mark Mywurdz.
Beer of the Year : Keg – Getting The Band Back Together (Bexar County)
I went to Bexar County to help make a beer with the lovely Steve Saldana. And came away buying two. This was the other one.
A Mini Porter. At 3.1% abv.
I grabbed a half during token duty at #ISBF5 and it completely stunned me. SO much flavour, richness, body, in SUCH a small thing.
It was fruity, almost hints of Xmas cake fruits, if was just OHHHHHH…..
It was MY Beer of the Festival. And there were some bloody good beers there
Best packaged beer (Can / Bottle) : Rhubarbara Streisand – Brew York.
I love Rhubarb pales. And this had my senses tingling from ripping the ring pull back. Just a stunningly good beer. Full of fruitiness, but delicate, lightly tart but juicy too.
Delicacy is an underrated beer virtue.
This is THAT GOOD, I chase them down if I hear of any of them about.
And THAT name…… 😂
I’m no expert on (or regular consumer of) beers from Outside the UK. So that removes a category or two….
(Here comes another category split)
Best Pub (Manchester) – The Brink
It’s just my place. My “local”. Only 60 yards on foot from my front door – following a 10 mile bus journey.
It’s the friendly staff. It’s the fun. It’s the hazy ISBF Ticket Launches.
It’s the package. It’s our “safe space”.
And – obviously – great beer. Well looked after.
Best Pub (elsewhere) – The North Riding Brewpub
Elsewhere, I’ve described coming to this place as a pilgrimage. As the coming together of “Destination pub” and local.
It has great beer. Much of it brewed downstairs. It has an almost permanent Kernel tap.
It has friendly regulars.
It’s got soul. That Elusive quality.
It has one of THE best cellar custodians around. Karen Neilson.
Shit. It’s even got a 2bbl brewkit in the cellar!
And rooms to stay upstairs…..
I adore it.
Brewery Tap – Rivington Tap Beneath The Trees.
The natural (and easy) call in this category is Black Jack. Because it’s fabulous. Relaxed. Great tunes, great beer, lovely people. And that’s all true. Almost to the point of cliche.
Because it’s THAT BLOODY GOOD.
However. This August Bank Holiday. Myself and some friends went to Rivington. And had a simply magical weekend.
Picture the scene……..
Add in some beautiful beer brewed on the farm opposite. Located in a forest clearing.
With a campsite on site.
On the side of Rivington reservoir.
Throw some lovely people into the mix.
Magical. This year, we’ll go to more than one.
Bravo Ben & Mick. Job well done.
Honourable Mentions : Black Jack Tap – The Daddy of Mancunian Brewtaps & Torrside Tap – Packs em in. Keeps the trains to New Mills busy. Brilliant.
Best Beer Festival : East West Fest (Wakefield)
There are so many reasons for this.
Myself and The Arch Nemesis have gone each of the 4 years. From the moment (walking up to the door) I heard the phrase “Ey Up! The Mancs Are Here!” “I knew this was it.
It has beer from the North. So it rings my bell.
It has the most ludicrous beer list.
It’s tiny. Friendly. Social. And packed with lovely people.
And now, people come from all over. They get it.
And we’ve already booked our accommodation. We did it 2 months ago.
I may organise a beer festival. But, for sheer fun, it doesn’t touch this.
4……4……4…….er…..4? (It’s a “private” joke. If a video posted on Twitter can be described as private!)
The most unmissable event on my calendar.
Honourable Mention – To the genius who conceived Seshfest.
An event CHOC FULL OF SESSION BEERS! Really, what’s not to love?
Stay with me on this. Because this isn’t core branding as such.
This came from a 3 conversations. The first was at #ISBF4. Between Jock, Me & Mike. It was borne of a mutual love of David Bowie and their mutual favourite track(s). A trilogy, from the Diamond Dogs album Sweet Thing / Candidate / Sweet Thing (Reprise).
The second was earlier this year. Discussing Five Towns beers for #ISBF5. And the birth of the idea of the Diamond Dogs Trilogy. Followed the next evening by a 3 way between myself, Malcolm (Five Towns) & Paul. The idea of the inner sleeve of the album forming a backdrop for the clips / labels.
My heart melted when I saw the results. We had them in that sequence on the bar at #ISBF5. 2 of the beers won awards from the drinkers.
The design matched the product. Beautiful
Best Blog – Beer Compurgation
I read little in blog world. Focusing on “organising” a beer festival can do that to you. But I read Mark.
Eloquent, passionate. It works. And I hate him for it.
He’s easily fooled though. Because he wrote this……
Because they make me laugh. And laughter matters.