30 December 2016

Sour '16

The final post of the year brings the Golden Pints, beer blogging's annual personal awards, working to a template devised by Mark Dredge and Andy Mogg. Sour beers have played a major role in my drinking over the last 12 months so I thought I'd accompany my deliberations with one. This bottle of The Purple from Oregon's De Garde brewing was a kind gift from Jeff Alworth back in September. You can read Jeff's profile of the brewery here.

The label describes it as "a wild ale aged in oak wine barrels with black and red raspberries" and it's 7% ABV. It's very purple, pouring scarlet from the bottle, settling to a deep maroon shade and briefly topped by lurid pink foam. It's also very sour: an intense puckering bite that's had none of the edges smoothed out by the oak. Instead, the fruit is on balancing duty, giving it a fresh juicy aroma and adding a jammy sweetness to the flavour. It's nice, but I don't think it quite measures up to the best of Belgian framboise: it's stronger, brasher and generally louder. Americans, eh? Still, enjoyable sipping while I get down to the serious business of...

The Golden Pint Awards 2016

Best Irish Cask Beer: Otterbank Beta Barrel 1
And we're starting sour. I met this mixed fermentation chardonnay-barrel-aged golden ale at the fabulous White Hag birthday party back in August. It's a sessionable 4.5% ABV but immensely complex with it. Tart, juicy, herbal and lots more. With a 13 month lead time I doubt we'll be seeing more of it, but a man can dream.

There was a worthy runner up in the delightfully dark yet refreshing Uncle Columb's Mild by West Kerry Brewery.

Best Irish Keg Beer: Galway Bay 303
The most fun beer of the year was O'Hara's Grapefruit IPA, while Hope Session IPA was the most promising. But Galway Bay's low-strength sour pale ale kept me coming back again and again, for as long as it lasted. I can't see any reason not to bring this one back. Shout-out also to White Hag for their Brett Pale Ale, and of course Little Fawn which was the beer I probably drank most of for the second year running.

Best Irish Bottled Beer: Crafty Brewing Company IPA
Honorable mentions here go to White Hag barrel-aged Black Boar imperial stout and the superb Roadtrip Extra Stout that the McHugh's off licence team produced at Independent. However, I always feel I should favour beers I drank lots of during the year, and the magnificent Aussie-hopped IPA that Rye River brews for Lidl certainly fits that bill.

Best Irish Canned Beer: Whiplash Surrender to the Void
Several Irish craft brewers got busy with the tinnies this year giving us a range of hoppy delights. When I went down the list it was Alex's amazing double IPA that really leapt out at me. Full-on hops but complex and nuanced with it. Beautiful.

Best Overseas Draught: Upright Brewing Four Play
It probably shouldn't be surprising that something from my visit to Portland, Oregon wins this one. Area man Jeff Alworth picks an exceptional beer for his annual Satori Award, named after the Buddhist term for the moment of sudden enlightenment. Well I got a fierce bang of Satori off of this multidimensional soured barrel-aged cherry saison. Worth the 7,500km trip. And along the same lines, BrewDog's Saison Blitz also gets a big-up in this category.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Jester King El Cedro
Ugh. I suppose I'll have to put some of that geek-bait Awesome Craft Beer™ into this. The award goes to one kindly supplied by Steve Lamond at the afterparty following the superb BrewCon 2016 back in April. Brett-fermented and cedar-aged for a fantastic combination of fruit and pepper.

Best Overseas Canned Beer: Three Boys Pils
I struggled a bit to come up with a foreign can that really impressed me this year. Then I remembered the train home from Boundary's birthday bash in March and this glorious Kiwi pilsner which makes perfect use of the local hop varieties.

Best Collaboration Brew: YellowBelly-Hope-ShaneSmith Castaway
The review bottle I took home from the Killarney Beer Festival probably didn't do it justice but I've had it a couple of times since and it has always tasted magnificent. I understand YellowBelly is planning to can it next year too. Hopefully there'll be plenty to go round.

Best Overall Beer: 303
Quite a cross section there, I think, but 303 is the only one I became seriously, chronically, addicted to. And that's the best measure of quality there is.

Best Branding: YellowBelly
Nobody else is at the races, really. Illustrator Paul Reck has turned out tap badges, labels, comic books, animations and most recently a computer game featuring the brewery mascot and a host of supporting characters. The visual jokes and references hidden in the detail are worthy of Bosch.

