In relation to the monthly reviews I published, it reached a point where it become more of a chore and an obstacle to doing other things. I have cut down on the amount I drink, partially because I am getting older (as much as I hate to admit it) and it takes its own toll and partially due to requirements of my day job and a rather unpleasant length of commute. Trying to sit down, drink eight different beers and think long and hard about each one did eventually become a burden rather than something I actively enjoyed, as much as I did enjoy testing my own palate and thinking once in a while about the beer someone had spent time producing. Maybe I'll return to writing something in the style of those reviews, time will tell.
In terms of the other content of this article, I am again going to treat you to some contributions from other prominent writers about what has tickled each of their fancy over the last year and what beers have really given them some enjoyment. We also have some sadder news from this year with some losses from the Liverpool scene; 23 Club (covered here: electrokemistcuisine.weebly.com/blogs/an-ode-to-the-23-club), Mad Hatter Brewing (See below) and sadly the lovely Mark Yates, brewer with Connoisseur Ales and all round good egg.
I have of course, selected my annual top ten standouts from this year too.
Buys outs of breweries are now becoming slightly more commonplace; this year has seen both Fourpure and Beavertown taking investment from the big boys, with the total share going to Lion (an Australian subsidy of the Kirin portfolio) in the case of the former and a significant but undisclosed amount into Beavertown from Heineken. The news was met with rather a mixed reception; murmurings of displeasure, outright indignation through to messages of a more congratulatory nature from all corners of the beer world. Perhaps the more interesting aspect of these buy outs was the rather uneven tone in the Beavertown deal. As covered in a previous edition of this blog, some drinkers drifted (and maybe still do drift) into a bit of hero worship with some brewers; brewing good beers, putting out an enticing image and having a touch of the rock star about you will cultivate fans.
This is very true in the case of Beavertown and perhaps, given their status on the UK beer scene, this is what has created a slew of disappointed fans - 'selling out' will never go down well with some. It's not only some of the brewery's former fans that have directed ire at Beavertown; some other UK breweries have responded in a variety of ways, including by vocalising criticism, by removing associations and involvement with them at festivals and in collaborative projects.
Sussex's Dark Star was another buyout earlier this year, with Fullers of London now owning the whole portfolio. Whilst this isn't an example of a bigger fish (such as AB, Heineken or A N Other) swallowing up a small 'craft' brewery in what could be viewed as cynical acquisition to corner every square inch of the market. Anyway, it was all excellently covered by Pete Brown in February: [www.petebrown.net/2018/02/21/favourite-brewery-gets-bought-sold-taken]. The waters are only going to get muddier from hereon in, if people are truly disturbed by their favourite breweries being owned by larger corporations, it will mean more and more vigilance in keeping tabs on where you spend your money.
A skim of quite a few other articles over the last twelve months has shown that many regard the British staple of cask beer to be significantly undervalued by and large by the public. It still often lags behind the price of keg beer in many establishments and often is not treated with the care it requires to be served properly; leading to many breweries halting output of cask over concern of both margins and of quality. In a bold reversal, both Cloudwater Brewing [cloudwaterbrew.co/blog/2018/9/30/aw18-part-2-cask-is-back] and Brewdog [www.brewdog.com/lowdown/blog/cask-is-back] both returned this year to output of cask beers, albeit with a strenuously tight grip on quality control in terms of where it is sold. It is telling that during my trip over to San Francisco this year, many establishments were keen on developing their cask output and looking to emulate British brewing techniques to add another string to their bows. An example was the brewpub belonging to Thirsty Bear in the city; brewing mostly stouts and British bitter styles, they actually presented a very good beer on their premises and planned to continue increasing output as drinkers in their pub demanded.
Other brewers across the world have taken note and hold cask beer in some reverence; as indeed both European and American brewers anecdotally claim to have been influenced by British brewing, not least Bruno Carilli of Toccalmatto and Brooklyn's own Garrett Oliver. The price is often the bone of contention in the UK; margins are incredibly tight as cask is in the main, undervalued, with a large slice of tax inflating the cost of production and sale. The overall market is down 6.8% since the previous year [www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2018/10/3-reasons-cask-beer-is-declining-in-uk-pubs-and-3-ways-it-can-change], with some of this change being attributed drinkers shifting from cask to 'craft' keg beers. The bulk of the market is still held by premium macro-brewed lagers.
