Annual resolutions and aspirations can not always be met. People can’t atone for the changing nature of situations to meet targets. With that, we reach time again for Golden Pints and, despite all intentions 12 months ago, my drinking has been more confined than before to a North Western radius. There is no local bias here but the usual reflection of my drinking habits.
Best UK Cask Beer
Overall: Fyne Ales Jarl
2018 winner: Track Brew Co. Simcoe/Centennial
With a couple of categories it is difficult to differ from the beer that is always likely to win (less something remarkable happens) and the beer that is the standout for the calendar year.
It is going to take a change in fortunes, owners, brewers or the Convergence to stop Jarl being the best cask beer in this land. Full bodied, full of refreshing bitterness, consistent and the definition of sessionable, it remains its own institution.
Track Brew Co brew some bloody good cask beer. Ask my youngest cat. But the inevitable focus on craft crowd-pleasers and move to small pack has seen its availability shrunk. This fact was made all the more disappointing when this one off appeared at the Buffet Bar. Having no idea what was being pulled through the lines whilst I was stood at the bar, this incredible aroma filled the pub. I had to have whatever was coming. I was not disappointed. A perfect marriage of two sensational hops. Could – and should – be a permanent rival to their very best.
Best UK Keg Beer:
Winner: Les Amis Du Brassage –Burning Sky (x Fork Brewing)
There is a real lust for mixed fermentation beer in Britain at the moment that is leading to plenty of poorly executed beer on the market. As it is rarely my drink of choice, this can be frustrating.
Then there is Burning Sky. Oddly, I see much more of their stuff around here on keg than I do in bottles. Ask anybody their favourite beer from this brewery of 2018 and they seem to have a different answer, but for whatever reason I really got on with this mixed fermented Saison and Lambic blend. Masters of their craft,
Best Bottled Beer
Winner: Torrside Brewing Rauchwine
If this continues then this category will have to be divided like the cask award. The beer that I designed in my fantasies hit a peak this year. It remains one thing to create a recipe for my perfect beer and quite another to execute it this well. I actually want other breweries to copy the style just to be sure that it isn’t just the concept that I love. But I know that it’s not. It is truly magnificent.
Honourable Mentions: Torrside Brewing BA Rauchwine, Torrside Brewing Heavy Rauch, Buxton x Cromarty Cranachan.
Best Canned Beer:
It is easy to feel bored of the Double/Imperial IPA style when there are so many (and so many befuddled on styling) but when a brewery gets it right you are reminded why the style is so popular in the first place. A second time on my Golden Pints for this DIPA that, not to put too fine a point of it, actually gives me goosebumps when I recall the sheer amount of flavour, juice and bitterness packed into it.
Well, here is a troublesome category for 2018 that I am going to write loads of words about. As ever, I base my award on the brewery that has produced a range of excellent styles across cask, keg and small pack that I have enjoyed frequently.
Last year’s winners Torrside once again fit the bill in every way – an incredible range of styles, wonderfully executed and across all forms of presentation. And they keep adding to it and keep blowing me away each time. For transparency purposes though, I’ve bothered them at their own brewery and events enough to have become pally with them – and my much more likeable partner and puppy have solidified that. As integrity is important to me, I’m passing on Torrside just so nobody thinks I felt I had to give it to them (and hopefully they value being mates over an arbitrary/pointless blogging award.)
In somewhat similar fashion, Abbeydale had a very good chance this year. The first brewery I fell in love with in 2005 have really excelled. The Funk Dungeon beers are great and only going to get better, the new additions to the core range (with transient recipes) have been excellent on cask and in can, the new 440ml experimental cans have been great and you can still get a really great pint of Moonshine or Absolution when you want. It is wonderful to see them shining. But – transparency again. I am quite fond of two of their employees and they did send me some free samples this year (one of only two breweries that did after I explained I don’t do sample reviewing on the blog – the other being Guinness.) So, for my own needless integrity they are only an Honourable Mention.
The Last Honourable mention comes under the Jim Cullen rule of “if I see their beer on the bar I automatically order it.” That brewery is Wilde Child. What has struck me about them is their passion for some of the modern trendy beers but also for cask beer. Whilst every other brewery and beer drinker seem to think certain beers can only work on keg, Wilde Child would take that concept and flip it perfectly. Does a Tiramisu Milkshake Stout sound like a 440ml overpriced can? Wrong, you can find it served to perfection by the cask pint for under £4. Not just that, but their session pales are brilliant which is important to me. Very, very close.
