Tuesday 23 December 2014

The 2014 Golden Pint Awards

Once again it's that difficult time of the year when I have to pick the things in beer that fall into the exclusive category of 'best'. This year has been a whirlwind that has totally encompassed all of my free time but I've willingly and, most importantly, happily immersed myself in it. Perhaps the defining part of my 2014 in beer has been learning to love subtlety in beer, particularly in delicate yet detailed lagers and pilsners. It goes without saying that this has been another incredible twelve months for beer. Without further ado, here are my Golden Pints.

·         Best UK Cask Beer
Winner: Rooster's/Birrifico Italiano The Italian Job
Runners Up: Brodie's Bethnal Green Bitter, Marble Dobber   

In a year that, relatively, I've drank very little cask beer this collaboration between Rooster's of Yorkshire and Italy's Birrifico Italiano was the only one that compelled me to head home and immediately write about it. Floral, zesty and in perfect condition at the Three Compasses in Hornsey, North London. In a word, beautiful. 

·         Best UK Keg Beer 
Winner: Buxton Axe Edge
Runners Up: Beavertown Gamma Ray, Pressure Drop Pale Fire  

So good was the the glass of Axe Edge I supped at Brewdog Shoreditch a few months ago that I drank it within minutes and immediately ordered another, then another. Buxton have come on in leaps and bounds this year and this is, without question, the best beer they brew. 

·         Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Joint Winner: Beavertown Gamma Ray/Camden Town India Hells Lager
Runners Up: Siren Ratchet Saison, Fourpure Pils

It would've been an easy decision to choose Beavertown's Gamma Ray as my favourite British bottled or canned beer before IHL came along and threw a spanner in the works. I've tried but I simply cannot choose between them, so Camden and Beavertown will have to fight amongst themselves for this award. 

·         Best Overseas Draught Beer
Winner: Cantillon Fou' Foune 
Runners Up: Hallertau Maximus Humulus Lupulus, Westbrook Gose

In what should be a fiercely contested category the decision was as easy as a Sunday morning. Although Cantillon's revered apricot lambic is better known for being served from a bottle I was lucky enough to drink it on draught on two separate occasions when it was released this autumn. It simply blew most other beers away. 
·         Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Winner: Galway Bay Of Foam and Fury Double IPA
Runners Up: Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, New Belgium Le Terroir

My summer trip to Dublin for this years European Beer Bloggers Conference was a revelation. I was blown away by the passion and enthusiasm of the burgeoning Irish craft beer scene and the beer itself, well there are some exceptional things happening just across the Irish Sea. This beer from Galway Bay is better than most IPA's being brewed right now to the point where it's genuinely one of the best examples of the style in the world. 

·         Best Collaboration Brew
Winner: Camden Town Brewery/The Kernel Gentlemen's Agreement
Runner Up: Hallertau/Epic/Liberty (Four Horsemen) Hopocaplyse, Rooster's/Birrifico Italiano The Italian Job

At first, I struggled to remember the collaboration brews that really hit home this year but when I remember this effort between Camden and The Kernel it was another easy decision to make. A blend rather than a brew, Gentlemen's Agreement combined Camden's lemon and bergamot infused Wit with The Kernel's tart Berliner weisse, London Sour. The resulting beer was breathtaking but what was more impressive was seeing two breweries, who go about their business so very differently, working together in complete harmony to create something brilliant. 

·         Best Overall Beer
Joint Winner: Beavertown Gamma Ray/Camden Town India Hells Lager

I have drank more Gamma Ray than any other beer this year by a significant margin and that's because it's the best beer being brewed in the UK right now. Well, it was until Camden Town launched India Hells Lager at the end of the year. Both of these beers are immaculate and beautiful to the point when I still burst out with laughter every time I drink either of them.
·         Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
Winner: Camden Town India Hells Lager
Runner Up: Brewdog/Weihenstephan India Pale Weizen, Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Moralité

The three giant orange letters on the front of a can of IHL tell you immediately what you're getting and it really leaps of the bottle shop shelf. Look deeper though and the pagan imagery that purposefully features four British animals worshipping the 'Good Lord Lager' tells a story as well as selling you a can of beer. This is art in the form of a beer can. 
·         Best UK Brewery
Winner: Buxton Brewery
Runners Up: Beavertown, Camden Town Brewery

Despite both Camden and Beavertown rocking my world this year I'd actually already decided on my brewery of the year several weeks ago. They've been prolific with their output, they've experimented and pushed their boundaries but still managed to keep their core beers dialled in and available almost all of the time. Their rebranding is slick and Colin Stronge is without doubt one of the country's finest brewers. I've been blown away by what Buxton have achieved this year and the best thing is, I think that they're going to get even better. 
·         Best Overseas Brewery
Winner: Brasserie Cantillon
Runners Up: Hallertau Brewery, Firestone Walker

I've not been a Cantillon drinker for all that long, relatively speaking, but thankfully it didn't take me a great deal of time to become a huge fan of their beers. This year however was the year that Cantillon beers, for me, ceased to taste complex and tongue twisting and became nuanced and beautifully constructed. It was perhaps on Zwanze Day at the Kernel Brewery when I realised that Cantillon genuinely do things that other breweries can only dream about. I hope its expansion is finished soon because I can see its beers quickly becoming more exclusive and expensive with each passing day. 

