Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Golden Pints 2015


Although Crema is a single entity and is usually broadly in agreement on beer-related matters for this post we each wrote our own answers. But as you might expect there was a great deal of overlap in our responses.  

Disclaimers: We run the homebrew club for We Brought Beer at their Clapham Junction store. Chris brews part time at Weird Beard Brewery.

Best UK Cask Beer

Chris: I didn't have as much cask beer this year as I usually do for a variety of reasons. However, one beer that completely blew me away, because of its sheer drinkability and its showcase of British hops, was Wimbledon Brewery's Tower. I first tried this at an event held by We Brought Beer in Balham, where the legendary Derek Prentice (head brewer at Wimbledon Brewery) gave a masterclass in brewing. This beer was perfectly conditioned; an explosion of berry flavours with beautiful balance of bitterness and a toffee malt profile. It reminded me that when us Brits do cask beer well, we can make truly world class beer. Shame so much out there is mediocre.
Emma: Weird Beard Tsujigiri was the only real standout for me in a year when I didn't drink that much cask beer. From the moment I first tried this beer (a yuzu IPA fermented with sake yeast) I wondered whether the floral, zesty citrus flavours would transfer well to cask. And guess what: THEY CERTAINLY DID. I had a memorable evening at The Harp pouring this beer into my face. I think there were only two casks in existence from that original brew so I was glad to catch one of them. Please brew it again (and put it into cask again) yeah?

Best UK Keg Beer

Chris: For the second year running, it's Magic Rock Cannonball. I dare you to show me a more consistently brewed IPA in the UK that delivers every time. I did check Untappd to see if anything else might beat it but no. 

Emma: Cloudwater Hopfenweisse (Bergamot/NZ/US). This was the outstanding beer (Bergamot version) for me on the evening of the Cloudwater launch at BDSB. The other versions which appeared later in the year were equally (if not more!) delicious. They all paired so well with food too, almost like a saison, you could match them with lots of different dishes. I really enjoyed that balance between wheat and hops. I'm not usually a fan of straight up wheat beers and I seem to only be capable of truly enjoying them in hybrid format. Bergamot lemons are in season again soon, aren't they? 
(NB Cannonball is ok I suppose)

Best UK Bottled Beer

Chris & Emma: Cloudwater Double IPA. We were sad to miss the launch of this beer while we were in the US but luckily we managed to track some down. So many beers have launched to a huge fanfare but been a disappointment and this style of beer seems to have a fairly high chance of failure. It was with huge relief that we realised this beer was the opposite of disappointing. We've both enjoyed pretty much every style of beer we've tried from Cloudwater this year. However, we've been waiting for their IPAs to kick up a gear - prior to this beer we'd found them pleasant enough without being outstanding. With this beer they raised the bar for themselves, everything was spot on for the style - aroma, flavour, body, carbonation, bitterness. A scarily easy-drinking beer.

Best UK Canned Beer

Chris & Emma: This is an easy one: Moor Return of the Empire. We fell in love with this beer at the BDSB tap takeover in the Spring and we were delighted to find it just as good in cans. If we see this in cans now we grab it without hesitation. Where the other hop-forward Moor beers are in the sharp citrussy bitterness camp (which we also enjoy), this beer is in the tangy, soft orange, almost marmaladey, flavour camp.

Best Overseas Draught Beer

Emma: In three weeks of touring US breweries we drank a great deal of draught beer and that makes this category far harder than it was last year. But I'm going to go with drinkability. When people think about Russian River the first beer that usually comes to mind is Pliny the Elder (their DIPA). But the beer that impressed me the most out of their entire tap list was Blind Pig (their IPA) which I had never tried before. Whereas Pliny is full of hop bitterness and resinous hop flavour (and light on the crystal), Blind Pig is generous with the crystal malts and, my goodness, it works SO WELL (when a beer has been well designed & brewed and then served fresh). There is a marshmallow sweetness to the malt which is perfectly balanced by hop bitterness. It does have a stickyness to the body but this does nothing to diminish how easy to drink it is. WHAT A BEER. 

Cellarmaker: 'What's super crushy today?'

Honorable mentions: 1) I was blown away by the hop-forward beers in Cellarmaker in SF. For an afternoon I lost all interest in ticking anything new and only wanted to keep on drinking the same super crushy IPAs again and again (yes, I also had that smoky Coffee and Cigarettes beer some of you went nuts over in Copenhagen and it was very nice but nowhere near as impressive as their hoppy beers). 
2 & 3) I am compelled to mention Other Half and their amazing session IPA, IPA, double IPA and Triple IPAs. Ditto Boneyard. Very difficult to pick between these two breweries for best hop-forward beers being brewed in the US in my experience. 

