Golden Pints 2014

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Here is a run down of my Golden Pints for 2014 (run by Beer Reviews Andy). This represents a collection of brewery visits, beer festivals, football trips and, more recently, trips to London to visit historic pubs interspersed with the latest craft beer bars for my Taverns in Town project.

Best UK Cask Beer

Tiny Rebel Cwtch – I first had this on cask in Reading in March and any time I’ve seen it since I’ve had to buy it.

Honourable mentions for Adnams Ghost Ship and Kissingate Six Crows.

Best UK Keg Beer

As a rule, I tend to opt for cask over keg, but the star of the London Craft Beer Festival for me was Weird Beard Double Perle. A truly fantastic beer.

Best UK bottled or canned

Beavertown seem to have nailed their range and Gamma Ray in a can is now my go to train beer. But my beer of the year in this category is Brewdog Jackhammer.

Best Overseas Draught

Lagunitas IPA wins for me here. I used to say I wouldn’tever pay more than £4 a pint for beer. For this I will happily make an exception.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned

One of the stories of the year has been Wetherspoon’s foray into craft beer. A bottle of Lagunitas IPA for £2.50 – yes please!

Best Collaboration

Twickenham Ales / Kissingate Nooksack APA. First tried at the Horsham Spring Equinox Beer Festival. And then a few more times since at the brewery.

Best overall beer

Tiny Rebel Cwtch.

Best branding pump clip or label

Beavertown – I love the artwork on their cans, bottles and pumpclips.

Best UK brewery

A tricky one. I love the range and consistency of Thornbridge and Dark Star and I love some of the invention coming out of some of the newer breweries like Weird Beard.

I have to give this to Beavertown. Great beers and a great range. Gamma Ray, Smog Rocket and Neck Oil are all great core beers.

Best overseas brewery

I’m not sure I can really judge this as I don’t really drink enough. But I’ll say Westmalle, who gave us lots of free tasters at the Visit Flanders section of the London Craft Beer Festival in August. I’m looking forward to visiting and meeting the monks next May!

Best new brewery opening

Fourpure – I think they actually opened in 2013. But they only caught my attention with the launch of the range in cans earlier this year. Everything I’ve tried has been very good.

Pub / bar of the year

I award this to a pub I hadn’t been to before. This year it’s The Alehouse in Reading. A fabulous little pub – it could qualify as a micro pub – with an excellent ale line up and lots of interesting nooks and crannies, making it very atmospheric.

Best new pub / bar opening

Mother Kellys in Bethnal Green. Top notch. Trendy, without being achingly so. Superb line up of beers and the bottled range in the fridges is something else.

Best festival

The London Craft Beer Festival, which I wrote about here.

Best supermarket

No contest – Waitrose. I would have been very hard to put together a good budget beer advent calendar without it! I have used Horsham, Cobham and Salisvury and all have a great range and brilliant offers.

Best Indy retailer

Oddbins – nice to see a decent craft range all around London.

Online retailer

Ales by Mail are my ‘go to’ online retailer.

Best beer book or magazine

Well for Christmas I received a subscription to Hop and Barley and Brew Britannia by Boak and Bailey, and while they are both great at first glance I haven’t read them yet. So I’m going to go for Original Gravity magazine. Only one issue so far, but good stuff.

Best beer app

Craft Beer London. Invaluable as I look to discover good drinking places in between my Taverns in Town.

Simon H Johnson award for best beer Twitterer

Always informative and interesting, never too intrusive in my timeline and well balanced in opinion: Boak and Bailey.

Best brewery web / Social Media

Brewdog remain the best by a mile.

 

So there you have it. What will 2015 have in store? I have 37 Taverns in Town left to visit. Early in the year I should be visiting New York for work. In May I visit Berlin for a stag do and then have a nice beery trip to Antwerp booked after winning the Visit Flanders competition at the London Craft Beer Festival.

 

 

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Budget Beer Advent Calendar – Days 13-16

The rules are these. Each day from 1-24 December I drink a different beer. It must be either: 1) Discounted in some way; or 2) A gift for something I have done to help someone.

I will try to assemble the cheapest, most varied, highest quality beer advent calendar known to man!

You can view previous days here: Days 1-4 – Days 5-8 – Days 9-12

Days 13-16: A local gem, Yorkshire giants and an old favourite

I visited the Kissingate Brewery for their Christmas party and got a freebie of my favourite dark beer of the year. It stands up well to some more seasoned beers I tried on days 14-16.

Advent Calendar 4

Saturday 13th December

The Beer: Kissingate Six Crows, 6.6% ABV, 567ml.

How the brewer describes it: A rich, dark and decadent stout with intense notes of molasses, bourbon, oak and wood smoke.

The price: Free (reduced from £2.50).

