*If you are here strictly to read Golden Pints winners, scroll down and skip the introduction*
I know the majority reading this just want some one word answers to the "Golden Pints" questions (and they are in there somewhere near the bottom) but allow me a little self-indulgence first.
It's been a very different year drinking wise for me to previous. Life changes that required me to focus my money elsewhere have led to me changing the way I drink. Fewer online orders, fewer of the big expensive "one-offs" or imports purchased and fewer Sundays nailing Port Street Beer House's bottle menu.
At the same time I became a pub regular for the first time in my life. I transitioned from familiar face to regular customer to regular barfly to part of the family in twelve months. Popping in to see bar staff rather than *just* for the pint became a thing. Nipping in on my own waiting for a train and leaving four hours later than planned happened a little too regularly. But the regular pub-goer experience shifted my focus from wanting the rarest, newest and best looking beer every time, to be satisfied with a solid, tasty, cask pint. Whilst much of the beer world is slowly shifting to post-craft, I firmly arrived there at the back end of the year.
It is a more grown up frame of mind now that can detect quality and consistency over tongue-numbing and imbalance. It doesn't exactly make me a better writer, but it makes me a more mature one. I want to see good beer made again, again and again. It speaks volumes to me that I had to rely so heavily on Untappd check-ins to remind me of all the beers I've enjoyed. If I could have them more regularly perhaps I'd be able to see quality and consistency.
2015 was also a good year for meeting a lot of beer people and feeling a little more involved with the scene. I've one or two things in the pipeline for 2016 that will hopefully see me a little more involved with things. As Jim from Beers Manchester would say "Beer people are good people" and I can now vouch first hand that he is one of them.
Finally, after a really difficult 2014 health-wise, I managed to hit the 'publish' button on a post describing how that year had been for me and the general struggles. The feedback I've received from many people has been immeasurably helpful and comforting and that includes many who I know read my blog. No, it wasn't the easiest post to write - and was even harder to physically post - but I can't end the year without another Thank You again for anyone who offered a single word to me in that time. I saved every tweet, e-mail, comment and it's those little things that save lives.
Anyway, back to beer. I realise my answers are long-winded this year but these are very serious and difficult questions to respond to and need explaining.
Best UK Cask Beer : Magic Rock - Rapture
As last year, this remains my ideal cask beer to be drunk by the pint, even though it seems to have become a tad less bitter this year. However, the two times my pub had Tiny Rebel's One Inch Punch on cask, I made a decent attempt at drinking the entire barrel. It was delicious. The surprise came from little Mobberley Fine Ale's Mandalay that I drank four pints of in 45 minutes without realising due to its fruity moreishness. Siren's Ryesing Tides and Magic Rock's Common Grounds were two cask show-stoppers but I only drank either once.
Best UK Keg Beer : Buxton - Axe Edge
It is really tough to choose between this and the brilliant Magic Rock Cannonball, but the Axe Edge I drank at Buxton Taphouse last month was the best it has ever tasted. Now Cloudwater's DIPA certainly deserves a mention as it was excellent, but those declaring it the Best British IPA are sadly wrong in that praise. I was also mightily impressed with Vocation Brewery's Divide & Conquer and Siren's 2015 Caribbean Chocolate Cake.
Best UK Bottled Beer : Buxton - Wyoming Sheep Ranch
I would give this to Buxton's Anglo Mania but as it was a collaboration with a Danish brewery thought it poor form. Wyoming Sheep Ranch was arguably not quite as good as last year but still knocks the socks off every British IPA (it didn't win best keg as I didn't have it on keg this year.)
I've had plenty of excellent bottles but those really vying for this spot were Black Jack's Smoked Farmhouse Porter, Poppyland's Ten Thousand Geese, Siren's Liquid Monstrous and the Siren/Magic Rock collab MRS Brown
Best UK Canned Beer : Beavertown – Heavy Water
I was going to ignore this category and complain that it shouldn't be separate from best bottle... but the only form I have had Beavertown's Heavy Water in was can. And it was incredible.
Best Overseas Draught : Schlenkerla Fastenbier
A close call between this and Stone's Old Guardian Barley Wine, but inevitably the Bamberg giants rule all. This beer of liquid sausages is just everything.
Best Overseas Bottled Beer : Schlenkerla Marzen
The only way this will not be the answer is if the brewery closes and this beer doesn't exist anymore. Coming a very respectable second to the greatest beer ever made were Epic's Hop Zombie, Dochter Van de Korenaar's L’Ensemble and Oersop's Bruisend en Blond
Best Overseas Canned Beer : 21st Amendment - Brew Free! Or Die IPA
I've had very few cans from overseas. This little number was brought into the country and sold apparently illegally earlier in the year. I don't know the full details and I don't really care. I only had it once and it was actually a present brought back to me from the U.S.A. It was incredibly fresh and tasty. I'm glad I didn't try any other version.
