This is my first jaunt into craft beer writing and I’m hoping this flies under the radar. I’m been trying my hand to skill up on craft beer – firstly by heading back to Australia a few years ago and seeing the huge amount of local beers on offer that weren’t available when I last lived there five years previous. Then arriving in London 12 months ago I dived head long into the scene here, heading along to great beer events, meet the brewers, pop ups, dozens of visits to the B******** B*** M***, photography, festivals around the UK and going on the hunt when travelling abroad. There’s now a few things up the sleeve that I’m trying to pull together for 2017 – the first is a Shoreditch Radio show and podcast with the guy behind Stoke Beer Fest happening at the end of the month.
Being this my self-appointed Year Of Craft Beer, I’m reading many more beer blogs and listen to many more beer focused podcasts to digest as much as I can as there’s literally a world of beer out there I still need to explore. Something that caught my eye was the Golden Pints in 2015 – where the hive mind of UK craft beer bloggers award beers and breweries that have left them coming back for more. I have been reading these again in the last few weeks as the 2016 Golden Pints were awarded.
Having so many beers, breweries and pubs mentioned, over the break I decided that when I got back from my travels I would try my best to collate these all into one post for ease of reference. I decided that I would narrow down the awards lists as our audience is based in London so did my best to show you what you can quite easily find around the traps if you’re willing to hunt around.
I was also going to throw my hat into the ring with my picks for Golden Pints but felt I didn’t yet have the knowledge and full appreciation of some of the guys I read so haven’t yet…. But as I very broadly discuss the results and my thoughts – I will be throwing my hat into the ring very late in the game. So let’s all understand this post isn’t for the beer nerds – it’s for the people like myself who have a healthy interest in beer and want to expand their horizons this coming year.
Here’s the excel spreadsheet with bloggers and their picks which i will be summarising below as the ‘Hive mind’: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1SV2gpENOcRJsZyubjI3Qz84tnmFdWn9qwfZ_P-ONJ3k/edit?usp=sharing
So without much further ado:
Golden Pints 2016
Best UK Cask Beer: Ghost Ship by Adnams
Sharking: Being Australian and all – I tend to want my beer ice-cold and full of flavour. I remember being offered my first pint of cask a few years back and I sat on that London Pride for more than 3 hours trying to get that down me. I’m a lot better now but always favour cask. Though I have heard enough about Ghost Ship to always favour it when there’s nothing much on offer.
Hive mind: Seems that Magic Rock’s Common Grounds and Track’s Sonoma were the winners here. I’ve never tried Magic Rock on cask – something that I’ll remedy soon but after Cloudwater’s #Caskgate in *THAT* blog post last week – it’ll be interesting to see how many other ‘keg’ brewers will follow them out of the cask market.
Best UK Keg Beer: Beavertown Gamma Ray
Sharking: This was the beer that broke my mind. You know – that one beer that makes you start thinking about beer completely differently (aka it actually tastes good and makes you want to explore more). This is the beer that I use as an introduction to get people hooked on craft. It worked with one of the restaurants I work for who I have been pushing to get a small selection of craft beer in – the Ops manager had a pint and never looked back. It’s my go to and easy for anyone to find both on tap and in can no matter where you might find yourself.
Hive Mind: A nice and varied category dotted with mentions of Beavertown, Northern Monk, Magic Rock. What I wanted to do in this post is to get some repetition going so that those new to craft beer will spot one of these when next in the pub and take a gamble.
Best UK Bottled Beer: Cloudwater DIPA v6
Sharking: When I hopefully have someone hooked on craft beer I like to lead them into the big leagues with one of Cloudwater’s DIPAs and this one hit the spot for the person that I did that with. Big, juicy but not the overly alcoholic power that you can sometimes find with Double IPAs – this hit the nail on the head. Not sure what I think now that these DIPAs will be released monthly but I’m willing to see where Cloudwater goes. V9 was my runner-up.
Hive mind: Again some great UK breweries represented here. I took Matt Curtis’ suggestion of Burning Sky as a present for someone this year at Christmas. There’s a few breweries mentioned that I’ve never seen on my travels so will be keeping an eye out for Torrside and Hawkshead from the North this year.
Best UK Canned Beer: Pulp by Verdant
Sharking: I heard that these guys may be the one’s to watch in 2017 so when the Hop Locker got it in I went straight for it on keg and in can. I think had I not had Beavertown and was just getting into the scene now – this may have been the beer to rock my world. Seek it out and a few of the others that are part of the core range. There’s even one dedicated to Sharks which I still need to find – plus I hear there’s an event in London at the end of this month where the team will come up from Cornwall to show off their wares.
