Keeping it real … Real Ale
Best UK Cask Beer
I dread to think how many different cask beers I have drank this year! Getting through 16+ different cask per match day at LOSC means I get to “sample” a fair few of beers. There is one beer that when I reflect back over the year I just instantly think of. It won my best keg beer last year but for me it is twice as good on cask as the flavours are more complex. That beer is the wonderful Five Points Brewing Co – Railway Porter. If I see it on any bar menu it will be the beer I order, doesn’t matter what time of year or occasion.
It was a tough pick this year as I agree with everyone who voted to make Cwtch the Champion Beer of Britain. When I had a pint of Cwtch in Cardiff I instantly had another after, possibly the only other beer this year other than Railway Porter that I have drank back to back. But as great as Cwtch is, Five Points just beat it to the finish line for me.
Other shout outs – Tiny Rebel – Cwtch & Trumans – Gunman Smith Black IPA
Best UK Keg Beer
2015 has been an incredible year for British keg beer, even CAMRA are now finally giving keg beer the respect it is due. The range of keg beer I have had this year has varied massively. From low ABV Saisons to big 10%+ barrel aged beauties. When pondering over what I think makes a beer my best one of the year I take into account that I want it to be something I can enjoy in quantity. As great as some of those massive big high ABV beers are (Brew By Numbers Bourban Barrel Aged Baltic Porter was stunning) I feel that for keg to hit even more audiences it has to be reasonably sessionable. That is why when I had the first sip of my best UK keg beer I knew it was a winner. That beer is Signature Brew – Roadie. The flavours are spot on and with the beer weighing in at 4.3% it means that it is beer that can be enjoyed in volume. Another reason I feel that it deserves to be my best keg beer is that it blew the sock of some friends who wouldn’t usually drink “Craft Beer”, not only did it appeal to these lager drinkers on the day Roadie has also opened them up to more different beers in the future.
Other shout outs – Weird Beard – Defacer & Brew by No – Baltic Porter Bourbon barrel aged
Best UK Bottled Beer
Thanks to the SX Bottleshare my consumption of bottled beers has rocketed this year. We have had loads of different bottled beers over the year. This may be an odd choice, as its actually a homebrew bottle at the moment but it was the most memorable bottled beer that I had this year. It was through SX Bottleshare that I was lucky enough to get to try it too, Elusive Brewing – Invisible Wall was one of the most incredible coffee stouts I have ever had! Seriously! I cannot wait for Elusive Brewing to start releasing beers full time.
Other shout outs – Blackwolf Brewery – Valente’s Double Espresso & The Rebel Brewing Co – Mexi-Cocoa
Best UK Canned Beer
Beer in a can has transformed over the last year. There has been some great beers being put into beer cans. My favourite this year is Dark Star Brewing Co – Revolution, it is living proof for any nonbeliever that it is possible for something so fantastic in cask to also taste fantastic in a can. Now if only we can get all those Dinosaurs to try it!
Other shout outs – Any can of Moor & Beavertown – Power of the Voodo
Best Overseas Draught
Unfortunately trips abroad have been slightly less frequent this year than last year. But returning to a completely updated Barcelona, who’s beer scene is unrecognisable since I previously visited, was a joy. During our trip to the Barcelona Beer Festival we sampled some great bars, one of those being from BlackLab Brewhouse. To be honest all of their beers were 4/5’s but Peg and Awl their Double IPA was so good, up there with the best DIPA’s I have had. It weighs in at a whopping 11.5% so this beer could be your best friend or your worst friend! If you find yourself making a trip over to sunny Barcelona then make sure you visit Blacklab, the food, the surroundings and the beers are worth the flight alone.
