29 December 2017

Gold stars

As usual, the last post of the year brings the Golden Pint Awards, begun by Andy Mogg and Mark Dredge back in 2009 and celebrating the best of the year's beers and beer-related places and events.

And as usual I'm compiling mine with the aid of a suitable beer. Two, actually, this year: the bottled winter specials from The Porterhouse. I start with Dark Star Ale, a big-hitting 11%-er. It's a deep shade of ruby making me think it's going to be along the lines of a barley wine. And there is a certain vinous quality: ripe fruit and tannins. The wine gets hacked into a vermouth shortly afterwards when a herbal bitterness is introduced. As it warms the drinker is taken on a tour of the luxury goods aisle, passing fine cigars, high-end chocolate and hand-tooled leather. For all that, it's clean and easy drinking; the sweet dark malts don't build on the palate, getting thoroughly scrubbed off by the bitterness on each mouthful. It's a serious beer, but very tasty. It left me very curious about how it would fare after whiskey maturation, and I love that I didn't have to wait to find out.

Now that The Porterhouse has its own distillery in Kerry, the whiskey version is of course called Dingle Dark Star. It picks up an extra ABV point from the process though looks exactly the same. Honeyish Irish whiskey is very present on the nose but the difference is less apparent on tasting. It still has the raisins and the chocolate, it's just now there's an extra honeycomb complexity. Perhaps the biggest change is that it's smoother: all the hard bitter edges have been rounded off, quite pleasingly. The alcohol comes to the fore, and it feels much denser than the unbarrelled version, though also less complex. Anyone who wanted the previous one to be more stout-like will be comforted by this, and while it's lovely I'm personally not sure it's an improvement on the original. Still, it's an enjoyable slow sipper, which is exactly what's required as I face into:

The Golden Pint Awards 2017

Best Irish Cask Beer: Ursa Major
It's been a good year for Irish cask overall, and special mention needs to go to O Brother first of all for their consistent supply of cask beer throughout 2017. My single favourite was the strong brown porter from YellowBelly which I drank at the Franciscan Well cask festival this year. A further commendation goes to Trouble Brewing's Walk On the Mild Side too, even if it was improved by kegging.

Best Irish Keg Beer: The Harvest King
There were a remarkable number of world-class keg beers this year, especially in the sour and Bretted category. The White Hag's Olcan and Kinnegar's Phunk Bucket were both stunning at Hagstravaganza, and both are still around in bottled form -- try them if you see them. However it was YellowBelly (again) who made me put my glass down and say "wow".

Best Irish Bottled Beer: Independent Coconut Porter
Cheating because I drank this (copiously) when it was on draught, and loved it, but it also exists bottled and has just been re-released. Designed for those who don't tolerate half measure when it comes to coconut in beers.

Best Irish Canned Beer: The Fresh Prince of Kildare
Again, I probably had more of this triple IPA on draught than canned, and the canned version was slightly different, though still excellent. Dead Centre's début Marooned was another metal-jacketed delight this year.

Best Overseas Draught: Timmermans Oude Lambiek 2014
This was a surprise tick, presented by Thomas of John Martin's brewery at the EBCU meeting in Brussels back in April. I presume the brewery has vast foeders full of the stuff but have no idea how available it is. Well worth checking out if you see it, however. A special mention goes to Hill Farmstead's Florence.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Druif
Another sour one? Yeah, I guess. New Dutch brewer Tommie Sjef was pouring this at Borefts in September. You can't beat a grape lambic(ish) for accessible complexity, or complex accessibility, for that matter. Other bottled eye-openers this year came from Epic with their Elder Brett and the amazing 2008 vintage of Cantillon's Lou Pepe Kriek.

Best Overseas Canned Beer: Pay It Forward
I had never heard of West Sixth Brewing in Kentucky before this cocoa-infused porter of theirs landed at the RDS in September, courtesy of the Brewers Association, and jolly good it was too.

Best Collaboration Brew: Touching the Scald
Perfection in a pint glass at 4% ABV. Props to Galway Bay and Whiplash for making it, and brown malt takes the Golden Pint Award for Best Malt, 200th year running.

Best Overall Beer: Independent Coconut Porter
Drinkability is the deciding criterion here, which means it came down to a straight fight between the Coconut Porter and Touching the Scald. Independent tips it on the complexity, so gets the prize. All great beer, the winner is the consumer, etc etc.

