Golden Pints 2022

This has been a strange year, and a lot of the classic Golden Pints categories don’t make any sense for me any more. You might think that the paucity of posts on the blog means I’ve lost interest in beer, but I haven’t – I just have difficulty finding time to write up my experiences.


What is true is that this year I have concentrated more on pubs than on beer. Partly because I was travelling a lot, partly because I’ve started an attempt to visit every pub in Glasgow, and partly because I have sought out heritage pubs rather than beer-exhibition pubs. So there haven’t been as many outstanding beers as in normal years – but enough, I hope, to fill the crucial spots.

Most Drunk Beer: Without a doubt I have drunk more Tennent’s Lager this year than any other beer. This is not by free choice: for various reasons, some listed above, I go to a lot of pubs where Tennent’s is all there is. That’s not strictly true, of course; they do sell other beers, but I don’t enjoy them any more than Tennent’s so I might as well drink the cheapest, and what the regulars drink.

A particularly lively pint of Tennent’s Lager

Worst Pub Design Trend: Why are there suddenly green glazed bricks everywhere? Although, if it means pub companies have stopped painting everything grey, perhaps it’s not all bad.

Best Brewery: Fyne Ales. This year I have been wandering around the west coast of Scotland a fair bit, and in the few places where cask ale is available at all, Fyne Ales seems to dominate, and that’s with good reason. In good condition their beer is spectacular – and what’s more, it’s so good that it’s still enjoyable even when the turnover in a rural pub is perhaps sub-optimal. A rural pub can’t go wrong serving Fyne beer. I’ve enjoyed every Fyne pint I’ve drunk (except for the one served at 19.8ºC, something that would knacker any beer), and what more can you ask of a brewery?

Most missed closed brewery: Although it’s a while since it brewed anything I was especially keen to drink, the closure of the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh by the idiots at Heineken was devastatingly sad. At one time Deuchars IPA was my favourite beer (honestly), and it was the last Victorian brewery still operating in Edinburgh.

I will mourn Strathaven Ales, Fallen and Top Out, but with all respect to them, they are not irreplaceable in the way that the Caledonian is.

Vital Spark in the Oban Inn

Best cask pint of the year:
Fyne Ales Vital Spark in the Oban Inn, Oban. Runners up: Surprisingly excellent pint of Black Sheep Bitter, not a beer I’m especially fond of, in Tennent’s Bar in Glasgow of all places. Another unlikely champion was an outstanding pint of Greene King IPA in the Kingarth Hotel on Bute. The pints of Orkney beer I had in the Doublet after storming out of DRAM! restored my faith in pubs, so they must have been pretty good too.

Worst cask pint of the year: Broughton XPA served at DRAM! in Woodlands, Glasgow. This was vinegary, yeasty sludge and it cost nearly five pounds Earth money. It clearly hadn’t been checked at the start of service, or at any time since, which is entirely the pub’s fault. There’s no excuse for that.

Best pub crawl and best overall beer: Batham’s Bitter. Although my attempt to visit all 12 Batham’s pubs in a weekend was ultimately abortive (that was my own fault and I still believe it is possible), I had a great time trying. I spent a lot of time on the crawl wondering what it is that makes Batham’s Bitter so drinkable, because I don’t think I could drink that quantity of any other beer. I suppose it’s only fair, therefore, to also give Batham’s Bitter the overall Best Beer award.

Batham’s Bitter


Best pub: When Koelschip Yard first opened I confess I was not its biggest fan. In fact, on opening night I had a couple of drinks there and then went down the street to Heraghty’s instead. But it has grown into a splendid little beer bar. Particular respect is due to their commitment to cask ale, even though sales of it only permit one pump. I feel the list could be more Glasgow-focused, given the number of excellent brewers in the city with very few outlets for their beer. Runner-up: For various reasons I’ve dropped into the Steps Bar several times and always resolved to return soon, as it’s absolutely beautiful inside.

I had the pleasure this year of re-visiting old favourites such as The Lamb in London and the recently re-opened Carnarvon in Glasgow, Ryrie’s in Edinburgh and the Free Trade in Newcastle, and they are all seemingly as delightful as ever.

Best new pub: The Harbour Bar in Kirkcaldy is an old pub, but a new opening and it is just wonderful. Recently re-opened under new management, it’s the sort of place that would have been gutted and ruined had it fallen into the hands of a pub company. Now it combines a little of the feeling of an English real ale pub with a little of a Belgian cafe, the stoofvlees should not be missed, and XX Bitter is cheaper than Orval.

Best seafood bar: I was in Oban in April for the first time in thirty years and made the acquaintance of the Seafood Hut on the pier. It is absolutely wonderful. This has nothing at all to do with beer but if you like oysters you should definitely go there.