Best collaboration brew : Buxton/Evil Twin - Anglo Mania
A little naughty as this was bottled in 2014 and had a year to age, but it was genuinely superb. Another special mention to Siren/Magic Rock's MRS Brown, Toccalmatto/Magic Rock's Custard Pie and Arizona Wilderness /Magic Rock's Cross Pollination. I'm sensing a theme...
Best Overall Beer : Schlenkerla Marzen
Best Branding : Cloudwater
A bit like their beers, I didn't immediately take to Cloudwater's branding, but the Summer and Winter ranges look spectacular. I'm also a big fan of Vocation Brewery's, especially in cans. And a special mention to the gorgeous Birradamare who probably would have won had I seen more of their stuff.
Best Pump Clip : Millstone Brewery
Any of the original stone/genuine Millstone pump clips that are sadly in short supply. (I have one in my house but don't tell them.)
Best Bottle Label – ..... *skip* .....
Best UK Brewery : Magic Rock
It is very close here between these and Buxton, but for the change in brewery location, opening up a very convenient and wonderful tap room and releasing those cans, Magic Rock just about win.
Best Overseas Brewery : Heller/Schlenkerla
Best New Brewery Opening 2015 : Vocation Brewery
I really didn't predict this when I first spotted their beers at Leeds' Call's Landing back in May, when I'd never even heard of them, but they are something special.
Pub/Bar of the Year : Stalybridge Buffet Bar
8 cask, 2 keg, 2 ciders, dedicated mild and stout pumps, great staff, beautiful traditional pub and me propping up the bar. There is no place like home
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2015 : Magic Rock Tap
Beer Festival of the Year : Indy Man Beer Con
I almost want to give it to somebody else, but I can't. It wins for the entire experience and feeling. Leeds International Beer Festival is a wonderful set-up with brilliant choice though. I also want to mention the great day that was MCR Brew Expo that can only be described as a festival too.
Supermarket of the Year – Supermarkets? When you've so many wonderful bottle shops now?
Independent Retailer of the Year : Browtons
I've shopped here a lot less than I want to, but this little place in Ashton-Under-Lyne has been my most frequented bottle shop of 2015. I sometimes spent nearly an hour just chatting to Simon about beer whenever I went to pick up a couple of bottles. And just this month he was given an on-license too.
Online Retailer of the Year : Two Way Tie - Beers of Europe or Beer Ritz by Mail
I've shopped online a lot less this year but these two are always as reliable as ever when I need them.
Best Beer Book or Magazine : Hop and Barley
I confess to not reading many more. I much prefer the snippets and opinion pieces that blogs provide. But I do enjoy the design of Hop and Barley so much it draws me in to reading articles I never knew I cared about.
Best Beer Blog or Website : Three way tie Total Ales, Beer Battered, Boozy Procrastinator.
Matt at Total Ales is a terrific writer who has really grown into a credible journalist this year. I miss his strong opinion pieces but I, as well as everyone else, loves his photography.
Connor at Beer Battered is a great servant of Manchester. He mixes well-researched articles, interviews and delightful opinion pieces well. I really enjoy reading his stuff
The mysterious Deeekos at Boozy Procrastinator is one of a dying breed. I was only saying a couple of weeks ago in the pub how important blogs like his are, because they retain that first person narrative and personal experience. They are the blogs I really enjoy and none moreso than his.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer – Two/Three way tie; @totalales @broadfordbrewer/@twattybeerdoodles
I enjoy how Matt always puts his opinion forward on beer subjects as soon as they hit. Most of the time I find out breaking beer news from his tweets. We don't always have the same opinion, but that's the beauty of beer discussion. He shares a lot of great articles too.
David brings much needed joy to the social media world with his Dad jokes, simple puns and Twatty Beer Doodles. May he keep bringing happiness to the beer industry.
Best Brewery Website/Social media - ..... *skip*....
My additional prize would be under the category:
Best Alternative media user - Beer O'Clock Show
This category could encompass the YouTube reviewers, video makers, podcasters etc... The Beer O'Clock Show has really grown up to just shouting about Halcyon (though I do love Halcyon.) It's not clean-cut professionalism - and I mean that as a positive. It's the rawness of it that brings a smile to me on the train. Great work.