Chris: Our trip to the US this year exposed both of us to a LOT of beer. But there was one beer that stood out because it was THE beer you go to that brewpub to drink. It has received many plaudits and I'd had it before, thinking it was great. It was only when I ordered my first pint of it at the Russian River Brewpub that I realised that this was the pinnacle of the brewer's art. A perfect balance of hops and malt; that almost unobtainable goal of putting both together yet creating a beer that you could drink pints of. For me, this year's overseas draught beer of the year is Russian River's Pliny the Elder. Show me a better IPA brewed anywhere else in the world.

Honourable mentions: While Pliny was first, my very close second place is Blind Pig, Russian River's IPA. Supremely sessionable and completely reliant on being served fresh from the conditioning tank, this beer is a lesson on how to balance the use of crystal malt and delicious, citrusy hops. Other mentions go to the Other Half in Brooklyn and Boneyard in Bend for brewing truly exceptional beer.

Choices, choices...

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

Chris: My First Crowler, which was filled with Hop Venom from Boneyard. Oh. My. Word. In my mind, after loving all their beers in the tasting room, this gave me a chance to remove myself from that environment and judge it fairly. Just blown away by the intensity of hop aroma and flavour but yet it remained so very drinkable.
Emma: Easy choice. Other Half Green Diamonds - a double IPA with a body so light (without being thin) that you can easily swig it from the can  DANGER DANGER.

Best Collaboration Brew

Chris: For me this year, it was the Beavertown/Boneyard Power of the Voodoo. After the absolute crushing disappointment of Skull King, it was a well needed lift for Beavertown to be able to push this bad boy out there. Tasting subtly different almost every time I had it, yet always dry and drinkable, filling your mouth full of resinous, savoury hops. On reflection, having drunk Boneyard beers fresh in Bend, this is more a Boneyard beer than Beavertown but I'm glad that it was available in both can and keg in London as it helped cement my desire to drink Boneyard while in the US, for which I am truly grateful.

Emma: Wild Beer Co. & Firestone Walker Violet Underground. Interestingly, this was the first of the Rainbow Project beers I tried at the Magic Rock Tap on the day of the launch. I don't know what drew me to it, but I'm glad it was my first pick. In fact, I liked it well enough to have a second later on that day. It stood out above the other Rainbow beers for me, something in the delicate complexity of it... but I drank a lot of different beers that day so detailed memory of that one beer faded a little over time. But I felt certain that I had really enjoyed it. Fast forward a couple of months and we were sat at the bar of Firestone Walker Barrelworks in Buellton tasting the base beer, Bretta De Oro, which they'd shipped to the UK for blending with some Wild Beer Co beer. I had a moment of sudden clarity when everything clicked into place, like dropping in the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. That FW beer was amazing! So light and delicate, bursting with the zingy essence of local raspberries. No wonder Violet Underground tasted so good if it was made from that beer.

Best Overall Beer

Chris & Emma: Mad Hatter Brewing Company Tzatziki Sour. This beer was a surprise. When Paul was talking about creating it I asked him if he really needed to use yogurt to sour it... little did I know that you could actually carry that yogurt flavour into the finished beer (as well as the sourness). When I finally got to taste it my mind was blown. I learned something new about brewing that day. (Emma)
I don't like Tzatziki as a dip and I couldn't imagine liking this beer. However, my old brewing partner Paul convinced me (easily) to give it a whirl and I'm glad he did. This beer provoked an immense emotional response to the point where I  would seriously (almost) consider eating Tzatziki. Just getting that flavour into a beer AND making it drinking is an accomplishment on its own. Watch out for Mad Hatter in 2016, I get the sense they are going places. (Chris) 

Honorable mention to Sierra Nevada's Maillard's Odyssey which we were lucky enough to drink straight out of the tank while visiting the brewery. This beer blew our socks off. We went to Chico expecting to connect with their pale beers but this 10 grain BA dark ale captured our hearts with its multi layered complexity. We were elated to be gifted a bottle to bring home and we'll be drinking it on Christmas day.


Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label

Chris & Emma: Cloudwater. They've made quite a splash with their branding. It's helped that they've had seasonal launches so that we've been able to see many different labels and pumpclips from them this year. The imagery is naturalistic but simple. Many of them are so aesthetically pleasing that I'd happily have framed prints of them on my wall.
Honorable mention to Magic Rock for creating those beautiful eye-catching cans. Their branding has translated almost flawlessly across. Its almost as if it had always been designed to do so.

