23 December 2010

Not home for Christmas

I've not gone back to Northern Ireland for Christmas. Instead, the whole family has decamped to Hertfordshire for the next few days. While in exile, I have only the memory of Ulster's native beers to keep me company.

Like McGrath's Irish Black, the third outing from Waringstown's Clanconnel Brewery. I don't have a picture so you'll have take my word that this session stout poured beautifully from the bottle: pure black with a thick layer of loose tan bubbles. I was quite surprised to find bitterness in the ascendant, something rather unusual in an Irish stout. The middle has lots of dry roast plus a very interesting chocolate-marzipan character at the end. It's a very interesting take on your standard Irish stout and one of the better bottled ones. This took the top prize at CAMRA's Belfast festival last month and I bet it's absolutely amazing on cask, with all that lovely sweet chocolate to the fore.

2010 saw the arrival of a fourth Northern Irish brewery: Inishmacsaint is based in Co. Fermanagh though brewing happens at Loughry College in Tyrone, on the same kit that provided Clanconnel's training wheels. Distribution is still pretty thin, though I did manage to get hold of a bottle of Inishmacsaint Lager through some back channels (thanks Ed!).

Well, it's a lager all right. For all its microbrewed and bottle-conditioned credentials, it tastes a lot like mainstream fizz, with maybe just a bit of haze and yeast character from my cack-handed pouring. Such cleanliness of flavour is a technical achievement for the brewer, of course, but not really what I'm normally after in a beer, and not what you might expect a beer fan with his own pro kit to produce. But it is what it is, and if you're going to drink one of these sorts of beers wouldn't you be better drinking it from the local guy? There's a wheat beer in the range as well: I'm looking forward to trying that.

The past year has been a significant one for Irish beer: three new breweries arrived on the scene while several of the established ones have expanded their ranges. Dublin has three great new speciality beer bars, all coming with cask ale as standard, and we saw the launch of Ireland's first beer consumers' organisation. But I should do this properly, and in accordance with Mr Dredge's annual awards template (you'll find last year's round-up here, by the way).

The Golden Pint Awards 2010

Best Irish Draught Beer:

It's hard to believe Trouble Brewing have only been with us for eight months or so. Ór has replaced Galway Hooker as the beer I drink when I don't want to think
about which beer to drink. Full-bodied, lightly carbonated, simple and delicious.

Best Irish Bottled Beer: O'Hara's Irish Pale Ale
Last year's top beer was the cask special Goods Store IPA. That recipe has since been tweaked, twiddled and turned into a regular part of the O'Hara's range. It shows up on draught now and again, though the bottled version is superior in my estimation. Unapologetically heavy and bitter with just enough citric zest to keep it approachable and fun.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Uerige Alt
Going way back to the top of the year for this one. Brewery hopping in Düsseldorf is a fine way to spend a day or two, an
d Uerige is the pick of the bunch, not only for the fantastic atmosphere of the premises -- a lively centre of activity, even at 11am on a Thursday morning -- but also for their gorgeous hopped-up altbier: probably the most moreish beer I had all year. That said, I also have to put in a word for De Molen's Turf & Veen, a peat monster that very few of my acquaintances are likely to enjoy but which I loved.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Midtfyns Chili Tripel
A perfect example of how to do innovation well. All the great things
about tripel coupled with all the great things about chilli beer to create something far greater than the sum of its parts. Let the purists weep into their Westmalle: this is tripel which rewards the adventurous.

Best Overall Beer: Uerige Alt
Three very different beers there, but if I had to pick one it would be the Uerige. Find me a quiet alcove with the paper and an attentive
Köbe and I'm in heaven.

Best Pumpclip or Label: Metalman
Yeah, I'm cheating on this one. Gráinne and Tim's Waterford operation is still under starter's orders and at the moment has little to show except a logo. But what a logo! I've ever
y expectation the beers will be just as stylish when they appear next year.

