Our Golden Pints for 2018

This is always an interesting exercise for us but all the more so as we’ve got better at keeping records throughout the year.

Those records, in the form of just-about-week­ly Patre­on posts on which beers we’ve enjoyed most each week­end and spread­sheets from #Every­Pu­bIn­Bris­tol, help to avoid the recen­cy effect and push us to be hon­est.

So, after a good bit of back-and-forth over Lem­sips on Wednes­day night, here’s our list of the best beers and pubs of the year.

The best English pub of 2018

It’s been a year of pub lists for us (1 | 2 | 3 | 4) and we’ve vis­it­ed some great places that were new to us, as well as loop­ing back to old favourites.

But let’s be hon­est, there’s only one win­ner: our local, The Drap­ers Arms, on Glouces­ter Road in Bris­tol.

The Drapers Arms -- a collage.
A selec­tion of our ‘Drap­ers‘ pho­tos from Twit­ter.

It’s a microp­ub and has fun­ny hours. It tends to be either a bit qui­et (Mon­day evening, Sat­ur­day after­noon) or crammed (the entire rest of the time). Occa­sion­al­ly, we wish there was a reg­u­lar, reli­able beer on the list.

But the stats speak for them­selves: at the time of writ­ing, we’re just shy of our hun­dredth vis­it since mov­ing to Bris­tol. (Not includ­ing the times one of us has been in with­out the oth­er.)

Now, that’s part­ly down to prox­im­i­ty – it real­ly is the clos­est pub to our house – but we’ve chal­lenged our­selves on this: is our num­ber three pub, the Bar­ley Mow near Tem­ple Meads, bet­ter than the Drap­ers? No, it isn’t.

Best Pub: the Drapers Arms.
Best non-Bristol pub

The Roy­al Oak at Bor­ough, Lon­don, is the best pub in Lon­don, for now, and that’s not opin­ion, it’s sci­en­tif­ic fact. Sus­sex Best! Those salt beef sand­wich­es!

The best Belgian bar

We find our­selves going back to Brasserie De L’Union in Saint-Gilles, Brus­sels, so that’s our win­ner. It’s earthy, a bit grot­ty, utter­ly bewil­der­ing, and there’s usu­al­ly some­one behav­ing down­right weird­ly. The beer is cheap, the ser­vice cheeky, and a diplomat’s girl­friend forced us to accept a gift of exot­ic fruit. And maybe the most impor­tant thing – we found it for our­selves.

The best German beer garden

We had such a nice time pre­tend­ing to be reg­u­lars at the Michaeli­garten in Munich in the autumn and can’t stop dream­ing about going there again.

The best beer of 2018

Cer­tain beers came up repeat­ed­ly in our Beers of the Week­end posts on Patre­on, some of which sur­prised us when we looked back:

  • Young’s Ordi­nary
  • Young’s Dou­ble Choco­late Stout
  • Lost & Ground­ed Keller Pils
  • Five Points Pils
  • Bath Ales Sulis
  • Bris­tol Beer Fac­to­ry Pale Blue Dot
  • Harvey’s Sus­sex Best
  • Dark Star Hop­head
  • Thorn­bridge Jaipur
  • De la Senne Taras Boul­ba
  • Tiny Rebel Stay Puft and Impe­r­i­al Puft
  • Titan­ic Plum Porter
  • Zero Degrees Bohemi­an
  • Zero Degrees Dark Lager

And there were also some one-offs that we remem­bered, and remem­bered fond­ly, even months down the line: Siren Kiset­su, a sai­son with yuzu fruit and tea, for exam­ple, or Elgood’s Cool­ship Man­go Sour.

But there’s one beer that we both agreed has become a favourite – that we find our­selves excit­ed to encounter, and stick­ing on when we find it in a pub – and that’s Ched­dar Ales Bit­ter Bul­ly. It’s clean, con­sis­tent, prop­er­ly bit­ter, and a very digestible 3.8%. It also almost in that north­ern style for which we’ve got such a soft spot.

Best Beer: Bitter Bully.
Best foreign beer

Based on vol­ume con­sumed, and time spent dream­ing about, it’s got to be De la Senne Taras Boul­ba.

