Golden Pints 2015

Best Cask
One of my favourite places to drink this year has been the new Moor tap room. It was here I probably drank most of my cask offerings (not bad considering I'm not often in Bristol!) and it was here I had my favourite cask beer of the year. B-Moor is punny continuation of their porter Amoor with the distinctive blueberry, jammy notes from mosaic. Delicious and spot on carbonation. Sloe walker on cask also very interesting.

Best Keg
Although I try not to list limited beers as winners (how cn others try them if so?) I need to make an exception for Beavertown/Prairie Barrel Aged 'Spresso. On draught at ABV and like drinking a tiramisu, especially with added ice-cream float!

Best Bottle/Can
Hands-down the highest rated new beer this year was Cloudwater DIPA. After a somewhat shaky start they really nailed their beers with the DIPA being the pinnacle, clean malt bill, fresh and juicy hops and barely a hint of its 9% ABV. A recent revisit has confirmed its holding up well. Cloudwater don't intend to rebrew any of their beers, but am hoping they make an exception for this.
Others worth of mention are Brewdog Born to Die & Beavertown Power of The Voodoo, both of which I hope will continue as occasional brews.

Best Collab
I've had a few this year, these by their very nature are usually one offs. I have enjoyed the dinner for.. range from Elusive/Siren and the aforementioned 'Spresso but my favourite has to be Marble Howgate and Kemp. Fantastic news that JK will be commencing as head brewer there from next year.

Best Overall
There can only be one winner here, excellent on both keg and bottle, with the November batch being particularly superlative. I make no apologies that my favourite UK beer is still Buxton Axe Edge.

Best Brewery
Logic follows that the brewer of my favourite beer would be a shoo in for brewer of the year and indeed Buxton has released a continued range of interesting beers this year (though a few I've not been mad keen on). I'm going to jointly award the crown to Beavertown however as I've not had a bad beer from them this year, and gamma ray/neck oil in cans has been a welcome hoppy reprieve on numerous occasions! Honourable mention to Brew By Numbers for producing excellent beers across all manner of styles (though was't as keen on their BA iterations of Gyle 100 unfortunately...).

Best Oveseas Draught
There's a beer I drank four times in three days, each time bringing delight to my mouth. Gorgeous in colour, tart with a heap of raspberries - Girardin Kriekenlambic was that beer. Highly recommended and cheers to Ian for the recommendation of where to find it!(see below). Was also v impressed by Pohjalla on draught at Indyman - ones to watch!

Best Overseas Bottle/ Can
My favourite bottle this year was a 2011 vintage of Goose Island Bourbon County Vanilla Stout, but since that's not available any more my winner is instead Ballast Point Dorado. I don't care who owns it, the beer is excellent and I hope it remains so. I'm just disappointed it may be harderto track their stuff down in the UK for a while now Brewdog have ceased importing them. Mikkeller's Nelson Sauvignon also really impressed though value-wise its lower in the ranking.

Best Overseas Brewery
I ummed and ahhed about this, there are a few contenders such as Stone  and Boon  but in terms of consistency across a wide range and drinkability this year's award goes to De La Senne. I was also impressed by the few I tried from Amager; if I'd had a few more they'd certainly be in contention.

Best Overseas Bar
To drink my girardin kriekenlambic four times I visited the same bar; belle epoque wall tat, grafittied terrace, various seating areas, free nibbles and a well chosen beer list this award goes to Fleur En Papier Doree. I'll definitely be back.

Best Brewery Opening
This ones a little harder my Ireland winner Boundary is definitely a contender as is Manchester buzz-generator Cloudwater but I'm actually giving the crown this year to Left Handed Giant who have gone from strength to strength with a decent core range and some excellent specials. Glad they're now bottling too; will certainly be drinking some this Christmas!

Best pub/Bar
Alongside the Moor brewing tap room, the places I've visited most this year are Small Bar the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer. Both have a fantastic range of beer, TFRNV has great food, Small Bar has comfy chairs and a bookshelf. Joint award to these two this year! Bag O'Nails continues to hold a special place in my heart replete with cantankerous landlord & many cats.

Best New pub/bar
I enjoy the Moor Brewery Tap but was also really impressed with attention to detail at St Andrews Brewing Co Tap, great guest beers, a fab range of spirits and plenty of care taken on garnishes. Plus good value and filling grub and a bottle fridge rammed full.

Best Food and Beer
More best food with tasty beer alongside this year it has to go to Chomp for fantastic burgers and beer from Wiper & True.