Hopefully cask beer is art that is continued to be appreciated on our own shores, though this will take continued vigilance and a sensitively progressive approach from consumer and the marketplace.
A farewell to Mad Hatter
Another blow to the Liverpool scene was the folding of Mad Hatter Brewing in October, only 9 months after the loss of the trailblazing 23 Club, Liverpool's possibly most recognisable brewery decided to call time on their operations. A variety of reasons were stated for the closure, with an expansion, change in the market and personnel along with a host of other minor factors seemingly making the decision for the team there. It's a very sad loss given what they did for the scene here, not only locally but across the UK.
Since their launch in 2013 (something I covered in this blog many years ago) they have made some truly stunning and wildly experimental brews thanks to brewers Gareth Matthews, Paul Spragett and Lally Morrison coming up some fantastic beers not least Penny Lane Pale, Salted Caramel Quad and Tzatziki Sour. I had the honour of being one of the first to meet Gaz and Sue when they landed in Liverpool and set about creating the Mad Hatter brand, tasting beers that I had never even considered before; for that I am really grateful and consider their contribution to my own education on beer and brewing to be integral.
In the meantime, I would like to pass on my thanks to Mad Hatter for all the hard work, enjoyable beers and moments they have given me over the last five years or so. Cheers guys. x
2018 was a very solid year for quality in beers; from great quality cask right through to bottled and canned delights. I have to keep things down to ten beers here, or the article really would get a bit too long. I am however going to throw out a few 'honorable mentions' though for a few local breweries; Neptune (especially the Citra Mosaic IPA), Chapter (especially for Steadfast Companions) and Glen Affric (for the amazing Morning, Lemon) all raised their game massively this year and showcased some great brewing. I am really looking forward to how they kick on along with Carnival getting a premises and Black Lodge expanding their operations.
From the wider world, those just missing out included Siren's Limoncello IPA, Garage Brewing SOUP, Box Social's Brut DIPA, NMBCo Celestial Motion and Victorian Lemonade collaboration and also Harmonic Brewing's Hoppy Pale - Mosaic from their tap in San Francisco.
Anyway, that top ten...
10. Magic Rock - Botany of Desire Honey DIPA
This was an outrageously good beer, which I have a hankering for ever since I sunk a can at Magic Rock's Brewery Tap earlier on in 2018. Honey-infused beers usually don't tick many boxes for me, often being far too perfumed or cloying in flavour. Botany of Desire however is a much, much different proposition; the malt bill and hopping provide an excellent balance to the honey present. Think a big, slick and juicy beer with a finish which has a very pleasing honey-mustard type glaze flavour; there is plenty going on with this beer but it all was all great fun and incredibly enjoyable. Fingers crossed for another 2019 seasonal release and faith in the original recipe!
09. Other Half - Rake it Up
A collaboration brew with Barrier Brewing, Rake it Up is a very competent Imperial IPA/DIPA which I happened to enjoy at Hop City in March 2018. Hopped with Mosaic, Citra and Denali, it has a healthy dose of oats in the malt bill leaving the mouthfeel incredibly luxurious; soft, sticky and lovely and slick. Possibly having more than a bit in common with NEIPAs, the bitterness level was not very high at all, letting the juiciness and aroma drive things. It was. all in all, just a really enjoyable beer to drink. Especially a highlight, considering this was drunk on a day when many of the IPAs on display were merging into one long session of drinking tropical fruit juice with little to discern between them.
08. Track Brewing Co - Sonoma
Whilst this beer has been collecting praise over a couple of years now, whether it be keg or cask dispense, something stuck with me on trying it keg-fresh from the Brewery Tap early on in 2018. There was something of a completeness about the beer; soft carbonation, a gentle lingering bitterness and loads of soft fruit aromas in balance, making it a beer worth drinking repeatedly. Or maybe I was just thirsty from too much table tennis? Great work, Track Brewing.
