Words - Matthew Curtis | Photos - Matthew Curtis, Dianne Tanner & Claire M. Bullen
This year has gone by in a blur. It feels like only yesterday that I was over in Fort Collins bringing in the New Year. This year it's felt like that whenever I wasn’t writing I was out visiting a brewery or bar, looking for a story to tell, it’s been pretty hectic. I’ve started on a pretty exciting journey thanks to my passion for beer but it wouldn’t be like this if it wasn’t for you guys enjoying reading about it as much as I enjoy writing about it.
According to Google Analytics Total Ales now has a readership of about 2000 people from over 20 different countries. That’s pretty incredible. About two thirds of you guys are based here in the UK with another third being in the US but some of you are reading from as far away as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Thanks for reading, in 2016 I aim to write more and write better. Not just for Total Ales, but for the cool, independent websites and magazines where I’m honoured to be on the contributor roll. Here are some of my personal highlights from the past twelve months.
2015 began at minus twenty-five degrees centigrade in snowy Fort Collins, Colorado. I brought in the new year with a bottle of one of my favourite beers, Unibroue’s immaculate Tripel, La Fin Du Monde.
At Camden Town Brewery I helped launch a small batch collaboration beer I made along with my friends Chris Hall, Jonny Garrett of the Craft Beer Channel and Sofia De Crescentiis from the brewery itself. The beer was a grapefruit IPA called The Juicy Banger. We held a party at the brewery bar where the only keg kicked in just over thirty minutes. Although this might have had something to do with the brewers helping themselves to the beer before the event started…
I also paid a brief trip to Glasgow with my partner Dianne. Here I discovered a cool little craft beer scene developing away nicely and ate my body weight in lorne sausage and tattie scones.
February saw the start of Bottle Club at The Duke’s Head Highgate, which kicked off a busy year of events for us. The concept of bottle club is simple: we sell ten tickets for ten pounds each and we spend all of the money on tasty beer to share. We had some great breweries join us along the way to showcase some of their beer. We’ve got big plans for Bottle Club this year and I can wait for it to kick off again in February.
Towards the end of February I had a lot of fun, some might say too much fun, at Craft Beer Rising. The photo of me drinking Lagunitas Imperial Stout straight from the tap still haunts me to this day. No I'm not going to put it here, you'll have to find it yourself.
Back in January myself and my pal Tom from The Duke’s Head went to see the guys from Beavertown. We asked them if they’d put three of their beers in cask for an event and to our delight they agreed. Cask Vs Keg was one of the most riotously fun events we pulled off all year. We were joined by Beavertown owner and founder Logan Plant along with some of his excellent team. The guys from Tiberi cooked up an incredible Catalonian menu. I wore a velvet blazer, talked nonsense into a microphone and made everyone drink hop infused gin. Neither dispense method could claim victory over the other, with beer itself being the one true winner on the night.
The end of the month saw another fantastic London Brewers Market down at Old Spitalfields. The guys at Five Points brewing do a great job of organising these markets every few months and the exhausted brewery staff and empty kegs at the end of the night were a testament to its continued success.
April’s where shit started getting silly. I was working hard to relaunch Total Ales and move the blog’s direction towards a wholly journalistic/storytelling angle. Most evenings were spent reformatting my old blog posts in their entirety so I could bring them to this platform. It was heaps of fun.
Right at the beginning of the month I spent a day shadowing Brian, Patrick and Natasha at Weird Beard Brewery. I wanted to write a story with which to relaunch the blog and to demonstrate to everyone the direction I was heading in. I also spent a weekend in Berlin as part of my friend Leo’s stag party – I didn’t realise it at the time but I took some shots which inspired a pretty fun travel piece. That weekend was crazy, I feel nauseous just thinking about it.
Right at the end of the month I attended a low and no alcohol beer tasting hosted by Dani Neal for Club Soda. It was an enjoyable and informative event and I wrote about it here.
If I thought April was silly, May seemed to shift into another gear entirely. I was pleased to finally relaunch Total Ales, one of my proudest achievements of the last twelve months. My story about Weird Beard Brewery is probably my favourite thing I’ve written all year because for me it marked a moment when I felt I turned a corner as a beer writer.
