The end of year usually signals an influx of "Golden Pints" posts and indeed I have joined in for the last four or five years. However, whilst giving it some thought as we moved into December I realised that little had changed in the names that fell under each category. Best cask beer, keg beer, small pack beer, brewery etc... would all be the same repetitive answers given for the last two or three.
It is a little bit of a shame as few people have joined in this year and I didn't want to stop as well. That doesn't mean that I haven't got mental lists of beers, breweries and events that I enjoyed in 2019; au contraire I have more thoughts than ever.
With that in mind, I've opted for two (perhaps three, depending how long I go on for) lists of those attributes that made Beer in 2019 for me. The first are my eleven favourite beers of the year, for whatever reason that may be. Enjoy.
In a regular Golden Pints format we would start with “Best UK Cask Beer” and my winner for the last two years remains the same now. It went further in 2019 though – I fell in love with Jarl. I’d flirted with it previously, had a couple of rendezvous on the quiet, gone through the “will they, won’t they” phase where it was all exciting and new. But in 2019 I fell deep into comfortable love, ready to commit for all time. Jarl and I are now spending fireside evenings together, with a cat on our lap, watching idle television together. We complete each other.
If that sounds a little extreme (or worrying) I did write about how I want to drink nothing but Jarl after a trip to Edinburgh and Glasgow - where I did drink nothing but Jarl. If I do return to Scotland in 2020, I will be on the lookout solely for Jarl. I drank Jarl last night. I’m hoping there will be Jarl left tonight. I love Jarl.
Whilst the above statement on Jarl is true, it was more a reflection that, like many before me, I want to drink really well made pale ale served by cask at a relatively steady ABV. Hardly ground-breaking of course and really no different to the vast majority of the nation’s beer drinkers favouring a certain style and strength of beer.
But, whilst I singled out Jarl as the exceptional case, there are others that fall into the category and on one post work pint (that turned into many more) I was reminded of a beer I’d nearly forgotten about. Seeing Moor on cask in the north seems to be a much rarer experience than it was a few years ago and therefore it had been some time since I’d seen either Nor’Hop or So’Hop anywhere.
“I’m drinking a beer I haven’t seen for a while and am wondering why I bother drinking anything else” was my response to these pints on Twitter. Absolutely glorious.
There was a small movement, certainly in the first half of 2019, back to the crisper and more bitter IPAs that we enjoyed six years ago; though this time they were clearly labelled as West Coast IPAs. I’ve been meaning to write about my feelings towards these modern iterations as many of them didn’t quite hit the mark for me in what I was looking for and what I remember enjoying a few years ago, even some that were almost universally praised.
This Buxton and Magic Rock collaboration though, one half of a duo of beers brewed at each brewery, was everything I enjoy in the style; everything I regularly enjoyed five or six years ago. That perfect marriage of citrus aromatics and grapefruit bitterness was a nostalgic treat, though it really is sad that it has to be that way just a few years later. The fact that we have made the style that transformed this industry into a piece of history is... no... save it for another blog post Mark... right... great beer though!
|May not be stated beer in this picture
All that being said about an excellent West Coast style India Pale brewed in this country, I have had several American imports this year that have served as hurtful reminders of how far behind we remain on this style’s quality more often than not. Of the many tried, this from Green Cheek Beer Co really stood out. It was the only beer at Cloudwater’s Friends & Family event that I returned too for extra helpings, with the first 120ml pour not being enough. The beer was the definition of those definitionless words: piney and resinous. Delicious.
If truth be told I could have made an entire list from beers exclusively sourced and tasted from Torrside Brwery, especially the Monster’s Series. I have obviously enjoyed my previous Golden Pints Winner, Rauchwine, many a time. Then there is the Heavy Rauch and it’s fruit added editions, King Bugbear, Impending Sense of Doom, Cascadia, Tears of the Gorax, Kneel Before Grod,, Time Capsule, Power Mallard, Space Commander, Even Death May Die, American Barleyw........
The Monsters were also joined in 2019 with the Dogs of War series of beers, another range of superb bottles that could have all found a place on the list. I have chosen the Dogs of War – Battalion Bull Terrier 2019:1 though, not just because this blend of oak and beech wood smoked barleywine aged in Sauternes barrels was probably my favourite of the Dogs of War series, but because I took it onto the Beer O’Clock Show Hopinions podcast as part of the smoked beer special that I appeared on. Enjoying the beer solo is one thing but getting the opportunity to share and discuss it with two good friends of mine was an honour.
