Tuesday 23 December 2014

My Beers of 2014

In 2014 I’ve drunk beer in 17 different countries across five continents, visiting 136 breweries along the way. If I hadn’t drunk so much over the last 12 months then it would’ve been an unforgettable year… Bypassing the usual Golden Pints (because I tried and it was too hard), here are my beers of the year, in no particular order.

Kout na Šumavě 12° at the brewery in Czech Republic
We arrived at midday and were given litre steins of Kout’s 12° pale lager. It was astonishingly good. During a tour the brewery, which is basically a derelict farm, we drank the 14° and 18° dark beers from the tank, out of large jugs. All the Kout beers are incomparably good. For more on the brewery, you should read Evan Rail’s excellent kindle single.

Jing-A Flying Fist IPA at the brewpub in Beijing
This is the best beer I drank in China and one of the best IPAs I’ve tasted – super clean, super juicy, superbly balanced. Their Airpocalypse DIPA is equally awesome and the price goes up and down depending on the air quality that day – if it’s particularly smoggy outside then head to the pub as the air is cleaner and the beer is cheaper.

Camden Town Brewery IHL all over London
From my first glass of Indian Summer – from which IHL evolved – I’ve adored this beer. It’s the perfect mix of IPA’s hops and lager’s clean balance. IHL is ruinously bangable and just always good. Hells Lager also needs a mention because I’ve drunk more of this than anything else this year and it just keeps on getting better – it’s my go-to beer.

Avery White Rascal at the brewery in Boulder
This has long been a favourite beer and drinking a few glasses of it at the brewery in Boulder confirmed that – it has the best body and balance of any Witbier I’ve had and it’s so full of flavour. I also had a few glasses of Maharajah DIPA while at the brewery. I don’t remember the rest of that night.

Mountain Goat Summer Ale in many bars in Australia
This is the beer I drank most of while in Australia. It’s just about the juiciest banger (to use the beer term of the year) with the most delicious tropical fruit aroma and flavour. The brewery in Melbourne is a very cool place with a whole range of excellent beers.

Eschenbräu Dunkel at the brewery in Berlin
I always go to Eschenbräu when I’m in Berlin. There’s something special about the beers – a house quality that’s a little fruity with a hint of sulphur – that I adore. The Pils is always great but this year it was the Dunkel which grabbed me, a beer with just a hint of toastiness and caramel which perfectly worked with the dry, bitter hops.

Night Shift IPAs at the brewery in Boston
I spent far too much of 2014 walking around industrial estates looking for breweries. For Night Shift that walk was totally worth it to find some incredible beers – I ended up drinking a 4oz pour of everything on tap (which left me a little over-refreshed). All of the IPAs were next-level-good, as were the sours.

Dieu du Ciel Moralité IPA at the brewpub in Montreal
The Dieu du Ciel brewpub in Montreal is one of the best places I drank this year. Péché Mortel, their coffee-infused stout, is beyond superlatives when poured on a nitro tap, while Moralité IPA, originally brewed as a collab with John Kimmich at The Alchemist, was no-question the best IPA I tasted in 2014.

Blackman’s Brewery Festbier at the brewery in Torquay, Australia
The most impressive new brewery I went to this year was Blackman’s in Torquay, about an hour out of Melbourne. Renn Blackmann brewed at Camden Town for a while before moving back to Oz and opening his own place with his girlfriend Jess. All the beers are bang-on-brilliant but especially this Citra-hopped lager. Perfect with the Asian-inspired food in the brewpub.

Partizan Simcoe Pale Ale at home
This one passed the ultimate test of how much I like a beer: I bought a case of it. Those 24 bottles didn’t last long and I haven’t had it since but I still remember its subtle brilliance and sweetly juicy aroma. Pressure Drop’s Pale Fire became my replacement for this, a beer brewed 10-minutes from my flat and often in my glass.

Urban Chestnut Zwickl at the brewery in St Louis
I expected Urban Chestnut to be good but they were way beyond my already-high expectations. The Zwickl had some biscuity malt, a smooth body yet still refreshingly light, then a long, dry, hoppy finish. So good.

Eisenbahn Flying Bison IPA at the brewery in Blumenau, Brazil
The original Brazilian microbrewery makes this American-style IPA which you can only buy in the bottle from the brewery. I begged and pleaded for them to let me buy some bottles to take home but they wouldn’t do it. If I say it’s ‘Pliny good’ then you know what level it’s at.

Salm Märzen at the brewery in Vienna
I fell in love with all the beers in Salm in Vienna but the Märzen stood out for being lush with toasty malt, full-bodied and creamy with a deep bitterness. It’s glasses of beer like this that makes me repeatedly fall deeper in love with lager.

Bia hoi in Hanoi
Drinking this pale lager from plastic mugs, by the roadside in Hanoi, squatting on tiny plastic stools, as hundreds of bikes buzzed past, is one of my favourite experiences from this year. We spent three days drinking it and I loved every cool glass I had.