07. Gibberish - Coconut and Tonka Bean Stout
A stupidly, stupidly moreish 6.5% Stout which was enjoyed on an autumnal evening at the Gibberish Brewpub. Given the richness and tendency of dessert style stouts to be session-enders, there was probably no departure from that here, but the desire to keep going back for more was quite startling. The sweeter notes, coconut and heady chocolate/light coffee aroma and deeper malt bitterness was actually quite something to behold. A pleasure for all the senses and great to roll around the palate, this stout was massively enjoyable to drink and a cracking bit of brewing.
06. Young Master Ales - Tai Sui Barrel aged Sourdough Ale (2015 vintage)
I'd been holding onto this bottle for a while, following a kind gift from a friend living over in Hong Kong; hence the delay in wanting to drink this one. Given the barrel aging, wild yeasts and ABV it was a fairly safe bet that this brew would take some bottle aging quite well indeed. I can honestly say that I have never had a beer quite like this in my life; the complexity and layering of flavour was pretty astonishing. High carbonation, big whisky aromas, freshly-baked bread, funk and almost wine-line chewiness all contributed to the experience that was this bottle of Tai Sui. As a disclaimer, whilst I could wax lyrical about how clever this beer was, given how loaded it was it made it only possible to drink relatively small measures and was not a repeat drinker, something to be savoured a little more sparingly - otherwise it probably would have found itself in my top 3. Great beer, excellent brewing and a delight to experience.
05. Burnt Mill x Track Brewing Co - Enigmatic Galaxies
Another excellent IPA that I enjoyed at Hop City back in March 2018, a succulent and juicy DIPA that stood out a little more than the Other Half brew at the same event - both had a much more enjoyable mouthfeel and a touch more complexity in terms of their structure. The aroma was wonderfully inviting; tropical and white stone fruit and a lot of citrus character along with a decent bitter back note to draw in the reins of being a total juice bomb with zero subtlety. This was actually quite nuanced and enjoyable, not just another massively drinkable high abv IPA style beer. Burnt Mill (and Track for that matter) have had a brilliant year in 2018 and I hope to see them build on this, with their beers becoming more readily available in the north west.
The Devil's Dessert stout, which is a big and bold a beer as you get in 2018. Understandably divisive, the residual sweetness and overload of desserty notes do make this a tough beer to drink in any quantity, but for me that defeats the whole point of this 7.4% beer. A plethora of different flavours and aromas come through as the beer adjusts in temperature; nutty praline, light coffee, chocolate, caramel, dried and candied fruit, vanilla and other spices with hints of black pepper are all present in Dark City and in front of a warm fire a can will see you through the evening and give plenty of enjoyment. It certainly worked for me, both in can and on keg at the Northern Monk Refectory before the Dark City Beer Festival.
03. Alvarado Street Brewery - Countach
A warm and sunny evening in San Francisco, you've checked out 3 brewery taps and a former cinema turned into a Craft Beer and computer games arcade, you arrive at a dive bar that was a bit ropey a decade or so ago... it is now a nirvana. Sinking one of these beers from Alvarado Street in Ashbury-Haight's Toronado was a true highlight of an amazing trip out to California this year; there were a few excellent ones to choose from and Salad Bowl, also from Alvarado Street was also excellent, but this stood out so much. Loads of pineapple a lingering, strong finish along with some yeasty, zesty notes and a light bitterness gives the end result of a great beer, although at 8.1% it was somewhat dangerous for revisiting.
02. Amundsen - Cookie Monster
A massively sweet aroma drives this big boy coconut chocolate chip imperial stout, tasted and enjoyed immensely at Indy Man Beer Con in 2018. Tonnes of roasty character with a subtle spiciness to go with all the big chocolate and biscuity notes. The mouthfeel was right in line with how I felt it should be to align with the aroma and flavour, a lovely dry finish also meant Cookie Monster was as complete a beer as could be for this style. Despite the fun name, there was almost something 'grown up' about this beer too.
01. Trillium - DDH Fort Point
The signature Trillium 6.6% pale ale; I enjoyed Fort Point from a can, kindly brought back for me by a friend this year. Despite my occasional pestering, Trillium still don't look like making any regular deliveries of their beers across the Atlantic and whilst its perfectly understandable, it's still quite disappointing. This beer was everything I would expect from an American Pale Ale at the moment - loads of big hop citrus and pine character from Citra and Colombus hops, backed up by a great malt bill leading to a wonderfully heady, slick and enjoyable beer. I really, really did not want the can to end. For a 'daily drinker' this would probably spoil most of us!