Best Branding: Whiplash
Gorgeous surreal and abstract collage artwork next to clean type on a white background. 2D photos (especially mine) don't do the Whiplash cans justice. A shout out goes to Hopfully, who have an art commissioner on the payroll and some really engaging design as a result.

Best Pump Clip: Holden
I liked the beer much more than the novel, but this artwork from O Brother captured the essence of the character perfectly, I thought. Whiplash's recent Scaldy Split gets a very honourable mention: I like the literalism of the interpretation.

Best Bottle Label: Marooned
Bottle? The can is the canvas these days. Brightly coloured squiggly artwork, as popularised by the Scandinavian brewers in particular, has become the universal indication that the contents of this tin are worthy of your time. I love how Dead Centre has ignored all of the fashion and gone with a handsome and minimalist monochrome design. The beer is pretty decent too.

Best Irish Brewery: Trouble Brewing
Seems to me the lads in Kill have had a pretty good year (and not just because they finally got rid of that Guilfoyle fella, lol, bantz). 2017 began with the arrival of Ambush which has quickly become a staple wherever good beer is served. The introduction of cans, and the range they selected to put in them, expanded their packaged offer from supermarket standards to fancy-dan craft. And there was the aforementioned cask mild, and Parklife, and Get Schwifty, while the existence of Graffiti, Dark Arts and Vietnow continued unabated. Something sour and hoppy would be appreciated, but they have sufficient bases covered to earn this Golden Pint, I think.

Best Overseas Brewery: Brew By Numbers
They seem to have disappeared from Ireland, unfortunately, but kept popping up on my travels during the year. In 2017 I had the pleasure of various BBNo beers in Holland, Italy, as well as their Bermondsey tap rooms. 05|25 was my standout, redefining murky IPA for me, but they have plenty of other wonderful stuff too.

Best New Brewery Opening 2017: Hopfully
The year of Dublin brewing that I had been predicting since 2015 finally sort-of materialised. I had hopes of two new brewpubs in the city but had to make do with one, in the form of Urban Brewing. Hopfully gets my Golden Pint, however, for nailing it from day one. Chris made some brave choices in the recipes he has launched with, and this beetroot saison drinker is especially happy with them.

Pub/Bar of the Year: The Taphouse
Events, dear boy. The Taphouse celebrates... has been a marvellous feature of the local beer calendar, and the hospitality shown by Adam and his crew has been exceptional. Obvious but completely heartfelt shouts-out go to The Black Sheep and 57 The Headline, both still doing the thing they do brilliantly. And a nod to my international discoveries of the year, DeRat in Utrecht, Zum Franziskaner in Stockholm and LambicZoon in Milan.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2017: UnderDog
Oh you didn't think I'd forgotten it, did you? Even though it only opened in July I've possibly spent more time in UnderDog than any other pub this year. In my first post about it I opined that the real-time online beer list might encourage more beer specialists in Dublin to do the same. Lo and behold, several Galway Bay bars now publish a live list, while other pubs are using Find My Pint to do it. Keep it up, everyone.

Beer Festival of the Year: Toer de Geuze
It's somewhat arguable as to whether this counts as a festival, but the big marquee at Boon certainly felt like one. Also the fact that transport is organised by enthusiasts -- the Lambicstoempers -- really adds to the sense of festive merriment. So it's a festival. And, like the best festivals, affords attendees the opportunity to taste some of the world's truly great beers. I hope to be back in 2019 to finish the venues I missed.

Supermarket of the Year: Fresh, Smithfield
I thought SuperValu on Sundrive Road was going to edge it this time, but they dropped the ball towards the end of the year. They're also fighting a tough battle trying to interest my neighbourhood in better beer. Fresh, meanwhile, has done an amazing job, rivalling many an independent for selection, availability of new releases, and personal service. They've taken this Golden Pint almost every year since 2013 and deserve it now more than ever. A special hat-tip goes to drinks manager Carlos here.

Independent Retailer of the Year: DrinkStore
Same old, same old, though now with a new website and more visible pricing in-store. A place I shouldn't take for granted. I'm not sure whether I'm permitted to offer an honourable mention to Molloy's on Francis Street since it's part of a chain, but I'm going to anyway as I found it particularly good for finding things this year.