Hive mind: The UK Big 4 have a strong showing here. Northern Monk across the board in all categories did better than I thought they would. I knew they did good beers but didn’t know they were rated as highly by the UK beer gods. Fourpure hit some highs this year with Juicebox which I agree with but haven’t heard of The Boozy Protagonist’s Five Towns Brewery so colour me interested.
Best Overall Beer: Lupuloid by Beavertown
Sharking: As much as I love Beavertown’s Gamma Ray I think Lupuloid pipped it at the post this year. A supremely drinkable IPA that I hunted down by can and made many a pilgrimage to drink it fresh from the tanks from their very own taproom. And come on – that hot pink design can pulls the eye away from every other can on the shelf in a bottleshop too.
Hive mind: General consensus is most definitely the collab brew of Three’s Company by Cloudwater, Magic Rock and JW Lees. I’m pretty sure I scored a bottle of this in London, drank it but didn’t rock my world. I could be wrong but also my tastebuds probably aren’t as attuned to the perfect beer as many others who have put pen to post. I’m pretty sure this is completely gone but again it’s worth noting who’s doing great things together and picking up a can or bottle if you see something interesting they’re doing with other collaborators. Funny enough there’s also an article in my pick for best beer book or magazine on JW Lees who I had never heard about before and then suddenly popped up in these lists. P.s. he’s a cider maker!
Best UK Brewery: Cloudwater
Sharking: My choice for best brewery is probably more left of field due the reasons behind it. I have never seen a cult of people latch onto a brewery in the UK, hunt its beers down, compare and contrast them and also pretty much live up the hype machine surrounding them. There was earlier this year that people were told to try two separate versions of DIPA then BLEND THEM TOGETHER to drink. And then they did! There’s also the beautiful designs of the cans – which I understand they get a different designer for each release – and so good that I’m looking to buy a large print to put onto a wall. Definitely one taproom I’m keen to hit when I’m next up in Manchester.
Hive mind: This list speaks for itself with Cloudwater, Magic Rock, Burning Sky and Northern Monk getting multiple nominations – you now know that no matter which beer you pick up of these guys it’s going to be very decent. The likes of Buxton, Kernel and Brew By numbers round out the list and again I can safely say that any beers from this range are going to be rickety-boo and good one’s to introduce friends to.
Best New Brewery Opening: Lost and Grounded
Sharking: Founded by Alex Troncoso and his partner Annie Clements – Alex worked at what was previously Australia’s premier craft beer brewer Little Creatures in Melbourne (which like happens over here – got bought out by Kirin). He then had a stint at Camden Town Brewery before starting up his Lost and Grounded. From what I gather, they’re starting out their core range with left of centre beers – all of which I had lined up to drink this Christmas Day. And let me say – they may have cured me of my lager fear. Seek out ‘Keller Pils: Hop Bitter Lager Beer’, ‘Running with Sceptres: Special Lager Beer’, ‘Hop-Hand Fallacy: Farmhouse Ale’, ‘No Rest for Dancer: Hoppy Red Ale’ and ‘Apophenia: Tripel’.
Hive mind: Elusive Brewery is the big winner here and I’m all for it but didn’t get to try enough of his beers to make the cut. I was lucky enough to see Andy being interviewed at the final Beer O’Clock Show and found out that he was a keen home brewer who, like Yeastie Boys, started taking out some big trophies so decided that this year was the time for him to upscale. Lost and Grounded and Verdant also finish off the list – so again a few breweries to keep you eyes peeled for.
UK Pub/Bar of the Year: Stormbird in Camberwell
Sharking: Stormbird won it for me this year. It’s an old school boozer that has been stripped of any fuddy-duddiness, gone over with a rag and brought in some big guns for your craft beer choices. They regularly have beers from European breweries through to more local but difficult to find kegs. They also allow food to be brought in / delivered from literally anywhere so it ticks all the boxes. Hot on their heels is The Bear SE5 which just opened down the road and is the sister pub of The Fox in Haggerston which is the perfect hangout when waiting for a table at either Berber and Q or Chick ‘n Sours.