Best Festival
I didn't make it to as many festivals as I would have liked this year but I did finally make it to IMBC which was enjoyable if hectic and too short. However its the Belfast based festival inspired by it that I most enjoyed (working as bar manager for all 3 sessions). Congrats to Matt, Darren, Felicia and Michael the team behind ABV, best festival in the UK, fab venue, excellent food choices, interesting tastings and fantastic beer range, heres to 2016!

Best Branding
As always there are a number of contenders, but for putting the "can" in canvas the award has to go to Beavertown, great work Nick! I particularly liked the shiny stickers on the Phantoms and Bone King which now adorn my chromebook. I also love the bespoke paintings inspired by Boundary's beers; so they're my runner up!

Best Book/ Magazine
We've really gotten to a great time for Drinks coverage in print media with Hot Rum Cow, Hops and Barley, Ferment and Beer to name but a few but I think my favourite is informative & enthusiastic whilst remaining current - Original Gravity.

Online retailer
I've used fewer retailers this year, but the one that continues to impress is Eebria... after all - anyone who can facilitate getting my favourite beer delivered to my door within a few days must be on to a good thing.

Independent Retailer
I was really impressed by the depth and breadth of beers in Manchetser's Beer Moth but as I didn't buy any I can't really nominate them! (will have to take a suitcsase to Indyman next year!) One new opening I did really like was the tiny Brew off St Nicholas Market in Bristol, select but interesting range, lots of local stuff, decent tunes and a home-brew corner.

Best Blogger(s)
I've not added many blogs to my roll this year, with a number of old favourites falling by the wayside. Boak & Bailey still continue to churn out a variety of interesting stuff but this year the award goes to the (old)newcomer- Stonch (or more specifically the collective voice behind the blog). I enjoy the travelogues, enjoyment of beer, cantankerousness, digging, weekly round-ups and everything in between. The comments are usually well attended and often spark a slew of spin-off posts. There have been rumours of winding down again - please don't.

Simon Johnson Award
Always bang on with the wry humour and dubious puns and featuring on my blog a few times this year this has to go to Twatty Beer Doodles.


Whats New? 2015 edition

2015 brought us another bumper crop of new breweries (see last years round up here), though there are a few that have fallen by the wayside (I had a chance to try most of what I'd missed last year but West Cork still eludes me!). We hit the major milestone of 100 brewers on the island, with a near doubling of outfits in NI; I've covered the new arrivals below:
Barrahooley have a trio of beers including probably NIs first black IPA, which I found to be rather tasty. Sadly yet to come across their other beers.

Boundary burst on to the scene after a highly successful crowd funding round (they're raising money again now). Whilst the core range in general doesn't quite do it for me its the specials which really excite, with the excellent Berliner Vice series and recent Filthy Animal chipotle Porter both ones to try. There's also a series of mid-strength IPAs (push and pull) that has throw up some interesting results. They rightfully took best new opening in my Irish #GoldenPints

Brewbot are known for their app controlled nanobrewery kits & delighted the Belfast beer scene with the launch of their bar; but they also brew beers of their own. They're occasionally on draught in the bar; but I've yet to come across any.

Nightcap brew a golden ale which I've not yet found in the shops

Lacada are another co-operative, this tame based in Portrush. They have a core range of a golden ale (needs work) session IPA (lovely when dry hopped on cask) and a porter (excellent - came runner up in my Golden Pints). They've only recently launched; so expect to find bottles covering the province in 2016.

When We Are Giants appear to be a contract operation, making an an irish ale a pale and a lager. The red actually had some leafy hopping and malt complexity to it which made it a cut above many others.

O'Connor have just a single golden ale so far; decent enough but not exactly filling a gap in the market.

Mourne Mountains wheat beer was very promising on keg at ABV but disappointing in bottle, as were the other two core beers. Both seasonals I've had have been enjoyable though, in particular the pumpkin porter which was luxuriant without overdoing the cakey spices. Also really like the thought that's gone in to their logo design.

Walled City actually arrived in the tail end of 2014; but as they weren't serving until May this year I'll include them here. Last month we popped along to the taproom, which has a tasty menu of tapas and larger plates, but more importantly a number of their own beers on draught. All were solid takes on classic styles with the Boom Derry Pale particularly enjoyable - ones to watch in 2016 for sure.

Knockout are another outfit who actually began in the tail end of 2014. A decent core range, the APA is actually hoppier than IPA and my pic of the bunch.

Edit: Maltmeister have recently launched, taking the NI total to 11. They have a wheat ale and a spiced seasonal ale, keep your eyes peeled!

