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.
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.
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.
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.
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