Categories
beer reviews

Our Golden Pints for 2020

You know how Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the highest grossing movies of 2020? Our Golden Pints this year is going to be a bit like that.

We’d usually have got about a bit – maybe a trip to Sheffield or Manchester, a day or two out in Cardiff, perhaps a couple of weekends in towns or cities completely new to us.

This year, however, the extent of our exploring has been:

  • Stockport in January
  • Stroud in February
  • A couple of trips to London in the summer
  • Broadstairs in September

Having been reluctant to use public transport, we’ve barely even been able to explore Bristol and only managed 12 entries in #EveryPubInBristol.

What we did do was drink a fair bit of beer, albeit mostly on the sofa or in the weird little mock pub we constructed in our front room, and we’ve managed to muster a few opinions. It made life bearable but… It’s not the same, is it?

On top of all that, being critical of any business in the midst of this catastrophe feels like bad behaviour. Everything is ten times harder than usual but, between supply problems, the challenges of delivery and complicated, ever-changing restrictions, it’s no wonder if things have wobbled.

Anyway, let’s get down to business.

Best Bristol pub

It’s still the Drapers Arms, even though we haven’t sat in to drink since March.

Thanks to the takeaway offer, we still manage to visit twice a week, and there were points when a two-minute chat with Zee, Vince, Garvan or another regular in the distanced queue felt like a life-saving social interaction.

We’re moving house soon, to another part of Bristol, and have already scoped out our route for popping back for pints at least once or twice each month.

Best pub beyond Bristol

It only really feels fair to judge pubs we visited under pre-lockdown conditions so, for that reason, we’re giving this award to the Prince Albert in Stroud.

We only visited four pubs in Stroud and it felt as if there were plenty more to see but when we go back, we’ll definitely hike up the hill for a return visit to this one.

It wears its left-wing heart on its sleeve (posters for radical walking groups and all that) but was also a cosy, pubby pub and, perhaps because of the ruddy great hill that keeps outsiders away, had a village feel, too. Like the Plough in Easton transplanted to the Cotswolds.

Best cask beer

When we drank Karst by Cheddar Ales back in early March we thought, oy oy, and noted it as a contender for Beer of the Year. We were similarly impressed when we had it again in October.

It’s a rye beer, and whereas a lot of these tend towards the harsh or medicinal, this is perfectly put together. Almost treacly but not overly sweet, it manages to balance both liquorice and peach notes while still tasting like a well-rounded, beery beer.

Best bottled beer (that isn’t Westmalle Tripel)

Keeping things Belgian, as most years, the splendid bottle of Pannepot Special Reserve that we had in early November was an overall highlight of the year.

We’ve had a rollercoaster ride with de Struise beers over the years being bowled over on first encounter but having found them muddy on more recent encounters. The Special Reserve is an absolute triumph though.

It smells like Harvey’s Imperial Stout – oaky and ancient. It tastes of treacle, wine and rum and raisin ice cream. Will subsequent bottles taste the same? Who knows. But that one bottle, at that one moment – magic.

Best lockdown beers

Here’s a new category to recognise the reliable and reliably uplifting beers that we ended up ordering on multiple occasions.

It’s fair to say that Westmalle Tripel found its way into our kitchen more frequently even than usual.

Slightly closer to home (actually, it isn’t, it’s about 20 miles further away, according to Google) we greatly enjoyed ordering mini-kegs of Fyne Ales Jarl. Not only is it a great beer but it was also impeccably packaged, each home-drawn pint taking us back to happy sessions in Glasgow.

Best brewery

Everything we’ve had from them has been very good and some have been outstanding. They’ve got a great range of styles and everything is well executed. It’s Cheddar Ales.

Best beer blogger

First, we want to express our respect for anyone who’s managed to write anything beer-related this year. Even with two of us and half an archive in our spare room, we struggled at times to generate the energy to produce anything whatsoever. So if you did write something, well done you. Give yourself a pat on the back.

We normally allocate this award by looking at the people we’ve linked to the most in our weekly roundups. However, this misses out someone who we don’t link to very much because his content is almost entirely beer reviews, not news or commentary – yes, it’s the ever-punning Beer Nut. We’ve been particularly grateful for the constant stream of business-as-usual, non-plague-related content this year.

Best beer book

There have been some great books published this year but, for sheer ambition and importance, it has to be The Lost Art of Farmhouse Brewing by Lars Marius Garshol. You can read our full review here.

Best beer publication

We wanted to underline how impressed we’ve been by Pellicle this year. Editors Matt Curtis and Jonny Hamilton have made such an obvious effort to make room for new voices, commission pieces that come at the subject from new angles and, crucially, to pay people for their work. The fact that something from Pellicle has appeared in our weekly round-up most weeks speaks for itself. We’re supporting them via Patreon; you might consider doing the same.

