It’s been a brilliant year in beer throughout the UK. While the rest of our lives fell apart in our hands and the number of politicians we want to punch in the mouth steadily grew, at least we could solemnly toast with a big fresh glass of Cloudwater DIPA, eh? Below is Jonny’s golden pints, a collection of the best of 2016, distilled into a few short hungover sentences.
Best UK Cask Beer – Cloudwater Vermont Bitter
Runner up: Tiny Rebel Cwtch
I had this right at the start of the year, and it was absolutely stunning. Lots of stone fruit from the Vermont ale yeast, with subtle caramel and raisin from the malts before a lightning quick, moreish bitter finish. The fact that it wasn’t anywhere near as good in bottle is proof of cask’s important place is modern brewing.
Best UK Keg Beer – Kernel Saison Citra
Runner up: Brew By Numbers Double IPA 55|03
I drank this while getting a tour of the brewery with Evin. We’d never talked much before and getting to know, see and understand the passion and knowledge that man has was inspiring. The beer itself is phenomenal – that awesome bag o’ hops smell, layered with spice and earth and grass. On the palate it was zingy, fresh, ever so slightly tart and just dripping with grapefruit.
2016 will be known (among other more terrible things) as year of the DIPA, and although I loved every single on of Cloudwaters, my favourite was actually by Brew By Numbers. Theirs was a little cleaner and light with some more hop depth thanks to the combination of citra, mosaic and wai-iti.
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer – Magic Rock Inhaler
Runner up: Cloudwater DIPA v3
I recently moved to within a 3 minute walk of Clapton Craft NW5. Because of the channel and the day job there isn’t a lot of beer I can’t get hold of, so initially this didn’t excite me. But then I realised that, for half of my waking day I am within walking distance of a can of Inhaler, my new go-to session hoppy beer. There’s so much juice, perfectly balanced with a savoury bitterness and grain character. It’s now a permanent feature in my fridge.
Best Overseas Draught Beer – Tired Hands Hophands
Runner-up: To Øl/BRUS Bruce Springsteam
My east coast American trip this year was the highlight of my beer career so far, and fittingly it started with hands down the best pale ale I have ever tasted. Hophands is light, fluffy as a cloud and full of soft tropical fruit flavours. Drinking it while tucking into tacos as the brewery should be on everyone’s beer bucket list. In second place was a mosaic steam lager I had at Brus in Copenhagen. It was a great, pilsner-like beer with a hint of sweetness but then plenty of esters and loads of mosaic. Delicious.
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer – De Dolle Arabier
Runner up: Treehouse Julius
It takes a special beer indeed to knock Julius into second place, but Arabier is perhaps my favourite beer of all time. This hazy Belgian strong is big, bittersweet and loaded with banana, clove, cinnamon and all kinds of amazing aromas, as well as a funk from the open fermentation which I swear has allowed some brett in. It’s so complex, but total neck oil at the same time.
Best Collaboration Brew – Lervig/Hoppin’ Frog Sippin’ into Darkness
Runner up: Omnipollo/Dugges Anagram
Lervig make the some of the best imperial stouts in the world. Konrad, their year round one, is a stunner but it’s usually the collabs that really sing when it comes to Mike Murphy’s beer. Sippin’ into Darkness is a dark, decadent coffee, vanilla and chocolate stout that is absurdly drinkable. I had it next to Yellow Belly and found it had more depth and complexity, which is saying something. Anagram was a proper revelation too, but I still can’t work out how I feel about these beers that don’t taste like beer… I worry it’s taking us down a bad path.
Best Branding: Trillium
Runner up: Cloudwater
I just love Trillium’s branding. Clean, clear, classy and instantly recognisable. The sketches are beautiful and do justice to the delicious beers inside. Visiting their taproom for some bottles was another highlight of my year, as was drinking the bottle of Heavy Mettle I picked up. Cloudwater’s is great too, using different artists each time to give every release a unique feel before you even get inside the bottle.
Best UK Brewery – Buxton Brewery
Runner up: Northern Monk
Buxton’s Belgian range this year was the best conceived and most exciting launch of the year. From top to bottom they were sensational, and the patersbier was better than any Belgian one I’ve ever had. At the same time, they’ve got stunning IPAs like Axe Edge in fermenters, world famous stouts like Yellow Belly ageing in barrels, and are still making top notch trad beers at the same time. Buxton get a lot of love, but it will never be enough for how talented Colin and his brew team are.
Best Overseas Brewery – Tired Hands
Runner up: Omnipollo
As I said, my visit to the Tired Hands taphouse was the start of the most enlightening and exciting beer trips of my life. The beers we drank we all knockout hop monsters, but it was when I got home and tried my white-wine-barrel-aged spelt saison that I realise just how special Tired Hands are. It was wine-y, spicy, dry and tart – so utterly moreish and alluring. They nudge out Omnipollo who are doing the most exciting recipes in the world at the moment, but nothing quite as refined and classy as Tired Hands.
