Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
So here we are again at the end of another year of balls out beer drinking and what a great year for beer drinking it has been. I can't believe it's already been a whole 12 months since I handed out my last golden pint awards but without further ado, here is a list of the best things in beer that I bought, drank and read this year.
· Best UK Cask Beer
Winner: Oakham Citra
Runners Up: Siren Half Mast QIPA, Brodie's Citra
Despite my leanings towards bottle and keg I do still love a decent pint of fresh cask beer and nothing has impressed me more this year than Oakham Citra. Sensible ABV, huge flavours of grapefruit and lemon zest with enough body and backbone to hold it all up, I could drink this all day long. Honourable mentions go to Brodie's for their own Citra pale ale and newcomers Siren who I foolishly doubted until I tried their delicious Half Mast session ale.
· Best UK Keg Beer
Winner: Wild Beer Co Madness IPA
Runners Up: Magic Rock Cannonball, Kernel IPA (Various)
I love Magic Rock Cannonball, I love Thornbridge Halcyon and when kegged Kernel IPA is on form there's few things that are better. However it was the luscious half of Wild Beer Co Madness IPA I had in Soho's The Lyric back in the summer that really knocked me for six. Juicy tropical and citrus fruits are abound and it's that rich, juicy quality that really set this beer apart for me and naturally I marched straight back to the bar and ordered a whole pint afterwards.
· Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Winner: Beavertown Gamma Ray Pale Ale
Runners Up: Thornbridge Halcyon, Magic Rock High Wire
I was taking part in
Craft Beer Co Islington's ill fated beer quiz night when I unknowingly blind tasted Beavertown Gamma Ray for the first time. It had the bitter, pithy hit of fresh Dale's Pale Ale but with that quintessential London-ness that you can taste at the back of your throat that you get from the new wave of bottle conditioned beers produced in this fair city. I thought it was a bottle of Kernel IPA in its pomp, I was wrong and Gamma Ray has been a staple in my fridge ever since.
· Best Overseas Draught Beer
Winner: Lagunitas Sucks Double IPA
Runners Up: Odell IPA, Boneyard Notorious Triple IPA
It was tough not just giving this to Russian River Pliny the Younger which delicious as it may be is neither accessible or available to most mortals. It was, in fact, a pint of Lagunitas Sucks double IPA that I sank in the Mayor of Old Town that stuck in my mind more than any other pint I had from foreign shores this year. It had that juiciness, that drinkability and that huge level of flavour that makes IPA my favourite style of beer and that's why this one just edged it for me.
· Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Winner: Mikkeller Nelson Sauvignon
Runners Up: Russian River Pliny the Elder, New Belgium La Folie
Very few beers make me enunciate profusely after the first sip these days, let alone the first sniff but Mikkeller Nelson Sauvignon is quite simply a magical beer. Through the clever use of Nelson Sauvin hops and bottle refermentation with Brettanomyces this beer takes on a vinous quality that could fool the less educated into thinking this was a sparkling white wine. It's an absolutely delicious beer and if it wasn't for the whopping price tag (expect to pay around 20 quid for a 75cl bottle) it's probably something I would have drank a lot more of this year.
· Best Collaboration Brew
Winner: Wild Beer Co/Burning Sky/Good George Shnoodlepip
Runner Up: Verboten/The Mayor of Old Town/Total Ales Barrel Aged I'm All Right Jack
If you read the label on a bottle of Shnoodlepip, a collaboration between the UK's Wild Beer Co and Burning Sky and New Zealand's Good George you'd think you'd have in your hands an absolute car-crash of a beer, you'd be wrong. Shnoodlepip combines a 6.5% ABV base beer with pink peppercorns, passion fruit and hibiscus flowers and is then aged in Burgundy barrels. The end result is a delicious, tongue-twistingly complex beverage that pushes the boundaries of what beer can be. A special mention also has to go to the gold medal winning beer 'I'm All Right Jack' that I brewed with Verboten Brewing and The Mayor of Old Town back in February, a rich, delicious and complex beer fully deserving of the accolade it has received.