If I've counted correctly there were 24 new outfits starting in 2015 in the south (I'm sure Andrew will correct me!)

Arthurstown brewed two beers in the Kevin Dundon range a standard golden and red ale one-two. Yet to try them but not overly bothered if I don't.

Boyne currently contract brew at White Gypsy and both the dortmunder and pale went down well at ABV fest; looking forward to trying others.

Brewtonic have contracted a couple of brews with Rascals to stock in their Dublin venues. I've not tried them but The Beer Nut has.

Connemara are a new Mayo outfit, just a golden ale thus far and we've not crossed paths.

Corrib brew the Wild Bat range and have only recently launched - I'll hopefully come across them in 2016.

Craftworks are a "Brew your own" facility but also brew their own range under the Postcard label. Their two lagers did nothing for me but I also have their (pricey) tripel which I'll crack open when I have someone to share it with.

A Kerry crowd called Crafty Divils make an amber ale under the name of King Puck.

A gluten free outfit called Desmond and Son has also a trio of beers I've some en route; so stay tuned for an update(if they're any good!)

Drew Fox brews the Cleverman range, fairly standard except for their smoked ale which is rather tasty.

Comedy? troupe Hardy Bucks have a lager contract brewed for them at Rye River...its apparently not worth parting with your pennies for though.

Hope are another Craftworks dwelling outfit, with their initial trio rough round the edges but showing some promise. The exotically spiced saison was rather interesting and would make for a decent pairing with well-spiced dishes particularly a thai green curry.

James Brown has brewed a chocolate Orange Stout and a rhubarb IPA, neither of which have the headline ingredients  particularly discernible which is somewhat disappointing. Having said that the stout is decent enough and picked up first best Irish beer at Killarney this year; so worth picking up if you see it.

We called in to Killarney brew co for an impromptu tour whilst waiting for proceedings to begin at the festival. Its an impressive set up, with obviously no shortage of cash from the outset which will always give a competitive advantage. Of course the best equipment counts for nowt if the brewer isn't up to scratch, but they've done well on that count too, with four decent beers with the (ruby) IPA and helles able to stand their ground against some of the more established players.

Ó Cléirigh in Cavan have been quite quiet thus far with just a ginger ale to their names. Correction: They produce an APA, IPA, a BestBitter & a Kölsch but I've yet to come across them. Look out for the Kölsch on draught in the Beer Market, Dublin.

Radikale is a new gypsy outfit brewing left of centre beers with both the rubanesque and hopster somewhat lacking in hops in bottle - disappointing given the reputation of the brewer.

Raven Brew are based at the Old Schoolhouse in Swords. I hope to make it to the pub next year as there have been good reports on their stout.

Rising Sons are a brewpub based in Cork, opening at the turn of the year. Its the new home of the excellent Mi Dazza stout formerly brewed at franciscan Well. They brew a core range and regular seasonal specials and their pizzas are pretty special too. If I'd been able to visit more than once they'd have been contender for best new opening

Simon Lambert and Sons impressed the Beoir cohort with their Yellowbelly on their recent trip, but I'm yet to come across them in the wild. 

Benwiskin started off at Craftworks with a competent Irish Red Ale and have now moved to Bru and are expanding their range.

Third Circle are also at craftworks with an Irish Red and a saison. Both have gotten off to an okay start but need dialling in somewhat. I wish that red ales weren't so ubiquitous though!

Torc are another Killarney outfit with a less common core range including a wheat beer and a dark ale (basically a mild) which were both pretty tasty on keg and cask respectively.

Another Wicklow outfit, bagging the name Wicklow Brewery based at Mickey Finn's pub but not tried yet.

Wood Key also began at Craftworks but now brew at Independent. Their red ale the Pilgrim encroaches on porter territory and is thus rather more enjoyable than the majority of reds on these shores. Their IPA is currently sat in a box shortly to be in my possession.

Edit: As pointed out below Carlingford Brewing  have also launched in Louth with a red ale and a pale.

So that's yer lot for 2015 (and at a total of 34 3620% 25%more than last year - though a lot are contracted), I didn't seem to do as well tracking them down this year as last (did have 200-odd all told though!); but that's perhaps a sign that newcomers are focussing on local markets first and are perhaps draught only. It does also suggest that their may now be a fight for space on already crowded independent bottle shops' shelves and this squeeze can only continue in 2016.


