As the year winds to a close, it’s time to reflect on where we’ve been and the stops we made along the way.
In the real world, we’ve had a hectic year, with beer blogging as a grounding mechanism – something absorbing and challenging that isn’t (quite) work.
Though it’s felt at time as if we’ve been less productive than in previous years, looking back over our ‘month that was’ round-ups, we realise just how much we wrote this year, and how much of it is bloody decent.
We’ve done this for the past few years, partly to remind ourselves of things that tickled us, enlightened us, or made us think, but also perhaps to help you find new people to follow.
Of course Twitter makes this very difficult: advanced search tools that used to make it easy to review our own past retweets seem to be broken, or limited, and scrolling back through your own timeline is painfully slow.
Fortunately, between that and our weekly news and nuggets round-ups, we did manage to dig up the following.
Pete should be both ashamed and proud of himself.
6. Elastic capacity
I can see that the Great British Beer Festival is a fantastic event if you’re interested in drinking 900 different beers. I usually start to feel a bit queasy around the 710 mark, so I probably won’t attend this year.
Nick has a knack of cutting through to this kind of essential truth.
7. April Fool
A Guinness ad, from possibly the best April Fools prank ever. April 1977, I was 3 pages into the special San Seriffe supplement of the Guardian before I began to smell a rat. They tried it the next year and it fell flat.. pic.twitter.com/k2mLs6zk6w
We need to invent a hand-signal – something less confrontational than ✋or 🖕- to get bar staff in craft beer spots to just step the fuck back a minute. Can I read the board? Can I scan the taps? Before you start pumping me with questions and advice. It’s exhausting.
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.
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 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 Munichin 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 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
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 foreign beer
Based on volume consumed, and time spent dreaming about, it’s got to be De la Senne Taras Boulba.
Look, we’ve been over this: it’s Westmalle, but, boy, are we loving Karmeliet right now.
Tucher Weizen with Oakham Green Devil – Hopfenweisse!
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:
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.)
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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.
June was hot and hectic, and yet somehow we managed 20 posts here and 13 over on the Patreon feed.
There was also the usual barrage of Tweets, bits and pieces on Instagram and Facebook, and 1000+ words of exclusive stuff in the newsletter. (We don’t normally make those publicly viewable but this one is, if you want to see the kind of thing we write about.)
The month began, as they so often do, with a contribution to the Session, this time on the subject of farmhouse brewing. The fun thing about the Session is how often we think we have nothing to say but start typing anyway and… Oh, there’s a thing.
The topic of last month’s edition of The Session was ‘Hometown Glories’ so we separated into our constitutional parts to think about Walthamstow and Bridgwater respectively. It doesn’t look as if the host has put together a round-up of the entries yet but when he does, it’ll be here. (No pressure, Gareth.)
There is a particular kind of beer brewed at Ashburton in Devonshire, very full of fixed air, and therefore known by the name of Ashburton pop, which is supposed to be as efficacious in consumptions as even the air of Devonshire itself…
If you think brown bitter is endangered, spend more time in Devon. Time after time we spoke to people who expressed mild frustration at the conservatism of the county – at the aversion to things pale, bitter or aromatic – and of the need to dial things back and down if they want to sell any of it in local pubs. There are too many potentially interesting beers that feel compromised, and too many brewers who know it.
This was one of our most popular posts for the month, though 99.9 per cent of the traffic was from one particular geographical region.
Butting into somebody else’s mystery took us down an interesting line of research around Bristol’s mining history and take-away-only beerhouses. There’s a further update from the original poster in the comments on Instagram: “The Rock Tavern / Rock House appears around 1899 and disappears in the late 1960s. One of the entries is asterisked to indicate it was off-sales.”
Nick Wheat acquired and uploaded a rare Watney’s training film from the launch of the reviled Red keg bitter in 1971 and kindly allowed us to share it. Do give it a watch if you have a spare 10–15 minutes, if only to marvel at the impenetrably plummy accents.
We weren’t expecting to like that beer, which we didn’t expect to find in such good condition, or in that pub, which we didn’t expect to find on that street, in that part of town. Surprises all round!
In 1983–84 Pitfield brewed a mild in support of the women of Greenham Common – was it the first ‘cause’ beer? Check out the comments for some other suggestions, and a telling off.
This was great fun to write, and a great example of where having two writers helps rather than hinders: someone asked us what Michael Jackson would have made of NEIPA so we invented two scholars and had them debate it using only his writings for ammo.
For a long time Orval was a beer alone; now, it has company, as a new style is in the process of being born. We’re calling it DHBA for now. And here’s a footnote via Twitter:
… Huh, I foolishly thought these were very alike … I was wrong. Orval is much more fudge and barley sugar when compared to Bruxellensis with its rosewater and lychee flavours. A weird experience … not sure if I’m disappointed or just surprised.