But my Brewery of the year (sorry it took so long) is an old(er) hat that fits my attitude to drinking in 2018 perfectly. I find myself continuously looking for consistency and for reliability, those two qualities overlooked too much. Nobody produces it better – across all formats – than Thornbridge Brewery. This year I found myself loving everything they did on cask, but especially noticeable was my new found love for Brother Rabbit and Lord Marples, the two core range beers of theirs I’d previously disliked. AM:PM pretty much got me through the height of this ludicrously warm summer when I had to drink keg (as cask pints melted into undrinkable warmth after 3 minutes outside.) The sour programme is outstanding. Jaipur and Halcyon are at their premium. But I knew they were my brewery of the year when , after avoiding the style for a long time, they looked at the Hazy beer trend and gave it what the supposed masters of it could not. Green Mountain (cask/can) and Hacksaw (cask) were perfect sessionable British versions of Vermont style pales at a time when everybody else was struggling with it. The metaphorical finger snaps and fist bumps in my head were prevelant. In. Your. Face. What a brewery.
Best Overseas Draught beer
Overall: Brauerei Heller SchlenkerlaMarzen
Winner 2018: Plum Smuggler – Dois Corvos
Similar to the UK cask beer, this is going to be a one beer race for all time and render this award showing pointless, unless we give 2018 its own sub-category.
As for the Dois Corvos brought over to Port Street Beer House for Manchester Beer Week – smoked plums added to a 10.5% Imperial Stout – yes.
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Winner: Half Acre Beer Co. Vallejo
And every other IPA this year paled into insignificance. Bloody marvellous stuff.
Best Overseas Brewery
Winner: Half Acre Beer Co.
There have been many times a brewery from the U.S.A. has had beers appear on these shores to general excitement and…. Hype. Each time I am often critical and, most importantly, underwhelmed. But Half Acre managed to knock me the hell out with four of their offerings and mildly impress me with their most talked about beer (Daisy Cutter.)
Pub/Bar of the Year
Winner: The Grove, Huddersfield
It is still there in its existing format, despite my lament on it earlier in the year. However, I do not think it will their in this form come Golden Pints 2019.
Either way it is still just a comfortable haven of incredible beer and incredible people.
Beer Festival of the Year
I have bewailed many a time recently that new beer festivals can only exist with a niche; a different point of interest. The market is already served in most places by the big extravganzas so one must be original to be of interest.
You can become style focused, such as Hop City or Dark City (the latter being particularly brilliant this year) or percentage focused like the inaugural Seshfest (that I didn’t attend but I believe was very good.)
Then you can just blow all of that out of the water and present a festival dedicated to the differing styles of Smoked Beer.
As a smoked beer fan it is easy to praise but where this truly becomes something remarkable is in its stupid daring. NOBODY wants a smoked beer festival so you wouldn’t do it. But they did. And it was an incredible day.
Honourable Mentions: Independent Salford Beer Festival
Best Brewery Tap
If you want to get me riled then ask me why other Manchester based beer bloggers make such an "effort" for brewery taps full of hype juice but within two minutes walk of central stations but never make the easy trip out to New Mills (unless you are coming from Blackburn.) We missed one this year because I was Best Manning at a wedding. Otherwise there hasn’t been a single one we’ve not attended. All of us. Marley even loves it. Often they struggle to make us leave.
Honourable Mention: Beer Nouveau
Manchester city centre’s best brewery tap without question. Still.
Best Beer Blog
Winner: Boak and Bailey
I made quite the list of my favourite blogs last year for this award and nearly all of them have become defunct, turned scarce or have moved onto other media forms since. The commentator’s curse?
Regardless I still love beer blogs and check my Feedly feed every day in hope of any good writing. One I can always rely on is Boak and Bailey to provide me with some decent entertainment, whether it be a Tripel taste-off or some deep Guinness archive work. Whilst other bloggers post almost as much as they do, no others keep me as interested,.
Best Beer Podcast
With so many now on the market this is becoming a permanent category. Steve and Martin at Hopinions do something that is still unique – opinion. I disagree with them both fairly frequently but I’m never annoyed by it, only entertained, It is the way opinion should be. Steve’s opinions on pretty much all of my favourite style of beers should have me blocking them on social media, but it is presented in such an honest and open way that you can accept the hate of smoked beer and love of green can. “Let’s crack open a beer and just be bloody honest with each other.” Catchy.
I’ve managed to get into the Podcast thing a bit more this year and could give Honourable Mentions to all that I take the time to listen to, but that would be a long list. I do think a special shout-out is deserved to Rhythm and Brews though as the Pilot and John Keeling shows especially were terrific.
Best Food and Beer Destination
A repeat winner and one that needs to be mentioned as much as possible. An incredible plus for the Manchester food and beer scene.
Honourable Mention: Bundobust
I think that will just about do us for 2018. I had other posts in mind but when I will find the time to write them I do not know. All I know is that I hope to be writing a Golden Pints 2019. Thank you for reading.