I’ve had a good beer-year. I’ve drunk a lot of great stuff, I’ve learnt a lot about beer, my tastes have developed and my palate has matured and all of it has left me thirsty for more.
The best thing about beer is the memories which it helps to create. I can remember the worst beers I’ve drunk as fondly as the best; I remember days out specifically by the beers I tasted; I remember particular nights in the pub with friends where the beer was gulped between laughter and conversation; I remember being massively undercharged for a very expensive double IPA at the Pig’s Ear Beer Festival and it being beautiful; I remember the pork scratchings at the Great British Beer Festival; I remember finding two Greek craft beers on a tiny Ionian island; I remember ordering a beer and diet coke on holiday and receiving them together, in the same glass; I remember heated discussions about beer with beer lovers, excited ramblings, and lectures directed at my lager-loving chums; I remember all the times that I’ve told my girlfriend just how good my current beer is (and I remember how she always listens and how she always remembers what I say). I've also forgotton quite a lot of stuff too...
This isn’t a ‘Best Of’ kind of list; it’s a compilation of those beers which have stuck in my mind because they have been the most enjoyable and memorable throughout 2008.
Anything IPA from BrewDog. Punk IPA is the best IPA currently being brewed in Britain. And one of the best bottled beers available in the supermarket. Massive American C-hops and as juicy as a tropical fruit salad with a big backbone of maltiness. And Chaos Theory - a prototype beer that’s going into production for 2009 - an aggressive copper-coloured IPA with a sweet tropical fruit nose, a load of toffee and caramel malt and then a tidal wave of tangy hops to finish, with pineapple and grapefruit dominating. It’s so good because it’s so addictively moreish.
Anything black from BrewDog. The collaboration with Danish Beerhouse for their Coffee Imperial Stout is a brilliant beer: thick and creamy, rich and strong. Sweetly oaky flavours, some berry sweetness, loads of coffee and dark chocolate, smoke and leather and a hint of zesty citrus to finish. It made my day when I cracked open the first bottle of this. RipTide was the best ‘standard’ stout I drank all year (by standard I mean a stout that isn’t imperial, barrel-aged or which doesn’t have anything else in it, e.g. coffee). It’s liquid velvet – the beer equivalent of a big Californian Zinfandel. Then there’s Tokyo which is a glorious beast. And how could I leave out the Paradox beers. The Imperial Stout base is so drinkable, but when added to different whisky casks it grows into something altogether new and exciting.
Cains' Fine Raisin Beer. In the bottle this is a really good beer, malty and sweet and very easy drinking, but it qualifies for this list because of the Great British Beer Festival where it was on tap. It was the most memorable beer of the day, so easy drinking, clean and delicious.
Curious Brew’s Brut. Lager fermented with sparkling wine yeast and made at Chapel Down winery in Kent. It’s a pale amber with champagne-style bubbles; light but full flavoured; biscuity, creamy and clean; an apple sweetness comes through and the hop finish is crisp and smooth.
Badger’s Poacher’s Choice. This beer wasn’t one of the best that I’ve had this year, but it’s on the list because it made me smile from first sniff to last sip. It’s a moreishly fruity beer, giggle-inducing, full of creamy berry sweetness which was like blackberry crumble and blackcurrant chewy sweets. Intriguing and fun.
Stone’s Ruination IPA. A monstrous hop explosion and probably the freshest, juiciest tasting beer I’ve ever had. A mouthful of oranges and grapefruit and a brutal slap of bitterness.
Robinson's Chocolate Old Tom. A crazy-tasting beer rammed full of sweet milk chocolate. I had this after the Pig’s Ear Beer Festival and it was all I could taste the next day!
Fuller’s London Pride. Always will be on the list. My go-to beer and the beer I opened to celebrate finishing my Master’s (at 2.30 in the morning while I was watching baseball). Golden Pride out of the cask at the Jugged Hare was pretty special too.
And the ‘most interesting beer’…
BrewDog’s Storm. An 8% IPA aged in Islay whisky cask. The aroma was a punch of smoke, medicinal and harsh, although I thought I could detect the faintest suggestion of tropical fruit in there, as well as some oak. It’s a mindfuck. Insane. It’s so smoky and peaty from the barrel, then there’s a big hit of tangy hops and a long, earthy, woody, dusty, smoky finish. It’s intriguing in the same way as a car crash in that you can’t stop looking and going back for more. And it’s somehow moreish. I still haven’t really decided if I like it or not. The best thing about it is the way it makes me think and how it challenges what I thought I knew about beer, giving me flavours that I’ve never before experienced in a beer. I’ve got another bottle in the cupboard which I’ll try again soon.
While I’m at it here’s another category.
Best beer books…
To write stuff you need to read stuff. Looking up at my shelf I thought I’d give a nod to the books which have impressed me most this year.
First is Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham’s Good Beer Guide West Coast USA. This is like beer porn to my young eyes. I read about these glorious delights that await me but I cannot yet get to them – I become a beer voyeur; watching, waiting, reading, fantasizing. New Years Resolution – to save really really hard to be able to afford a trip myself.
Next are two older books, but ones which I have only read this year. These are Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion and Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table. Michael Jackson is simply the greatest beer writer ever (who sadly died in 2008). He can express his thoughts on beer in the most succinct and fabulous way, in a style which leaves me feeling awe at how he manages to place one word after another to create such perfect sentences. And Garrett Oliver, which I’ll admit that I’ve only read a few chapters of so far, but as soon as I started on the introduction I could feel myself easing into his big open arms with his fantastically simple, warm and effective prose and evocative writing skill – it’s a big old book and one I can’t wait to get totally lost in.
Bring on 2009 and all the beer it has to offer me.