I spent an eye opening couple of days up at the Brewdog facility in Ellon, near Aberdeen. I helped brew a beer once again with Jonny from the Craft Beer Channel as well as beer-writing luminary Adrian Tierney-Jones. I took away a lot from those two days, not least a great story to write about.
Later in the month I headed down to Cornwall to see two of my best friends, Leo and Kate get hitched. I drank a lot of St. Austell Korev and danced until the wee hours. That was an incredible weekend.
I remember exactly where I was when I got the email from Michael Kiser asking me if I’d like to write for Good Beer Hunting. I was back at Weird Beard, only this time I was breaking down hop bails for a collaboration beer, The Duke of Dank, which I was brewing with Tom from The Duke’s Head for our forthcoming event ‘Cask is Important’. I went home and I had a little panic attack – how the fuck would I raise my writing and photography to that level? Later on in the year I’d share a beer with Michael and talk about how all of us that write for GBH have to raise our level to that which the site demands. Six months in and it’s by far the most challenging and enjoyable work I do as a writer. I’m looking forward to seeing what new challenges the next twelve months bring us.
Elsewhere, deciding I wasn’t busy enough already, I put myself forward to join the British Guild of Beer Writers committee. It’s been a rewarding experience so far but I look forward to becoming more involved with the BGBW next year to hopefully get more people excited about beer writing, especially beer writers themselves.
I also went for my birthday dinner at Hawksmoor with my partner Dianne where we both wept into our beautiful steaks. Real tears.
Things didn’t slow down in July. I took Bottle Club on tour as I headed to Hop Hideout in Sheffield. This was one of my favourite events of the year. Gone was the frenetic pace in which we do things in London, instead replaced with a slow 'n' steady Yorkshire contentment. I hope to get back to Sheffield to do more events in 2016. Jules and Will run one of the coolest bottle shops in the country, it’s well worth visiting if you’re ever in town.
Later in the month we held a launch party for our Brewdog collab at the brewery's Shepherds Bush bar. Thinking back, Peach Therapy didn’t quite tick all my boxes, but it was hella fun to make. I did realise my ambition to stand on a Brewdog bar and shout stuff about beer though.
I got to do more shouting about beer later in the month as I hosted a little tour at the Food Meets Beer festival in Borough Market. This was immediately followed by two more of my besties getting hitched as we watched Charles and Natalie tie the knot in the beautiful St. Martin in the Fields, right by Trafalgar Square. We then celebrated in one of my favourite pubs, Angel’s The Three Johns.
I also took on my first contributor: Claire M. Bullen. Claire wrote two excellent pieces, one on Philly Beer Week and another which profiled freelance cheesemonger, Ned Palmer. She hasn’t contributed as much as I would have liked because she’s started studying a masters in creative writing, but there will be more exciting and engaging stories to come from Claire in 2016.
Right at the end of the month I caught up with beer writer Will Hawkes and interviewed him about his forthcoming London Beer City event. I also submitted the first of many articles to a cool little beer magazine called Ferment.
August nearly finished me, Mortal Kombat style. I probably consumed more beer in August than most other months combined. The first part of the month was all about London Beer City which incorporated both the Great British Beer Festival and The London Craft Beer Festival. Not only did I host three sessions at The Duke’s Head for Cask is Important but I also hosted a sensory beer tasting at Brewdog Shepherd’s Bush. That was fun, I got to blindfold people and make them listen to Faith No More while drinking Ten Fidy.
I packed in as many beer events as I could during London Beer City. I also helped organise the beer for a British Guild of Beer Writers reception along with fellow writer Sophie Atherton. I started picking up more work too as I got my first commission from a brilliant independent magazine called Original Gravity and I launched my No More Heroes column with bottle shop Hop Burns & Black.