Please feel free to pass your comments in the comment section below - I am sure there are many of you who can't possibly believe I have missed out BeerX or BeerY this year!
And now for the contributions of some beery luminaries to talk about 2018 and how they think things will pan out for the forthcoming year....
BrumBeerBabs and Birmingham Beer Blog
What was good about 2018?
There were a lot of good things in 2018 not least in the beer scene in my home city of Birmingham. A highlight for me was being asked to be part of the team organising a new beer festival in the city – Lock and Key. Although work started in 2017 the festival took place in July with the aim of bringing something new to the city. I was responsible for booking all our fringe speakers and I was so lucky that so many of my friends from the drinks world, locally and further afield, stepped up to help me.
Back in April I was happy to celebrate the first birthday of my Brum Beer Babs. When I started the ladies group in 2017 I wasn’t sure we’d last 3 months so to celebrate a year felt very special. We were also lucky enough to brew our own beer this year at Twisted Barrel in Coventry – I really hope we get to brew somewhere in 2019 too! Back to Brum and its growing beer scene, this year we’ve seen the opening of Pint Shop and Head of Steam in the city as well new breweries such as Glasshouse Brew Co and Attic Brew Co. We’ve a few more to look forward to in 2019 too and I really feel that this year is a bit of a turning point for my city which in the past has always felt like it’s lagging behind the likes of Leeds and Manchester. We’ve still a way to go but it’s all going in the right direction and I for one am very excited! I also got to do some more writing about beer for Midlands Beer Blog and I got into print at the end of the year with an article in our local Area Guide. There is something a bit special about seeing your name physically in print. This is something I’d definitely like to do more of in 2019 to help support and promote our local scene.
What was not so good?
There’s been lots of good things in 2018 but of course there are always somethings which are not so great.
I think we continue to see times being hard for bars and breweries due to a number of factors including financial and media issues. The constantly changing advice on what to drink or not and how much doesn’t help anyone. Much of the advice is not based on any scientific evidence and with it changing, it seems, every week it is no surprise that your regular drinker is confused.
One thing that has made me sad this year is the end of Mad Hatter in Liverpool. These guys have made some truly ground-breaking beers over the years and it’s never nice to see a brewery close but especially one that has led to some great friendships for me. Good luck to everyone involved for 2019.
Another area where we’ve seen some great improvements but we could do with more is in the area of sexism (and other ‘isms’) in branding and advertising. Beer is for everyone and by using some of the images or slogans I’ve seen this year you are excluding people who could be buying your product. A big shout out to Jaega Wise, Melissa Cole and Lily Waite, among others, who are really leading the crusade on this.
What do you think will be good/interesting/different in 2019?
Now I wish I had a crystal ball!
For me I am feeling there is a shift away from big bars and a move towards people being interested in their local beer and in visiting their taprooms. As some of you will know this is a topic close to my
heart as I continue to champion our local, independent bars and breweries. I think people are much more interested in seeing where their products come from and supporting independent businesses over the ‘big brands’.
I’d also like to see a return to breweries doing traditional styles well. A great mild, brown ale or porter is a joy! We’ve had a lot of ‘fuss’ beers in recent years and I think we will see a move away from those and on to really good innovative beers which showcase styles but still with the flair we naturally see from our breweries. As part of this I was happy to see Cloudwater return to making cask beer in 2018. Of course we have some amazing breweries making cask every day but with someone like Cloudwater back to championing this amazing product it can only help everyone – here’s to more, great cask beer in 2019! Still talking about Cloudwater I am excited to see the line-up for their new festival Friends & Family & Beer in March. I’m hoping to get up to Manchester for this and am interested to see that as it’s a non-profit festival all profits will to go local charities – nice one guys!
What were you top 3 beers of 2018?
Goodness these are the hardest questions! Just 3!?
I’ve had some great beer adventures this year so I’m going to shout out a few places I’ve visited who’ve had great beers available.