The source: Kissingate Brewery, Lower Beeding, nr. Horsham. Gary kindly gave me a complimentary drink voucher in return for me publicising his beer and being a great customer!

Sunday 14th December

The Beer: Timothy Taylor Landlord, 4.3% ABV, 500ml.

How the brewer describes it: A Classic Strong Pale Ale, Landlord has won more awards nationally than any other beer: This includes four times as Champion at the Brewers’ International Exhibition and four times as CAMRA’s beer of the year. Refreshingly reliable, nationally renowned, this full drinking Pale Ale with a complex and hoppy aroma.

The price: £1.67 (in a 3 for £5 deal, usually £2).

The source: Sainsbury’s, Wilton Road, London SW1.

Monday 15th December

The Beer: Kelham Island Pride of Sheffield, 4.2% ABV, 500 ml.

How the brewer describes it: A light copper bitter crafted from a range of choicest English malted barleys including Maris Otter, Tipple and Crystal malts. Spicy British hops complement the malty, caramel flavours and fruity American hops add a refreshing bitter sweet palate.

The price: £1 (reduced from £2.40).

The source: Spar, Coltsfoot Drive, Horsham.

Tuesday 16th December

The Beer: Fullers Golden Pride, 8.5% ABV, 500 ml.

How the brewer describes it: Everybody loves a pint but good things come in smaller measures too. Golden Pride is a premium, superior-strength bottled ale, bursting with flavours of sweet orange oil and toasted grains. At 8.5% ABV, it’s to be savoured like a fine wine.

The price: £1.66 (in a 3 for £5 deal, usually £2.50)

The source: Sainsbury’s, Wilton Road, London SW1.

Running total

Total spent: £17.29

Normal price: £36.81

Saving: £19.52

NB. The beer on Tuesday 16th December was actually consumed on Wednesday 17th December due to a serious bout of man flu!

Budget Beer Advent Calendar – Days 1-4

A beer a day keeps the doctor away. I think that’s the saying. Beer advent calendars seem to be a thing now. In fact they seem to be all the rage.

I didn’t have £60-£70 to spare or a generous friend or relative. I decided to get creative and was inspired by a great find in a bargain bin at my local Spar.

The rules are these. Each day from 1-24 December I drink a different beer. It must be either: 1) Discounted in some way; or 2) A gift for something I have done to help someone.

I will try to assemble the cheapest, most varied, highest quality beer advent calendar known to man!

Days 1-4: An Eclectic Mix

Over the first few days I’ve visited Sheffield, Belgium, Peterborough and Brooklyn

Advent Calendar 1

Monday 1st December

The Beer: Kelham Island Easy Rider, 4.3% ABV, 500ml.

How the brewer describes it: A light easy drinking pale ale with a refreshing citrus zest and blackcurrant aroma which dances on the palate with the malty sweetness of Maris Otter leaving a satisfying, lingering finish.

The price: £1.00 (reduced from £2.40).

The source: Spar, Coltsfoot Drive, Horsham.

Tuesday 2nd December

The Beer: Kasteel Rouge, 8.0% ABV, 330ml.

How the brewer describes it: Kasteel Rouge is principally a “blend” of two artisanal, quality products, Kasteel Donker and a cherry liqueur. The beer was launched in 2008 and is the “fruitiest” offering within the Kasteel beer range.

The price: Free (typically around £3.00).

The source: I gave a colleague a lift to work for a couple of days and was rewarded in turn.

Wednesday 3rd December

The Beer: Oakham Ales Scarlet Macaw, 4.8% ABV, 500 ml.

How the brewer describes it: Tart gooseberry and soft peach on the nose. Gooseberries and fruit to taste, before an intense bitterness that’s as sharp as a macaw’s screech!    

The price: £1.72 (20% off – reduced from £2.15)

The source: Waitrose, Cobham.

Thursday 4th December

The Beer: Sixpoint Sweet Action, 5.2% ABV, 355ml.

How the brewer describes it: Through all of the madness emerged an undefinable beer called Sweet Action; a beer that your brain cannot categorize but instead speaks directly to your palate. Our senses and intuition sometimes trump rational thought. It’s Mad Science.

The price: Free (usually £1.99)

The source: A Christmas gift from my friend Phil, for being a good mate (ok, slightly dubious, but hard to find discounted beer at the pub – and I did buy him a 17-year old single malt as his present). The Lynd Cross (JD Wetherspoon), Horsham.

Running total

Total spent: £2.72

Normal price: £9.54

Saving: £6.82

Over the next few days we’ll be visiting Scotland and Germany and heading back to Brooklyn and Sheffield to see what else they have to offer. 

Spoiled for Choice (or not, as the case may be)

Recently I embarked on a London pub crawl of sorts around Fleet Street and Holborn. Part of my mission was to visit four of the 48 pubs in my Taverns in Town project. At the same time, I wanted to try out some new ‘craft’ venues to compare and contrast the old and the new.

