A few thoughts on 2016 as the year comes to a close…
King’s Arms, E2
After checking my previous blogs, this category did not prove as hard as I anticipated. Possibly because its location is slightly off the beaten track, but no pub has made more effort this year.
The big headlines come from the Tap Takeovers and a year which starts with Rodenbach and finished with Arizona Wild oozes quality, but where they have really stood out has been the standard of their every-day lists.
They are always well-balanced but consistently there are unexpected gems: Three Floyd’s/Amager Artic Sunstone, Pohjala Mutant Disco and Green Flash Tangerine Souls Style IPA, the only keg of Cloudwater Sevilla Sour at the beginning of the year and many, many other delights.
Honourable mentions to my local, The Old Fountain in EC1 and to The Duke’s Head, Highgate. Both deliver great beer, but are also rooted in their community.
Beavertown Tempus (for tasting) and Rainbow Project (for partying)
The easiest category by far, as it neatly sums up the major trend of 2016 and also shows how a near-perfect response when things do not go as smoothly as we would wish.The ever-rising popularity of craft beer leading to logistic issues was first highlighted in the over-crowding that marred Beavertown’s 4th birthday/valentine’s bash.
However, their reaction was outstanding: The Tempus events were excellent on a smaller scale but the first big party was absolutely faultless: Ticketed at a meaningful price, with staggered start-times and free-pure beer led to no queues and a fantastic party.
Honourable mention to Matt Curtis who always organises passionate and idiosyncratic evenings (Burn’s night, Darker Days three matching stouts to Ghanian street-food and a celebration of 1980’s electronic music are as different as it gets) and to the Kernel’s horizontal tasting using six different version of their single-hop pale ale each brewed using an identical recipe, but with the single hop changing each time.
Most Improved UK Brewer:
Although it’s great that London now has 80+ brewers, I have long felt that the hierarchy has been too stable at various levels behind the obvious big two. Finally, that changed in the summer as Four Pure made a spectacular advance, announced by two superb beers, Shapeshifter, the best British APA I’ve yet had, and JuiceBox, a Citrus IPA that brought many new converts into the craft beer world during the summer. We now need at least two or three others to make a similar leap in 2017.
Best Improvement to a Friday Night:
The Bottle Shop opening every week
Any round-up of the London scene must include The Bottle Shop and the decision to open every Friday was especially welcome given the queues that now exist on the B******* B*** M***.
From the UK, Scandinavia or the US, there were too many great tap takeovers to mention here but I’m sure anyone reading this enjoyed at least one of them.
Beer of the Year
An almost impossible category given the variety of styles, circumstances that they are drunk in, and whether it is festival beer where you want something different or a regular beer where you want reliability. A few to mention (and the list would doubtless be different in a week’s time). In no particular order:
Rodenbach’s gorgeous Caractere Rouge
Obviously, the Kernel’s London Damson Sour and the raspberry version of their imperial brown stout
Hawkshead/Crooked Stave Key Lime Tau
Magic Rock Grand Mariner bearded lady imperial stout.
Beavertown Double Chin, Notorious, and any Tempus
Omnipollo Mud Pecan Stout and Bianca Mango Lassi Gose soft serve, especially as the latter was topped with a soft serve ice cream at a very sunny LCBF
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, a glorious smoked beer from Brauerei Heller in Bamberg, Bavaria at GBBF
Zwanze 2016, an exquisite Framboise
Firestone Walker aged imperial stouts, the glorious vanilla, coconut and mocha Velvet Merkin and the El Diablo espresso Parabajava.
Modern times City Of The Sun IPA
Anagram Blueberry Cheesecake, an imperial stout that was a stunning aromatic and decadent dessert beer
Brewery of the Year:
The best West Coast IPA of the year was City Of the Sun whilst the Fruitlands sour series are continually innovative and excellent.
Disappointment of the Year:
Nothing can match the personal devastation late on Xmas eve as Derek Carr broke his fibula and effectively destroyed the Raider’s Super Bowl dreams. But in the context of beer the disappointment of the year was the attempt to mix beer and politics. We saw childish beer mats in a well-known pub-chain and tweets from an excellent Northern brewer worrying about the effects of a fall in sterling on their exports (sic)!
To be able to drink a beer that Andrew Morgan (MD of The Bottle Shop) hasn’t yet tried. Unfortunately, I am more likely to climb Everest, star in a Hollywood blockbuster and take over as Apple CEO (concurrently).
2017 wish list:
When I visited Warsaw, every bar had their tap-lists live and updated in real time on the internet. Indeed in a couple of cases they also included information about how long the beer had been on for.
It is ludicrous that London, a far richer city that derives a significant portion of its wealth from technology, be it in Silicon Roundabout (surely one of the after-work drinkers could do it in lieu for the Old Fountain!) or City dealing rooms, can’t do the same.
Finally, I wish everyone a great 2017 and apologies for any worthy winner that I have forgotten in a drunken haze!
Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t because you’re not committed enough.