I was lucky enough to go back to New York this year and this time we stayed in Astoria – this gave me a chance to visit a lot of local breweries, away from the main tourist areas, where I tasted some really amazing beers. I have to say that Interbro Spirits and Ales in Brooklyn ticked a lot of boxes. As well as great beer they had a great atmosphere, music and staff. I made trip over to Brussels for BXL Festival this year (highly recommended!) and whilst there of course had to visit Cantillon. It’s hard to pick out just one beer there but we did have an amazing sea buckthorn beer (Tyrnilambic Baie d'Argousier) in fact it was the last one of our trip.
Finally a shout out to one of our new local breweries – Glasshouse Brew Co. They’ve moved into a full brewery this year and we are now starting to see their beers in bars around the city. So far every one I’ve tasted has been spot on. There’ve been a lot of juice bombs so far and I’m excited to see what Josh and the team come up with in 2019 as well as the much anticipated opening of their taproom.
Alpha at Cat Hop Beers
What Was Good In 2018?
The thing that stood out most for me on a national level, was the general success of a lot of brewery crowdfunding campaigns (Prime examples being Northern Monk and Verdant, with Se7en Brothers trending in a similar direction locally).
It's nice to see hard working and high quality brewers taking the initiative and seeking funding from the general public, as opposed to selling up equity to macro beer companies and giving them a back door into the craft beer sector.
What Was Not So Good In 2018?
I suppose my obvious answer here, is Heineken's acquisition of a 49% stake in Beavertown, and to a lesser extent, the 100% buy out of Fourpure by Lion (at least the head honcho at Fourpure hasn't been on record recently, decrying the evils of macro beer companies). It was sad, to me, to see two of the country's most vibrant and fore-running breweries capitulate to macro beer, at a point when the national scene is beginning to come into it's own.
Indeed, it must be tempting to grab out when somebody waves a few million quid in your face, and i understand the desire to secure a future, financially, for your family. But to turn your back on the bars, bottle shops and fellow brewers who stood side by side with you for years, championing independent businesses, well, that suggests your morals were for sale all along.
For what it's worth, that's two more breweries whose beer will no longer get into my gut, or onto the shelves in my shop.
Thoughts/Predictions For 2019
I hope that 2019 sees the sector continue to grow, and i also hope that the remaining independent businesses rally together to reject macro involvement, reducing the likelihood of further capitulation to macro beer companies, reducing tap space committed to macro beer companies (and subsidiaries) and increasing available tap and shelf space for true, independent brewers.
It will be interesting to see how the role of bottle shops changes over the next year, and beyond, with the sheer number of online shops and brewery online stores opening up. Whether these developments spell an imminent end to what we now recognise as bottle shops - as consumers move more towards the "bring it to me" method of shopping - remains to be seen.
Top Three Beers of 2018
It was a fantastic year for new beers. Choosing three was never going to be easy, but in no particular order:
The Mobberley Brewhouse - Batch #1000.
This 10% ABV imperial hop monster was brewed as Mobberley's 1,000th gyle since their inception, and boy did it hit the mark. Previously, beers like UnNamed, BeastMode and PipeDream had drawn attention from the nation's craft beer drinkers, but it was Batch #1000 that cemented their place as quality juice merchants. 4.34/5.00 on Untappd isn't too shabbhy eh?!
Northern Monk X Other Half X Equilibrium - Infinity Vortex.
Northern Monk's Patrons Projects have given me plenty of joy and excitement this year. Infinity Vortex was pretty much the pinnacle of the year's releases to me. The 7.4% murk bomb was about as juicy, soft and drinkable as an IPA can feasibly get. Other Half and Equilibrium's involvement was fairly obvious to see! 4.33/5.00 on Untappd!
Wander Beyond - Octopod.
Well, you either tried this beautiful little number or you didn't. If you didn't, then you missed out. A 12.0% mango and passion fruit smoothie IPA that the brewing team absolutely smashed out of the park. This effort stood head and shoulders above all other UK milkshake/smoothie IPAs that i tried this year. Thick, gloopy, fruit smoothie, with just enough booze burn to remind you it was alcoholic, and yet tasting nowhere near the 12.0% ABV. 4.30/5.00 on Untappd.
What was good about 2018?
The appreciation for lower abv beers was great to see this year. Ranging from Seshfest, to the respect shown for Lost and Grounded, to the slow fermentation of lager back into peoples thoughts and glasses, there has been a lot of sessional beers celebrated. Brewing tasty low % beers has become a goal for a lot of breweries now and my liver for one has enjoyed it immensely.