So it's no surprise that YellowBelly wins both...

Best Pump Clip:
Jack Bauer's Power Shower Sour
It's the sheer literalness of it that I like.

...and...

Best Bottle Label: Pink Freud
I never actually had the bottled version of this, but it does exist and it's my other favourite YellowBelly design of the year. Shine on, etc.

Best Irish Brewery: Rye River
The Co. Kildare brewery started the new year with a new premises in Celbridge. Though I've enjoyed Cousin Rosie's Pale Ale and even an occasional Francis' Big Bangin' IPA through the year, it's the beers Rye River has produced under other labels that have made it my standout for 2016. Crafty Brewing Company, Whiplash, Grafters: lots of amazing quality beer, and often at very sessionable prices.

Best Overseas Brewery: The Commons
The Portland brewery I enjoyed actually sitting and drinking in the most: a bright open space, a friendly welcome, and first-rate farmhouse style beers. Over on the right-hand coast I stumbled across a couple of very tasty Jolly Pumpkin beers, so that gets an honourable mention in this category.

Best New Brewery Opening 2016: Hope
New brand highlights included Whiplash and DOT, but neither is an actual brewery. So this one goes to north Dublin's Hope which made the leap from contractee to fully-fledged production brewery. The four limited specials devised at the new set-up have ranged from good to brilliant so big things are expected as head brewer Mark develops a new swathe of permanent recipes.

Pub/Bar of the Year: The Sunflower
I hope it's not cheating to award this one to a pub I didn't visit during the year. The Sunflower began 2016 under threat of demolition. It ended it with the news that not only had it been saved but had told the industrial brewers whose wares it reluctantly carried to do one. I think that deserves to be celebrated. Have a Golden Pint on me, Sunflower. An extremely honourable mention goes to 57 The Headline, of course, who've put in another stellar twelve months.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2016: Brickyard
I came back from America in October complaining that beer bars here ought to have up-to-date printed beer menus. Brickyard does! It's situated right on top of Balally Luas stop and seemed a little cold and clinical at first: all stark Scandi angularity. But the atmosphere softens when the lights come on and it starts to feel more homely. The draught selection is sizeable and my visit last month included both White Hag's Little Fawn and O Brother's Bonita. Can't say fairer than.

A bonus shout-out goes to The Woodworkers in Belfast which opened in December last and I visited a couple of times during the year. They're doing a fantastic job of sourcing first-rate British and Irish craft beer.

Beer Festival of the Year: Killarney Beer Festival
My festival attendance was down this year. For shame! No Borefts, no Franciscan Well Easter Festival. Though I really enjoyed both the March and September gigs in the RDS, and spent a wonderfully relaxed three days swanning around Alltech Brews & Food, the most fun was Killarney in May where I got to try my hand at a bit of beer judging as well.

Supermarket of the Year: Fresh, Smithfield Square, Dublin 7
Though my local SuperValu has been continuing to knock it out of the park for a second year, Fresh in Smithfield has come to rival the independents with the wideness and currency of its range. I'm reliably informed that the Grand Canal Square branch across the city does things just as well.

Independent Retailer of the Year: DrinkStore
Back on top again. I am pleased that I finally made it to McHugh's on the northside and The Vineyard in Belfast, both fully deserving of their reputations. But DrinkStore is where I buy my beer.

Online Retailer of the Year: Nope.
In some years I've given this one to sites I've used for reference but I can't be arsed this year, and I still don't buy beer online.

Best Beer Book or Magazine: The Pub by Pete Brown
With all due respect to Pete I didn't encounter many beer books this year. The Pub was the nicest of them, though.

Best Beer Blog or Website: BeerFoodTravel
I've been enjoying the trip down the beer history rabbithole that Liam has been on lately, as well as the beer reviews and travelogues. Shame about that big posting gap in the middle of the year, but it won't happen again, right?

Best Brewery Website/Social media: @PilotBeerUK
For anyone involved in the use of Twitter to market a brewery, or anything really, this is how to do it properly.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: @ManusCronin
The rest of you go and have a think about what you've done.


And that's it. If you've read this far I hope you found it worthwhile. 2016 is officially a wrap. The Beer Nut 2017 will commence on Monday. Happy New Year!