· Best Overall Beer
Winner: Wild Beer Co Madness IPA
I could give this award to any of the weird, wonderful and downright hard to get beers I've drank this year but I think the beer that this award goes to should be one that's not just delicious but also accessible and available whenever I want it. Thankfully the bottled version of Wild Beer Co's flagship US-Influenced IPA is as delicious as when I had it on draught and because I want to and can drink it all of the time it quite simply has to be my beer of the year.
· Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
Winner: Camden Town Brewery
Runner Up: The Wild Beer Co
Wild Beer Co come close to yet another award from me here with their simple yet gorgeous bottle designs but it's the eye catching graphics from Camden Town Brewery that have run away with this one. Next time you're in Waitrose glance at the beer shelf and I'd wager the first bottles that catch your eye are those rather handsome looking bottles of Hells Lager.
· Best UK Brewery
Winner: Wild Beer Co
Runners Up: Magic Rock, Thornbridge
Despite not perhaps hitting the same level of consistency as Magic Rock and Thornbridge it's Wild Beer Co that have managed to keep me both entertained and enthralled with their wares this year. From the woody weirdness of Modus Operandi through to the complete bonkers-ness of Ninkasi these guys from Somerset have managed to produce a different beer that impressed me pretty much every month of this year. I doff my cap to the team at Wild Beer, they've truly made me blow both my mind and my load repeatedly over the last 12 months, long may it continue.
· Best Overseas Brewery
Winner: Firestone Walker
Runners Up: Odell Brewing Co, Brasserie Cantillon
Despite not actually winning any individual awards it's the quality and consistency of the beers from California's Firestone Walker that means they walk away with this prize for the second year running. From the downright drinkability of Pale 31 through to the sheer brilliance that is Wookey Jack black IPA there isn't a beer in their range that doesn't impress and that's BEFORE you even get into their bonkers barrel ageing and blending program. It's no wonder then, that they walked away with the biggest haul of medals at this years GABF.
· Best New Brewery Opening 2013
Winner: Weird Beard
Runner Up: Northern Monk
This was an easy one for me to decide as not only was I immediately impressed with the output of West London's Weird Beard but I have seen the beers improve with each and every batch. Little Things That Kill, a hoppy session ale packed with tropical fruit flavours has been a real highlight this year. Yorkshires Northern Monk also deserve an honourable mention especially for the mesmerising Strannik Imperial Stout.
· Pub/Bar of the Year
Winner: The Mayor of Old Town
Runners Up: North Bar, The Southampton Arms
Wild Beer Co Madness IPA: My beer of 2013
Once again The Mayor walks away with this prize, quite simply it's my favourite place to drink the booze by a country mile. This year was extra special because not only did we celebrate my Dad's 60th there but they also let me get up on stage and play guitar for a bit and that was pretty cool. The Southampton Arms is still my favourite pub in London but only just and how could I not mention the wonderful North Bar of Leeds, a place where it's simply impossible not to have fun.
· Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
Winner: Draft House Charlotte
I'm not sure if the fantastic Draft House on Goodge Street opened this year or last year but it was this year that I discovered it and it's fast becoming one of the best beer destinations in London. As well as a great selection of beers, wines and spirits, charcuterie and larger bites the Draft House has perhaps the warmest welcome out of any of London's modern boozers. Max and his team are doing a fantastic job and with events such as the Sunday Sessions this is going to be a very popular pub next year.
· Beer Festival of the Year
Winner: The Great American Beer Festival
I'm not a big lover of beer festivals but the GABF is a once in a lifetime event for a beer geek such as myself and hence I couldn't really give it to anything else. The GABF is a beer festival of a simply mindblowing proportions with an astounding choice of beers, the downside being that you can only get one ounce pours.
