It is that time of year again. The annual introduction has been reduced to an outro this time. If you're here for the awards you are in luck as we're going straight in (please note I haven't included any of the awards I couldn't think of a deserving winner for.)
Best UK Cask Beer: Track Brewing Co. – Sonoma.
Amongst the railway arches on the so-named Piccadilly Beer Mile, the production of the UK’s most consistent and delicious cask beer. The fact I will repeatedly go back to it amongst all the Imperial Stouts and Double IPAs available on the bar is the reason it is so deserving of any accolades.
Honourable Mention: Magic Rock Brewing - Inhaler. When Stalybridge Buffet Bar told me they were getting this in on cask I was surprised, but not as surprised as I was to learn that it is far superior on cask than it is on keg or in can (where it is still very good.) With Rapture's sad cask demise this last year, cask Inhaler could save Magic Rock for me.
Best UK Keg Beer: Northern Monk Brew Co. - Double Heathen.
In the year of the DIPA it is perhaps inevitable that the best of that loaded bunch was to win a prize here. Double Heathen followed on from the sensational regular Heathen as the definitive knockout Double IPA of 2016.
Honourable Mentions: Northern Monk Brew Co. - Heathen. Magic Rock Brew Co. - Cannonball. Buxton Brewery. - Axe Edge.
Best UK Bottled Beer: Torrside Brewing – American Barleywine.
I’ve had some truly excellent bottles of beer this year but only a few have given me, what I call, the sit-back-and-stare feeling; doing nothing else but sitting at the table, staring at a bottle and savouring every sip from the glass. No TV. No entertainment. No company. Just me and the beer.
This happened with just about all of Torrside Brewery’s Monster’s series of beers. But no more so than with the American Barleywine and the Rauchwine. Both were astonishing, but the American Barleywine JUST wins it on being basically perfect first time round. The Rauchwine is my idea of the ideal beer but there is room for improvement that will probably make it my favourite beer in the world should it happen.
Best UK Canned Beer: Northern Monk/Against the Grain/Nomad Clan - Smokin’ Bees
I think all I need to do is repeat the beer style description and explain that they nailed it. Imperial Whiskey Smoked Honey Porter. It was always going to be good wasn’t it? It is.
Honourable Mention: Beavertown - Double Chin. Sadly brewed just the once so far but this was far and away Beavertown's greatest accomplishment to date. An absolutely terrific Double version of Neck Oil.
Best Overseas Draught Beer: Heller-Brau – Schlenkerla Fastenbier
For the second year running. When my local announced they could get this in but on the understanding I had to promise I’d make sure it moved quickly, I certainly obliged. In fact it was one of the quickest selling keg beers they’ve had on and I like to thank myself for that. Sausages in a glass in the best way.
Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Green Flash - Barleywine 2012
This is perhaps a little unfair for a beer given this long to mature. Colin Stronge told me back in November last year to make sure I didn't let this age for much longer as it was near perfection. Three months later I took his advice and it was everything that four years of love should be.
Best Overseas Canned Beer: Modern Times Beer - Fortunate Islands
This almost wins by default by being one of the few overseas cans I've had that's retained any of the freshness of flavour. Even my original experience with Modern Times cans in Brewdog back in April was disappointing. This however, purchased in Edinburgh in November, was delicious.
Best Collaboration Brew: Magic Rock/Cloudwater/J.W.Lees - Three's Company.
I think this is going to be a popular vote but I've no shame in agreeing with it. It was that good. Brewed especially for Manchester Beer Week, this collaborative brew almost went wrong with Cloudwater admitting the beer was much stronger than the original aim due to the unpredictability of Lees' yeast strain. Perhaps that unpredictability will make this difficult to recreate but it was truly stunning.
Best Overall Beer: Heller-Brau - Aecht Schlenkerla Marzen.
Best Brewery Branding: Cloudwater Brew Co.
Their bottles are almost as exciting as their beers. Almost.
Best UK Brewery: Northern Monk Brew Co.
