Prompted by Andy Mogg at Beer Reviews, here are our nominations for the best bevvies, bars, book and blogs in the world of beer in 2014.
Bearing in mind that we live a long way from where the action is and haven’t been abroad, our choices are perhaps a bit parochial and conservative. In general, though we try to keep a bit of distance and remain objective, you might also want to cross-reference this lot against our disclosure page. And who knows how this list might have looked if we’d written it yesterday, or tomorrow.
Best UK Cask Beer: St Austell Proper Job
After much over-thinking, we decided that we wanted to recognise a beer from one of our local breweries, of which we have drunk several pints every week, usually at the Yacht Inn in Penzance, and which consistently delighted us — that is, made us say ‘Ooh!’ and ‘Ah!’ The peachy, pithy, juicy aroma gets us every time, laid over a clean, fresh-tasting beer with no rough-edges at all. Through compromise rather than design, it’s been an American-style IPA at session strength for some years, which is now apparently all the rage. We expect to drink lots more of it in 2015.
Best UK Keg Beer: Brew By Numbers Cucumber & Juniper Saison
At first, we struggled to think of any keg beers we’d drunk often enough to form a strong opinion — we dabbled with a lot of one-off glasses in Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol and London, but didn’t go back for seconds of many or any. Then we recalled this beer which we enjoyed back in June and liked enough to seek out for a second session. A gimmicky beer from a brewery whose beers we don’t find universally brilliant, it nonetheless knocked us for six — the beer equivalent of a classic ‘fruit cup’. (We have also found it good in bottles, but not as good as from the keg.)
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Thornbridge Tzara
The most convincing Kölsch you’ll taste outside Cologne and, debates over style and stylistic sub-divisions aside, one of the best lager beers around. The most impressive thing about it is the malt character — solid enough to chew on. Not flashy but classy, and a real demonstration of brewing skill. (Here’s what we said back in February.)
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: Westmalle Tripel (again)
Best collaboration brew: Magic Rock/Lervig Farmhouse IPA
This fascinatingly complex saison-IPA hybrid was a contender for overall beer of the year based on the sheer giggling joy it prompted when we tasted it at the Sheffield Tap back in May. Even though subsequent bottles (we bought quite a few) were less exciting for some reason, it’s a beer we think everyone should try, and goes some way to proving that collaborations aren’t just opportunities for brewers to muck about with their mates and can produce really great results. (Here’s what we said in May.)
Best Overall Beer for 2014: Duvel Tripel Hop 2014 (Mosaic)
We could have chosen almost any of the beers above but decided to go for something unique to this year. It’s the Duvel we know and love but with a bit more oomph from a seasoning of fruity US hops and a touch more alcohol by volume. Ludicrously drinkable for a beer of 9.5%, it shows that ‘balance’ doesn’t have to be an excuse for meek, weak beers.
Best UK Brewery…
Because we never hesitate to buy their beers on sight and always find them interesting, at the very least; and because, for all the experiments and the hip branding and the leotard-related-antics, they take the matter of making quality beer seriously, it’s Magic Rock.
Pub/Bar of the Year: Star Inn
It’s a proper pub that also has great beer brewed on site at less than £3 a pint, and it’s a 10 minute bus-ride from our house. An easy choice, really.
Beer Festival of the Year: Birmingham Beer Bash
We enjoyed the wide range of carefully chosen beers from cask, bottle and keg; an entire bar of historical recreations; a mixed crowd; Ron Pattinson talking about Brettanomyces; and a relaxed atmosphere. Good stuff.
(But it’s also the only festival we went to this year, because we were speaking at it, and they gave us free beer, so this nomination might not mean all that much…)
Supermarket of the Year: Waitrose
OK, OK, we give in — Waitrose does have the best selection of beer on the high street. Our nearest is still in the next county over, but there’s no denying the child-in-a-sweet-shop thrill of seeing those shelves groaning with goodies, and at fairly reasonable prices, too.
Independent Retailer of the Year: Red Elephant, Truro
It’s our nearest specialist bottle shop and is way better than something so far from a major city has any need to be. We never fail to find something interesting and, though it can seem a touch pricey, there is a discount for CAMRA members which take the sting out.
Online Retailer of the Year: Beer Ritz
This was a tough decision because we use Beer Merchants more often — the website is better and it has a better choice of Belgian and German beers. This year, however, Beer Ritz wins on the basis of the selection of British beers available, and the speed and quality of service.
Best Beer Book or Magazine: The Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beers by Ron Pattinson
Ron Pattinson’s ring-bound book distils years of rambling, pondering and raging on his blog into a single readable volume — a crash course in beer history for the TL;DR crowd. The recipes are inspiring and educational, too, of course, but you don’t need to be a home brewer to get something out of it.
Best Beer Blog or Website: Larsblog
OK, this is getting embarrassing, but the fact is, we think Lars Marius Garshol’s work exploring indigenous brewing traditions in Norway, the Baltic and beyond is really important. It doesn’t hurt that he also writes well, highlighting characters and stories, and deftly evoking remote and interesting places. (For the short list, see our Golden Posts.)
Best Beer App: Fiz: the brewery management game
Let’s be honest — the only apps we really use to help with beer geeking are Twitter and Google Keep. This game, though, became an obsession for a few weeks at the start of the year.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: The Beer Nut (@thebeernut)
He’s funny, shares interesting stuff, and he’s got good manners, e.g. he Tweets links to his blog posts once, not 12 times throughout the day. If we’ve got a question about Twitter etiquette, he’s the bloke we ask. (For a longer list of good beer Tweeters see this post from last week. For the reeeally long list, see everyone we follow.)
Best Brewery Website: Thornbridge Brewer’s Blog
We’ve really enjoyed Rob Lovatt’s blog posts revealing the thinking behind particular beers and business decisions: this one about canned beer is an all-time classic. A background note of righteous spikiness only adds to the fun.