Other shout outs – Hornbeer – Carribbean Rum Stout & Brussels Beer Project – Dark Sister
Best Overseas Bottled Beer
This was a really difficult category to pick a winner for this year, SX Bottleshare has given me access to so many new beers from all over the world. However, this years winner wasn’t actually drank at the SX Bottleshare. During a trip to Brussels this year with my mate Paul we visited the Brasserie Cantillon brewery. After looking around the incredible brewery we sat and enjoyed a few of their beers in their lovely tap room. I was gutted to have missed Zwanze day this year as it was possible to get this year beer in London. So when I see the last two bottles of Brasserie Cantillon – Zwanze 2015 Wild Brussels Stout I jumped at the chance to buy one. It was well worth the wait from missing out on it in September. It was an incredible beer in the perfect surroundings.
Other shout outs – Borg Brugghus – Garun Nr.19 & Brooklyn Brewery – Monster Ale 2012
Best Overseas Canned Beer
There is one oversea’s brewery which has changed certain beer drinking in the UK with the introduction of their canned beer to the daily menu. Six Points from New York have invaded Wetherspoons menus over the last two years, giving us fussy beer snobs something decent to drink while consuming a days worth of calories in one burger. SX Bottleshare regular Thomas brought back a fresh can of Six Points – 4Beanz during the Summer. Not only was this my favourite beer in a can this year but probably the best can of beer I have ever knocked back!
Other shout outs – Six Point – Resin & Flying Dog – Easy IPA
Best Collaboration Brew
Maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places but I feel that there hasn’t been as many collaboration beers this year as last… I am most likely wrong though. There is one beer that instantly came to mind, Adnams & Magic Rock – The Herbalist. I had this at several Wetherspoons during the festival that it featured in and in each of those different Wetherspoons (some bad pubs and some good pubs) the beer remained tasting consistently great.
Other shout outs – Weird Beard & Brodies – WEIRD BROdMANCE & AEgir Byggeri & Beavertown – Double White IPA
Best Overall Beer
For me the best beer I have had this year should be different to the best cask or keg beer. The cask and keg winner should be something that I have had a few times and has beaten the rest of the beers I have had. Where as the best overall beer can be a one off tasting. There is one bottle of beer that blew my socks of this year. I actually bought it last year in Brussels so I have been sitting on this for a while but Brasserie de Bostogne – Arderne Stout is a beer I am clucking like a fiend to try and get more of. All my Belgian famo out there please please please hook a brother up!
Best Overall Branding
For overall branding I think Beavertown cannot be beaten, I am a sucker for anything new of theirs. New T Shirt? Take my money! New bag? Take my money! In fact it has been a while since I have been to the brewery and spent some of my pennies… I must put this right!
I LOVE how the Siren branding looks on cask pumpclips! So take a pick of any of those.
There has been some great designs on cans this year but visually the Dark Star Brewing Co – Revolution can is stunning.
Shout outs – Magic Rock & La Debauche
Best UK Brewery
I thought about this question a lot this year. Best brewery… or… favourite brewery??? I think these are two different questions. If it comes down to my favourite brewery this year then the time I have spent at Signature Brew and all the beers I have drank from my new local brewery Round Tower are my favourite. But when it comes to think of the best brewery in the UK this year I think of the highest quality and the most successful, even if they are not my favourite. There are two battling it out this year. Magic Rock seem to stir up such hype whenever they do anything, just look at everyone when they put their beers in a incredible designed can this year. Not to mention they have one of the best looking taprooms in the country. The other brewery is Cloudwater Brew Co, they came in the game from nowhere with a bit of cash behind them and said they were going to make great beer. They have more than backed that up! Both breweries have great branding and both breweries produced excellent beer. Flip a coin and either one of those is the winner.
Other shout outs – Round Tower Brewer & Signature Brew
Best Overseas Brewery
I first had Dark Sister in Brussels last year in the Delirium bar, then again at the Barcelona Beer Festival. Then a few bottles of Dark Sister ended up in my hands earlier this year via Beer52. It was safe to say that I was really starting to like this beer. Fast forward to a trip to Brussels with my mate Paul in October and I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview into the new Brussels Beer Project brewery (my writing has been slacking last few months…post to come soon!). Brussels Beer Project have big dreams and are brewing high quality beer which will no doubt lead them to achieve those dreams. I think the next year is going to be HUGE for not only Brussels Beer Project but for Belgian Craft beer full stop. I walked away from Brussels Beer Project with their full selection of beers in hand and each and everyone of them were brilliant. If you are heading to Brussels this year make sure you fit in a visit to their brewery and tap room.