The Alchemist Heady Topper from the brewery in Vermont
Yeah, so I got to drink this from the tank at the brewery in October. “It smells like juice!” I said, unable to control my spontaneous excitement. “I know!” replied John Kimmich, looking as excited about it as I felt. A beer worthy of all its hype.

Augustiner Helles in Berlin
Midnight in Berlin, 11 hours after running the city’s Marathon, and we’re drunk and full from drinking and eating too much. On the slow, painful walk home we pass a shop selling Augustiner Helles and drink it on the way. Great beer.

O’Hara’s Irish Stout in Dublin
So smooth, so rich, so full and just so bloody good. O’Hara’s Leann Folláin is also seriously delicious. I went to Dublin twice this year and I think it’s one of the most exciting craft beer markets in the world right now – the beer quality is exceptionally high and there’s a great variety of beers. Go to Dublin!

1516 Weisse at the brewpub in Vienna
A Cascade-hopped German-style wheat beer that’s fruity in all kinds of different ways. It was an unexpected surprise which made me go back for a few more glasses.

Budweiser from the tank in St Louis
The Budweiser brewhouse in St Louis is one of the most beautiful breweries I’ve ever seen. Drinking the beer from townhouse-sized tanks wasn’t as revelatory as other underground lager experiences but it was still a brilliant thing to have done and gave me a newfound appreciation of a beer which I already had a lot of respect for.

Beavertown Smog Rocket
I’ve been all over smoky flavours this year and Smog Rocket is a constantly good dark, smoked beer. The combination of that with the ribs in Duke’s is one of the best beer and food experiences this year. I’ve drunk a lot of Beavertown in 2014 and will drink a lot more in 2015.

Keserű Méz in Szimpla Kert, Budapest
Szimpla Kert is one of the coolest bars I’ve ever drunk in. I spent hours just walking around and enjoying it late at night before going back the next lunchtime to explore its many rooms and spaces during daylight. Keserű Méz is a hoppy and unfiltered strong lager from Fóti brewery – a good beer made even better by the surroundings.

Everything in Lowdown, Denver
We were in a cab back into the city after visiting a few brewpubs when we passed this place without knowing about it. We shouted “stop the cab!” in a wonderfully dramatic way and went in, ordered a taster of all the beers and loved them all.

De Prael Mary in De Prael Proeflokaal, Amsterdam
Think a barley wine meets a Belgian strong ale with lots of hops served in a cool brewpub near Amsterdam’s red light district. I like this place a lot.

And because I’ve done a lot of eating this year, here are the…
10 Best Things I Ate in 2014.

Ribs at Bogart’s in St Louis
Ribs have been ruined for me now because I don’t think I’ll ever eat better than those at Bogart’s. I’m not even going to attempt to describe how delicious they were. Likewise for their housemade pickles. Best thing I ate this year.

Peated malt biscuits at Clove Club
I love the smoky, saline flavour of peat and using that malt made into little biscuits was a real food highlight of the year – savoury yet sweet and very light.

Mortadella sandwich in Mercado Municipal in Sao Paolo
A world-beating sandwich in the massive Mercado Municipal. I’ve never seen so much meat stuffed between two pieces of bread and it was spectacular.

Cha ca la vong in Hanoi
It’s fish fried in turmeric plus loads of dill, which sounds like it’d be weird but it’s an unbelievably good dish. All of that strong dill flavour is muted when it cooks, turning into a spinach-like soft mix of savoury greens.

Pork bao from Bao in Netil Market
If there’s a better street food dish in London then I haven’t eaten it. Whenever I’ve been in London on a Saturday I’ve walked the few minutes from my flat to Netil Market to eat this. Their fried chicken is also awesome.

Stir-fried morning glory in Hanoi
The simplicity of this is what made it so good: it was just greens fried with garlic but it was so tasty.

Schnitzel in Schneeweisse
I have no idea how they made the meat so tender and the crumb so crisp and light but this schnitzel blew my mind. The potato salad on the side would also probably have made this list on its own.

Sweetcorn pudding in Mercado Municipal in Sao Paolo
Somehow the combination of sweetcorn and condensed milk blended together, set and served with cinnamon was a perfect little pot of dessert. I need to remake this myself.

Egg coffee in Hanoi
It’s not food but it was definitely one of the best things I tasted in 2014. In fact, all the coffee I drank in Vietnam was unreal. The egg part came like a meringue on top with this rich, thick coffee beneath. It was so good we went back the next day for another.

Hazelnut gelato and custard tartsNot together, obviously, but these are two food-things which I'm obsessed with and I’ve eaten them around the world as a weird ever-present in my eating (do you know that in Vietnam you can get custard tarts in KFC?! They’re weird and cheesy). The custard tart at The Barn in Berlin was my favourite and 3BIS in Borough Market was the best for the gelato.