Here’s a thing I’ve not done before… “Golden Pints“… in previous bloggy incarnations I’ve always avoided this sort of thing. And in my current incarnation I probably should “doubly so”. I have many biases, I am in “the industry”, and I have favourites – people, beers, breweries… our perception of anything is tainted by all these things. And like most of us I’ve hardly had the opportunity to try everything out there. But hey, let’s do this – there will be a bias towards beers I sell because, sadly, I don’t get out much. I live in a village and the only decent beer my local tends to stock is Adnams and stuff I sell them. But I’ve had some awesome beer at Leeds and IMBC so it isn’t quite entirely insular…
- Best UK Cask Beer – Moor “Hoppiness” – Hoppiness in cask vapourised in my local, and the landlord ordered another – I live in a village, so that’s good going. It’s an awesome beer. I’ve had many really excellent cask ales this year, so picking one out as a favourite is difficult – so I cast my vote for a much tried & tested beer, one to keep coming back for, one to rely on. Honourable mention to Burning Sky “Plateau”, an awesome 3.5% quaffing beer, which is the single cask ale Jolly Good Beer sold the most of in 2015 – sales runner up: Moor “So’Hop”.
- Best UK Keg Beer – Cromarty “Udder Madness” – this little beer just stands out in my memory, it was at both Leeds and IMBC (on my bar), and I couldn’t get enough of it. Sure, I was tired, and needed to keep on working… so a 1.6% refreshing “vanilla milk sour” was basically the all-day-breakfast of choice. I’ve had a lot of beer that has been amazing in various ways, but this little beastie takes the cake. Honourable mention to Beavertown “Neck Oil” and “Gamma Ray”, both way out ahead in sales volume – folk just can’t get enough of the Beavertown hop-juice.
- Best UK Bottled Beer – Weird Beard “Tsujigiri” – I wish I had made a secret stash of this beer, hell, I did – but that case didn’t last. Someone begged for some so I sold them half of it anyway. Definitely a contender for both cask and keg beer of the year too. We want more. The sales volumes peg Hammerton “Baron H” as a surprise leader! It is an awesome beer though, and I don’t really do a keg/core set of bottled beers so it is a bit of a mixed bag! I would have expected a pale-hoppy beast, but that’s where the can volumes are shining.
- Best UK Canned Beer – Moor “Revival” – cans worry me, folk expect so much from them and there’s so much crap beer being put into the things, sometimes by breweries I otherwise expect better things from. Cans are no silver bullet. Like bottles the real secret to canned beer is to actually brew good beer in the first place. Then you’ve got to get the canning process right to keep that beer good. Moor has the track record on the good beer front, and have done it right on the canning front. Revival in can is a refreshing delight. And I’m still drinking first canned batch of Revival, and it’s tasting far better than other “session IPAs” that are only 2 months old. A true quality product. On sales volume there is no competition, the Beavertown “Gamma Ray” is waaaaaaaaaay out in front, at twice the volume of the runner-up Beavertown “Neck Oil”.
- Best Overseas Draught – Tuatara “Sauvinova” – I’ve spent a large chunk of my year handling Kiwi beers, and all the best places I’ve been for trying non-UK beers have been in situations where I’ve been tied to a Kiwi bar for most of the time. So it has to be a Kiwi beer by sheer force of numbers. I’ve tried dozens of the things across my own distrib, Leeds, and IMBC so that’s of little surprise. Sauvinova is not the biggest and craziest of the beers I’ve had, but it is the one I’ll want more of and is the one I’ve stocked up on as part of my small “core range” from the Kiwi breweries. Yeastie Boys “I AM” and 8 Wired “Semiconductor” are close contenders – I like all three of these beers because they show beer can be imported from the other side of the planet and served here in the UK with bags of fresh hop aroma, unlike the typical warm-warehouse stored US pale ales I am mostly depressed by. I sort of want this to be Yeastie Boys “Rex Attitude” which we were pouring at an IMBC session in October… but whilst I love it, it is in its own special dark chamber in my heart… and I’d award it to Gunnamatta if it were not for the fact that this is now being brewed in the UK. Oh, and I almost forgot Stairdancer and the classic NZ beer Saison Sauvin… this is just too hard!
- Best Overseas Bottled Beer – 8 Wired “Semiconductor” – Kiwi again, no surprise. I’ve chosen this beer because I have been using it as the example to prove that the supply chain is up to scratch. Here we are with a light bodied hop-aroma-driven little beer. Tasting superb and fresh, but from the other side of the planet. Sure, it isn’t a “big” impressive beer, it isn’t an IPA or an impy stout… but thinking back on the year right now, it stands out. (I’d award this to Gunnamatta – but it is now brewed in the UK so calling it imported is a stretch, the brewer himself has been imported to the UK to ensure we’re getting the authentic Yeastie Boys experience.)
