30 December 2013

Time gentlemen

It's hard to believe we're already on year five of Messrs Mogg and Dredge's annual round-robin beer awards thingy, The Golden Pints. As with all regular awards programmes, it's hard work striking a balance between the same parties getting the nod every year and the pass-the-parcel effect where taking the gold is just a matter of waiting until everyone else has already had it. In past years I've tried to avoid these pitfalls but it has reached the point where it's making the whole thing awkward, so for 2013 I'm paying no attention at all to what has gone before and writing down my gut instinct answers to this year's categories.

To assist me in composing my justifications for each winner I'm joined by a large bottle of Kerkom Winterkoninkske, which has been sitting in my stash for a couple of  years now, awaiting its moment to shine. At 13% ABV it's strictly for the darkest depths of winter, and the stiff rubber cork really makes you work for your beer. When I eventually got it open, what poured out is a flat and slightly syrupy-looking dense black beer, briefly forming a loose head which disappears before I can even raise the glass. There's a savoury, autolytic quality to the aroma: the teriyaki glaze effect familiar to fans of Samuel Adams Triple Bock. It's all about chocolate in the flavour, of the top-notch milk variety, accentuated by the silky smooth texture. There's alcoholic heat and no rough edges at all, just a tiny metallic ping from a molasses taste at the finish. For all its strength and sophisticated presentation it's not actually all that complex, but it's just the liqueur substitute I'm after for some end-of-year musings.

The Golden Pint Awards 2013

Best Irish Cask Beer: Moonbeam.
A tough one to kick off. I loved Hilden Number Four when I found it at the Irish Craft Beer & Cider Festival: it's a beer that showcases the richness and depth of flavour that comes with cask dispense. But then so does Moonbeam, and this dark ale by Metalman does it with hops too. Ordering a repeat pint at the Bull & Castle is a rarity for me, but sinkable Moonbeam made me do it, so is my Irish cask choice for 2013.

Best Irish Keg Beer: Of Foam and Fury
Well duh! Galway Bay's 8.5% ABV hop explosion is the beer everyone's been talking about, because it's the beer everyone's been waiting for. I've just got over the novelty at this stage and am actually able to order other things in Galway Bay pubs, but it was a real desert island job for a while there: all the complex subtlety and all the loud brashness you need from a beer, in a single glass.

Best Irish Bottled or Canned Beer: Amber Ella
This pale ale from Eight Degrees impressed at the ICBCF in September when it made its draught début but I didn't go chasing the bottled version until it popped up on special at 57 The Headline. All that mango and mandarin  freshness is still present in the bottle and makes for a magnificently invigorating zing-filled experience.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Edelstoff
A big shout-out for Sharp's Panzerfaust here, which quietly appeared at the Franciscan Well Easter Beer Festival but hasn't been seen since, alas. But while that's a fun novelty, my top foreign draught experience this year was an old favourite: the inhaleably smooth Edelstoff at the Augustiner Keller in Munich last March. Great beer enhanced by excellent company in wonderful surrounds.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: Quetsche
Having missed it at the Zythos beer festival I was overjoyed to find Tilquin's plum lambic afterwards in Moeder Lambic Fontainas. The way it stimulates one's salivary glands to create a genuine taste explosion brought me back to my early lambic experiences and a reminder of why this sort of beer is for me. That it's the dearest beer I've ever had (€30 a 75cl bottle) is neither here or there.

Best Collaboration Brew: Adnams Supremely Self-Conscious
This was also a contender for Best Overseas Draught, though it's hard to do any sort of meaningful comparison between it and Edelstoff. A session-strength dark ale brewed at Adnams in collaboration with Stone and served at JD Wetherspoon in the autumn. Crazily hoppy yet exceptionally drinkable, Moonbeam turned up to 11; a masterpiece.