Now round-up and reflection season has begun, you can expect to see our regular summaries of our own best writing, our favourite bits by others and maybe something highlighting the best Tweets of the year, if we find time.

Categories
beer reviews

Our Golden Pints of 2019

It must be the end of the year… Wait, no, the end of the decade – because here we are, once again, debating which pubs and beers we want to declare The Best of 2019.

It gets easier, this, when it’s a habit. Throughout the year we find ourselves saying to each other: “Could this be a contender?” We keep notes, we check-in every now and then, and so half the post half-written by October.

It also helps that we’ve been reporting to our Patreon supporters on the best beers of each weekend most weeks and so have a decent record of what really impressed us.

As last year, though, it’s amazing how often that’s The Usual Suspects – Young’s Ordinary, St Austell Proper Job, Dark Star Hophead, Bass, Oakham Citra or JHB, Titanic Plum Porter, Hop Back Summer Lightning… Classics, in other words.

Bristol Beer Factory might have won more awards if its range was a bit more stable. As it is, the many excellent but barely distinguishable pale-n-hoppy cask ales we enjoyed from them never seem to be on sale with any regularity to we never quite get to know them.

Now, then – the awards.

The Drapers Arms -- a table with beer and filled rolls.

Best Bristol pub – The Drapers Arms

Yes, again, but how could it be anything else? We go at least once every week, usually more like twice or three times, and it’s got to the point where we can’t be remotely objective about it. It’s also become a kind of office for us – somewhere to meet visitors to Bristol, such as the charming Texans we got sloshed with in the summer. And we’ve never felt more like part of the community than when our neighbours responded to Jess’s call for apples.

Runner-up: The Good Measure.


The Laurieston.

Best non-Bristol pub – The Laurieston, Glasgow

A historic building with period decor is obviously exciting but when the beer is also great, and the service, and the atmosphere, you’ve got a winner.

Runner-up: The Waterloo, Shirley, Southampton.


Au Stoemelings.

Best overseas bar – Au Stoemelings, Brussels

This is a fairly basic bar with what, by Belgian standards, a bog standard beer list, but we loved it because (a) we found it ourselves and (b) it felt so real. We got the impression that if we’d sat in the corner for a week, we’d have come away with material for an 800-page novel.

Runner-up: Cafe Botteltje, Ostend.


Best cask beer – Five Points Pale Ale

When it came on at The Drapers, we couldn’t stop drinking it, and nor could Ray’s parents. On multiple occasions, we schlepped across London to The Pembury determined to drink it. Softness, fruitiness, peachy goodness… It’s a great beer.

Runner-up: Bath Ales Prophecy.


Best bottled beer – Westmalle Tripel

We barely drink bottled beer these days but this one… This is irresistible. Still the best beer in the world.

Runner-up: Augustiner Helles.


Best keg beer – Bristol Beer Factory White Label

A 3.3% pale ale with Belgian yeast is more or less the perfect concept and this particular example really delivered. One of those beers we marked up as CONTENDER? In about May and revisited a couple of times thereafter.

Runner-up: Bristol Beer Factory Banoffee Pies.


Best beer overall – Five Points Pale Ale

See above. And the fact is, cask ale is what we like best.


Best brewery – Stroud

We thought long and hard about this but, looking back over a year’s-worth of notes, saw Stroud’s name popping up time and again in the Beers of the Weekend posts on Patreon. This award, we think, has to be about consistency as much as moments of brilliance and the facts is that we’re always relieved to see their name on the board at The Drapers. Their Budding has become a go-to bitter, too. But there’s plenty to get excited about, too: towards the end of the year, they produced a stunning, irresistible cask Rauchbier.

Runner-up: Moor.


Best blog – Tandleman

One of the last of the old school, blogging for the sake of blogging, drinking beer and visiting pubs not many others notice, writing with a voice so strong it nearly knocks you off your feet.

Runner-up: Bring on the Beer


Best beer Twitter – The Beer Nut @TheBeerNut

Again. Possibly forever. Who knows.

Runner-up: Jezza @BonsVoeux1

Categories
Belgium opinion pubs

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.

Categories
beer reviews opinion

Boak & Bailey’s Golden Pints for 2017

Ah, the Golden Pints — a grim obligation undertaken out of habit rather than joy, a mere ‘circle jerk’, a relic of a past era of beer blogging…

Nah, we like ’em. We enjoy the chance to reflect, and to think about what we’ve actually been drinking and which beers have really stuck with us down the months.

We also enjoy reading other people’s. They’re often biased, full of odd choices, and demonstrate unabashed local boosterism… Which is what makes them great. When there are enough of them trends emerge and the same names to crop up again and again. And you know that beers and breweries from one part of the country grudgingly mentioned in Golden Pints from another must really be something.