Best Tripel

Look, we’ve been over this: it’s West­malle, but, boy, are we lov­ing Karmeli­et right now.

Best blend

Tuch­er Weizen with Oakham Green Dev­il – Hopfen­weisse!

Best blog/writer

With a year’s worth of news, nuggets and lon­greads posts to look over, this is anoth­er we don’t need to leave to guess­work because cer­tain blogs (or writ­ers) got linked to time and again:

But there’s one blog we reck­on stands above the rest for its fre­quen­cy and depth, and for the mea­sured insight it offers into a beer cul­ture not our own, and that’s Jeff Alworth’s Beer­vana.

Best blog: Beervana.Best beer Twitterer

It’s @thebeernut. Again.

Best beer publication

Orig­i­nal Grav­i­ty because it’s dif­fer­ent, both in terms of edi­to­r­i­al approach (cre­ative, impres­sion­is­tic, the­mat­ic) and dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el (free, in pubs). Good job, ATJ! (Dis­clo­sure: we’ve been paid to write a cou­ple of bits for OG.)

* * *

And that’s us done. We’ll also try to find time for our usu­al Best Read­ing and Best Tweets round-ups in the next week or so.

A Tale of Three Pours

Mur­al at the Poech­enellekelder, Brus­sels.

There’s a certain ceremony to the way beer is poured in Belgium, except when there isn’t, and no two waiters have quite the same technique.

At the leg­endary Poech­enellekelder in cen­tral Brus­sels, oppo­site the stat­ue of the wee boy, we watched a clown­ish­ly expres­sive wait­er turn the pour­ing of a beer into per­for­ma­tive pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

He popped the cap with a flour­ish, almost seem­ing to pause for applause, angled the glass, and began to pour slow­ly.

Assess­ing the devel­op­ment of the head, he frowned and gave the bot­tle a sud­den jerk 30 cen­time­tres into the air, for just the briefest moment, caus­ing the foam to surge, but not much.

When he put the beer down on the table, smooth white sat half a cen­time­tre above the rim of the glass, as sol­id as a mac­aron, and there wasn’t a speck of yeast in the body of the beer.

The Worrier

Sit­ting out­side a cafe that seems to be called Primus Haacht with por­tions of blis­tered, gild­ed frites from Mai­son Antoine, we saw a Bel­gian wait­er get it wrong. He poured West­malle Tripel too vig­or­ous­ly and sighed with dis­may as it flowed over his hand like milk, splat­ter­ing on to the paving stones.

It’s fine, we don’t mind.”

No, no, it’s not accept­able… I’m gonna change it. I have to change it. Please, I’m sor­ry, wait here.”

The sec­ond attempt was over-cau­tious and, sure, we end­ed up with more beer in the glass, but it didn’t look any­where near as good.

The Casual

At Beers Banks, our local on Rue Général Leman, we mar­velled at burly, effi­cient bar­men who treat­ed Trap­pist beers and alco­hol free pil­sner with about the same lev­el of respect.

They upend­ed bot­tles and flung the con­tents out as if they were emp­ty­ing tins of toma­toes into cook­ing pots, glanc­ing over their shoul­ders and talk­ing, slam­ming glass­es down on the bar to save sec­onds here and there.

But do you know what? Some­how every pour was PR pho­to­shoot per­fect.

Tripel-Off Final: Westmalle vs. Karmeliet

We finally have a winner – we now know which is the best Tripel, no arguesy-backs.

The final, between the defend­ing cham­pi­on West­malle and plucky AB-InBev-owned under­dog Karmeli­et was a tense game that went right down to the wire. You could have cut the atmos­phere with a brick, Bri­an, and so on.

Both beers were essen­tial­ly flaw­less, as you’d expect con­sid­er­ing the com­pe­ti­tion they saw off. There’s no doubt: these are both great, deli­cious, delight­ful Tripels.

Karmeli­et was sweet­er with a dis­tinct pear drop char­ac­ter we hadn’t detect­ed in ear­li­er rounds. It seemed less com­plex than its oppo­si­tion, which is not to say there wasn’t plen­ty going on – just eight tracks of over­dubs rather than six­teen.