- Best Overseas Canned Beer – no winner – not had many, none I’ve had have been in the same league as other “bests” here. I’ve even bought some famous and expensive things at BrewDog bars and been mostly underwhelmed.
- Best collaboration brew – dunno – have dealt with a few that have been excellent, and no doubt others I didn’t even know were collabs. I’m not great at paying attention to these details. There are so many of these damn things now… you’re drinking a perfectly ordinary beer and then *bam* you realise it is a *collab* between some brewery and the pet goat of a member of One Direction and it’s all, like… wow… ACTUALLY, I’ve just remembered that Moor “Ready Made 2” was a collab with some Italian mob, so there, put that here. Oh, WAIT!! In looking up the links to add to this post I have been reminded that Weird Beard “Tsujigiri” is a collab too! Ah-hah!
- Best Overall Beer – Weird Beard “Tsujigiri” – it was in the running for cask and keg as well, so it has to be the one. But all of a sudden I am remembering how awesome Moor “Ready Made 2” was… POW, now that was a beaut beer that is still drinking very nicely from my dwindling personal bottle stash. But I think the flavour fun of Tsujigiri pips it by a whisker in my memory. The “popular vote” Jolly Good Beer sales winner is without a doubt Beavertown “Gamma Ray”, it is a phenomenon I tells ya.
- Best Branding – meh… it’s all crap. It’s a nightmare. I have a total love of bars that just don’t use the branding at all. OK… to be less of a drag about it, the Vocation branding does come to mind. Looks great. Nice and contrasty. Easy to read. Cloudwater (especially the current boldly coloured “Winter” range) and Weird Beard (lupins are awesome!) come to mind too, and aside from the fact they’re a pain to post I like the big Siren pumpclips. I like the distinctive shape and look of both Track and Cromarty too, some folk have said they’re a bit small… but I say size doesn’t necessarily matter! I’ll also say the “best rebranding” in my own brewery stable this year has been Pig & Porter – the new badges and clips are an example of clean and simple labelling that stands out nicely and is easy to read at the bar. You can have beautifully arty pumpclips but if folk can’t read key details on them from 6 foot away then you may as well throw them in the garbage.
- Best Pump Clip – see 10.
- Best Bottle Label – I’ve always loved the Weird Beard “Lupin” skulls… and the new metallic finished labelling is quite slick… but it’s about the damn beer, dammit.
- Best UK Brewery – too hard! I’ll pick only from folk I deal with as I’ve a good coverage of beer from them over the last year… if I *have* to pick a personal favourite it would probably have to be Moor. I find them consistent, reliable, they get a lot of awesome positive feedback from customers and are one of the few who seem to have launched cans and absolutely nailed them on the quality front. There is some friction due to the whole unfined thing, but despite haze levels Moor is the brewery I see convert the most people to the possibility of unfined beer being a good thing. Sales figures of course put Beavertown way out in front of everyone. All the breweries I deal with are great, it is the primary qualifier – I’ve no interest in selling something I don’t think is at the top of the UK beer game. (Moor is where the whole distribution business idea started for me really… folk I know running pubs wanted Moor beer… Moor was happy for it to sell up here, but nobody would buy/sell it… the rest is my personal history of the last 2 years…)
- Best Overseas Brewery – Yeastie Boys – but do they count? Stu lives in the UK now… and they’re brewers, not a “brewery” per se. But the beer is awesome and that’s what matters and they will continue to send special beers over from New Zealand as part of the NZ Craft Beer Collective – whilst a handful of core beers are brewed over here.
- Best New Brewery Opening 2015 – Cloudwater – The people. The kit. The goals. They’re already good, not even a year of brewing in, but they’re aiming for the stars. Another contender is Vocation – but I’ve not personally had much of their beer, but I’ve heard many excellent things about them and the few beers of theirs I have had were excellent – one to watch.
- Pub/Bar of the Year – Port Street Beer House – I don’t get out much, I’m lucky to get into Cambridge to have some beers. When doing things like IMBC there are late-night jaunts to terrorise the poor staff we force to keep serving us beer until some silly time in the morning. I feel for these folks. But I think this year none have we terrorised more than the folk at Port Street Beer House. So mad props to them, as the kidz say. It’s part of the whole IMBC machine of course. But it is always a pleasure. (I am very deliberately not choosing a customer here, I sell beer to some great places – national quality pubs and bars – and couldn’t possibly go pegging one above another, they each have their merits!)
- Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2015 – looking to my local area: The Royal Standard – it sounds like the name of a curry house, but it is a pub in Cambridge. Part of the growing “Cambridge Blue” empire and run by Tom who loves beer, food, and CHIKARA (I now know what this is and that’s because of Tom on Twitter). Importantly it is new and it is diverse – solid cask, good lagers, Belgian ales, and British “craft” (yes, I supply some of this, yada yada.) In just a couple of years Cambridge’s beer scene has diversified so much… lots of games are being upped, and there are further great developments afoot.