Though there are bad eggs in every bunch, the beer scene has stepped up a gear this year on calling out sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic behaviour. Although its probably only the tip of the iceberg for what needs to be done, and there are always going to be shitheads around, I think some steps forward have been made and long may that continue. The boundaries for what constitutes a beer have been pushed throughout 2018. Pretty ridiculous imperial stouts and every fruit under the sun used in sours, and I can’t get enough of it.
For me this year has been less about drinking good beer and more about being with good people, whilst drinking good beer. Where I use to think of the beers I had had the night-before during a hangover, I spent a lot of this year recounting who I met and chatted with, and got drunk with. Cheers to them.
What was not so good?
I wrote a few paragraphs about this and wasn’t happy with any of them. So instead I’m just going to use some Against Me! lyrics from the song ‘Don’t Lose Touch’ to explain how I felt about the not so good parts about beer in 2018.
(With a few words changed to suit my agenda) You're coming off quite contrite and pretentious
You're not saying anything we haven't heard before
You're caught up in an argument
Oh, oh, you're so lost in modern beer
You will lose it all, and you will find again
Don't lose touch
Don't lose touch
SOS posted from a cell phone
Please tell me I'm not the only one
That thinks we're taking ourselves too seriously
Just a little too enamoured with inflated self purpose
Talk is cheap and it doesn't mean much
Don't lose touch
Don't lose touch
Constant twitter engagement for our restless minds
Constant stimulation for epic appetites
Is there something wrong with these beers?
Maybe there's something wrong with the audience
Manipulation in the craft beer scene, fucking nausea
I'm losing touch, I'm losing touch
(I'm losing touch)
I'm losing touch, and it's obvious - You can listen to the song here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9iTNNi8Gh0
What do you think will be good/interesting/different in 2019?
We’re already seeing style specific fests happen in 2018 and I think this may grow and grow. With success of Seshfest and Hop/Dark City being returned to again next year and the likes of We Are Lager being announced it seems there is a market for it. Within all styles there is such a big scope so with these beers fests you can delve a bit deeper. There will always be the more traditional fest around so why not have these type of fest in between.
Though the past few years have always been predicted as ‘The Year of Lager’ it has never really come to fruition. But I’m going to continue that annual guess and say 2019 will see the rise of the craft lager. With Cloudwater, Lost & Grounded, Braybrooke, and soon to be released Manchester Union Lager all bringing lager to our locals I reckon its going to grow and grow. And its a great style for refinement and growth. With a chance to show skill, gives the drinker drinkability and the chance for repeat buying. I cant wait to get a round in.
(If UK craft lager fails to reach the heights I envisage then this last paragraph will be stricken from the record/internet.)
I’m hoping 2019 sees more independent people writing opinion pieces about beer. It seems we are all losing many voices due to the shit the writers get. While I don’t agree with every word written on beer surely thats the point, to gain new perspectives. And for fucks sake, this is obvious shit, but if you go into a discussion about beer (or anything) with absolutely no possibility of having your mind changed then you are a total prick. As I stated in a paragraph above I love over-the-top beers with random adjuncts, but it’d be interesting to see the bigger players in craft beer trying to nail down styles that could be classed as more traditional. Bitter, milds, straight forward stouts, red ales; with every brewer in the North’s obsession with Landlord and brewers down South always giving the same praise to London’s Pride I wonder if they could try to tackle a similar thing. They don’t have the legacy or possibly the time maybe but with Cloudwater’s recent foray back into cask including an ESB, I’d appreciate maybe 2019 being the year we see those traditional styles being given some attention. Certain breweries seem to create the trends now, if you brew it they will come.
What were your top 3 beers for 2018?
If I do a Beer of the Year list I usually check Untappd but these three are beers that stuck in my head regardless.
Cycle Brewing - Pecan Pie A La Mode
During Manchester Beer Week this year the amazing Marble Brewery brought over women who work in the beer industry in Florida over to these shores. 7venth Sun Brewery, Green Bench Brewing Co. and a few others were represented, including the mighty Cycle Brewing. The ever hard working Hannah of Marble put together a big meal/booze up on a Sunday morning, and the multiple stunning beers from the mentioned breweries were passed around while we all tucked in to some fantastic food from The Marble Arch kitchen. I was lucky enough to get to go, as a plus one of Kaleigh’s. It was a ridiculous few hours of beer we may probably never try again, next to massive jugs of Sunshine Radler.
