I’ve not attempted a Golden Pints list before, and within seconds of starting this I’ve realised how difficult it actually is. This has surely been my beeriest year to date and yet I feel in some ways even less able to pick out the highlights. Maybe that’s a good thing – I’ve been simply too immersed in good beer to be able to single out individual experiences as head and shoulders above the rest.
Still, I can try…
Best UK Cask Beer
Tough one this. There’s been a lot. Not all good of course. But lots and lots of good, and a fair amount of very good. Having recorded most of these on Untappd I thought it would be easy to quickly pull up a list of those I’ve rated highest. But it simply isn’t that easy (hence I won’t be completing the best app category this year!). Although there’s been loads of brilliant cask ales amongst the mediocre (and a fair few worse than mediocre, to be fair), I’m not sure that any one stands out above all others. If you were to hold me at gunpoint I’d probably say a good pint of Thornbridge Jaipur on cask is still pretty unbeatable – I have certainly had some good pints of it in the past 12 months, and it always a beer I’m happy to return to. There might have been a contender in Magic Rock High Wire, a previous favourite, but as I haven’t come across it on cask this year it doesn’t count. So, I’ll give Jaipur an honourable mention but I don’t think I can declare a winner for sure.
Best UK Keg Beer
There are again quite a few to choose from. Everything I’ve had on keg from Wild Beer for example – Modus Operandi, Ninkasi, and Schnoodlepip all spring to mind. Beers from Weird Beard and Siren have stood out too. Harbour’s Pale Ales, and those of the Kernel, are also up there. What would I put above all else? I’m going to have to go for Wild Beer, who’s name immediately puts a smile on my face when I see it on a bar, and I’d have to plump for their flagship Modus Operandi.
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
I’d have to say it’s one of two here for me. Wild Beer Ninkasi or Kernel 1890 Export Stout. Both are beers I keep returning to, which to me illustrates the point. I might have to call this one a draw.
Best Overseas Draught Beer
Only really one contender for me. De Molen Rasputin which I had on keg at the Birmingham Beer Bash. Decadent and glorious. Loads of others that came close, the most memorable runner-up being Black Malts and Body Salts by To Ol – possibly at least in part because at IndyMan this marked a downward spiral towards higher strength beers and consequently is the last beer I can reliably recall from that day…
Best Collaboration Brew
A number of categories here have me divided – I can come up with a best in terms of the quality of the beer itself or best in terms of the experience I had with it. This is one of those categories. I’ve drunk a number of different collaborations this year but one was an experience like none other – my own collaboration with Blackjack Beers, an American Pale Ale called Phoneticus. As my first commercial effort it was an unrivalled experience. But honestly, the best collaboration beer I’ve had this year? It’s up there, but there are many others. Juggler by Magic Rock / To Ol, or the latter’s Buxton collaboration Carnage are both beers I enjoyed greatly. Wild Beer’s Schnoodlepip (which quickly became an adjective for brilliance at the Birmingham Beer Bash), and another from Magic Rock – Salty Kiss, these stood out. There were yet others, but favourite of all for me was the Weird Beard / Northern Monk Bad Habit.
Best Overall Beer
Really? No, sorry, just can’t do it. I think there’s too much a case of “the right beer at the right time” to say that in a fair fight any one would win.
Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
As I started writing this at the beginning of December a late entry in this category popped up when I saw a picture of the new range of bottles from Liverpool Craft. They’ve taken the fairly simple theme of their existing branding and developed it further to apply to a great set of bottle labels. At the same time I continue to love the raw simplicity of the Kernel brand, and Wild Beer’s printed bottles have a feel of quality oozing from then (although as a recycler of such bottles for my own beers at home I find it a pain not having a label you can just remove!). Another honourable mention goes to Magic Rock whose branding continues to catch the eye – there’s no doubt whose bottles they are on the shelf without having to go anywhere near to read the labels. And that’s the thing – your pumpclips and labels have to draw the customer to the beer, and all those mentioned above do that incredibly well. My winner? I think I’ll give it to Liverpool Craft.
Best UK Brewery
For consistency, quality, variety, innovation, and for simply being a jolly fine bunch of people too, it’s a clear winner for me. Not a brewery I’ve named as a clear winner in any specific beer category (although there was a late honourable mention for the cask beer), but probably the one where I’d be most happy to walk into a pub and see no-one else’s beers along a very long bar. Thornbridge it is.
