I don’t normally join in this annual beer bloggers’ exercise in navel gazing because I’m too busy and I think I can do something similar but better and used to do my own round-up before they came in. But this year I’m not too busy and, more importantly, I can’t think of anything better, and Zak Avery just did a really wonderful post that has urged me to try my own hand, so let’s see how we get on.
Two things happened for me in 2013: one, I turned 45, moving into the 45-54 demographic. I’m middle bloody aged and that came about far too quickly. Second, I celebrated Man Walks into a Pub, my first book, being in print continuously for ten years. In 2003 I was a fresh young voice in beer writing, younger than pretty much every other writer I met. Now I’m an establishment old fart. That’s how quickly it happens and it’s just not fair.
In keeping with this development, I’m becoming curmudgeonly and going retro. This year the headlong rush of craft beer in London started to get a little wearing.
“HEY LOOK AT ME, I’VE MADE YET ANOTHER SINGLE HOP CITRA PALE ALE USING TWICE AS MANY HOPS AS I SHOULD HAVE. I’M A CRAFT BREWER AND I’M AWESOME.”
No you’re not, you’re a hipster chancer who needs to learn how to brew a balanced beer. Remember how Picasso had to learn how to paint properly before he could do all those seemingly random paint splashes and make them work? You need to know how to brew boring brown ale well before you’re qualified to mess around with more diverse stuff. And cloudy, yeasty, alcoholic grapefruit juice became the new boring blond beer in 2013.
“YES BUT I’VE STARTED MAKING AWESOME SAISONS NOW INSTEAD.”
No. You really haven’t. Go away, drink a Saison Dupont and think about what you just said.
“OK BUT BEFORE I GO WOULD YOU LIKE TO BUY A BOTTLE OF MY AWESOME NEW EXPERIMENTAL BEER? IT’S STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS, IT’S NOT QUITE RIGHT YET…”
Well what the fuck do you think you’re doing charging people four or five quid for it?
There were brilliant new craft beers this year of course. But for me 2013 was the year I remembered about Belgian Trappist ales, perfectly balanced, crystal clear best bitters, the original American IPAs, and stopped worrying about whether or not I was keeping up to speed with the latest new opening.
Best UK Cask Beer
How should I know? If I drank all 4000 of them I’d be dead. Because of what I said above, the beer that had the biggest impact on me was Truman’s Runner. It took me back to simpler times when I first got into beer, and anyone who dismisses this style as ‘boring brown beer’ needs to figure out whether they actually understand flavour.
Best UK Keg Beer
Camden Hells. The best lager in the world. I was there when it was judged to be so and rarely have I seen an international group of brewers unite around something so completely.
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Thornbridge Chiron. The once unimpeachable Jaipur has become a little patchy of late. Chiron simply rules – a slam dunk that pulls me up short whenever I’ve tasted it.
Best Overseas Draught Beer
A popular choice in the GPs, Lagunitas IPA. I was delighted to see it appear in craft beer pubs this year. One of the first US IPAs I ever tasted back in ’04, despite the marketing moving on and becoming bolder and more diverse around it, it still kicks ass.
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Rochefort 10. Always.
Best Beer For quiet contemplation
Worthington White Shield still nails it for sitting there and being mindful, always revealing more, always developing.
Best Beer for gabbling with mates and seizing the day
The beer that has evaporated from the glass, pint after pint, while we make plans and put the world to rights, is probably Howling Hops Pale Ale number 2.
Beer I haven’t drunk enough of in 2013
Welcome surprise beer style that crept up on us and is likely to be huge next year
Best beer for crying into
The new Fuller’s Imperial Stout. A case of this arrived at my door about ten minutes before the vet who came to put Captain the Celebrity Beer Dog to sleep after ten brilliant years with us. Two bottles of this 10.7% ABV magnificent bruiser gave him his wake.
Best Branding, pump clip or Label
Box Steam’s Brewery’s lovely Evening Star is the only beer I’ve impulsively tweeted a picture of like a giddy fanboy.
Best UK Brewery
Sharps. No really. I’ll never knowingly drink another pint of Doom Bar, but the Connoisseur’s Choice range has been consistently excellent and thought-provoking without being weird for the sake of it. Although I still haven’t yet tried the beer brewed with woodlice. Not weird for the the sake of it at all.
Adnams were a very close second, making any debates about a supposed distinction between craft brewers and real ale brewers irrelevant.
Best Overseas Brewery
I haven’t visited any overseas breweries this year so on the basis that nothing has come across my radar to change the view I’ve held for years, it’s Brooklyn Brewery.
Best New Brewery Opening 2013
I dunno. I’m going with Wild Beer Co. Yes I know they opened in 2012, but I didn’t do the Golden Pints last year so I can include them this year if I want to.
Pub/Bar of the Year
One’s local is a strange thing. There are lots of pubs we go into regularly, but few to which we give that special distinction. It’s a relationship we change less frequently than marriages or bank accounts, but I changed mine this year. My new local, 25 minutes walk from my house, is the Cock Tavern in Hackney.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
Like what I said about Wild Beer Co, the Hops and Glory opened in late 2012, but still feels new and exciting to me.
Beer Festival of the Year
The only one of the new wave of craft beer festivals I managed to get to this year was IndyManBeerCon. I’m glad I made it – craft beer growing up, showing its longevity as well as its imagination and creativity.
Supermarket of the Year
Independent Retailer of the Year
Geerts Drankenhandel in Oostakker on the outskirts of Ghent is the best beer retailer I’ve ever visited. €1 for Saison Dupont? €10 for Deus 750ml? €1.25 for Rochefort 10? I should coco. €318 euros later the car boot was so full the axle was groaning.
Online Retailer of the Year
Haven’t really used any but there are some interesting new ones coming up – Eebria is very new but looks like it could become really interesting – love their approach.
Best Beer Book or Magazine
Pocket Beer Book by Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb. Because together they’re two of only maybe four or five writers on the planet who could honourably take up the reins that Michael Jackson left. And because it’s the book that told me about Geerts Drankenhandel.
Best Beer Blog or Website
Zak Avery chose Adrian Tierney Jones’ blog for its “non-linear relationship with narrative.” I’ll echo that, with Zak as runner-up for that observation alone.
Best Beer App
Craft Beer London is the only one that seems worth using at the moment.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
Simon Bloody Johnson of course! He’d already done enough before his cruelly premature passing in May to walk this one.
Best Brewery Website/Social media
I wish I could say Let There Be Beer, but the execution got off to the worst start imaginable. The intent is sincere, but the execution was botched. They are trying to remedy this now and not giving up, and I’ve been chipping in a bit of advice. Hopefully there’ll be a turnaround next year. But given how rubbish it was in 2013, I think the winner this year goes instead to Brew Dog. I don’t always agree with the beers they brew or the things they say, and inevitably they’re not as fresh as they were with so many people inspired by them now setting up in competition, but James Watt and Co still know how to use social media better than anyone.
Music and Beer Pairing of the Year
Jimi Hendrix’s take on All Along the Watchtower paired with Chimay Blue.
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Dinner cooked by Tim Anderson at Dukes Brew & Que back in May. Not all of it successful but all of it audacious and interesting. Gave me the most epic food hangover I’ve had this year, and my best celeb namedrop story ever.
Now – time to try that woodlouse beer…