We’ve decided this year that an important test of Golden Pint status is repeatability — in a landscape of infinite variety and choice, did a particular beer warrant a second pint? Did a particular pub demand a second visit despite the temptation to explore new territory?

With all that in mind, here’s what we came up with, omitting any category to which we didn’t feel we could give a decent answer.

Categories
bottled beer

Other People’s Golden Pints, AKA Our To Do List

Inhaler and Fort Smith cans, crushed.

With the idea in mind that January is a good time to try new things we’ve been looking at other UK bloggers’ Golden Pints posts for inspiration.

Some headlines: Northern Monk’s cans are impressing people (as they have us) and Buxton crop up frequently in the bottled beer category. Other recurring names are Beavertown and Magic Rock (the usual suspects, you might say) and Torrside, about whom we know nothing, but maybe that’s a Manchester mafia thing?

Our plan was to order as many of the bottled and canned beers as possible (or, rather, as is reasonable given our budget) and hopefully try a few beers we wouldn’t otherwise think to order.

The problem is that so far it’s proved tricky because the vast majority of the beers nominated are one-offs or limited editions released months ago and long out-of-stock everywhere we’ve checked. The few that weren’t — Magic Rock Inhaler, Five Points IPA, Buxton Axe Edge — we’ve already had more than once.

So, instead, we’ll using people’s suggestions as a hit list of breweries for 2017 rather than specific beers.

Anyway, in case you reckon you might have more luck than us here’s the list we came up with based on all the Golden Pints posts we could find using Google and Twitter:

  • Alphabet Flat White (Hop Hideout)
  • Almasty Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (Myles Lambert)
  • Beavertown Bloody ‘Ell (Martin Oates)
  • Beavertown ‘Spresso (Brewers’ Journal/Steve Lamond)
  • Beavertown Imperial Lord Smog Almighty (Glenn Johnson)
  • Burning Sky Saison Anniversaire (Matt Curtis)
  • Buxton Anglo-Belgique IPA (Beer O’Clock Show/Steve Lamond)
  • Buxton Axe Edge (Mashtun & Meow)
  • Buxton Bourbon Skyline (Beer Geek Blog)
  • Buxton Yellow Belly (Beernomicon)
  • Cloudwater DIPA V3 (Half Pint Gentleman)
  • Cloudwater DIPA V4/V5 (Hop Hideout)
  • Cloudwater DIPA V6 (Sharky)
  • Five Points Hook Island Red (Ian Cann)
  • Five Points IPA (Ian Cann)
  • Four Pure Juicebox (Rob Derbyshire)
  • Hawkshead Tiramisu Imperial Stout (Rob Derbyshire)
  • Little Earth Organic East India Pale Ale (Tim Rowe)
  • Mad Hat Tzatziki Sour (Barrel Aged Leeds, and us BTW.)
  • Magic Rock/Cloudwater/Lees Three’s Company (Boozy Procrastinator/Martin Oates)
  • Magic Rock Common Grounds (Jules Gray)
  • Magic Rock Bearded Lady Grand Marnier Chocolate Orange Stout (Beer Geek Blog)
  • Magic Rock Human Cannonball (Myles Lambert)
  • Magic Rock Inhaler (Half Pint Gentleman/Craft Beer Channel)
  • Marble Portent of Usher (Chris Elston)
  • Marble Valancourt (Jules Gray)
  • Northern Monk/Against the Grain/Nomad Clan Smokin’ Bees (Ed/Mark Johnson)
  • Northern Monk Heathen (Simon Girt)
  • Northern Monk Mango Lassi Heathen (Beernomicon)
  • Northern Monk/Little Leeds Neopolitan Pale Ale (Beer O’Clock Show)
  • Northern Monk Holy Trilogy series (Beernomicon/Barrel Aged Leeds)
  • Old Dairy Tsar Top (Ed)
  • Red Willow Weightless (Boozy Procrastinator)
  • Thornbridge Days of Creation (Simon Girt)
  • Torrside Brewing American Barleywine (Mark Johnson/Beers Manchester)
  • Up Front Ahab (Barm)
  • Verdant Pulp (Sharky)
  • Vibrant Forest Imperial Red IPA (Glenn Johnson)
  • Wild Beer Squashed Grape (Joe Tindall)
  • Wylam Jakehead (Beernomicon)

Now, that’s specifically the beers named under bottles/cans — some bottled and canned beers were named in other categories such as, quite importantly, BEST BEER. (That probably explains Cloudwater’s relatively modest showing.)

We probably also just missed some lists altogether — it’s nothing personal, just let us know below and we’ll add a link (terms and conditions apply) — and there are a few more on the way, now that 2016 is actually over. But, anyway, it’s something to think on for now, isn’t it?