12 Beers of Xmas

After Andy posted his selection of twelve beers I decided it was about time to clear out my cellar a bit; so I'm joining in too (though may stick to Twitter for the daily beers). Hosted by the Beer O'Clock Show it seems like a good bit of social fun in the run up to Christmas. I picked 12 big beers that I've hung on to for far too long. So without further ado, I plan to work my way through these little beauties

Twickenham/Alvinne Old Ale has been slumbering for two years in my cellar, having spent a prior two years in a wine barrel. Should be interesting.

Rebel Mexi-Cocoa is from a small Cornish brewery but has picked up a bit of a cult status, I picked up this bottle to see what the fuss was about.

Evil Twin Christmas Eve At A New York City Hotel Room the name's a bit of a mouthful and at 10% I'm sure the beer will be too. Felicia at Prohibition brings Evil Twin beers in to NI; so was able to pick this up at my local offie. Have been impressed with some of Jeppe's beers in the past; so lets see what this brings.

Prairie OK-Si were one of my favourite discoveries last year with big stouts and farmhouse ales alike delighting the senses. This tequila barrel aged beauty falls in to the latter category.

Old Chimney's Redshank is the 2014 vintage of a barley wine brought to us by the makers of England's top rated beer; so it has good pedigree at least.

Camba Bavria Imperial Stout not a common style amongst largely traditional German brewers, lets see how they handle it! (Bottle via my regular trade partner Sabine (McTaps on Ratebeer) cheers!)

JW Lees Harvest Ale is a well regarded barley wine, this 2012 vintage should be nicely melded now.

Sambrooks No. 5 Barley Wine is a newer entrant (despite the old-world label). Their core range is solid; so lets see what they can do with a bigger beer.

Tiny Rebel NP10 provides something a little different -a Belgian golden ale from Wales. At 10% its very much a Duvel-a-like lets see if they can pull it off.

Ilkley Longhorn & World's End  are two barrel aged versions of past specials, Speyside and Islay respectively. Sometimes the barrel aging process can be over-done, lets see what it does to these two.

Swanay (nee Highland) Old Norwayis a 9%-er showing off what Maris Otter can do.

We're actually with family for Christmas week; so may fall behind, but will get all twelve beers blogged when I can. Look forward to reading everyone elses contributions!

If I get through those twelve I may reward myself with this special duo from Nogne O on New Years Day #1000 and #1001. Stay tuned!


Golden Pints: Ireland 2016

As per last year, I'd like to put together some nominations from the island of Ireland as this bog is all about highlighting the growing beer scene over here. I'm not going to look back at last years until after this post goes live; so it'll be just on my memory and ratebeer scores rather than being influenced by what went before. The usual provisio applies: I wasn't able to try everything that was released and if any more impress before the end of the year I reserve the right to amend my choices!

1. Best Cask Beer I've not had very much Irish cask this year as I missed the ICBCF, but I was able to attend the Franciscan Well winterfest. However I'm going to "cheat" slightly and nominate the Northbound 08 Kolsch which was on key-cask at the CAMRA beer festival.  Clean, fresh, flavourful - I had three pints which is a rarity in these days of halves and thirds.
Honourable mention: Lacada Stranded Bunny for tasting just as a porter should and filling a real gap amongst the Irish reds and dry stouts. If I'd had a chance to try it with more condition it could have taken the crown 

2. Best Keg Beer I've had a lot more of these, though largely what's been imported to the North as I've only been to Dublin a couple of times. The crown has to go to Eight Degrees for Gasman Rye for its sheer drinkability, which it has no right to have at 7.8%, a tropical melange of hops combatting with a robust and spicy body.
Honourable mention: There are far too many to list really, 2015 has been an excellent beer year but I was really impressed by Killarney Devils Helles a really crisp and nettley doughy pils like beer and the juxtaposition of clean malt and fruity hops that was Trouble Brewing Remix India Pale Lager.

3. Best Bottled/ Canned beer This one is much easier, has to be Galway Bay's Superlative 200 Fathoms. Last year's release was special this year was spot on and one of my highest rated Irish beers altogether. Honourable mentions Farmageddon Hopburst IPA - these guys had a run of infected bottles but this one showed off how the beer is intended, bright juicy tropical hops on a clean lightly bready malt profile. 
Boundary Filthy Animal a Christmas special which unfortunately sold out before I could get hold of any more bottles a lightly spicy and smoky rich porter, great with cheese or desserts alike.

4. Best Homebrew has to go to Shane's Raspberry Turbo, outright winner at Sourfest. Its the kind of beer I'd want to keep a few of in the fridge for its sheer enjoyability. Luckily a version of it is currently slumbering in a wine barrel at Boundary and is certainly a contender for best bottled beer next year!