Always the toughest decision of all with so much to factor into the overall decision. But for me Northern Monk Brew Co. has won for 2016. This comes down to a number of factors. They have a solid core range of consistent quality in cask, keg and can; consistent despite wide availability. Their range of specials have been interesting and innovative and mostly delicious. And their Tap House – the Refectory – is a brilliant space that hosts numerous events that also support other local businesses.
Honourable Mention: Buxton Brewery. It was a close run race beteen Northern Monk and Buxton Brewery. Buxton dominate my highest rated beers of 2016 (According to Untappd) with beers such as White Wine Saison, Double Axe BA, The Living End, Rain Shadow BA, Kingmaker, Yellow Belly, Dragon Tips BA and Quadrupel all being tremendous unforgettable beers. But aside from Axe Edge, and with the end of cask for them, I see too little of their core range - or beers I return to - to be able to proclaim them better.
Best New Brewery: Torrside Brewing.
Torrside started brewing late 2015 - hence why the Barleywines I referred to earlier all have 2015 after their names. But I think Torrside Brewing really qualify as a 2016 brewery for me and it was certainly after the turn of the year that I began seeing them. As previously stated, their Monster’s series has been little short of extraordinary with, as well as the afore-mentioned two beers, the English Barleywine, Imperial Strisselspalt, Imperial Mild, Sorachi Red Barleywine, Double Nelson IPA, Imperial Grodziskie and Hopscotch all technically outstanding beers. Their commitment to bold experimentation is confounded by their Euro Hop series using little used European Hops to create sessionable, tasty beers. Some of their core range – especially Fire Damage, I’m Spartacus and the rauchbier Franconia – are consistently delicious. A little further consistency in the full range of cask and they could well win Overall Brewery of the Year in 2017 (they were still probably third or fourth for me this year.) Genuinely these guys deserve everybody’s attention – and probably don’t get it because they are so much more than your usual APAs and DIPAs.
Best Pub/Bar of the Year: The Grove (Huddersfield)
It would obviously be Stalybridge Buffet Bar but as of late June I probably have too much personal interest in the place to fairly vote for it. Aside from my second home though, The Grove, Huddersfield has been my other pub for eleven years. With huge numbers of kegs, casks and bottles, it always was one of the most innovative places in the country and remains a hub of great beer. It bothers me that the arrival of Magic Rock Tap sees many making the pilgrimage to Huddersfield now that previously wouldn’t have and still miss out The Grove. In fact, it’s plain madness.
Honorable Mentions: Cafe Beermoth, Manchester. Harvery Leonard's, Glossop.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2016: Arcade Beers.
Again, this possibly opened late 2015 but I only visited this year and it has since become much more of a bar after beginning life firmly more in the shop category. It’s now a wonderful addition to an ever growing scene in Huddersfield.
Best Brewery Tap: Beer Nouveau.
Obviously Manchester and the surrounding areas are filled with terrific brewery taps now and that looks set to increase on opening times throughout 2017. However, Beer Nouveau are currently best in season with their spacious area, complete with fireplace and bookcase. They are also open every week which helps them to win the award. Most importantly, whilst it is most certainly a brewery tap, it really feels more like a place you would use as you would a pub and I much prefer that.
Honourable Mentions: Torrside Brewing’s monthly Tap events are always fun as they have the room to accommodate and the beer is excellent. Alphabet Brew Co. boast perhaps the most impressive Brewery Tap area I’ve been to, but much of the weekly enjoyment is down to the brilliance of events held through Grub and their Food Fairs.
Best Festival of the Year: Manchester Beer Week 2016.
During it's inaugural year, Connor Murphy transformed the city into a celebration in all it was already good at. I managed nine days straight celebrating and loved every minute. It was so much better than I could ever have thought and I can't wait until next year.
