Dear beer lovers/ #goldenpints chasers, it’s hard to believe another year has come and gone. We had our fourth birthday. We visited the West Coast of America, the Arctic Circle, Munich and Belgium so many times we lost count. We grew by 10,000 subscribers, very nearly hit 50,000 subs and 2,000,000 views. We won an award, joined the Good Beer Hunting team and finished our second book (out Feb!).
But all that success and growth PALES in comparison to the achievements of the amazing brewers we film and write about. British beer, indeed global beer, had its best year ever. Don’t let the sad and distressing news about buyouts deny that. We need to embrace the challenges, but also remember to shut the fuck up for a moment and enjoy the actual beer.
Sometimes writing listicles like this can be seen as cynical and cheap. But for me, #goldenpints a chance to relive all the amazing moments of 2017, by which I mean times with the beer and the people, and to give shoutouts to those who made it possible, whether it’s brewers or friends.
Best UK Cask Beer
I have three standout cask memories this year. The most remarkable was a cask of Cloudwater/To Øl’s Christmas Cake Stout at Bottleshop Bermondsey. Thick, boozy, spicy and malty in the malted-milk sense it was a wonder that stuck to my teeth and my gut to make for a visceral, delicious experience.
Similarly I got to try a cask beer at the Bear Republic taproom in Santa Rosa – a wee heavy, to be precise. It had been aged on oak chips and was actually based on the original homebrew recipe of the brewery’s founder. It was, in fact, the recipe for the first beer he ever made. It was sweet with caramel and vanilla, an absolute malt bomb perfect for winter.
The other memory is our first Good Beer hunting editorial meeting, just a few weeks ago. All of us were hungover to hell after a party the night before, but somehow I still sunk 5 pints of Burning Sky Plateau and skidded home happy.
Best UK Keg Beer
It’s been said many times during Golden Pints and before, but Lost and Grounded Kellerpils is simply the most drinkable beer in the UK. Moreish, reviving and refreshing yet full-bodied and full-flavoured. It’s not as good as the seminal Hacker-Pschorr Kellerbier but it’s close and some more tweaking will mean we can finally tell Germany we’ve bettered one of their classics. Honourable mention to some stunning pales I’ve had Vibrant Forest.
Best UK Bottled Beer
Good lord this is a tough one – I mean, I probably drank 500 different bottles this year thanks to the Craft Beer Channel and Beer merchants tasting sessions. I think it has to go to Little Earth Project’s bretted stock ale – lambic-y, ciderous, orange juicy – it was complex yet remarkably approachable. We drank it during our tips for the best breweries of 2017, in which we definitely scored 3 out of 4 for.
Best UK Canned Beer
Cloudwater/The Veil Chubbles was my standout from both a flavour and technical point of view. Over 10% but just pure fruit juice. Madness. Dangerous madness.
I also bloody loved Travel Notes from Northern Monk. It was such a gimmicky concept but the acai berries really, really worked adding a complex layer of fruitiness that was hard to pin down but set it apart from the flood of hazy juicebombs that came out of British breweries this year.
Best Overseas Draught
I don’t want to brag…but drinking Pliny by the pint for $3.50 on a Sunday is as close to attending Church as I got this year. It was truly a religious experience.
Best Overseas Bottled Beer
This has to be 3 Fonteinen Cuvee & Amand Gaston, pushing Boon Black Label down a peg in my mindlist of world’s best geuzes. Dry, champagne-y and puckering it takes over your entire palate, nose and brain with bubbling sherbet and vinous acidity.
Best Overseas Canned Beer
I could talk more about the juicebombs we had over in the States, but I want to mention Puca – a berry and hibiscus sour from Ireland’s White Hag. It’s a beautiful sour with a lot more complexity than most kettle sours, while still feeling just a hint like a soft drink.
Best Collaboration Brew
That’ll be the Chubbles again.
Best Overall Beer
No can do. There’s a beer for every occasion. If there is no occasion, then the freshest German helles that I can find.
Northern Monk gets the nod from me for the sheer variation, daring, innovation and gorgeousness of their labels. The Patrons Project is a wild success for me – bringing together and curating both beer and art forms.
Best Pump Clip
I really enjoy the nostalgic 8-bit of Elusive Brewing’s pump clips.
Best Bottle Label
Can’t this be a can? If so, Northern Monk Travel Notes was a stunner.
Best UK Brewery
I have rewritten this bit several times, because it is impossible to pick. However, beating Cloudwater into second place, is Northern Monk who I think have had a stellar year, producing some of the UK’s best stouts (from 4% to 10.5%) and some of the best IPAs (Captain North, Travel Notes). I’d like to see them do a bit more with different yeasts now, but with Colin Stronge onboard I’m sure that will happen and I expect Northern Monk’s 2018 to be huge.
Best Overseas Brewery
Lervig have outdone themselves this year with their stouts and IPAs, as well as completely rebranding and looking considerably better for it.
Best New Brewery Opening 2017
So while the older boys of British craft brewing have all had stellar years, there haven’t been many openings that have impressed this year. That might be down to the fact so many opened at the tale end of 2016 (Verdant, DEYA, Little Earth), but it’s also perhaps a sign that the market for new breweries (or at least the space for the hype) has shrunk. That said, Burnt Mill will be a great addition and a lifeline for hop lovers/drinkers in Norfolk and have already made some cracking canned beer. Pillars are also finding their feet and it will be good to have a great, independent lager brewery in London again.
Pub/Bar of the Year
Given that we’ve written a book on the pubs and taprooms of London this year, it’s no surprise that I’ve picked a London pub. Stormbird is an amazing place, a pub that has flown in the face of boring beer for years and years. What must have been a tough sell to start with is now a pub with, routinely, the most exciting taplist in London. The last time I went there they didn’t even have a lager on tap. To put that in context, most pubs (even the craftiest of the craftsters) serve around 70% lager. They’re mad. And brilliant.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2017
The Hop Locker has been around for a while now, but the opening of the one under the Hungerford Bridge has brought it to national nerd attention. Regularly competing with Stormbird for the most idiosyncratic tap list in London, there is always something remarkable on tap, and being next to Bleeker Burger is just a bonus.
Howling Hops, forever and always.
Beer Festival of the Year
Toer De Geuze – a lesson in heartburn management and the joy of slow beer.
Supermarket of the Year
Wat iz supermarkits?
Independent Retailer of the Year
Caps & Taps, mostly for being Steph and Phil, but also because their shop and beer knowledge is beyond excellent.
Online Retailer of the Year
THERE IS ONLY ONE ONLINE RETAILER. IT IS BEER MERCHANTS. Ahem.