Okay, so maybe one Monster’s beer deserves a mention. This collaboration with Neptune Brewery really blew me away. Cherry and Stout sound like an ideal pairing but somehow most breweries seem to misuse it in the Imperial versions, using a fruit that is powerful and tart and creating something that is somehow dry and bitter. Not this beer though. This got it absolutely perfect in a way that I’d never tasted Cherry in an Imperial Stout before. To reiterate, I was blown away by just about all of the Monster’s again this year, but this really made me gush.
2019 was a personal turning point in the many styles that I, rightly or wrongly, house under Farmhouse and Wild Fermentation beers. They are beers that I have previously not been as enamoured by as others. However, at beer festivals and in bottles they have been some of my favourites, only not becoming regular fridge favourites due to their higher price tags. More of those beers should have made this list, though will be mentioned more in my breweries of the year.
I spent most of Indy Man Beer Con 2019 drinking beers from Burning Sky. I wouldn’t say that this beer was a stand-out but I enjoyed it more perhaps due to its unique quality. A terrific blend of saison and apples that I was lucky enough to return to it at the Independent Salford Beer Festival as part of the wonderful cider talk on the Thursday evening,.
It may have been apparent that I love the style Smoked Barleywine. Thusfar though, that has been quite a limited category as Torrside were the only breweries making them. Then, in the month of December I tried two offerings from north of the border as I revelled in the idea that the style might be catching on (catching on in that it is at least 0.0000000000001% of all beer produced in the country now.)
The Double Denim from Tempest Brew Co stopped me in my tracks the way that Rauchwine originally did. This beer is a little sweeter in barleywine terms with the smoke a little mellower but still present. Beautifully balanced, I very much approved.
(Torrside have said they are disappointed the style hasn’t been kept as Rauchwine but if this is indeed going to be the hyped style of 2020 (!) then it is good that this particular word still infers to one specific beer.)
I weighed up mentioning this beer as I've already included a couple of IPAs but this enduring style is still the punctuation in my home drinking. If I want “just a beer” indoors that doesn’t require thought or contemplation – usually to be drunk whilst concentrating on cooking or writing – I’ll look at what IPAs I have in so that the only assessment needs be a quick nod, lip smack and telling the inattentive cats “S’alright that”
Which is why it is always a pleasant surprise when one of those IPAs makes you double take whilst in the middle of putting your glass back down. A wide eyed exhale. An exclamation to the room that involves language the cats need not here. A pause in the other task to pay a bit more attention to the beer in the glass. That is what happened with this Polly’s Brew Co IPA, a beer given to me as a gift and expected to be an entirely predictable marriage of 2017’s hottest hops.
Instead it was a reminder of why these hops were so popular as a pairing and why they work together so well. I had a lot of great IPAs this year, like every year, but this may have been the best in this style.
Guinness is a special beer for me and some of my family members. There are various times and places when it is the only drink I could have, especially on a trip to watch non-league football in October (post coming in January.) Therefore, I was genuinely thrilled to be invited over by Diageo for International Stout Day to visit the Storehouse and Open Gate breweries. It meant a little more to me and was probably the first time my mum thought that a beer blog could exist for more than just an excuse to drink.
However, in an unintentional middle finger to the Guinness family, it is the Murphy’s Irish Stout I had in Dublin that was really special. Murphy’s is the drink that was always in my Nan’s cupboard and often my mother’s. It is also rarely seen on draught over here now. It was once permanently on in Stalybridge Buffet Bar. It (and here I would say the phrase “rather randomly”) was on in the downstairs bar of Oceana, Leeds when I was a student, leading me to lead my way through the throngs of Vodka-Red Bull drinkers with a pint of poorly kept keg in hand.
It was in O'Neill's on Suffolk Street in Dublin that I truly enjoyed this beer for the first time in a good while. No, it was not the best stout that I had that day, never mind last year but sometimes beer means something a little more.
As each year passes it seems more likely that one cannot be without loss. It comes in many guises, entangled in the family trees and paths that you lead. Every now and then they intertwine with beer and I felt that this year. You don’t want beers to remind you of loss, like places that you can no longer bring yourself to visit or songs that can’t be listened to. Instead, it is nice to have beers that bring memory, reflection and a little toast.
That wasn’t the intention with the recipe form Brass Catle of this American Brown Ale. But for two moments in Hemsley House in November, I had the chance to miss somebody recently gone. The beer is a tasty example of a style not seen enough at present in the UK beer scene and you should take the opportunity to try some. For me, it represents a moment, a place and a good friend. That makes it a beer of the year contender for me.
A little more detailed than anybody needed this year but those were the beers that made last year extra special. Part two will look at the breweries, events and ... ahem .... communicators I enjoyed in 2019. I would like to tell you it will be some time tomorrow but the likelihood it will be in March. Cheers.