We don’t need to tell you that it’s been yet another strange old year, which makes passing judgement tricky.
We’ve been to pubs, but not as often as we would in any normal year.
And our choice of pubs has been dictated by how handy they are to get to, along with weird criteria such as cleanliness and ventilation.
Cask ale has been on the menu but for a large chunk of the year, it came in takeaway containers – is that a fair way to assess it?
We haven’t been abroad since autumn 2019 and our intake of foreign beer has been dictated by what’s available in local shops, or by mail order.
But, still, all that has given us room to think and make (ugh) mindful choices.
We’ve also really appreciated the beers we have been able to enjoy in pleasant surroundings, with anything like a hint of a normal atmosphere.
As always, we’ve chosen our own categories, deviating from the master list set down a decade ago. Let’s get into them.
Beer of the year
Lost & Grounded Running With The Spectres Baltic porter takes the crown.
It really is a great beer, and consistently so. We can’t go to the taproom without having at least one half pint per session (it’s 6.8%).
We also enjoyed it from the can at home and on draught at The Elmers Arms, where it was so good we ended up having several, hangovers be damned.
We’d also like to encourage more breweries to make strong but straightforward (that is, not pastrified) stouts and porters. Years on, we’re still haunted by the majesty of Fuller’s Past Masters 1910 Double Stout, basically, and want more of that kind of thing in our lives.
Brewery of the year
It’s Kirkstall Brewery of Leeds.
e were in the city for a week and drank more Kirkstall than anything else.
The beer range was excellent, from superior takes on trad styles to really out-there stuff that could put an East End railway arch brewer to shame.
The quality and consistency was enough to take us back to the taproom when we could have been ticking other pubs.
It will also probably be enough to take us back to Leeds sooner rather than later.
Pub of the year
It’s The Pembury Tavern in Hackney, East London.
In various degrees of restriction and confinement, we often dreamt of being there. When we could get to London, we went out of our way to visit, and then we stayed for at least two more beers than we’d planned.
It has a great range of beer in fabulous condition, and is simultaneously somehow spacious and cosy.
Takeaway pub of the year
A special category for this year and, please, let’s hope only this year.
When lockdown kicked back in at the start of this year, when pubs were closed even for takeaway, The Drapers’ Arms went above and beyond and started offering a delivery service of cask beer sourced from a selection of local breweries.
So, throughout the craziness of winter and spring, we had access to cask ale, some of it new to us. They even delivered to our new house once we’d moved.
Packaged beer of the year (that isn’t Westmalle Tripel)
It’s Fuller’s 1845.
Everything about it sings autumn-winter warmth.
We ploughed through the eight bottles we ordered and if it wasn’t for the fact that we are actively trying to support smaller breweries over multinationals, we would have ordered another case immediately.
If you’ve not had it in a while, do give it another try.
Bonkers beer of the year
Another new category.
Though most of the time we like to drink fairly conservative styles, every now and then we crave something silly. And we’ve had some good stuff this year.
The standout was Gelato Tropicale, an Ice cream sour from Kirkstall Brewery, which tasted like rhubarb and custard in an utterly addictive way. Subtly sour, subtly sweet, it was beautifully balanced, in its own mad way.
If they hadn’t had so many other good beers on we’d have drunk more of it but, as it is, it earned a lot of oohs and aahs, and a repeat order.
Foreign beer of the year
Westmalle Tripel continues to be the Best Beer in the World, but this year we were also introduced to Westmalle Extra, which we think delivers about 80% of the flavour with considerably less chance of a hangover, at 4.8%. So it’s that.
Blogger of the year
As with last year, a massive shout out to anyone who’s managed to blog regularly, or at all, in this strange, distracting, disconcerting year. You are all stars.
But the gong goes to Eoghan Walsh, who has managed to conceive of and stick with a fantastic blogging project.
We’ve ended up linking to his pieces in our Saturday round-ups most weeks as a result, even though it feels like a cheat to do so.
Book of the year
We really like Modern British Beer by Matt Curtis.
It’s a useful guide book, nicely written and designed, which does one job really well: telling us what’s worth drinking right here, right now.
A longer version of this post previously appeared on Patreon, including notes on runners-up and contenders. As ever, thanks to subscribers for encouraging us to keep at it.