Best beer garden: After two years in which the only places we could get a drink in Glasgow were the relatively few establishments with outside seating, I have not been that keen on them here. Overseas, however, it’s a different matter. For the first time since 2019 I had the chance to go to Franconia and drink lager in the forest. And I took it. I crammed several wonderful beer garden experiences into a few days but I think the best of them was Roppelts Keller, Stiebarlimbach.

Best takeaway: The best thing this year was that we haven’t had to buy takeaway draught beer any more, because the pubs were open again. While I am a big advocate of takeaway draught beer in principle, it never really took off in Glasgow in any case.

Best festival: Glasgow Real Ale Festival. I’ve only been to three festivals this year that I can remember: two run by CAMRA and one by SIBA. That is, of course, three more than I went to last year.

The only one I worked at was the Glasgow Real Ale Festival, back after a three-year gap. While it was less successful than the last one, that can be blamed on the effect of the rail strikes that prevented visitors from getting to it.

I went to Indie Beer Scotland, run by SIBA in Edinburgh. Although I didn’t like the plastic cups, the stand out beer was Lost Monster from Loch Lomond, an enormous imperial stout with the texture of chocolate milk and notes of onion and coconut. It is the sort of thing you could drink until you fall over, and I very nearly did.

I did enjoy the Alloa festival, but it was let down this year by unseasonably warm weather. Most years, being in November, it can get away with no artificial cooling, but this time it didn’t work out. Otherwise it was great and the beer range was more to my taste than Glasgow’s was. You can’t really go wrong with a part of the country that’s home to Tryst, Hybrid, Williams Bros and Harviestoun.

Best book: I have only bought two beer books this year and they are both old works whose authors are dead (Scotch Ale by Greg Noonan and The Ale Master by Bert Grant, since you ask), so I can’t really say anything here. I read Grant’s book while waiting in line to get my Covid vaccination.

Otherworld Gose
Worst beer: The absolute worst beer I have tasted this year was the Leipzig Style Gose from Otherworld who I believe are located somewhere on the east coast of Scotland. It’s rare for me to name a beer as particularly terrible, or for a brewery to make it onto my shit-list after just one beer (usually it takes at least three), but this one was really atrociously bad, and I tried it both canned and on draught. I don’t think my opinion will damage them, though, as everyone else seemed to love it. Runner-up: I have never believed the stuff pub bores tell you about how Guinness is supposedly better in Ireland, but on a brief stopover in Dublin I got the chance to confirm to myself – and now to you – that it is as piss-poor there as it is everywhere else. Amusingly, while travelling from London to Belfast via Dublin, I had far better stout in the first and last cities (There are, of course, other stouts in Dublin, and I’m not having a go at them here, I just didn’t get to try them).

Best Packaged Beer: Donzoko Festbier. So good. Soft Imperial Leather foam, sweet malt and a noble hop character that puts many German examples to shame. Hypothetical runner-up: This might possibly have been pipped to the post by the reincarnated Gale’s Prize Old Ale produced by Dark Star, if it had occurred to me to taste it before the end of the year. I have bought some, and been told by people whose opinion I respect that it is really superb, but I haven’t actually opened one yet.

Best foreign beer: It wasn’t my favourite beer garden but Brauerei Lieberth Kellerbier from Hallerndorf, Franconia was stupendously good. Runner-up: Brand Pilsener. I have visited the Netherlands a few times this year and this beer is head and shoulders above any of the other mass-market Dutch cafe pils. Typically, the idiots at Heineken have decided to close the brewery next year, so I thought I’d better make this award while I can.

That’s it for this year. My new year’s resolutions are to be less neglectful of my local breweries – I just haven’t been out drinking enough in the tiny number of establishments that serve their beer in Glasgow. I am sure that the likes of Dookit, Bungo, Gigha, Simple Things would be contenders for awards, if I had tasted more of their beer. I look forward to drinking them more next year.


Comments

  1. Glad I read this, if only to find out the Harbour Bar has re-opened. Great news.

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  2. A most enjoyable and also informative post, Rob. I like your idea of drinking your way round all the Batham pubs, although a dozen over the course of a weekend might be slightly over-optimistic! Like you, I’ve been targeting heritage pubs, wherever possible, concentrating on the National Inventory ones to start with.

    Further afield, Roppelts Keller at Stiebarlimbach, is an excellent beer garden, as long as you don’t make the mistake I did, and miss the last bus back to Forchheim, on one of the hottest days of the year!

    It’s sad news indeed about the closure of Caledonian. I had a trip around the brewery in the mid-1980’s, and the decision by the dumb accountants at Heineken, to scrap the heritage and tradition associated with the plant, shows them for the cultural vandals they really are.

    I haven’t produced a “Golden Pints” post for the best part of a decade, although somewhat belatedly, I’m working on one at the moment.

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  3. Sanjay Gupta, why don't you fuck off and die you spamming shit?

    ReplyDelete

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