It’s been a fantastic year for the Craft Beer Channel. We finally took it full-time, we hit 50,000 subscribers, we launched a successful Patreon campaign and won an award for our travel videos at the British Guild of Beer Writers. That said, we now need to step it all up. We’ve got some big plans for 2018 including lots of travel and some longer-form content. The beer industry has matured hugely in the last 12 months, as the breadth of beer in our Golden Pints shows. It seems lager and mixed fermentation came furthest, but there is lots more happening in IPAs too…as always.
That said, it’s also been a turbulent year for the world as a whole and that hasn’t left the beer scene untouched. Scandals like the Trillium pay issues, the impact of Brexit on beer pricing and the loss of much-loved beer titles have hungover us like…well…a hangover. We hope that as the liquid itself improves, so do we as an industry.
For now though, let’s celebrate the amazing achievements of those who mash in before our alarms go off.
Best overall beer – Weird Beard F*** You I Won’t Brew What You Tell Me
Standing head and shoulders above the rest this year was a really surprising beer for me. I’ve always enjoyed Weird Beard’s beers. In them I have found a brewery that also loves Sorachi – few do – and their session strength dark beers are always delicious. But I also know their flaws, and have had quite a few poor pints of their pale beers. So the brilliance of Fuck You I Won’t Brew What You Tell Me was as much of a surprise as Zack De La Rocha turning up at my house in a Santa costume. Clean, clear, bright, singing with pine, resin, zesty grapefruit, comparisons to Pliny this time weren’t only justified but accurate. It was a West Coast DIPA the quality of which I am not sure we’ve seen since Cloudwater V2, and not once beforehand. Fingers crossed they brew it again – we can’t tell them to though, because…well…apparently they won’t brew what you tell them.
Best UK keg – Braybrooke NZ Pils
Outside of Weird Beard’s overall prize, the next beer that blew me away was Braybrooke NZ Pils. I was at London Craft Beer Festival and I overheard someone raving about a lager they had just tried. That’s the kind of eavesdropping I can’t ignore, so I asked them which brewery. I’d not heard of Braybrooke, but by the end of that session I was intimate with their beers. I think I went back for five or six samples, finally starting to insist that they filled the glass to the top. Then I started working as their rep – advising everyone to go and try it, telling them about the gorgeous grain base, topped by phenomenal lemon and lime hints and a mega biscuit finish. How it just begged to be drunk in pints, with a big salty pretzel. Visiting them earlier this year was a highlight – expect more great things in the coming years.
Best UK cask – St Austell Proper Job
It’s been a funny year for cask. It is the David Attenborough of the beer world, a national treasure seemingly on the verge of death and yet still more relevant, important and fresh sounding than any pastry stout you care to mention. I wrote a piece explaining what needs to be done to protect it, but if I am honest none of those changes are going to happen any time soon. And so we look to amazing, consistent, responsible and talented breweries like St Austell to lead the way. Proper Job is, quite simply, one of the best beers in the world. It has a massive Chinooky, orange-y aroma, lots of nice biscuit malt character and absolutely smashes you in the face on the finish in a way that would make a Haze Bro have a coughing fit. St Austell are often lumped in with the old guard but make no mistake, a pint of PJ is as modern as beer gets – check out our ANCIENT interview with the amazing head brewer, Roger Ryman, below.
Best UK packaged – Burning Sky Cuvee
I’m not sure I have had a more nuanced, balanced and exciting beer than the 2017 Cuvee I had at the Smoking Goat in Shoreditch. It was loaded with funky, sherberty brett, but also zingy lemon and bready grain. It danced on your tongue but glided down your throat. The stuff is more complex than Champagne, more refreshing than Prosecco and more crushable than Lambrini. It’s the work of master brewers and blenders, the like of which few countries are blessed with.
Best overseas keg – De La Senne Taras Boulba
I’m not sure I have ever given this award to a brewery that wasn’t from Belgium (though maybe Lervig?) but my favourite overseas draft beer this year has been Taras Boulba. It is the greatest Belgian beer under 5%, perhaps the most drinkable pale ale in the world, and pretty much infallible in terms of consistency. That cracker grain body, floral and spicy aroma and crisp finish is untouchable and whatever the beer list, if it’s on it will be the first beer I choose.
Best overseas packaged – Half Acre Dungeons
With all this debate about east v west coast beers, to me the answer has always been pretty simple. A beer has to finish in two ways – either dry or bitter, or both. If it does neither, it’s a bad beer. So the answer to what will win out – New England IPA or West Coast is neither. Both will always be around, but the ones that will stand the test of time best are those that fall squarely in the middle. The ones than have big, juicy, modern aromas but still finish dry and/or bitter. And so, my favourite package beer of the year (overseas or not) has been Half Acre Dungeons – it had a big juicy aroma tempered by some pine notes, a full body but not smoothie-thick, and a bitter finish that left you gasping for more despite the 7% ABV. It’s almost – ALMOST – as if all that talk about balance is still relevant.