Best New Brewery Opening 2013
As I’ve pondered over the past few weeks two names keep popping back into my mind. Siren, and Weird Beard. Another draw. Honourable mention for Northern Monk too. Though I begin to doubt myself and wonder if they are all 2013 startups…
Pub/Bar of the Year
For me, one place stands out clearly as the pub of my year. Back at the start of 2013 a rather run-down, tired and uninspiring pub just the wrong side of Birmingham’s inner ring road got a new lease of life. More than just a lick of paint, the sensitive refurbishment returned a bit of glory to what is an attractive building, and the arrival of Chris and Sharon Sherratt made more than a modest difference behind the bar. Over the course of a year the Craven Arms has become a proper local for me, despite me living 30 miles away and not even working in the next-door Mailbox any more. It’s about a sense of belonging, being able to walk in after however long it’s been and feel you’ve come back to “your” local. And a cracking selection of beers guaranteed. I don’t think I’ve ever found a pub I’ve become so familiar with before, and so this is my clear winner.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
As long as reopening under new ownership and new management counts, then my answer has to be as above.
Beer Festival of the Year
Another category where the element of experience interferes with the more subjective view. There can’t be many who read this who don’t know of my involvement as part of the team behind Birmingham Beer Bash. Naturally for me that was the festival of the year. It has to be. Not because of the sheer self-promotion of that, but because it was a truly incredible experience to bring that event to life, to build a festival that was how we wanted it to be. And, to be fair, moat people thought it was a pretty good effort. Was it better than the other festivals? No. Were any of them better than the Bash? No, actually. The real winner here for me is the whole range of modern, progressive beer festivals, in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and London, that can’t quite be compared like-for-like because they are all different. United through their independence, and their sometimes radical approach. Here’s to those new wave beer festivals!
Supermarket of the Year
I have a rather grudging relationship with supermarkets. I’d rather buy from local independents but realistically that isn’t possible for everything and so there is a dependency on the supermarkets for some things. Beer isn’t one of those, and I generally find supermarket beer selections rather depressing. If I was selecting this category based on best selection for me I’d go with Waitrose because a) they have more beers that interest me than the other stores, and b) because they are slightly too far away to be a regular shopping trip and infrequent visits mean the selection always feels a bit fresher. However, I’m not going to award this category on the basis of which supermarket serves me best, but the one I feel has done most for promoting beer in general – that goes to Sainsbury’s, thanks to their Great British Beer Hunt which is probably the most positive promotion of beer from any supermarket.
Independent Retailer of the Year
Having no truly local independent in my corner of the land (for now, anyway) Stirchley Wines is my usual go-to retailer as they are most easily accessible for me and have a range that more than satisfies my needs. They face a stiff challenge from neighbours Cotteridge who I get to much less often but who always manage to provide some different options when I do – between these two retailers the south part of Birmingham has seen fantastic development in the quality of beer choice available and have done great things to help move forward the local beer scene. However, I can also head north for bottled inspiration now, and visits to Beer Dock in Crewe have started to feature in my occasional visits to that town. They’ve made the bottled beer shop slightly sexier, and added value with the ability to drink in (from bottles, keg or cask) and adding meet the brewer events to the repertoire. Quite a debut for them, so they get my vote this year.
Best Beer Blog or Website
I enjoy reading so many blogs but rarely get enough time to do most justice. Winner for me in this category is the one I can’t stop myself constantly dipping into. Ron Pattinson’s Shut Up About Barclay Perkins is an absolute treasure trove that keeps on drawing me in again and again.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
I enjoy the tweets of many, and it feels unfair to single one out. I can get round that, if stretched, by sort of picking two – Boak and Bailey have probably given me the most beer-related Twitter interest this year and so I’d plump for them as my winner. Special mentions also to Phil Hardy, who used his beer tweet powers for good rather than evil when he arranged the reportedly excellent Macclesfield Twissup, and to Nate Dawg for his unrivalled services to swearing.
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
This year has seen the pairing of beer and food become a much more dominant theme. I’m not going to try and pick out a single match that stands above the rest. For me the winner is simply beer, paired with food.
Inevitably the list above overlooks plenty of great breweries, people, and events, but like anyone else there’s only so much one person can experience in a mere 12 months. There are beers I’ve not had chance to try this year that might have changed the list dramatically, and there are people I’ve met or even worked with who are probably just as deserving of a mention as anyone else, but I couldn’t quite find the right reasoning while compiling these Golden Pints. To all in the wonderful beer community, thanks for being part of 2013, and I look forward to what the next year brings.