Hive mind: Many of the bloggers were from up north so I only noted the places in London. The one’s o the list that I’ve never heard of, let alone visited include The Parcel Yard in Kings Cross (a dead area that I always have a hard time finding where to drink). Hop Locker is always a goer when on the Southbank and want to walk the promenade with fresh beer in hand. The Craft Beer Co just doesn’t do it for me and generally can find somewhere less cookie cutter in the vicinity when you think they’re a last resort. Mother Kelly’s is a difficult one – I used to love visiting but they’ve now got competition in the area with Redchurch Brewery opening behind them and word on the street that Beavertown are about to clinch their first bar in the area too – so not many reasons to visit just yet. Howling Hops Tank Bar is great but it’s a full night out hitting there, Crate Brewery and then eating and dancing the night away at Berber and Q’s Shuk Shuck in Mick’s Garage.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening: Hop Burns and Black
Sharking: The best couple in craft beer, the best range of beer in SE London, the most entertaining newsletters and the events they put on in their bottleshop / bar are generally a must for anyone with a passing interest and wanting to school up. Also another bar that allows food to be brought in (seeing a trend?). Get there.
Best Restaurant for Beer and Food: Kricket Soho
This should be an easy one for me but I’m stumped as I’m always on the lookout for good beer lists in restaurants but hard ever find them. On a preview meal at the new Kricket restaurant opening in Soho next week I was very impressed that they decided to put on a Wild Beer Sourdough beer with sourdough culture and oak barrel fermentation. Ballsy stuff and one I hope people will order so they can branch the list out even further. Runner up might have to be Smokestak – the new gaff from the Street Feast street food trader. They have a tight hyperlocal list from Kernel and 40FT brewery with the one letdown of having Frontier beer from Fullers. Seriously – drop this and invest in another small brewery.
Beer Festival of the Year: Indy Man Beer Con 2016
Sharking: This is where it all comes together. While at an event at Hop Burns and Black hosted by Matthew Curtis from Total Ales (he features later) I accosted him and put up the big question – if there was any one craft beer event in the UK that he would 100% suggest I head along to. IMBC2016 in Manchester was his answer and boy was he right. You can read about our exploits here.
Hive mind: Leeds Beer Festival seems like the festival I’ll be heading along to in 2017. But saying that, Hop City is now on my radar and also in Leeds so have some big decisions to make as there are some amazing breweries attending and my be the Uk equivalent of Modern Times beer festival in the States – an absolute hopfest!
Supermarket of the Year: Marks and Spencer
Sharking: Like those bloggers down South – M&S was the clear winner by a country mile. I did notice a few people didn’t include this category which may be a move to say they didn’t want to take the spotlight off smaller beer shops – which I can totally get down with. But when you’re in need of a #trainbeer, M&S might be your saviour. Especially as they are regularly stocked with Northern Monk’s Heathen and Fourpure’s Session IPA.
Independent Retailer of the Year: Hop Burns and Black
Sharking: As per above.
Best Beer Book or Magazine: Hop & Barley
Sharking: Hop & Barley magazine didn’t feature in any of the other bloggers list and I’m not sure why… It is a quarterly publication, exploring the people and stories behind the contemporary brewing movement. It started as a kickstarer in 2014 by a couple of friends and is one of the most beautifully written and photographed beer magazines on the market.
Hive Mind: There’s some great reads amongst this lot. I’m tracking down a copy of Pallet Magazine from the States but seems there’s only one place to buy it here and they only get 6 copies when they do. I’m keen to get my hands on the newest book from Johnny at the Craft Beer Channel and his newly published Beer School: A crash course in craft beer. I’m also a regular reader or Ferment but find it tied a little too closely to a couple of beer distributors – but doesn’t stop me hunting it down.
Best Beer Blog or Website: Total Ales
Sharking: I read, forward and regurgitate to others every blog post that Matt Curtis has published. He has such an understanding of beer, the beer scene here and overseas. There’s no point going into it – I just suggest you subscribe to his mailing list so that you get his features in your inbox as and when they happen.
Hive mind: Some great websites and bloggers in this list – and all worth following, if only just on Twitter so you can dip into their catalogue as and when you see something interesting. But I’d still suggest subscribing to Brew Geekery, Beer Compurgation, James Beeson plus Boak & Bailey.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: Matt Curtis
Sharking: One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and willing to come down to your level to explain or give an insight into something that he probably thinks is ‘so 2015’ but the great thing is he’s able to explain everyone in such good layman terms that you completely understand it plus his explanation weaves into what you know already to push your knowledge further. And like me he’s never backing down from a fight or wiling to give his two cents when comment is needed.
So there you go. I hope this helps the people in the craft beer middle ground who aren’t new to the scene but also aren’t looking to start home brewing (just yet). I’d love to know your thoughts, what else you’d like me to cover as I have no clue own where to go from here. But it’s a journey and I’m thirsty – so look forward to the conversation.