·         Best New Brewery Opening 2014
Winner: Runaway Brewery
Runner Up: Hammerton Brewery

Admittedly, until I was invited to visit the Runaway Brewery on a recent tour of Manchester it wasn't on my radar. What I found was the incredibly modest and hard working Mark Welsby, brewing clean, tasty and accomplished beers that will be enjoyed by beer geeks and casual drinkers alike. Keep a close eye on this one, I'm expecting great things.   

·         Pub/Bar of the Year
Winner: Mother Kelly's
Runners Up: North Bar, The Marble Arch

It gives me great pleasure to give this award to what has rapidly become my favourite bar in London. Whether it's for a quiet afternoon beer and a cheeseboard or a lively Friday night session, Mother Kelly's always has the perfect vibe for the occasion. Well worth going out of your way to pay a visit.  
·         Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2014
Winner: Mother Kelly's
Runner Up: The Hop and Berry, Bundobust

It's hard to believe that Mother Kelly's only opened this year but, it did, so I really can't give this award to anyone else. A special mention must go to the wonderful Bundobust in Leeds that would've had this category wrapped up if it were not for Mother Kelly's existence.
·         Beer Festival of the Year
Winner: The Independent Manchester Beer Convention
Runners Up: The London Craft Beer Festival, Winter Brew Fest

Perhaps the easiest decision to make out of each of these categories, there really is no other beer festival quite like IndyManBeerCon. It has inspired and will continue to inspire a completely new wave of similar festivals around the UK. A true festival, in every sense of the word. 
·         Supermarket of the Year
Winner: Waitrose

I don't buy beer from the supermarket, I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by a raft of great off licences. If I did, however, then I'd surely shop at Waitrose because its selection is not only varied but well chosen. 
·         Independent Retailer of the Year
Winner: Bottledog

When Brewdog decided to open their own bottle shop you knew it would be something special and Bottledog on Grey's Inn Road near Kings Cross has not disappointed. Next year will see a spate of of Bottledog's begin to pop up across the country putting more great beer into the hands of yet more people.    

·         Online Retailer of the Year
Winner: Beermerchants
Due to the rise of the specialist beer shop in London I'm buying less and less beer online but Beermerchants delivered a level of service to me this year that I won't forget in a hurry. A friendly phone call within minutes of me posting a tweet of a broken bottle was an example of going above and beyond the call of customer service. A shining example of how things should be done. 

·         Best Beer Book or Magazine
Winner: Boak and Bailey - Brew Britannia

When I reviewed this must read, award winning book from Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey I described it as 'the most important book about beer in the last ten years.' I stand by this, if you haven't read it yet, go and buy yourself a copy right this moment.    

·         Best Beer Blog or Website
Winner: Good Beer Hunting
Runners Up: The Beer Diary/Chris Hall Beer, Belgian Smaak

When I first came across Michael Kiser's wonderfully constructed piece on Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont I was moved to the point where I realised I needed to raise my game. Kiser is the only blogger producing content that is both as well captured and constructed as the beer we write about. As creators of great content about beer we all need to take a long, hard look at Good Beer Hunting and then try and do better as this guy is way ahead of the curve.   

·         Best Beer App
Winner: Fiz - The Brewery Management Game
Runner Up: Untappd

The hours I spent joyously tapping away at my iPhone playing this wonderful brewery simulation game at the beginning of the year will not be forgotten in a hurry. Informative and entertaining, Fiz was one of the best video games I played over the last twelve months and the fact it was about making beer made it all the sweeter.  

·         Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
Winner: Chris Hall
Runner up: David Bishop (Broadfordbrewer)

It is incredibly self indulgent to give this award to Chris because he's a close friend but his tweets genuinely brighten my day. Witty, humorous, informative and questioning of things he thinks are amiss, It's no wonder he has almost 3000 followers. I often think that if I hadn't have decided to start writing about beer in 2012 then we'd have probably never met. Ain't beer great.  
·         Best Brewery Website/Social media
Winner: Brewdog
Runners Up: Beavertown, Camden Town Brewery  

No other brewery in the world does social media quite like Brewdog, they engage their customers as if they were their friends. I can't see any other brewery winning this award for a long time if they just keep on doing what they do. 

I can see next years selections being even more difficult than they were this year but I can't wait to get started. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all, here's to a fantastic 2015.

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