West­malle had all the same stuff but with a firmer bit­ter­ness, and more lay­ers – stewed fruit, cloves, banana, kazoo, string quar­tet, bloody booze! It seemed more sol­id, too, almost cus­tard-like on the tongue.

But maybe all that weight and depth is too much? Karmeli­et is just such fun, so light and excit­ing.

So, which will tri­umph? Spritz, or solid­i­ty? Pop, or baroque?

It was gen­uine­ly tough to call, and almost went to a tie-break­ing Patre­on sup­port­er vote.

But before we get to the final result, here’s a bit of half-time enter­tain­ment: what did Twit­ter reck­on?

A deci­sive win for West­malle, then, and absolute­ly nobody will be sur­prised to hear that it’s also our win­ner.

Yes, that’s right – sev­en blog posts dragged out over sev­er­al months to con­clude that the beer we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly called the best in the world is, indeed, the best Tripel.

Still, drink­ing a load of beers in this won­der­ful style was no hard­ship, and we’ve gained a renewed appre­ci­a­tion for sev­er­al clas­sics we had been tend­ing to over­look.

We’d say that if you’ve not had Karmeli­et recent­ly and were put off by the qual­i­ty dip a few years ago, do give it anoth­er try, and Dulle Teve is very much a new obses­sion for us.

So, same again in four years time?

News, Nuggets & Longreads 22 September 2018: Brussels, Muscles, Beer Tie Tussles

After a two-week break, here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs, from Autovac mild to pilot plants.

First, an inter­est­ing nugget from Birm­ing­ham: the long-derelict Fox & Grapes on Free­man Street in the city cen­tre has final­ly been pulled down as part of high-speed rail con­struc­tion. Why does this mat­ter? Because it was the last remain­ing bit of Old Birm­ing­ham.


The window of Mort Subite in Brussels.

Cana­di­an beer writer Jor­dan St. John recent­ly vis­it­ed Brus­sels and has writ­ten a long, enter­tain­ing, insight­ful piece record­ing his impres­sions of the city, and reflect­ing on the place of Bel­gian beer in the glob­al craft beer scene:

I can’t help but notice how same-y the selec­tion is every­where; As though there had once been a list of approved Bel­gian beers that no one has updat­ed since the mid 2000’s. Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Bel­gium is that list, and look­ing at the selec­tion in the dusty shop win­dows it feels like no one has come along with the grav­i­tas to approve new addi­tions to the canon; it is stuck in amber… Cafe Bebo helps to ease me into the con­tem­po­rary. It even has beers from brew­eries found­ed this cen­tu­ry. I order De La Senne Zin­nebir and some cheese from the Orval Trap­pist monastery to snack on.


Detail from the poster for National Lampoon's European Vacation.

Still in Bel­gium we find Alec Lath­am dis­sect­ing the label of De la Senne’s Taras Boul­ba to the nth degree:

The art­work is a send-up of the two com­pos­ite nations – Flan­ders and Wal­lo­nia – and their antag­o­nism of eachother. It employs satire, humour and car­i­ca­ture to make an impor­tant point: please dump the bag­gage of the past and let’s move on… Unlike the easy-going­ness of the beer, the label art­work is utter­ly loaded.

We can imag­ine this mak­ing for an inter­est­ing series, reverse engi­neer­ing the brand­ing process to work out what brew­eries want us to under­stand from the small choic­es they make in their graph­ic design.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 22 Sep­tem­ber 2018: Brus­sels, Mus­cles, Beer Tie Tus­sles”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 August 2018: Bartram’s, Belgium, the Barley Mow

Here’s everything published on beer and pubs in the past week that grabbed our attention, from teetotal tendencies to the extraordinary nature of ordinary pubs.

First, some trade­mark thought­ful reflec­tion from Jeff Alworth at Beer­vana who asks ‘What If We Just Stopped Drink­ing?