What struck me most was that today, in London, if you want great beer you would have to actively go out of your way to avoid it. I visited seven pubs in all and the choice and range was astonishing. I drank a varied assortment – Dark Star Hophead, Longman Copper Hop, Buxton Moor Top, Crouch Vale Brewers Gold, Burning Sky Plateau, Konig Pils, Siren Undercurrent and Dark Star Green Hopped IPA – and for each choice there could have been two or three worthy replacements.

London

This is a far cry from my arrival in London late in 2000. Chain and theme pubs dominated the scene – All Bar One, O’Neills, Rat & Parrot, Slug and Lettuce, Hogshead – and you were basically choosing between Caffreys, Guinness and John Smiths as your keg ‘ales’, some fancy European lager like Becks or Staropramen or an interesting oddity like Hoegaarden. You really had to search to find the hidden gem of a pub with interesting beers at decent prices. And as for local beers it was Youngs or Fullers. Full stop.

We are lucky to be living through this craft beer boom and proliferation of new and interesting pub concepts with excellent beer ranges. As with any trend, be it fashion, coffee shops, free newspapers it tends to start (or at least gather pace) in London and then radiate out to other major urban centres like ripples on a pond, before rippling back to fill in the gaps.

A few weeks ago I participated in the Horsham Ale Trail. Compare and contrast the beer list from my London trip with this Horsham ‘showcase’ – Dark Star Sunburst, Birrificio Angelo Poretti, Hepworth Sussex, Taylor Walker 1730, Bill’s Beer, Greene King Crown Ale, Kings Horsham Best, Hepworth Conqueror Stout, (bastardised) King & Barnes Sussex, Fullers London Pride – only 3 or 4 out of 10 that could hold a light to my average evening out in London experience.

Horsham

My adopted home is about 40 miles from London and has a variety of town centre pubs, but since the sale of the King and Barnes estate to Hall & Woodhouse in 2001 we are far from spoiled for choice. The local Taylor Walker pub and Wetherspoon probably offer the best choice where ‘craft’ is concerned (which tells you all you need to know), but both do support local breweries pretty well too. And because of the Hall & Woodhouse domination, away from those venues, you have to be really lucky to find anything from any of the excellent local breweries (Hepworth, Kings, Weltons, Kissingate, Firebird and of course Dark Star) in the town centre. Where pubs do have an ale range, they tend to be tied to a less than adventurous pub company.

Horsham is stuck between London and Brighton and waiting for the ripple to rebound. Whoever sets up a decent pub with a great range of local and ‘craft’ beers will do well, if the thriving brewery shops and supermarket shelves, usually stripped of premium bottled ales, are anything to go by. So if you are a London drinker reading this, count your blessings and go out and try as many different pubs and beers as you can all over the city. If like me you are stuck in the land that beer forgot, don’t worry, it will arrive soon: I just hope we can last it out.

The return of Sussex Brews

I used to tweet and write about beer. Under the name ‘Sussexbrews’ I had a well read blog and 1,200 Twitter followers.

But I became disillusioned with the whole ‘craft beer bubble’. The thing I’d spent years being interested in and talking about was getting big.

And I didn’t have anything left to say. So I deleted my blog and my Twitter account. Lost without a trace, never to return.

A couple of things recently made me change my mind and start tweeting and blogging again.

First I went along to the Horsham Spring Equinox Beer Festival. It was a great event, with lots of excellent local beer. I felt the buzz again.

We met a great couple called Lari and Pat all the way from Colorado (where they work at Pike’s Peak Brewing).

Why were they in Horsham, I wondered? Whenever they are in the UK they pick a beer festival to come to and this was it.

Pat was fed up with the hoppy race to the bottom that’s going on in the US. I agreed. A trip to New York in 2012 had led me to the same conclusion and said I feared the same here.

Craft hops at the expense of the real craft of creating a well balanced beer.

We shared a mutual love of the English session beer. And  I realised that my love of beer isn’t a fad or trend.  I need to be expressing it and telling people about it again.

Then I read a great article by Jeff Alworth (@beervana): Zen and the Art of Appreciating Simple Beers.

It’s about beer appreciation being a circular journey.

“First you love beer naively, out of a simple joy.

Then your head gets filled with a bunch of crap about what’s good and you begin disliking beer out of blind prejudice.

Finally you come back to appreciating beer for its own nature.

(And conversely, that appreciation makes you aware of how many intense beers are badly made and lack the harmony and integration that are the hallmarks of a good beer in any style).”

This article really made me wish I hadn’t jacked it all in.

So here I am. Blogging again. And tweeting again. Thanks Jeff, and thanks Pat!

You can check out my Twitter feed: @strangebeers