The star of the show for me was the Cycle Brewing ‘Pecan Pie A La Mode’. A beautifully sweet, rich, thick imperial stout. It felt decadent, yet silly, complex, yet simple. With enough burn from the Bourbon barrel ageing to set every off. The company was right, the food was spot on, the beers were outlandish and its was only about 11:30am. A great memory that has stuck with me ever since. And I like that during a week of celebrating local beer for Manchester Beer Week my favourite beer was from America. Oops.
Brauerei Greifenklau - Lagerbier
I bloody love German beer, and had wanted to go to Bamberg for a few years, so for my 30th birthday Kaleigh booked us a weekend away there. On a rather warm and sweaty day, after a few hours of sightseeing we trundled up some hilly residential streets out of the Old Town towards Brauerei Greifenklau. We were met by a gorgeous biergarten (German for Beer Garden) that overlooked the tree filled hills that surrounded the city. Feeling hot and bothered from the walk and the heat I ordered the Lagerbier and the first sip was possibly the best mouthful of beer I had ever had. It is the best lager in the world? Probably not, but its pretty damn good. Especially on a warm summers day when you’re turning 30 and questioning your mortality. A swig of cold German lager looking out over some green countryside will do you the world of good.
Franziskaner - Weissbier
This year I kind of stepped back from ticking (a little), and focused more on going back to beers that I enjoyed, and rather shockingly, have had before. Weissbiers (German for White Beer) got me into beer, trying Erdinger for the first time was a revelation, and so I’ve always had a soft spot for it. This year when I’ve wanted a drink at home of an evening the one bottle I’ve had constantly in the fridge is Franzikaner Weissbier. It’s readily available in most supermarkets now, is *whispers* affordable, and I could drink it at any time. Plus the slight grandeur of drinking out of a tall wheat beer glass has never diminished for me. I just want a reliable drink sometimes and this is definitely one. So as a nod to my slightly changed drinking habits in 2018, and for sheer enjoyment I’ve got out of drinking it on numerous occasions, this is definitely one of my beers of the year.
London Beer Blogger
So what was good about beer in 2018?
Well in London, Bermondsey continues to grow and indeed glow as a beer destination, with new taprooms opening and existing ones extending their opening hours. Affinity, one of the best on 'the mile', opened a mezzanine level and continued to produce a varied and highly competent, tasty output. Closer to my abode in Hornsey, Tottenham Hale continues to attract beer enthusiasts with Beavertown and Pressure drop occupying the same trading estate and the fantastic Five Miles venue nearby.
London-based Czech brewery Bohem also moved to the area following its expansion, and while you can't drink on site for the time being, they do have a taproom in (relatively) nearby Bounds Green.
As we know every cloud has a silver lining but as every pessimist (or realist) knows the reverse is also true.
So what's been less good about 2018?
Well if you care about brewery ownership you may have lamented the partial sale and sale of Beavertown and Fourpure respectively. I'm more relaxed about the issue nowadays but I do feel we must always be wary of the spectre of 'big beer' and the competing interests of shareholders and creatives (brewers). The fallout from the Beavertown deal with Heineken was particularly unseemly, with one London brewery embarrassing itself with its attempts to commercially exploit the situation with childish antics which screamed 'love me, love me!'.
Returning to the positives, Five Points did a wonderful job with the newly renovated Pembury Tavern, while the Hackney area also saw The Experiment open its doors for the first time. When you throw The Cock Tavern into the mix, the fact I am too poor to reside in my former home borough leaves me crestfallen, dejected and utterly disconsolate. If you hadn't noticed I'm prone to hyperbole.
What were my beers of the year?
Well to be honest I've stopped chasing new releases. I find the prolific nature of breweries' output overwhelming so prefer to drink what I like when I see it. This means Pale Fire, any Kernel pale ale or Five Points Railway Porter when out, and ideally Orval at home. That said here are my top 3 beers of the year in no particular order:
Two Roads Brewing Sauvignon Blanc
Kernel Bière de Saison Sour Cherry
Burning Sky Coolship
Looking forward to 2019 I am considering a beer festival I've not been to before, and I can't wait for the Affinity-organised 'Cask 2019'. I will continue to drink what I believe to be good, and be respectful of others' tastes. In fact, if we could all be more respectful that would be swell. Happy New Beer or something.