Honourable Mentions: Leeds International 2016. Indy Man Beer Con 2016. Salford International Beer Festival 2016
Independent Retailer of the Year: Browton’s
Whilst I still go less than I should, Browton’s in Ashton-Under-Lyne is still my most frequented bottle shop. Now you can pleasurably drink in which makes it even better than it already was.
Honorable Mentions: Beermoth in Manchester City Centre is as good as ever choice wise.
Best Beer Blog: Brew Geekery (P.J.McKerry)
It’s been an odd year for blogging. I still maintain that I like to feel personality amongst bloggers when they are writing. There are some great new bloggers on the scene doing a lot of brewery profiles and the like; and whilst journalistically the blogs are good I don’t get a sense of the writer or much in the way of opinion. We know I’m prone to the odd “rant” but it’s the emotion that makes me write.
Which is why I love the blogging style of Pete McKerry. He has terrific industry knowledge but always portrays his own opinions on a subject, rather than just giving the information.
Honourable mentions: Newcomer David Holden at Yes Ale is improving all the time and provides terrific reads. Deeekos at Boozy Procrastinator would have probably won had he not had a large mid-year hiatus. Matt Curtis at Total Ales is still his usual self when he gets chance to blog. And I think I am not alone amongst the beer community by hoping we can keep on to the wonderful Jim Cullen and his Beers Manchester Blog
Best Post: .https://beersmanchester.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/the-independent-salford-beer-festival-2016-the-other-side-of-the-coin/
I've maybe written about the subject too much. But I can't compare to this.
Best Alternative Beer Media: Hopinions Podcast
Similarly to blogging, there’s been a leniency towards more professional, polished and – ahem – financed beer Podcasts this year. Again, the information is fine but devoid of personality. I much prefer the rawness and personality of Steve and Martin on Hopinions. The “Let’s crack open a beer and share some thoughts” approach is much more entertaining to me than the “It’s my job to be here so let’s polish this up” effort from some.
Honourable Mentions: Beer Doodles
Simon Johnson award for Best Beer Twitterer: @beerdoodles
I know he counts in the above sector too but it started off as just a Twitter account and still keeps us all entertained endlessly.
Hopes for 2017:
Spending a lot of my time in the pub and being part of Facebook Forums I spoke rather unfavourably about has given me a better understanding on the way the ever more popular beer landscape is developing. It has also helped me see what I would like to see change.
Firstly, there is definitely a circle jerk towards certain breweries. We all know which ones. Often these breweries are producing quality beers but it is the equally deserving breweries I would like to see garner attention. I’ve mentioned a couple here in Torrside Brewing and Beer Nouveau. Both are based in and around Manchester and for me are brewing the most accomplished varying range of beers in the region. Yet I’ve seen neither pop up on these forums or even mentioned much amongst other peers. I’d like to see more horizon broadening by all.
I’d also like to see an end – or a reduction – in fad beer sales. I do not want to see the beer queueing ridiculousness that Goose Island have tried to implement in this country. (Have you bloody forgotten who Goose Island are owned by? Jesus.) I am now cured of the cursed FOMO and now missing out on a beer that has been *hyped* doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Unless it was cask Rauchwine of course...
Finally, I will continue to champion pubs across the country and their use. I don’t drink at home half as much as others (don’t even get me started on Growlers) and would rather see people making use of pubs, bars and tap rooms moreso than just taking a few flavoured Imperial Stouts home to share on social media. I mean, you can drink in the majority of bottle shops now for a start. Imagine drinking away from your armchair, eh? Who knew?
I won’t accept the argument that that local doesn’t sell exceptional beer. Look at my pub – they hadn’t heard of Track Brewing Co. before I kept banging on about it. Now they get Sonoma in frequently, text me when it’s on and even got it in just for my birthday. A cask of it recently sold in 5 hours which is pretty impressive for a small town pub. Don’t you think they’re thankful of the recommendation which not only helps them improve their range but makes them money?
That's my final word on 2016. Thanks for reading and sticking with it. Thanks for the support on the more serious subjects. See you all in 2017. Merry Christmas.