Best UK brewery – Burning Sky
I think beer writers are sounding like broken records in their praise of Burning Sky this year, but it is difficult to look past them for this award. They released the UK’s first spontaneous lambic-style beer this year, and though I think it was flawed and unattenuated it was incredibly exciting nonetheless. The rest of their output, however, has been world-beating. As above, the Cuvee is stunning, but I could also put away Plateau like I’m back from a sojourn in the desert; I loved their brett IPA Recusant indecently; and their first version of HUIS, which I was lucky enough to witness being brewed, was my most consumed beer of the year. Mark Tranter has done a fantastic job and become the most important brewer in the UK in my opinion. He pushes all other breweries to be better and beats them all at their own game – demanding that the safer ones to be more consistent and the experimental ones be play it less safe.
Best new brewery – Donzoko
I’m not 100% sure when Donzoko was opened, and even if Reece told me I wouldn’t believe him. Not just because his lager is so dialled in, but because he is a hustler through and though – making a fool of me one night at the Shuffle Board table. But don’t hold that against him – his Helles is bang on. Dry, biscuity and just a little bit floral – coming in 500ml cans it’s going to be an absolute summer smasher. An honourable mention has to go to Yonder, a farmhouse-style brewery focusing on wild yeasts to combine them with foraged flowers and herbs.
Best overseas brewery – Lervig
I’m pleased to report I longer has to give disclosures about Lervig (having gone freelance and no longer being one of their importers) so now my bias is simply an obsession with their imperial stouts (most recently Coconuts, which some described as Bounty in a can, but I don’t because it’s BETTER). I also adore their branding, a singular concept from Nanna Guldbaek.
Best pub – The Queen’s Head, King’s Cross
While researching and writing our book, the London Craft Beer Guide, we learnt a lot about pubs. But as is true in most parts of life, the more you learn the simpler the truths seem to become. For me a pub only needs three things. A welcoming vibe, good friends and at least one beer on tap that I want to keep going back for. There are two pubs in this world that I know will have all three whenever I go in – the Beer Merchants Tap and the Southampton Arms. However, the former was opened in part by me, and the latter has always been my winner. Instead, my pub of the year is a pub that didn’t make the cut in our book because we are idiots, and have seen the error of our ways. The Queen’s Head in King’s Cross is bang central, but not in the part of town you would often end up. Still, they have Rothaus Pils on tap and a permanent Kernel line, so you will forever be happy there even if you don’t clock the pretty stellar beer fridge.
Best festival – LCBF
We are spoilt for beer festivals now, thanks to beer geek entrepreneurs who think their town badly needs a beer festival. Some of them do, and some of those festivals are awesome, but there are also some dreadful, concept-less ones in desperate need of curation and deep thought. My festival of the year is London Craft Beer Festival – one of the originals and one that perhaps lost a little character when it moved location last year. Thankfully, with some ambition and one HELL of a deposit they secured the historic Tobacco Dock. And so on a suffocatingly warm summer weekend we basked in the sun (and retreated to the shade), sipped some of the most diverse breweries in the world and listened to some great music and some awful karaoke. We ate amazing food, heard some inspiration talks and….nearly drowned in Braybrooke NZ Pils. What a few days it was.
Best beer experience – my Verdant video
I think there is sometimes too much focus on the whats and wheres of beer. A pub and a beer can of course make a moment, but most of the time it’s US – the PEOPLE – who make a moment. So this award, purely invented by myself, goes to a person who made a memorable impression on me over a beer. That person is James Heffron, head brewer and founder at Verdant. He’s a lovely man – dry, witty and open – but he is also one of the most technical and well read brewers in the country with a level head when it comes to applying that knowledge. Our 20 minute epic dive into the challenges and rewards of making hugely hyped NEIPAs was a highlight of my year. If I hadn’t edited it down it would have been a massive 50 minutes but we were just too drunk and chuffed with ourselves by the end.
*Disclosure: I have been consulting with Verdant for the last 6 months!
Best blog/podcast/vlog – Beervana
I am a huge fan of Beervana, a brilliant almost daily blog by Jeff Alworth. He isn’t just insightful and prolific. He has recently created a line line in data and survey based deep dives into craft topics, as well as some killer interviews with people embroiled in the big issues that he wouldn’t have been able to get if it weren’t for the esteem brewers hold him in. Most recently, check out his interview with JC, founder of Trillium, in the wake of their wage scandal.
Our favourite video of the year – shandies!
There is a joy to shandies I didn’t know until I sat down with Brad to record a segment about four of them. I’ve often dismissed them as ruining good beer but they appeal to the chef in me, as well as the part of me that doesn’t want die young. The irony of that shoot though, was that both Brad and I were really, properly pissed. But that is the reason we think it’s our best video of the year…