Oh Shit! It’s that time of year when I’m forced to be decisive and tell you (and you probably couldn’t give a flying…..) about what I REALLY liked this year, by pre-defined category.
So, 2014 was a year when I discovered the following :
How much I love blogging about beer.
How much I really couldn’t be arsed blogging about beer.
How close you can come to a nervous breakdown (and I HAVE been there) and come through nearly unscathed (See The Independent Salford Beer Festival)
How much generally that “Beer People Are Good People”
And a huge thanks to “BeerReviewsAndy” (someone I have never met) for getting this snowball rolling…..
- Best UK Cask Beer – Grounds For Divorce – Five Towns Brewery (Wakefield, W Yorks) – For me, the best beer at #ISBF2014. A 7.8% Belgian style Tripel fermented using yeast from the legendary Brasserie Orval, brewed at the bottom of a garden in Outwood, Wakefield, by one of the most unassuming people that I have ever met. As fruity as Carmen Miranda’s headgear and as light and tasty as a Heston Blumenthal foam. It. Rocked. My. World. (And I’m yet to really get into Belgian beer!)
- Best UK Keg Beer – I haven’t really had all that much, but of those that I HAVE had, I’d fall on the side of American Brown Ale – Runaway Brewery – . From the first sip at Black Jack Tap (Hmmm….) to the last sip (WOW!). This beer adheres to Principle 1 of the 3 Jazwinski Beer Principles. It was a beer that improved with each and every sip. By that last sip, I could *almost* have been a convert to keg. And it was fecking astonishingly good at #ISBF2014 on cask too!
- Best UK Bottle or Can – I’m not gonna cop out here by choosing one each (I’ll do THAT elsewhere!). This was a close run thing. My vote – by a well groomed whisker – goes to Govinda (Brandy Barrel Aged) IPA – Cheshire Brewhouse (Congleton, Cheshire). A massively English hopped IPA at 6.8% abv, the original version was already a stunning thing, a grand riposte to those who think English hopped beers are merely brown and twiggy murk. Get Thee Behind Me Beery Satans! “Spicy boozy raisins, banana, marmalade dancing all over a deep toffee malt base. This is a proper IPA. The fruity and toffee flavours …. give way to a spicy hop…” Being fairly dedicated to UK – and Northern beers in particular, this proved the most intense #Beergasm that I had this year.
- Best Overseas Draught – Not. Really. My. Bag. Next……!
- Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer – Can? Founders All Day IPA. Does exactly what it says on the tin. Fresh, zingy and oh so refreshing. Bottle? Not had many…But, from Brouwerij The Musketeers (Ursel, Belgium) – Troubadour WestKust Black Imperial IPA – A 750 ml bottle that – in the midst of a tastebud numbing cold, I could actually taste. A full-bodied fruity hop assault. With licorice. What’s NOT to like?
- Best Collaboration Brew – Another tricky one. Came down to a choice of two, BOTH involving the mighty Stuart Neilson of the North Riding Brewpub in Scarborough. The first was 300 from Five Towns / North Riding – a big, punchy Double IPA which in no way tasted it’s strength but had more hops than Watership Down and was a damn sight tastier! However, edging this by simple force of Bitterness, is Protz’s Pleasure – Steel City Brewing (Sheffield) / North Riding Brewpub (Scarborough) – Conceived (possibly) as a riposte to a rant from Roger Protz about the beer type “Black IPA”. All of the oxymoronic characteristics of a BIPA with a simply MASSIVE bitterness. Astonishing.
- Best Overall Beer – See 3 above!
- Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label – Bad Seed Brewery. For that hanging tag pump label. Irritating for the staff, but classy as feck. (I’ve kept the one from #ISBF2014 – don’t change fellas!)
- Best UK Brewery – On balance, this HAS to go to the brewery from which I drink the most consistently excellent and drinkable beers – Drinkability, for me, means a tasty, well hopped (or dark and roasted) beer that I can drink repeatedly without falling off my chair. For me, this means AllGates. From Sloe Stout at Manchester Beer and Cider Fest to Half Devil at #ISBF2014 and all points in between, just consistently excellent beer.
- Best Overseas Brewery – Moving swiftly on…..Next!