Best Overall Beer: Quetsche
Flavour, aroma and texture are all well and good, but for its sheer physiological impact, my favourite beer of 2013 was Tilquin Quetsche.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label: Otterbank Brewing
I was about to troop after everyone else who nominated Partizan -- their graphics are endlessly entertaining -- but a late Irish entrant shades it for me. This Golden Pint goes to new gypsy brewing operation Otterbank, and their all-business mascot, designed by Twisted Doodles (aka Maria). I wear ties that way too.

Best Irish Brewery: Eight Degrees
Where output, innovation and distribution are concerned, Eight Degrees were first rate this year, and the quality of their products was pretty damn good too. Putting out three simultaneous winter seasonals was a ballsy move, and that deserves credit.

Best Overseas Brewery: The Kernel
2013 was the year I finally "got" hoppy Kernel beer. I don't know if they just happened to be using varieties I like when I drank them, or if it's personal lupulin threshold shift going on, but I really enjoyed the Kernel IPAs I had this year; their dark beers are as consistently brilliant as always; and then there's London Sour.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013: JW Sweetman
Technically I think this was a late 2012 opening, but it was definitely 2013 when Dublin's one and only brewpub made its presence felt. First and foremost, the product quality under brewmaster Rob has been exceptional. In a Dublin pub scene where prices appear to be spiralling insanely upwards it offers easily the best value around. And there's a real sense that the serving staff actually give a shit about the product, which was rarely the case in its previous incarnation. So three cheers for Barry, Dave, Rob and all the team at JWS, and somebody please steal their business model: Dublin needs at least three more of these.

Pub/Bar of the Year: The Bull & Castle
There are many contenders for this, but I can't go past the Bull & Castle. Literally, in fact. The range of Irish beers and the turnover of specials and seasonals has been phenomenal. It remains the best venue to get a handle on what's happening on the national scene.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013: 57 The Headline
And hot on the B&C's heels is Geoff's new venture on Leonard's Corner. A solid core of quality beers plus ample space given over to rotationals, with a suburban local feel which is conveniently in my end of town. Having only opened in October it's still finding its feet so we can expect the offer to improve even further in 2014.

Best City for Beer in Ireland: Kilkenny
Yes, I'm overlooking Dublin, Cork and Belfast -- all of which I enjoyed drinking in this year. But the most fun was a summer weekend in the Marble City, centred on the fabulous Brewery Corner pub.

Beer Festival of the Year: Borefts
BräuKunst Live! in Munich was certainly educational, but my other half didn't attend, which immediately means it wasn't as enjoyable as it could have been. Borefts, then, takes the prize for beer quality, atmosphere and company -- plus a greatly enhanced food offer this year.

Supermarket of the Year: Fresh, Smithfield Square, Dublin 7
They accidentally underpriced a shipment of Moor beers this year, and Alex didn't manage to snaffle all of them before I got in.

Independent Retailer of the Year: DrinkStore
I actually have to make a concerted, conscious effort to go to other off licences now. DrinkStore is there, and has everything. Job done. They're the reason I'm not giving out a Golden Pint for online retailer of the year, and if I were they'd probably get that too.

Best Beer Book or Magazine: None
Books? Sure haven't we the Internet?

Best Beer Blog or Website: Zak Avery.
Because this.

Best Beer App: Janetter
It's just a general-purpose Twitter client, but it has a mute-by-app function which means I can switch off other people's Untappd updates. This has massively enhanced the quality of my Twitter experience.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: @Thirsty_Pilgrim
So many great Twitterers out there, local and international, but I'm a particular fan of the window on the world of beer revealed by Joe.

Best Brewery Website/Social media: Galway Bay Brewery
A slick new website, and regular Twitter updates from both owner and head brewer. Real engagement too -- not just an endless retweeting of praise. If your business Twitter account is in the habit of retweeting other people saying nice things about you: Fucking. Stop.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Bourbon Barrel Ale with Bellingham Blue
The beer's pretty poor and the massive sweet oak totally overpowered the excellent steak it was supposed to be paired with at Alltech's reception launching their festival next February. But the acidity of the cheese really put manners on it.

A big thanks to everyone who nominated me for Golden Pints. There'll be more drinking beers and then writing down what they taste like next year.