At the end of the month I headed to Brussels for the European Beer Bloggers Conference. Once again, the city and its beer culture was the real winner rather than the conference itself. I spent all my money in Moeder Lambic, I gave a five minute talk on beer photography and drank a lot of Zinnebir. On our last day in Belgium we took a tour out to Pajottenland where we visited Drie Fonteinen and Boon. Tasting jonge lambic straight from the barrel at Drie Fonteinen, poured by Armand Debelder himself, was undoubtedly my beer moment of 2015. Magic indeed.
Early in September I headed to Manchester for the day to take a look at Cloudwater Brew Co for Good Beer Hunting. This story is finally nearing completion and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you all soon.
With this months commissions locked in I boarded the plane for my annual trip to see my Dad in Colorado. It was the first time in months I actually stopped to relax, only I didn’t really. I took in my first college football game (incredible), I hiked in the Rocky Mountains (also incredible) and I got so drunk in Boulder I ended up rolling around on the ground on Pearl Street, which is the town’s main thoroughfare, after attempting to climb a statue of a bear.
Later in the week I headed to Denver for a days work. I attended the premiere of Grit & Grain, the story of Goose Island Bourbon County. We got to try BC Rare, it was ok I guess. I interviewed Bob Pease from the Brewers Association and John Legnard of Blue Moon. The latter still needs to be transcribed which, as a writer, is literally the most fun you can have. I attended GABF as a member of the press and this was a little weird. I got to hang with my pal Sharona Selby of Left Hand Brewing for a while but when she had to go and work I just wandered around by myself sampling beers and people watching. It’s literally the worst way to experience a beer festival. Beer festivals should be about friends first and beer second.
In October I headed back to Manchester, where the UK craft brewing movement seems at its most active at the moment, for the Independent Manchester Beer Convention. At the trade session I set myself the challenge of interviewing as many people as possible and then at the following two sessions I switched off and set myself loose. It really it the best beer festival I’ve ever been to. My personal highlight was running from stand to stand with Jules and Will from Hop Hideout attempting to blend the ultimate black and tan. I’m not sure if we succeeded but it sure was fun trying.
I appeared as a guest on the brilliant Beer O’Clock Show podcast and discussed the developing news of a merger between AB-InBev and SAB Miller, one of the biggest stories that broke this year. It’s always a pleasure to be asked on as a guest by Mark and Steve who work really hard to create a great show, hopefully they’ll ask me back again next year.
Total Ales added another contributing writer in October, my Dad. Following a conversation we had about Maris Otter barley during my trip to the US I asked him to write a follow up. It was refreshing to be able to publish an article about grain from an extremely knowledgeable industry perspective. Malt fans will be pleased to know that I’ve commissioned him for another article that should get published next month.
At the end of October myself and the guys at Hop Burns & Black hosted a live No More Heroes themed evening of beer and music. Not only did we have a fantastic time putting this event together but we also raised over £500 for Mind, the mental health charity. Good work everyone and thanks again to all those that donated.
November saw the return of Darker Days, an evening spent celebrating dark beer at The Duke’s Head. Our final event of 2015 turned out to be another belter, with Siren Craft Brew bringing some absolutely stunning beers and Le Bao pairing them with some really thoughtful dishes. You can guarantee Darker Days will be back for a third instalment in 2016.
I also hosted a frenetic live beer blogging session at Fourpure Brewing for their second anniversary. The end result was… interesting, to say the least but it sure was fun putting it together. Finally I gave a little talk at Brewdog Birmingham about how to be a beer blogger. This was a fun talk that I hope to do again in 2016.
December started with a bang when I took home the silver award for best online communicator at the annual British Guild of Beer Writers awards. It was the icing on the cake of what was already an incredibly rewarding year as a beer writer.
Things then finally started to wind down a bit and I finished the year where it started, in Glasgow. We watched the Twilight Sad at the Barrlowlands, we drank Tennant’s, it was brilliant.
Thank You //
I’d like to thank everyone who has given me advice or offered me work this year. Without you I wouldn’t be in this bizarre position where people pay me to write and talk about beer and there is literally nothing else I would rather be doing. I’d especially like to thank you for reading and I hope you’ll stay with me for what promises to be another exciting year. Cheers and a happy new year to you all.