Other shout outs – BlackLab & Six Point
Best New Brewery Opening 2014
Signature Brew have been brewing beers for a while now but this year they finally moved into their full time home. I was lucky as that home is Leyton, a handy 5 minutes walk from where I spend every other Saturday. During London Beer City week they had their opening day, which had a great turn out. The consistency in the quality of their beers have been excellent since they moved in the new site and I think Roadie was born through that consistency. 2016 is going to be a massive year for Signature Brew, I think they will go from strength to strength and I look forward to seeing where they end up.
Pub/Bar of the Year
I have never had a “local” before as my old home of Wickford is a desert for decent beer. I have this year moved to Chelmsford and I am proud to say that my new local is a pub that I would previously travel to have a drink in because its that good. That pub is The Alehouse, and it is hands down my best pub of the year. When The Alehouse is not hosting the SX Bottleshare it is providing Essex with its best selection of ale and craft beer. Alex and the rest of the staff are awesome and they always look after you. The beer is perfectly kept and there is always a really good range of different beers. If you ever find yourself out in Essex 1. Give me a shout 2. Make sure you visit The Alehouse!
Shout outs – Urban Taphouse, Cardiff & The Evening Star, Brighton
Best Overseas Pub/Bar (Café) of the Year
Café Rose Red is a beautiful place. It is a small wooden bar, with an incredibly warm romantic feeling about it, possibly down to the red roses hanging from the ceiling. I have been many times over the past few years and always loved being there. This year though, while sitting at the bar just me and my mate sipping our first drinks of the day it really hit me how special the place is. I wish I could get up from my house and walk around the corner to be there! A trip to Bruges is not complete without a trip to Café Rose Red.
Other shout outs – Biercab, Barcelona & Café Monk, Brussels
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2014
There is an obvious winner to this one that so many other people have picked, that being Howling Hops Tank Bar. I also attended an awesome festival after party in Garage Beer Co in Barcelona this year that could fall into this category. But there is another place that I have had a few great drinking sessions over the past half year. Signature Brew’s Backstage Bar tap room is one of London’s newest hidden gems. The small taproom sitting high above the brewery creates a warm and cosy surrounding. I enjoy going to a brewery and drinking among all the brewing equipment but that might not be for everyone. This is where Signature Brew excels, for the beer geek you can see the entire brewery from above and for the not so beer geek the backstage bar tap room is like sitting in a micropub. It was the venue for a fairly messy Christmas reunion for some of my pals this year too! There will be open days over 2016 so you best get down there before everyone else does!
Shout outs – Howling Hops Tank Bar & Garage Beer Co, Barcelona
Best beer and food pairing
Beer and food pairing has been pretty slim this year… so I will dedicate this to all the SX Bottleshare pizza over the last year that Angela and Kev have brought in. Mmmm beer and pizza! Thanks 🙂
Beer Festival of the Year
Barcelona Beer Festival got everything right. Great beer, great surroundings, lots going on, awesome food and very reasonably priced. I got to meet Joan of Beer Blog Birraire and the beer legend Garret Oliver, which is enough to make it the best festival alone! You can read about my time there here.
Shout outs – London Craft Festival & Bruges Festival
Supermarket of the Year
Simple … M&S … Like everyone else!