· Supermarket of the Year
Winner: Marks and Spencer
I don't buy a lot of booze from supermarkets as I prefer to shop at specialist retailers with a better selection but I've been impressed with the range that M&S has stocked this year, Oakham Citra IPA being the real highlight.
· Independent Retailer of the Year
Winner: Oddbins Crouch End
Although not strictly independent my local branch of Oddbins in Crouch End, North London has the welcoming feel of an independent and now at least 25% of the shop space is dedicated to good beer. It has been great to see their beer sales go from strength to strength and putting faith in a lot of fledgling breweries such as Five Points and Pressure Drop has not only paid off for the retailer but also made these beers much easier to get hold of. It's no surprise then that I've bought more beer from these guys than anywhere else this year.
· Online Retailer of the Year
Winner: Beer Ritz
Despite good beer becoming easier to get in my local area thanks to Oddbins I still like to order a case of the good stuff once a month and its the speedy, good natured service of Beer Ritz that has me going back for more time and time again. No doubt another twelve months of these guys rinsing my bank account on payday are to come.
· Best Beer Book or Magazine
Winner: Craft Beer World - Mark Dredge
I haven't sat down and read enough books on beer this year but out of those I have it was Mark's book Craft Beer World that provided me with the most enjoyment. It's a format that's been done to death but it's Marks boundless enthusiasm for beer that is apparent in every paragraph that makes this such a good read. When I'm feeling negative about my own writing I like to pick this up and read a few pages and that enthusiasm then infects me and drives me on, so thanks for that Mark.
· Best Beer Blog or Website
Winner: Boak and Baileys Beer Blog
Runners Up: Justin Mason - Get Beer Drink Beer, Chris Hall - The Beer Diary
Not only have 'Jessica Boak' and 'Ray Bailey' written some wonderful pieces on the history of beer within the UK this year as well as some really solid reviews but they've also done something that other bloggers haven't and that has been them encouraging fellow beer bloggers to keep on writing. I've seen several blogs fall by the wayside or disappear completely this year but thanks to this pair they've stopped my own blog from suffering the same fate. With regular round ups of the British beer blogging scene and events such as #Beerylongreads which encouraged bloggers to write a lengthy article of more than 2000 words in November they've become perhaps the most important pair of beer writers we currently have in the UK. Almost every golden pints I've read so far has nominated this pair in this category and I can't think of anyone else that deserves this accolade more. Special mentions go to Justin for his indispensable beers of London series and Chris for the Beer Diary, especially this wonderful piece on Brasserie Cantillon.
· Best Beer App
Runner Up: Craft Beer London
Untappd, it's a real Marmite app. I discussed why I find it so useful here and I continue to do so. I also use Craft Beer London regularly which is a result of my love of craft beer and living in London.
· Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
Twitter seems a very different place without the razor sharp wit of Simon H. Johnson but the way the rest of us rallied round to support his memory was a wonderful thing. Boak and Bailey once again get this award for the way they encourage fellow writers like myself and the UK beer blogging scene is all the richer for it.
· Best Brewery Website/Social media
Winner: Camden Town Brewery
Runners Up: Beavertown, Magic Rock
Having great branding and social media is one thing and there are many breweries now doing this well but Camden edge it for me because of that human quality that many businesses using social media lack. Don't be the brand be the person behind the brand, reply to all your messages promptly and keep telling us what you're doing, that's all we really need and Camden do it best.
· Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Winner: Williams Brothers Fraoch with Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
I'm coming to the conclusion that this beer and food matching thing is a myth, the fact is that booze and food matching is mostly made up clap-trap. The only thing that really pairs well with booze is more booze and I think deep down we all know that. I did have one revelation this year though and that was at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Edinburgh back in July. The marriage of the heavy, salty haggis with the cleansing, floral Fraoch from Williams Brothers was as surprising as it was delicious. Maybe it's not such clap-trap after all...
So there you have it, my beers, breweries and beer people of 2013 in a nutshell. Congratulations to those that won and commiserations to those that didn't make the cut, try a bit harder next year, yeah?