Best Irish Brewery: Dungarvan Brewing Company
I don't know where Cormac, Jen, Tom and Clare get the energy from but they'
re phenomenal. From a standing start back in the spring they've been to every festival going, held tasting sessions around the country, run food matching evenings, hosted brewery visits, organised a walking tour of the town, been interviewed by countless media outlets, blogged, Twittered, Facebooked and somehow managed to find the time to brew and distribute three cracking beers. The brewery's commitment to all-natural conditioning pays dividends in the product and they've been a driving force for getting cask beer onto the bar in more and more Irish pubs. Keep it up, guys!

Best Overseas Brewery: Harvey's
Consistently excellent beers, readily available wherever I go in England.
This was the year when I realised that it can be a lot more fun just having a few pints of a beer you enjoy rather than working methodically along the pump clips. Harvey's Sussex Best Bitter was the beer that showed me the way.

Pub/Bar of the Year: The Salt House
Instantly my favourite pub in Ireland when I first discovered it in February (not realising that that would be the last time I'd get to have a pint in nearby Sheridan's -- a curse on intransigent landlords), The Salt House has picked up a bit of competition over the year, from the likes of the super-classy yet casually-comfortable L. Mulligan Grocer and its own sister pub Against The Grain, but for that laid-back Galwegian vibe and a kick-ass beer
line-up I'm still giving this one to them.

Beer Festival of the Year: Copenhagen
Why more of my fellow bloggers aren't making beelines for this festival is beyond me. 2010 was scaled down a bit from 2008, but still featured a stunning array of beers from most of Europe's first-string brewers, no small proportion of which are based in Denmark. There's also the wonderful beer launch sideshows at Ølbutikken, and on the weekend evenings when it's too packed to enjoy, you won't be stuck for somewhere to have a decent beer or two in Copenhagen. It's 26-28 May 2011. Go.

Supermarket of the Year: Superquinn
It could easily have been SuperValu on Aston Quay whose range of beers rivals some of the specialist off licences, but like last year I'm awarding
this one based on one single great offer: 6 beers for €12, featuring Adnams Innovation. Thank you very much, Superquinn.

Independent Retailer of the Year: DrinkStore
Ken and Richard have been pulling out the stops this year, and scored quite a coup by getting a supplier for Cantillon and De Molen beers. This in addition to a peerless range of Americans. Room for improvement? Yes: the UK. How about some Thornbridge, Otley or the like?

Best Beer Book or Magazine: 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die
And not just because I wrote bits of it. OK, mainly because I wrote bits of it. So
if you're reading this, you may as well read that.

Best Beer Blog or Website: Beoir
A little bit of tootling on my own trumpet here, but more of a homage and thanks to the dozens of people who help make the Beoir website a great resource for brewers, drinkers, travellers and anyone with an interest in Irish beer, beer in Ireland, and going outside Ireland for beer. A special big-up to Barry who put in a lot of work on the site during the year, both in terms of the total redesign of Irish Craft Brewer and the various technological doohickeys in the background which make it work.

Best Beer Twitterer: Team Hardknott
I don't follow any soap operas, but I would if they were as interesting as the goings-on between @HardknottDave, @HardknottAnn and the supporting cast.

Best Brewery Online: Dungarvan Brewing Company
Given what I said about them above, of course Dungarvan are going to be here. They seem to have grasped the social element of social networking better than anyone, linking up with restaurants, state agencies, the media, retailers, customers and all the other parts of the gourmet food and drink industry of which they are most definitely a part.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Pork and stilton pie with Hobsons Old Henry
What? I was supposed to come up with another one of these? I'm still slurping through the fisherman's pie and Galway Hooker from last year. It's still brilliant. If I'd realised another one was expected I'd have done some research. Erm... oh, I know: pork pies. 2010 has been all about the pork pies and I confess I've eaten quite a lot of them. I make an IPA that goes rather well with them, though I also really enjoyed the pork and stilton one I got at Battlefield Farm Shop in Shrewsbury with Hobsons Old Henry, so that's my nom nom nomination for this year.

In 2011 I’d Most Like To…: Travel
Not too dissimilar from my aspiration for 2010, though rather less planned out at this stage. After four years I've finally managed to stuff enough cash down the money pit that is Beer Nut Towers to keep it quiet so now have the opportunity of putting some aside for a trip somewhere interesting in 2011. N