Shout outs – Morrisons & Lidl
Independent Retailer of the Year
Although the The Hop Beer Shop opened right at the very end of 2014 I didn’t get to visit till this year. The Hop Beer Shop in Chelmsford is a bottle shop / micropub and is also one of my favourite micropubs I have visited to date. I think micropubs create great drinking atmospheres from the personality of the owner. John who runs The Hop Beer Shop is a really nice guy and this nice feeling booms out into his bottle shop and micropub. He has recently added two keg lines to the selection too which has featured Beavertown and Bruges Zot, even more reason for me to spend more time there!
Shout outs – Billericay Micro Pub & The Craft Beer Shop, Billericay
Independent Overseas Retailer of the Year
During a trip to France with work I was lucky enough to visit the Bordeaux Beer Shop and its lovely owner Shari. It was a great insight into the French Craft Beer scene. You can read more about my visit here.
Online Retailer of the Year
Ales by Mail for a second year running. Not only do they provide a great online beer ordering and delivery service but they run great online events like #Beerybits and have had a few beer nights at their shop.
Shout outs – Belgibeer & Beer52
Best Beer Book or Magazine
Des de Mor must have been a busy man when he was putting together The CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer Pubs & Bars. With so much change between editions this book must have felt like a race where the finish line kept creeping away from you! But none the less Des has put together a superb book, I don’t think there is a better guide for London drinking out there.
I was lucky enough to pop down to the launch of this book at the Blackwells book store in Holborn where Des talked us through the making of the book, London beer history and some of his favourite beers.
Shout outs – 80 Beers around Bruges & Ferment Mag
Best Beer Blog or Website
This year was a tough one… There were two blogs really battling it out in my head. The work that my fellow Essex Beer Geek Justin Mason has done for the Essex beer scene has been brilliant and his Marvel Comic superhero-esque taste buds are second to none. But this year I have thought about it long and hard deciding to go with the softest speaking Scotsman in London… Peter Joseph McKerry and his blog Brew Geekery. Whenever I see Peter tweeting about a new blog of his I have found myself instantly going to read it. One thing I really like about Peters writing is the way he writes about beer subjects so well, I usually stay clear of talking about happenings in the beer world or giving opinions on the politics of beer. However, Peter does this extremely well and in a way that engages my interest, it isn’t overly complicated or snobby it flows like a conversation down the pub. I think his blog posts and writing has really grown over the past year too, especially with his recent visits to new places when he has sat and spoke to the owners etc. Peter takes the feeling of a pub chat and transforms it into written piece while keeping that conversation feel.
My favourite Beer Blog and Writer 2014 was Breandán and his contributions to his blog Belgian Smaak. He later went on this year to clean up the British Guild of Beer Writers awards winning Beer Writer of the Year 2015, Best Young Beer Writer 2015 and Best Beer and Food Writer 2015. So it seems I can pick out a winner… no pressure Peter!
Incredibly close runner up – Justin Mason and his blog Get Beer. Drink Beer
Best Beer App
So I don’t name Untappd the best beer app again I will say Instagram as it has turned into more of a beer app than a photo app for me.
Best Brewery Website/Social Media
I have seen a lot of people say Five Points Brewing Co for their best social media and I also agree. There are a lot of other breweries out there that should take note.
Website wise I think Brewdog have a great website.
Best beery restaurant
I have added this new category for me as I feel that good decent food restaurants need to be shared. I have eaten in Nuetnigenough twice now and both times the food and beer was just amazing. You can read about it all here.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
Another joint winner here, each two different reasons.
Along with many others @twattybeer is my first joint winner for Best Beer Twitter. A rightful winner for bringing laughs to the (sometimes too serious) world of beer.
Nearly 50k worth of beer related tweets! Wooaaah! Matt is the joint winner for Best Beer Twitterer simply down for his relentless work online for developing the UK beer scene. I feel that Matt is the main voice for a younger beer drinking generation, through excellent posts on his blog, writings for magazines and his non stop tweeting. 2015 has been an incredible year for Matt and his work, I am pretty sure next year will be even bigger too. I would tell you to follow him for more beery tweets but to be honest you probably already do! Matt has the ability to bring in new people to beer through his twitter and long may that continue.