Friday 22 December 2017

Golden Pints 2017

So, 2017. Apart from anything else, it's been an interesting year from a personal point of view because my partner spent five months on a work placement in Brussels. Thanks to the magic of remote working, this meant that I was able to spend about one week in three charging around Brussels drinking everything that moved, a fact which is reflected in some of the picks below. In beer terms, the hype has been all about sweet, sticky "dessert stouts" and hazy, juicy NEIPAs, both of which are styles that I can normally take or leave. On the other hand, there's been a lot of other stuff going on, a lot of it very much to my tastes.

(For reasons of time, I've not proofread the following very carefully. Foreign names in particular are liable to be horribly misspelled. Apologies in adavance.)

Best UK Cask Beer

Moor So Hop. A classic example of how well fruity new-world hops can work in a cask pale ale. We had it in top form at the Mill in Cambridge.

Honorable mention: Magic Rock Dark Arts. Still good!

Best UK Keg Beer

Green Jack Baltic Trader (3 year aged). Despite drinking a fair amount of UK kegged, bottled and canned beer, I find these sections hard - I don't log my drinking so I can't go back through my tasting notes, but the nature of Cambridge bars means that interesting non-cask beers tend to pop up briefly and then disappear again, so I don't remember things because I've had them repeatedly, either. But I'm pretty sure I enjoyed the aged Baltic Trader at Cambridge Beer festival, and I also like the fact that it's a proper unadulterated Imperial Stout and that it was Imperial Stout being served aged, from a keykeg, at a CAMRA festival.

Best UK Bottled Beer

Burning Sky - Saison a la Provision. As above, I may have had individual British bottles that wowed me more at the time but they were generally one-offs and I've largely forgotten them, but this is great and I've drunk a lot of it.

Best UK Canned Beer

Magic Rock - Inhaler. Likewise!

Best Overseas Draught

No Science - Psycho. Genre-defying table beer from a new Brussels micro who might be going interesting places fairly soon. We spent a fun but expensive evening with some friendly beer geeks in Moeder Lambic after the Cantillon Open Brew Day, and out of everything on offer, this was the beer that no-one would shut up about.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer

Kees - Barrel Aged Caramel Fudge Stout. Yeah, so I can normally take or leave big sweet dessert-themed stouts, but this one has the depth to back up the initial impression and it's great.

Honorable mention: Oud Beersel Vandervelden 135. Just an exemplary youngish gueuze.

Best Overseas Canned Beer

De Molen - Rasputin. It's always been pretty great, and now it comes in a can. Another one for the Campaign for Real Imperial Stouts, too.

Best collaboration brew

Blaugies / Hill Farmstead - Vermontoise. This is just joyful stuff. Classy but just a bit rustic, there's a lot going on but you could happily drink it all night.

Best Overall Beer

It's still Orval, isn't it? As an aside, there seems to be some rule that all beer cafes in Belgium have to have Oude or Vieux Orval on the menu regardless of whether they currently (or ever) have the stuff in, which has resulted in me being on the wrong end of a lot of apologetic shrugs this year.

Best UK Brewery

For combining a solid, consistent core range with fun and exciting specials, this one's a toss-up between Northern Monk (the new Magic Rock) and Magic Rock (the old Magic Rock).

Best Overseas Brewery

Brouwerij De Ranke. Just a ludicrously consistent brewer. Nothing wacky, but pretty much everything they do - XX Bitter, Guldenberg, Noir de Dottignes, Saison de Dottignes, Cuvee de Ranke, Kriek de Ranke - knocks it out of the park.

Honorable mention to Cantillon. I mean derp, it's obvious, but they are just fantastic. They're also commendable for bloody-mindedly sticking to their guns in terms of ethics, style and quality while also doing their best to be affordable and inclusive and to welcome everyone who comes to the brewery.

Best New Brewery Opening 2017

Burnt Mill - I'm cautiously excited about what seems to be a new wave of East Anglian "farmhouse style" breweries, and Burnt Mill beat Duration to the punch here by actually having a physical brewery up and running with beer in pubs.

Pub/Bar of the Year

Amere a Boire, Brussels. Pretty much the local for Alison's flat in Ixelles, but I think it'd be one of my favourites anyway. It's convenient for the ULB architecture department, so it's always lively with immaculately dishevelled Rive Gauche types, the bottle list is generally excellent, with less bulking-up-numbers chaff than a lot of Brussels bars and you can normally get Tilquin Gueuze on tap at a reasonable price. The food offer is basically cheese with celery salt and mustard, but you can always get some of the best chips in town a short walk away on Flagey.

Honorable mention to The Castle, Cambridge, which is kind of our joint-local at home. A lovely settleable place that does a consistently immaculate pint of Ghost Ship.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2017

Small Bar, Cardiff. Didn't actually open this year, but it's opened since I was previously in Cardiff last year so I'm counting it.

Beer Festival of the Year

Probably the Tour de Gueuze, if only for the conga line that broke out in Boon at about 9pm. We wandered around the Lot / Beersel / Lembeek area on foot and by public transport rather than getting on an official bus, which I think was a good plan.

Honorable mention (as ever) to the Cambridge Beer Festival.

Independent Retailer of the Year

Bacchanalia, Cambridge. The shop that largely spoiled me for actually going to Belgium.

Best Beer Book or Magazine

About the only new beer book I've actually bought this year is Boak and Bailey's 20th Century Pub, which I haven't got around to reading yet. I'm sure it'll be great, though!

Blogs / Twitter

I've enjoyed a lot of beer folks on Twitter and on blogs this year, but singling one out as the best seems almost contrary to the spirit of the thing, to be honest. However, mentions should probably go to Boak and Bailey, Retired Martin, BRAPA, Ms Swiggy, the Beer Nut, Crema, Ed's Beer Blog, Ron Pattinson and Martyn Cornell among many others.

Best Brewery Website/Social media

Pierre van Klomp! Although Pilot run him close.

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