5. Best Overall Beer is a tricky one but I think it has to be the Northbound 08 because it just surprised me on draught after having found it ho-hum in bottle. Its a year-round beer rather than a seasonal like the majority of my other picks this year, try it if you find it!

6.Best Brewery is becoming harder every year as the ranks of excellent breweries swell almost weekly. I could easily give this to Eight Degrees again, who haven't released a bad beer this year but that would be far too easy. Instead I think there's a brewery this year that's really dialled in its core range and released a raft of interesting specials with a head brewer who's really gotten into his stride. That brewery is of course Galway Bay. I can't claim to have loved everything but Foam and Fury continues to be a world class DIPA, the Voyager US IPA filled a real gap in the market and the sessionable kettle sours are real winners. Congrats Chris and team!

7. Best New Brewery -Killarney very much impressed on first outing earlier this summer; but I've not drunk enough to give them the crown. Instead this award goes to a brewery I've drunk monthly from their launch, with a solid core range (though admittedly not all to my taste) and a raft of specials and collaborations it has to be Boundary.(full disclosure: I am both a co-owner and good friends with Matthew the brewer, but I like to think the beer speaks for itself). The ethos behind the brewery and the buy in from the local community are the real things that make it stand out.

 8. Best Pub/ Bar has definitely been earned by The Sunflower. Woodfired pizza oven in the garden, host to Belfast beer Club, well kept beer on cask and a great range of local and international beer in the fridges. Saddened and angry to hear that redevelopment may lead to its demolition - I hope not but in the meantime please support it whilst you can.

 9. Best New Opening - I've not been to any new bars down south but there's one that immediately springs to mind in the north. I was a bit of a latecomer but I've now visited on a number of occasions and been impressed each time. 10 guest taps with regular takeovers and the biggest bottle list of perhaps any UK bar, interesting small snack plates and a buzzing atmosphere. The award this year goes to Brewbot.

 10. Best Food and Beer Pairing I've not eaten out as much this year, but one thing that really does stick in my mind is the fresh, lemony and mouth-filling creaminess of St Tola against the crisp, pithy and brightness of Eight Degrees Full Irish (Cheers to Mike at Fancy Cheese Co. for facilitating this!).

 11. Best Festival is really getting some real competition now, with some weekends having multiple events, especially during the summer months. I now have to pick and choose which to attend but in my mind there is one true stand out. Fantastic venue, excellent food and world class beer selection. Great feedback from all who attended - amazing considering its in its first year! This award belongs to ABV. (Disclosure time again: I worked the full weekend at the festival and know the organisers)

 12. Best Independent Retailer with a new growler fill station and probably still the best variety of Irish and international beers The Vineyard takes this again.
Honourable mentions: McHughs have made ammends for an inauspicious first few orders and continue to impress with the number of Irish beers they manage to find room for. I'm also very fortunate to have the Winerack in Stewartstown acting as my local good beer hotspot - though of course its helped that I've been able to advise on what should be stocked!


What's New?

A number of posts lined up for December (if I ever get them finished) including the now obligatory Golden Pints and summary of Irish beer for the year. There's also been a number of Christmas specials launched recently and plenty of events happening too so please do check back over coming weeks. My writing hand and drinking arm will certainly be well exercised in coming weeks, 'tis the season after all!

In the mean time Daisy and I have finally launched our joint blog Drinks We've Known (see what we did there?!) with a post on whisky cocktails. Some of you Eagle-eyed Twitterphiles have been following us since the start of the year; so hopefully your patience is now paying off. Please feel free to follow the blog account (which Daisy will also be tweeting from, @drinksweveknown. 

The thinking behind the blog is to provide a home for all of our drink escapades, both at home and travelling; think bar & drinks reviews, spirits, attempts to make drinks & probably even coffee. I'll probably move the non beer/cider things from this blog across at some point too (though will continue to promote posts from my own twitter account 'cos that's my perrogative innit ;-p )
My Mezcalendar...thanks Daisy!

Daisy also thought of an awesome present for my birthday; an advent calendar with booze in! You've heard of the whisky dram calendar and even ginvent, but I've gotten hold of one with traditional Mexican mezcal... a mezcalendar* if you like! We'll be blogging our thoughts daily in an aim to find a bottle we can order for home cocktailing. The first post is here.

So until my next post here; see you around!

*Apparently I'm the first person to use the term but have graciously allowed Master of Malt to use it ;)