Thursday 24 December 2015

Golden Pints 2015

Best UK Cask Beer: St Austell Big Job
At GBBF, surrounded by 700 other beers, I just wanted glass after glass of Big Job. I find it difficult to pick any runner-ups as my drinking has become almost exclusively kegged beer (mostly because of where I drink rather than preference), though a couple stand out: Truman’s Yule Star was a little surprise of a star anise-infused stout, while Hammerton’s Pentonville and Five Points Pale Ale have been excellent when I’ve had them.

Best UK Keg Beer: Vocation Life and Death
Soft and fleshy and fruity and just really damn good – it’s brilliant to see a new brewing coming out with beers this tasty from the beginning. Runners-up include: Kernel Pale Ale Mosaic, BrewDog’s Milk Stout and Candy Kaiser.

Best UK Bottled Beer: BrewDog Born To Die
Both batches of this beer have been sensational. It’s a perfect Double IPA that’s as good as any brewed in the world. I had it on draft as well and that was also excellent.

Best UK Canned Beer: Camden IHL
It’s consistently great and rarely absent from my fridge – I love it for its bright, juicy aroma and the clean, subtle body of malt. BrewDog’s Black King Imp impressed massively and Vocation’s Pride and Joy is a wonderful pale ale.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Birrificio Italiano Tipopils (and nine others…)
This is the hardest category for me. I’ve drunk in 10 countries this year and had some unforgettable experiences (which you can read about in The Best Beer in the World…). Instead of picking one, I’ll take a top 10 which deserves it’s own post, though the long list is Orval Vert, Birrificio Italiano Tipopils (probably the best of the year), Firestone Walker Hammersmith IPA (and Pivo Pils), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Social’s Mr Kite’s Pale Ale, Magpie Brewing’s Porter, Baird’s Suruga Bay DIPA, Lithuanian Farmhouse Ale (all of them), Faction Pale Ale and Augustiner Edelstoff.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: Westvleteren Blond
Three similar-ish beers immediately come to mind: Westvleteren Blond, Omer and Duvel. The Westvleteren Blond I drank at the monastery café was so good that I (almost) didn’t care about drinking the 8 or 12; Omer is like drinking a delicious cloud; and Duvel is Duvel. The Westvleteren Blond was the big delightful surprise of the bottled beer year.

Best Overall Beer: BrewDog Born to Die
The best beer I’ve drunk this year.

Best UK Brewery: BrewDog
I wrote these choices a week ago and I almost rewrote this answer yesterday in reaction to BrewDog’s megalomaniacal and sanctimonious response to Camden Town Brewery, et al. It was inevitable that they’d remove the beer from their bars given the precedence they’ve already set but there are good and bad ways to do things and this is a bad way. 

However, from a purely liquid point of view, BrewDog have been very impressive this year and I’ve drunk a lot of their beer, many of them standing out as being especially memorable. To make Kandy Kaiser, a straight-up Altbier, and nail the style isn’t something I expected from them but it was excellent for being so traditional in taste. The Milk Stout is a luscious treat that I know I’ll be drinking more of. Black King Imp is an extraordinary stout and Born To Die just rocks.

Cloudwater are the exciting new brewery that almost got my brewery of the year. I always look for their next seasonal range – I love their hoppy wheat beers and their great lagers and I have a whole box of their beers to drink over Christmas. Brew By Numbers take third place for being constantly very good and interesting – the Tripel is a favourite.

Best Overseas Brewery: Social Kitchen and Brewery
Consistently excellent beers that you can pretty much only drink in the brewpub. Mr Kite’s Pale Ale is the best English-style pale ale I’ve ever had – worthy of the gold it won at GABF. I’ve been to the brewery twice this year and wish I could drink there far more often. There’s great IPA, subtle Saisons, really interesting barrel-aged beers, hopped-up lagers, and more.

Best New Brewery Opening: Cloudwater and Vocation
Two breweries share this one. When I see beers from Cloudwater and Vocation it’s hard for me to order anything else because both are brewing exactly the kinds of beers that I want to drink.

Best Branding (Pumpclip, Can or Label): Cloudwater
The labels are sexy. In particular their DIPA has a beautiful label worthy of a brilliant beer. I also like how they use different artists each season – that’s cool.

UK Pub/Bar of the Year: Mother Kelly’s
I live 10 minutes up the road and have drunk there more than anywhere else this year. I like that there’s always a really broad range of interesting beers plus loads of bottles.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening: Howling Hops Tank Bar
Great concept, cool space and all backed up with excellent beer (I think their Pils is especially good and the Pale Ales are great). 

Best Restaurant for Beer and Food: Bundobust
I still dream about their vada pav and everything else I ate in there was excellent. Add to that a great range of beers and it’s the top food and beer spot I went to this year.

Beer Festival of the Year: Oktoberfest
I’ve been to very few festivals but I did go to Oktoberfest for the first time and it was amazing. Far better than I expected and something everyone who loves beer should experience.

Supermarket of the Year: M&S
I rarely buy beer from the supermarket anymore, preferring a few beer shops nearer to mine, but the M&S range is excellent. Tesco is my go-to for my fridge-fillers: Duvel and Pilsner Urquell.

Independent Retailer of the Year: Caps and Taps
I met Phill Elliott when I worked at Camden Town Brewery. The main memory I have is of him studying for an exam, books and notes spread across the table with a beer by his side. Clearly the beer ended up being more important and a few years later Caps and Taps appeared a short walk from the brewery. It’s a great shop.

Online Retailer of the Year: Beermerchants
When I buy bottles online then it’s usually to buy Belgian beer and Beermerchants is where I go for that.

Best Beer Book or Magazine: The Beer Bible
Jeff Alworth’s The Beer Bible is the book that I’ll return to again and again and use as a first resource when I want to check something or learn something new. I think it should be the new reference book of choice for beer.

Best Beer Blog or Website: All About Beer
All About Beer consistently has excellent content on their blog. I also really like Joe Stange’s regular stuff for DRAFT and go to Good Beer Hunting for the best long-form writing.

Best Brewery Content: Goose Island Grit and Grain
Watch the Grit & Grain series of videos that weave together the story of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout. It’s the best use of video storytelling that I’ve seen from a brewery.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: Matt Curtis
Curtis knows what’s going on in beer, he has his own approach and opinion to things, he gets excited about great beer and pubs, but more important than these things is that he’s actually doing good stuff offline – he’s not just talking about beer to the empty spaces of the internet, he’s talking to real people in real life. The tweets are all backed up with an excellent blog and great images.


  1. Some interesting choices Mark, although I confess I am not familiar with many of them.

    The reason I want to comment is that I totally agree with your assessment of Westvleteren Blonde. I had exactly the same experience when I visited the In de Vrede café, opposite the monastery. This was on one of the post-EBBC Conference excursions, and sitting outside enjoying the late August sunshine the green cap Westvleteren Blonde really hit the spot.

    I could quite easily have ordered another before moving on to the 8 and the 12, but time was of the essence, and we had several more stops before the day was complete. It really was a fine beer, and at 5.8%, much more sensibly pitched for enjoying a few.

    I will look out for it when I next return to Belgium.

  2. Last September I had a chance to meet Roger Ryman, the creator of Big Job, Proper Job and others. Most of his beeers arre perfect! Big Job is a pinnacle of non-extreme British brewing.