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.