Best New UK Brewery Opening – Lost and Grounded
Runner up: Elusive
It’s been a really strong year for new openings, with a couple hitting the ground running which is hard in this market. Honourable other mentions to DEYA, Little Earth and Verdant. But Lost and Grounded came in and made a Kellerpils, which is a sure way to my heart. I think all the beers still need some work and a bit of dialling in but the Hophand Fallacy and Running with Sceptres are already tasting absolutely banging. This kind of professional set up is the next wave, and Alex and co are doing it right.
Pub/Bar of the Year – Howling Hops Tank Bar
Runner up: Southampton Arms
Despite both being run by the same great mind, the two pubs in this category couldn’t be different. The Southampton Arms get the runner-up slot because it is the best pub in London, maybe the world. I was there just two nights ago, sat by the fire drinking amazingly kept real ales from all over the country, listening to some jazz piano with a sax accompaniment and chowing down on an epic pork pie. You think you can’t get better than that. But you can, because a lazy saturday afternoon at Howling Hops is my happy place. Amazing barbecue food, chilled out vibes, a lovely setting and some of the best, freshest beers in London. Give me a pint of their pils and dirty bun of meat and you’ll win an award every year from me.
Best New Pub/Bar – the Griffin
Runner-up: Mason & Co
When I first told my girlfriend I was going to the Griffin I got an earful. Turns out one Griffin is actually an infamous strip pub in Clerkenwell. The one I meant is in Old Street, tucked round the back from Commercial Road. It’s a small pub recently acquired by Barworks of King’s Arms fame, and boy have they done a great job with it. You can tell this historic boozer used to be one hell of a hole, but now that seedy feel has been used to great effect. It’s cramped and dingy, but there’s always a seat. The beer is second to none on draught and in the fridge, and they have hot pies for the hungry. Mason & Co is brilliant too, but I’ve only made it out there once so it couldn’t really win…
UK Brewery Taproom of the Year – Brew By Numbers
Runner-up: Magic Rock Tap
I love the Brew By Numbers taproom for lots of reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s very low budget and often way too crowded like the rest of the mile, but come early and grab a table and you’ll enjoy some delicious beers with emphasis on new stuff, all as fresh as an April shower. I tend to stick to the pale ales, which are getting better and better as they go down the east coast murk and juice route. The Magic Rock Tap is the opposite kind of place, all glamour and slick service. It’s also a brilliant place to have a beer while peering into the brewery the animals at work.
Beer Festival of the Year – London Craft Beer Festival
LCBF is and always has been the highlight of my festival calendar. It is essentially a giant house party with the best beer selection you could ever imagine. I ran the bottleshop this year and we had an absolute blast. Indyman 2016 was somehow more reserved than usual, but no less exciting especially since I met the team behind Jester King.
Beer Retailer of the Year – Hop, Burns & Black
Runner-up: Clapton Craft
I’m not including online retailers here because I am biased, working for Beer Merchants. Physical stores though have had a wonderful year and HB&B is the pinnacle. Following the American trend for being able to drink on site as well as being a bottleshop, I enjoy grabbing a beer and perusing the shelves. They also run great events and get some beers no one else can thanks to the owners’ roots in NZ.
Best Beer Book or Magazine – Pete Brown The Pub
Runner-up: Mark Dredge’s Cooking with Beer
Well, other than our own of course, I loved Pete Brown’s the Pub. It’s absolutely hilarious at points, while being a love letter to the fantastic pubs we have in this country. Mark Dredge’s Cooking with Beer was also a cut above most people’s attempts at this tricky, often crowbarred-together topic.
Best Beer Blog or Website – Good Beer Hunting
There’s nothing that can touch Good Beer Hunting for its artistic and reverential approach to beer. It’s the exact opposite of what I do, but we need coverage across the spectrum and all audiences to spread the word of good beer. There are some fantastic bits of writing, endless beautiful photography, and following them on Twitter is always enlightening for what they get into arguments about. My runner-up, Beervana, is full of nuggets of information and insight that I catch up on almost every day. It helps me think issues through when I see Jeff’s take on it.
Best Brewery Website & Social Media – Cloudwater
Runner-up: Good Beer Hunting
Cloudwater’s approach to transparency have been commendable and even inspirational. To tell people exactly how a beer was made, to poll their opinions and then explain business takes some guts. When you open up people are liable to take shots, but it’s all done honesty, integrity and a genuine thirst for other people’s views. I wish more companies were like that.