Best UK Brewery

Chris & Emma: Moor. Quietly turning out some of the best beer in the UK at the minute, regardless of how it is packaged: cask, keg, bottle or can. In both our minds, the highlight has been their consistency across the range and we regularly find their cans stocking our fridge. 

Best Overseas Brewery

Emma:I cannot choose between Boneyard and Other Half. These two breweries offered the most consistency of quality across their entire range. Also, they make beer styles which I love, so that means I have loved everything I tried. But it was their pale beers that made the greatest impression on us. When sampled at source every single pale hoppy beer from pale ale to TIPA was outstanding. Boneyard in particular had a high bar to clear when we arrived at their tap room near the end of our trip (having tried too many below par IPAs up to that point), but they made it with ease: beer after beer was placed in front of us and each was as good as or better than the last. And I just never wanted to leave the tap room at Other Half. We only left for the sake of our own physical well being, i.e. while we could still leave using our own legs.

Chris: For me, this was a difficult choice. We'd visited a lot of great breweries in the US and we'd drunk fantastic beers from even more over the course of the year, but there has to be one that stands out. For me, this year it is Firestone Walker. While they have many good beers, their core range is solid without being spectacular. However, it is this from solid base that their incredible barrel-aged range is created. Firestone Walker are the masters of taking a relatively straightforward beer and elevating to a much higher level through either barrel-aging or by applying the funk through the addition of bacteria and Brettanomyces. I was reminded recently of how skilled they are at this through a post-open day beer at Weird Beard, when we brought along a bottle of FW XV Anniversary. Such an incredible beer of such depth and complexity; it showed that blending barrel-aged beers is not a skill that one learns overnight but one that is honed over years of experimentation and forever improving the brewer's art. They may have gone into a 'partnership' with a bigger brewery (Duvel Moorgat) but right now they appear to not have suffered from this as the beer still speaks for itself. A worthy runner-up place goes to Boneyard, who showed me that it is possible for US breweries to make utterly beautiful IPAs without wanting to pour syrup on them.

Firestone Walker Barrelworks: This is where the magic happens


Pub/Bar of the Year

Chris & Emma: We had a long think about this one but we are unable to award it to anyone other than BD Shepherd's Bush. Still showing other bars what excellent customer service is. If only more bars would pay attention.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2015

Chris & Emma: Magic Rock Tap. We were sad that we couldn't get up for their grand opening. So the next best thing was to go to the northern launch of the Rainbow Project in September. We had a full tour of the facilities, enjoyed tasty food stalls, and lots of delicious beers. We are keen to go back for another visit and are envious of anyone who lives close enough to go on a regular basis.


Beer Festival of the Year

Brews on the Bay
Chris & Emma: It's IndymanBeerCon again. There is simply no contest for this award in the UK. Always looking to innovate and change in order to improve the festival goer's experience.

Honorable mention for Brews on the Bay in SF - because we've never been to a beer festival on a ship which has Alcatraz as a back drop before. It got us thinking about locations in the UK where a beer festival would be possible. We'd love to see it done here.

Best Beer Book or Magazine

Chris & Emma: Randy Mosher's Mastering Homebrew. We added yet another book to our brewing library while we were away. How many more books on brewing could we possibly need? Well, if you have a glance through this one you'll see that it takes a more modern, almost magazine style take on educating the reader about brewing. It contains just the right level of information and it is presented in a very accessible way. Some of the info-graphics are especially good. We've found it a very useful resource for the home-brew club we run. If you're after a single book to learn about home-brewing we would recommend this one.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer

Chris & Emma: It would have to be @binarycarrots for reminding us all that beer is all about having fun with your friends. And offering to fight brewers.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year

Chris & Emma: In the Spring we treated ourselves to dinner at Michelin starred restaurant, Ayln Williams at the Westbury, which had been recommended to us by the wonderful Melissa Cole. To our delight and joy, we found that their tasting menu could be paired with either wine or beer. So guess what we chose? Each course was fantastic and each of the beer pairings was good-to-excellent. The standouts were Steak Tartare with Redchurch Old Ford Export Stout (Chris) and the cheese course paired with Allagash Coolship Resurgam (Emma). We had a such fantastic evening, seeing beer treated as an equal player in the fine dining experience. It would fantastic to see more restaurants take beer seriously in this way.

No comments: