My #GoldenPints 2014

Golden Pints Logo

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…..

And….the following……

  1. Best UK Cask BeerGrounds For DivorceFive 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!)
  2. 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!
  3. 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) IPACheshire 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.
  4. Best Overseas Draught – Not. Really. My. Bag. Next……!
  5. 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?
  6. 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 PleasureSteel 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.
  7. Best Overall Beer – See 3 above!IMAG2241
  8. Best Branding, Pumpclip or LabelBad 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!)IMAG2118
  9. 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.
  10. Best Overseas Brewery – Moving swiftly on…..Next!
  11. 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!
  12. 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!)
  13. Best beer and food pairing – I’m not QUITE reconstructed to that stage yet….Next!
  14. 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.
  15. Supermarket of the YearBooths. 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!
  16. Independent Retailer of the YearThe 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.
  17. Online Retailer of the Year – I haven’t. I try and shop locally. Aren’t I virtuous? Next!
  18. Best Beer Book or MagazineOpening Times (Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA) – Essential semi-drunken bus home reading material. Well written & edited (Mr Clarke, take a bow!).
  19. 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.
  20. Best Beer AppTwitter. 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!
  21. Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer@BroadfordBrewer. For #TwattyBeerDoodles and so much more.
  22. Best Brewery Website/Social mediaCheshire Brewhouse. Just functional & classy.

 

“The Bar Now Arriving……” – Wigan Central – A Great Bar Is Born

“I was following the pack, all swallowed in their coats
With scarves of red tied ’round their throats
To keep their little heads from falling in the snow, and I turned ’round and there you go
And Michael, you would fall and turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime”

(“White Winter Hymnal” – Fleet Foxes)

(Clip via “Sub Pop” Records on YouTube)

Simply, the most beautiful tune. Few will better it as a winter themed song – or as just a beautiful song full stop. End of message.

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I like Wigan. My love of Allgates’ beers and pubs has almost entered legend. But, therein lies the rub….the only pub I really enjoy in the town centre is The Anvil. However, that all changed on a dark and chilly December evening when I was invited to a “soft opening” of a new bar created by Prospect Brewery and run by Dan & Gina Buck.

I was saddened when Dan & Gina sold on Great Ale Year Round. Felt a bit like losing an arm. Luckily, they sold it on to people (Anne & Steve) who run it in the same vein and keep Bolton supplied with great beer. However, Dan & Gina needed something else…A break & a new challenge. However, I don’t think they had any idea how quickly an opportunity would come around!



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(Hello Patsy!)

Patsy Slevin (Brewer/Owner) and her other half John, the owners of Prospect Brewery of Standish had had their mind set on a bar in Wigan for a while, when the opportunity of a railway arch on Queen Street (1 min walk from Wigan North Western) came up. On Wednesday evening, a select few of us got the chance to see how these plans had born fruit.

And HOW they have……

Let’s get this out of the way (and it WILL re-occur!) …there is a distinct railway theme to this bar!

This being my first sight of the venue, the first thing that struck me was how big it was! Don’t get me wrong, this is not a huge space, but I WAS expecting something a bit more….well….mini! Maybe it’s the height of the arch that gives a greater illusion of space, but this felt quite capacious. Then you look around….everything about the place has been themed around railways. From the seating booths to the right of the entrance, that reminded me of the old First Class compartments on 60s-70s trains (Dad spoiled us!), to the mock old-fashoined railway station style roof that adorns the place above the bar. It’s the little things…..

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(And they are….)

A lot of thought has gone into the design of this interior. The bar as a “First Class” refreshment booth, the olf fashioned insignia/logo that adorns the polo shirts for the staff which carries on into the bottle display. The hammock-like cargo nets above the booths to take customers’ coats (some of us speculated when the first wag will try to climb up for a kip!)

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(Just what a travelling drinker needs! The train home!)

The inclusion of screens integrated into the wall for both Arrivals and (more importantly) Departures was inspired! John’s idea so I was told. I doff my proverbial to him, a superb touch that was remarked upon in approving fashion by all who checked for the next train to Manchester. Who needs Trainline eh?

Of course, all of this thought and design isn’t worth the sweat, if you haven’t got a heart & soul. That’s where Dan & Gina come in. They know what they’re doing. They know how to source and (more importantly) serve great beer and they have they certain something that all good “landlords” have. That little something that makes you feel welcome and that makes you know that you’re in the right place for a decent beer too.

Speaking of which….

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6 handpulls. 6 Keg fonts including 3 “Craft Keg” (Opening night were Runaway Smoked Porter, Marble Boheme Pilsner & Magic Rock Ringmaster). The handpulls featured 2 from Prospect and four guests. Opening night beers were from Anarchy (of Morpeth) with Quiet Riot, Winter Tweed from Tweed of Hyde (new brewery), Jarl from Fyne Ales & Goodhews Dry Stout from Barngates.

A fine selection.

I might have tried one or two….

Being a Winter evening, the Dark Side was a-calling like a wolf howling. I heeded the call and tried all 3 darks. Big John & Goodhews from Barngates were both excellent cask Stouts. Roasty and smooth. The Smoked Porter from Runaway was arguably even better on keg than in bottle (and it’s a belter in that format too!), smooth with a little of that Rauchy edge to it.

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(Big John & Boheme – I’m a greedy git!)

Pales? Jarl has as much grapefruit sharpness as a Supermarket fruit aisle. Predictable brilliance. The Quiet Riot from Anarchy was a fruity weapon of mass destruction ( I was a little…slow the next day!) at 6.6% abv, all chewy malt and tropical fruit. Deliciously dangerous. The Boheme Pilsner from Marble was a really pleasant surprise that reminded me of Pilsner Urquell and had a lightness of touch. Refreshing. I hope they keep it permanent.

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I came back for the formal public opening the next evening (Thursday). That was the queue – albeit swollen with some that were in from 5 for a private Thank You reception. I didn’t think we’d get in!

But we did.

It. Was. Rammed.

I chatted with the guys behind Tweed Brewery and thoroughly enjoyed a pint of their Winter Tweed, a tawny coloured beer with chocolate a caramel undertones like a Chomp Bar. But liquid. And with alcohol! A good first beer.

Nice to finally meet Patsy and John. And I told them that they’d done well getting Dan & Gina. But I think they knew that already!

Dan & Gina had stated that they wouldn’t be behind the bar. The crowds dictated otherwise! I chatted with a few people and the feedback was universal. This place has made a big initial impression. It certainly did on me.

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The biggest compliment that I can make? The Anvil has company at Wigan’s top table. It’s called Wigan Central. Make a note and pay it a visit. You won’t be disappointed.