- Beer Festival of the Year – IMBC – without hesitation. I’ve not been to every beer event, but IMBC would be a hard one to beat. The beers, the venue, the people… it’s just ace.
- Supermarket of the Year – meh – couldn’t give a fuck. I go to a supermarket less than once a month, and not to buy beer. Support our independent retailers.
- Independent Retailer of the Year – Hereford Beer House – I’ve not even been, but they’re the stand-out retailer right now. Jonny is doing it right storing all stock refrigerated, and we need more of this in the UK. Raising the bar, setting the standard where it should be. I’m a firm believer in storing beer cold – it’s why I go so far as to run a 4C coldstore for my smallpack and keg alongside the 9C coldstore for cask. And if I am ever to open a bar or retail site I’ll follow through with the same standards. And I wish more breweries actually gave a stuff about the quality of the supply chains they use – but mostly in the beer industry this is a don’t-ask/don’t-tell sort of taboo subject. Thankfully now being discussed more as more folk observe how the US does things and good breweries seek a quality and consistency edge that demands better beer keeping.
- Online Retailer of the Year – Beer Ritz – OK, no idea really… you have no idea how much disposable income I no longer have. I’ve a good supply of good beer and I’m not about to fork out twice as much to increase the size of my beer problem. But I have used Beer Ritz and it is the online retailer I will always turn to first when in need. We’ve so many online retailers with great ranges now though, it is a drinking-at-home utopia for the boring beer nerd. Who needs to leave the house when you’ve Ales By Mail, Honest Brew, Beer Merchants and Beer Ritz delivering to your doorstep? All contenders.
- Best Beer Book or Magazine – CAMRA’s What’s Brewing (tongue firmly in cheek) – it looks pretty when you burn it. Alas I don’t get it any more as I’ve not renewed my CAMRA membership. I miss bitching about how bloody stupid “Keg Buster” is and the clueless inanity found on the letters page… but now my blood pressure doesn’t spike once every month. I actually don’t really read any such books or magazines, no time for starters. The best beer related publication I have read this year has been the Micromatic catalogue.
- Best Beer Blog or Website – Stonch – irreverent & more than a bit trolly. But sparking conversation – which is key in my opinion. If it isn’t worth talking/arguing about, is it worth writing? I hope Mr Bell can keep it up… it’s dropped off a bit since he’s gone and got a real job in Manchester. Actually – equal gold with Ed’s Beer Site. Far less promoted, but far more scathing at times – and mostly powered by really awesome information and insight, and trips to beer places I can only wish I could see in the flesh. Described by me once this year in terms I dare not repeat, something about tearing folk another one… (I have only 6 beer blogs I monitor in my RSS reader, and these are 2 of them – for the record the other four are: Boak & Bailey, The Pub Curmudgeon, Hardknott Dave’s Beer & Stuff Blog, and Stringers Beer… but there are many others I frequent, and mostly rely on Twitter as a link-feed these days.)
- Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer – @broadfordbrewer / David Bishop / @twattybeer – no competition. It’s a bit unfair as a picture does paint 1000 words as they say, but David’s everyday tweets also bring a smile to even my grim black heart.
- Best Brewery
Website/Social media – @shaneswindells / Cheshire Brewhouse – do people even look at websites these days? It’s all Twitter and Facebook. And most of that either daft retweet-spam or blatant pandering. There are some slickly managed brewery accounts too, and they have their place. But I like & respect folk who do stuff, and speak their minds. We’ve got a lot of such in this industry but Shane stands out when I reflect on this particular question. Mainly because I like seeing stuff being built, but also because I want some character with the online presence of a brewery, and I prefer it to be clear there’s an actual human in charge – and preferably for that to be a brewer with some personality. This authenticity is a key part of what “craft beer” is all about in my opinion. If @stringersbeer was a bit more active he’d be stiff competition here… master of the cutting subtweet. There sometimes seems to be an element of the online “community” that gets upset if we’re not all spouting rainbows and unicorns out our arses… personally I like to see more folk calling spades spades. Jolly bad beer? Sometimes…
There you go folks… a jolly random list of jolly randomness.
This wasn’t easy, and I’m already revisiting it in my head and thinking “wot!? No <insert-awesome-here>!!” … I love all the breweries I deal with, so in my opinion they all deserve a golden pint or two.
Disclaimer: Moor, Beavertown, Yeastie Boys, Tuatara, 8 Wired, Cloudwater and Weird Beard are all regulars in the Jolly Good Beer lineup. I’d not be selling them if they were not awesome of course 🙂