It goes without saying that a lot of fairly terrible stuff has happened this year. I'm not going to dwell on that more than is necessary. Weirdly, from a personal point of view we've had one of the best things that ever happened to us too, with the birth of our tiny baby Robbie at the beginning of October. COVID turned our lives upside down, and then the new arrival turned it - more upside down?
Anyway, I've never been the biggest fan of the strictly categorized Golden Pints format, so I'm just going to run through the best beer stuff that I can think of from the year, and then the best other stuff.
Probably my top brewery of the year was Duration, whose stuff we've been getting via their webshop and from Thirsty. They're basically just very good at brewing, with excellent takes on both the obligatory hoppy pales and a good range of more diverse styles - Belgian Wit, American Stout, Pilsner and so on. We're really hoping that once everything's a bit more sensible we'll be able to get up to their brewery in North Norfolk, which sounds like it's going to be an amazing destination.
My favourite new discoveries were Three Hills and Pastore. The beers that I've had from Three Hills have mostly been big, juicy NEIPAs, a style that I'm not always blown away by, but Three Hills seem to absolutely nail it, combining the massive fruity hop thing with a drinkability that a lot of other examples seem to miss. I also had a fantastic barrel aged Imperial Stout from them as my big silly drink to see in the New Year. Waterbeach-based Pastore, on the other hand, are mixed fermentation and sour specialists, something that I was always going to go for. Their Wild Saison was particularly enjoyable.
For obvious reasons, it's been harder than ever to talk about "pubs of the year". We have had a load of great stuff in deliveries from Thirsty in Cambridge. When it's felt safe enough, we've been for outdoor food and drinks at the Castle, the Maypole and the Blue Moon, although our trips out have been fairly limited - we've applying some extra level of paranoia on accounts of the whole pregnancy / baby thing.
In terms of beer writing - or at least, writing by people who write about beer - a couple of things have really stuck in the memory: Lily Waite on going for a nice walk and a pint, and Katie Mather on the Proustian associations of burger vans.
My homebrew theme of the year has been rebrews and tweaks of recipes that I've brewed before. I'm not sure whether it's a function of lockdown (the lack of homebrew club meetings or the increased tendency to just be around the house and fancy a pint of something drinkable) or whether I've just hit the point in my brewing progress where I've got a slightly shorter list of crazy new ideas to try out and a longer list of past brews to mine. I've also been brewing a lot of session-strength beers - this is probably also related to the parenthood thing? Hop of the year has been HBC-472. It's kind-of Sabro-esque in a pale, but it really shines in a dark beer, bringing a sort of coconut-and-bourbon flavour that's strangely reminiscent of barrel-aged character. I'd be surprised not to see a lot more of this over the next few years.
Other new stuff that's kept me going this year:
- Local food deliveries, including ingredients from Radmore Farm Shop, Cambridge Fruit Company and Culinaris, pizza from Scott's All Day, dumplings from Zonghua Snacks and curry from the Tiffin Truck.
- Fancy tea from Waterloo Teas and Tchai-Ovna.
- Baking and pickling just like everyone else under lockdown.
- Bandcamp Fridays - I've been listening to cosmic skronk from Waclaw Zimpel, regular skronk from Sly and the Family Drone, spacey appalachian folk from Sarah Louise, slick techno from Altered Natives and Hieroglyphic Being and neurotic post-hardcore from Mumbles. The latter is particularly bittersweet, being a live recording from one of the last gigs that I went to - the 2019 Queermas All-Gayer at the Blue Moon.
- Getting back into chess - I'm RamblinDave on lichess if anyone wants to say hello on there. I've also been watching far too many Eric Rosen videos on Youtube.
- Reading Vittles - if you don't already have a subscription, you probably need one.
- And last but far from least, the arrival of a tiny assistant brewer.