- Best New Brewery Opening 2014 – Controversy time! I’m going to go with Shindigger Brewing. I KNOW that they don’t have their own premises (yet!), but as a consumer, this is about the beer, right? From my first taste of Pacific Pale to the Saison/PIP at an MTB in Chorlton, they have progressed with each. and. every. beer. Cask, keg and bottle. Cuckoo? Gypsy? It’s about the beer for me, like I said. A HUGE honourable mention to Runaway Brewery and Squawk Brewing too. Manchester really IS rocking at the moment!
- Pub/Bar of the Year – (I’ve twisted the category – slightly!) Pub? Easy. As last year, The Hare & Hounds in Hindley (Wigan). A proper local that I need to visit WAY more often. 5 Great cask beers, friendly service, friendly locals, a real fire and a great landlord/landlady combo in Nigel and Adele. Sorted. Bar? Hmmm….Trickier. But I can’t split. So – a) Great Ale Year Round at Bolton Market for continuing to bring good beer to Bolton (and giving me a reason to visit the town!), a rare thing in the last few years for me. Great local cask/keg beers, friendly regulars, friendly hosts. Anne & Steve continue to do a sterling job. I just hope that the council could open up 6 days a week instead of 4! And – b) Wigan Central – 7 cask lines. 4 Craft keg. In Wigan? A brave move by Prospect Brewery, but one that appears to be paying off judging by the feedback that I’ve been privy to! They made a wise move in bringing Dan & Gina Buck in to run it (formerly of Great Ale Year Round – see the link there?). Great location, fabulously fitted out. Excellent beers too. (As far as the original category goes – both of the latter 2 opened this year!)
- Best beer and food pairing – I’m not QUITE reconstructed to that stage yet….Next!
- Beer Festival of the Year – 3 candidates. 1 I cannot choose. Because I organised it. The self interest element prevents me from choosing The Independent Salford Beer Festival. So, I’m left with 2. IndyManBeerCon is indeed a beery Tour De Force and remains a fixture for most sensible beer calendars (mine is set for 09:00 on 01/04/2015 – for the probable ticket release!). I DO think that cask appeared to be marginalised this year and I hear many gripes from elsewhere, but really? Just “grow a pair” and appreciate it for what it is! My winner though is AllGates‘ “The Road To Wigan Beer” in April. A fantastic selection of some of the newest and best UK breweries on cask. Spread across 6 pubs within Wigan borough. In one day. On a bus. Simply the most fun I’ve had in 2014. And fun matters.
- Supermarket of the Year – Booths. Simple. If you have been to a branch, bought beer, then chose a different supermarket, you’re having a laugh. At your own expense. Obviously, If you live more than 20 miles south of Knutsford, you may not understand. It’s a Northern thing!
- Independent Retailer of the Year – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield) Now closed and reborn as specialist beer shop BarBeerian, this has been the place from which I have bought the most beer. Period. The stock is large and wide ranging (Scotland to US/Italy) and great value too. All that from a small convenience store! Now Raj has moved a couple of doors down and opened up as a specialist beer shop, he’s looking to open a small bar upstairs with craft keg & a local cask line. I wish him well with this.
- Online Retailer of the Year – I haven’t. I try and shop locally. Aren’t I virtuous? Next!
- Best Beer Book or Magazine – Opening Times (Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA) – Essential semi-drunken bus home reading material. Well written & edited (Mr Clarke, take a bow!).
- Best Beer Blog or Website – Hmmm….Time for another split. Still up there (and one of my two) is Glenn Johnson and his “My World of Beer“. Informative, straight and tells me what I want to know. Is the pub/bar/beer good. And does it well. But locally? The Boozy Procrastinator by Deeekos, a blog that came into its own with some assertive posts on a variety of issues from IndyManBeerCon through to Myleene Klaas & Paddington Bear (in the same post!). Funny, informative, passionate. A winning combination.
- Best Beer App – Twitter. I think I would meltdown if I used Untappd. And not in a good way. Some people talk such utter bollocks about beer & breweries when they can be cloaked in anonymity. So no. Next!
- Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer – @BroadfordBrewer. For #TwattyBeerDoodles and so much more.
- Best Brewery Website/Social media – Cheshire Brewhouse. Just functional & classy.