[What] if we just keep drink­ing less and less until we’re con­sum­ing it like our old aun­tie, who only pulls out the sher­ry for spe­cial occa­sions? This won’t hap­pen imme­di­ate­ly, but the trend lines are pret­ty clear… A dirty lit­tle secret of the alco­hol indus­tri­al com­plex: it relies on very heavy drinkers, many of them alco­holics, for the bulk of sales. Among drinkers, the medi­an con­sump­tion is just a cou­ple drinks a week. That’s the median–some “drinkers” basi­cal­ly don’t drink at all. That means, of course, that someone’s doing a lot of drink­ing…


A Belgian Brown Cafe.

There’s a new links round-up in town: Bre­andán Kear­ney at Bel­gian Smaak has put togeth­er a rather won­der­ful rat­tle through all the Bel­gian beer and bar news from the last few months. How can you resist a 15 item list includ­ing such head­ers as CHINESE HOEGAARDEN and BEAVERTOWN GOES BELGIAN?


The mad collection at the Prince of Greenwich.
SOURCE: Desert­er

For Desert­er the pseu­do­ny­mous Dirty South gives an account of a day spent try­ing to enter­tain a sullen teenag­er in the cul­tur­al pubs of South Lon­don:

The Prince is run by Pietro La Rosa, a Sicil­ian who has not only brought Ital­ian hos­pi­tal­i­ty and splen­did Ital­ian food to SE10, but opened a pub full of curios that he and his wife Pao­la have col­lect­ed from their trav­els around the world. An enor­mous whale’s jaw bone hangs over var­i­ous objets d’arts, a rhi­noc­er­os’ head pro­trudes above an antique barber’s chair, sur­round­ed by art­work from afar.

It’s mad,’ con­clud­ed Theo.


The Bridge Inn, Clayton.
SOURCE: John Clarke.

Here’s some­thing we’d like to see more of: vet­er­an CAMRA mag­a­zine edi­tor  John Clarke dust­ed down a pub crawl from 30 years ago and retraced his steps to see how time had treat­ed the booz­ers of Clay­ton, Greater Man­ches­ter:

The Folke­stone was closed, burnt out and demol­ished. New hous­ing now occu­pies the site. The Greens Arms strug­gled on and then had a brief exis­tence as the Star Show­bar… The Grove also con­tin­ues to thrive as a Holts house and the war memo­r­i­al remains on the vault wall. No such luck with the Church.


The Barley Mow, London.
SOURCE: Pub Cul­ture Vul­ture.

Ben McCormick has been writ­ing about pubs on and off at his Pub Cul­ture Vul­ture blog for a few years now and a recent flur­ry of posts has cul­mi­nat­ed with what we think is a pro­found obser­va­tion:

[The Bar­ley Mow] must be the best Bak­er Street booz­er by a bil­lion miles… I was on the point of writ­ing there is noth­ing spe­cial about the place, but stopped abrupt­ly on the grounds that’s com­plete horse­shit. There ought to be many, many more exam­ples of pubs like this dot­ted around cen­tral Lon­don and fur­ther afield. But there aren’t.

Any pub, how­ev­er, ordi­nary, becomes extra­or­di­nary if it resists change – that makes sense to us.


A bit of news: Bartram’s, a brew­ery in Suf­folk, seems to have giv­en up brew­ing (the sto­ry is slight­ly con­fus­ing) which has giv­en the local news­pa­per an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect on the health of the mar­ket:

Now Mr Bar­tram is cur­rent­ly no longer look­ing to export over­seas, and is not pro­duc­ing any beer. “There are about 42 brew­eries in Suf­folk – when I start­ed 18 years ago, there were just five,” he said. “There is a lot more com­pe­ti­tion. The mar­ket is sat­u­rat­ed, it’s ridicu­lous.”

Anoth­er Suf­folk brew­er, who declined to be named, claims over­crowd­ing in the mar­ket­place is true of the cask ale indus­try that Mr Bar­tram is part of, but not the key keg ale mar­ket.

Also unclear: the key mar­ket for keg ale, or the keykeg ale mar­ket? Any­way, inter­est­ing.


If you want more good read­ing check out Stan Hieronymus’s Mon­day round-up and Alan McLeod’s reg­u­lar Thurs­day link­fest.