Saturday, 31 December 2011

My Golden Pint Awards: 2011 edition

Here we are again. I’m having a quiet Hogmanay this year with just a few selected bottles and it’s time between the mince pies and chimes of Big Ben to announce the winners of my Golden Pints.

My top choices are not the beers I’ve drunk or enjoyed the most this year (that would be Fyne Ales and Harviestoun, who won everything last year anyway). But they are beers that have stuck in my mind through being good, interesting or thought-provoking. I’ve deliberately chosen beers that I haven’t blogged about specifically, but are worthy of more attention than they’ve had.

UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer
Harvey’s Mild: possibly the perfect session ale, still packed with subtle flavour after three pints. I worry that old-fashioned, idiosyncratic beers like this suffer from being less immediately accessible than those lovely New World pale ales that taste of Um Bongo.

Runner-up: Belhaven IPA. Yes, yes, yes. Nobody is more surprised than me to be giving an award to a Belhaven beer. Most of their draught products are frankly dreadful, having lost any character they once had. This new IPA is not one I expected much of. The first pint, drunk out of a sense of duty, was alright, better than Greene King IPA. Subsequent pints were better, with the spiciness and sulphuriness that other ales from the brewery lack. At 3.8% it’s obviously intended to compete with Deuchars IPA and does a more than creditable job. It’s never going to be a flavour bomb at that gravity but is a very palatable session pint. And at least their pubs are starting to offer this instead of the ubiquitous Deuchars or Greene King IPA from the parent company, which, quite apart from its defects as a beer, always looks to me like an angel of death when I see it in Scotland, implying that the closure of Belhaven is coming closer.

UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Worthington Celebration Shield: although I only drank it once, it stood out from the crowd. Being strong, it’s rich and boozy, but also dry and minerally as a proper Pale Ale should be. Unique among all the beers I’ve tasted this year.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
Haven’t drunk one … not one that stood up to those brewed in this country, anyway. With one exception: Stone Old Guardian barley wine, superb, oily and bitter. I have a lot of time for Stone. You don’t see Greg Koch going around shit-talking Charlie Papazian and Fred Eckhardt.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
I don’t drink many of these either. As I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve, I’ll just put the last one I had: Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale, which is fair enough as it’s a very nice beer. I like Odell beers; the problem is that they are too British to do well in the UK. You would think this would be an advantage, but as imports they are inevitably twice the price of a comparable local product.

Best Overall Beer
Tryst Nelson Sauvin Hop Trial. Tryst are a brewery I haven’t written about enough on this blog. Their beers can be inconsistent, but that means when they are poor they are merely good; when they are good they are spectacular. Nelson Sauvin Hop Trial is a beer I have ordered every time I’ve seen it this year, and each pint has been better than the last.

Best Pumpclip or Label
Nollaig, the seasonal beer from Williams Bros. The litre swing-top bottle looks so badass. The label is typographically superb, starkly beautiful so you don’t even notice it’s just white type on a black background. The beer is pretty good too, rich and chewy, a little on the sweet side with a marvellous dense head. There’s probably none left now. They will surely make it again.

Best UK Brewery
No award for this as it’s just not fair. There are so many good breweries now.  Can't think of it as a competition any more.

Best Overseas Brewery
Schlenkerla of Bamberg. I could quite happily drink their beer all the time. Märzen in summer and Bock in winter. Oh yeah. I know there are some people who don’t like Schlenkerla. I secretly subtract about 20% from the value I place on such people’s opinions about anything else.

Pub/Bar of the Year
For me, it has to be the Laurieston Bar. When they put on a cask of Fyne Ales Highlander for Glasgow Beer Week’s Cask Night, I had no idea that it would lead to them serving cask beer regularly. I certainly never expected it, but when I was in for a quick pint a few weeks later I was met with complaints that the brewery hadn’t been in touch to sell them any more beer! One thing led to another: after an interregnum of putting on a firkin at weekends, the pub now has two handpumps and at least one cask beer on all the time. Other places will always have a wider range of beer, but there’s nowhere cosier than the Laurieston for a few pints with friends.

Beer Festival of the Year
Alloa. I’ve been disappointed by the beer quality at a few festivals this year. Alloa was brilliant because it was held later in the year when the weather was starting to get colder. As a result there were no cooling issues and the beer was in spectacular condition. We also seem to have banished the spectre of toffee-flavoured dishwater masquerading as “traditional Scottish beer” at these things, with both brewers and drinkers moving to well-bittered, hoppy beers.

Supermarket of the Year
No award. Sainsbury’s might have been in with a chance if the staff in their stores had actually been told about the Beer Challenge they were ostensibly having. I don’t really buy beer in supermarkets anymore — it’s either in the pub, independent shops or homebrew.

Independent Retailer of the Year
After a couple of years in the doldrums, The Cave at Kelvinbridge has returned to form and now seems to stock everything they can get from James Clay. Pricing can be painful sometimes but that’s the price we pay for access to specialities.

Online Retailer of the Year
No award, simply because I haven’t bought any beer online this year.

Best Beer Book or Magazine
In a world in which a work as sub-standard and sloppily produced as the Oxford Companion to Beer can make it into bookstores, it seems wrong to give an award at all.

Best Beer Blog or Website
I’ve been impressed this year not just by how prolific Jeff Alworth of Beervana is, but how insightful his posts are. Runner-up is Adam’s blog Walking and Crawling, because he goes to places nobody else does and I really enjoy vicariously touring Scotland through him.

Best Beer Twitterer
This would have to be @ThornbridgeDom, just because his tweets make me chuckle.

Best Online Brewery presence
I can't remember the last time I went to a brewery website for information. But they are usually a good source of the type of "we use only the finest malt and hops" woffle that plagues brewery marketing. Twitter is where it’s at for breweries, and here Hardknott has developed a reputation that is out of all proportion to its size. Runner-up is Magic Rock for similar reasons: they’ve achieved coverage far beyond that which rivals of a similar size get.

In 2012 I’d Most Like To…
Drink more tasty beer in great pubs. And to see crappy beer ticking sites collapse under the weight of their own fucking idiocy.

Happy new year, folks!

5 comments:

  1. "I know there are some people who don’t like Schlenkerla. I secretly subtract about 20% from the value I place on such people’s opinions about anything else."

    HAHA!!! Loved that!

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  2. Morrison's have greatly improved their beer range recently. Half a dozen Williams bros., a few from adnams and some decent ales from titanic brewery have all been recent additions to my local branch. Most of the beers are £1.50 a bottle, which is pretty impressive.

    R.Hammond

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  3. Looking forward to getting a chance to try the rauch weiss somewhen in 2012

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  4. I'm very slow catching up on blogs after the holiday, so this is egregiously late. But thanks! It was fantastic to finally lay eyes and tongue on the beers and breweries of Britain, and I feel much closer to the subject you write about. It was a great year for that.

    Cheers--

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  5. That Laurieston Bar story is inspiring.

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