Generalisations about beer culture

Golden Pints 2022: notes on an almost normal year

Which beers and pubs have we enjoyed most during 2022? It’s never an easy question to answer, but pondering is half the fun.

It goes without saying that this is a personal list. We can’t take into account beers we didn’t have, or places we didn’t go.

There’s also an element of compromise when you’re working in a partnership. We’ve noted where we had differences of opinion in a couple of different places.

We’re going to start with the best pub and work our way up to what, we suppose, is the top award – Best Beer.

Best pub

We don’t have a local these days, or even one go-to pub within a reasonable walking distances. The Swan With Two Necks has become a favourite, and the relaunched King’s Head might become one. We decided not to overthink it and name a pub we wish was our local: The Union in Nether Edge, Sheffield. It’s not a pub we’d necessarily tell people to go out of their way to get to but the experience of drinking there was wonderful.

Best new or relaunched pub

You might have guessed this from the paragraph above. The King’s Head in Bristol, near Temple Meads station was shut for three years and has now reopened under the stewardship of Good Chemistry. After two visits, we’re quite besotted: Edwardian signage, dark wood, interesting beer, ten-sided pint glasses… The only problem is that it’s so small you don’t stand a chance of finding a seat if there are more than about 20 people in.

Best beer shop

We’re fascinated by Pat’s News and Booze, our local specialist off licence. It’s not a fancy bottle shop but the kind of place you buy lottery tickets and vape juice. It also just happens to have an incredible range of canned craft beer from breweries such as Vault City and Yonder.

Best beer city

In the UK, it’s probably still Sheffield, although we also always enjoy a trip to London where you can find anything you want if you know where to look. But we can’t stop thinking about Cologne which we now realise has exactly the right drinking culture for us, with our limited capacity for booze and love of German beer. You can read more about this in our post called ‘Impressions of Cologne: one beer, but it’s more complicated than that’.

Best beer writer

Earlier this year we said we thought David Jesudason was the most likely winner of the British Guild of Beer Writers beer writer of the year award. (He wasn’t, but it was close.) So it’s probably no surprise that he’s our choice this year. He’s got his beat – Desi pubs, and the British Asian experience as it relates to beer – and keeps finding new angles within that. He finds great stories and isn’t afraid to be challenging. We’re looking forward to his book immensely.

You might also want to check out our list of best beer writing of 2022. It includes 20 pieces that made our weekly round-ups

Best beer book

Someone needed to write about working men’s clubs and Pete Brown was the right man to do it. We really enjoyed reading Clubland and learned a lot from it. It’s going to be our go-to reference on this subject from now on.

Best cask ale

We had a bit of a moment here, looking back over our notes for the year, and realising that all the cask ales we’d loved were well-established classics. We’ve enjoyed faultless Fuller’s ESB, astonishing St Austell Proper Job, fantastic Butcombe Original, vivid Oakham Citra, and fabulous Fyne Ales Jarl… It feels weird to say this having left it behind in Cornwall but the one we both agreed on was St Austell Proper Job. Wherever we’d drunk it, from London to Pensford, it’s made us smile.

Best keg beer

Most of the candidates for ‘beer of the year’ we jotted down happened to be keg beers, even though we’re cask drinkers by default. Jess lobbied hard for Siren Pompelmocello, a grapefruit sour which our notes describe as “somehow tasting like Tokaj”. And Ray made the case for Left Handed Giant Weizen, which he liked so much he stuck with it on two separate sessions weeks apart. But the one we both agreed on was Newtown Park Leading Lines, an American-style brown ale. It packed a lot of character into 6% with a lot of pine and citrus – the kind of thing we’d have loved to drink at The Rake in about 2009. It’s a shame the brewery is now winding up.

Best bottled or canned beer

It’s always Westmalle Tripel, of course, but for the sake of variety, Taras Boulba from Brasserie de la Senne has become our other by-the-case beer. It’s dry, bitter, spicy and fresh. There’s a touch of funk, too. You can put a splash in a boring beer and it brings it to life, like seasoning. Spending some time in Brussels this year, and visiting the brewery especially, helped us decide. We’ve got a crush on Brasserie de la Senne, simple as that.

Best beer

Overall, it has to be Newtown Park Leading Lines. That red tinted, redwood forest, forest moon of Endor style is just irresistible to us.

Best brewery

There were a couple of contenders here. Do we name breweries that are forces for good, and do the right thing? Doesn’t the brewery that makes the best beer automatically get best brewery? In the end, we decided, almost a bit to our own surprise, to give the award to Siren. It’s slowly become a brewery whose beers we’re always pleased to see on offer and who, thanks to a constant presence at The Swan With Two Necks, have featured in our ‘beer of the week’ round-ups on Patreon more than most. Their Caribbean Chocolate Mole Cake stout was another strong beer of the year contender.

If you want to steal the image above for your own Golden Pints post, go for it. If you write a Golden Pints list, please also feel free to post a link below, whether it’s on social media, a blog, or wherever.

beer reviews

Boak & Bailey’s Golden Pints for 2021

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.

Lost and Grounded.

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.

Kirkstall taproom.

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.

The Pembury Tavern

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.

Fuller's 1845
SOURCE: Fuller’s

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.

Kirkstall Brewery sign

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.

Westmalle Extra
SOURCE: James Clay & Sons

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.

An old map of Brussels.

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.

The cover of Modern British Beer

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.

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.

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

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.