Beer More Social
What was good about 2018?
As the Tryanuary coordinators for Manchester we saw 2018 kick off with a great program of special events in January. This was a great start to the year and it was ace to see so much going across the UK and to see them so well attended!
The trend for lower abv beers and the introduction of Magic Rock's SeshFest has been a refreshing change, with small beers and table beers now commonplace in our usual haunts. This was especially welcome with the weather over summer where we also saw some fantastic Lagers on offer to quench our thirst! As well as the German favourites we drank a lot of Cloudwater- Helles Mandarina & Light Lager, Lost & Grounded- Keller Pils, Donzoko- Northern Helles which were all top notch!
What was not so good?
Nothing is perfect and although the beer scene has been incredibly empowering, friendly and largely positive there has been toxicity and unkindness, especially on social media platforms and on some of the forums. We are all new to beer at some point and elitist attitudes can be off putting to those folks and lack of empathy to others can make online platforms a really negative space.
Despite the work that is being done to try and promote more equality in beer it is still disheartening to say not all conversations we have had this year have been positive. Also on what planet is a striptease appropriate as entertainment for a Zwanze day celebration?!
Beer wise we haven't been mad keen on the Brut IPA trend, they haven't been very consistent to a style and we haven't really come across any that have knocked our socks off! With the demand for canning at an all-time high we have also had our fair share of dodgy cans, perhaps the demand outweighing the infrastructure in place.
What will be good/interesting/different in 2019?
Beer style wise I think we will see a lot more classic traditional cask around, the demand for a well-kept pint of Landlord in places like Heaton Hops or Northern Monk Refectory MCR is most definitely there and classic beers like Coniston’s Bluebird Bitter flying out of neighbourhood bars.
We will see more festivals adopting the ‘all in’ approach to beer pours, with Cloudwater’s Friends and Family and Northern Monk’s Hop City already confirmed which is something which doesn’t suit everyone and certainly divides us as a group! Whatever your thoughts on the 'all in' approach, it will be an excellent opportunity to try more international beers that have been properly shipped over and kept well.
On a more personal level, the ultimate change is that myself and my husband are moving into our own space and setting up our very own bar and bottle shop in early 2019. A huge change from consumer to retailer and one that we are both excited and terrified to be doing!
Top 3 beers 2018
This is where deciding to ditch Untappd really comes back to bite me! I’ve therefore chosen three beers that I drank a lot of this year!
Alefarm- Solemn Cycle
My beer of Indyman as a super easy to drink coffee milk stout with bags of flavour, so much so I pretty much skipped along to the Pilcrow to drink more when they had their MTB.
A beer that will be on many lists for sure, this is my definite ‘go to’ beer and I love it on both cask and keg.
Having being lucky enough to attend the brew day, I was super excited to try Namaka. It really did not disappoint and with the wonderful summer whenever I saw it I got it.
Head Brewer at Wild Card Brewery and Beer Sommelier
What was good about 2018?
2018 was a fascinating year. For me beer widened its appeal to the masses. Its a year where Burning Sky Brewery won a BBC Food and Farming award. For them to be able to resonate with the listeners of BBC radio 4 and to command respect from the beer industry itself is no easy feat and hopefully is a sign of the direction the craft beer industry is going in. There were important steps made towards more diversity in the beer industry. I hope that as a result before people release their new beer/event/bar etc, they take the time to put themselves in someone else's shoes.
Also, one thing has become apparent for me in 2018...the sheer passion for craft beer across the UK. From The UK Craft Beer Forum to Untappd to the many bloggers who dedicate their time, this is a vibrant, passionate beer industry that I’m so pleased to be a part of.
The realisation that cask beer across the UK is not doing so well. We have to make a conscious effort as an industry to make sure this heritage is not lost. Nowhere else in the world is cask beer available in every town, in every city. A true British Institution. Cask beer has been an inspiration for many many brewers around the world, and globally we are revered for it. People regard it with real respect. Sometimes I don’t think in the UK that we place the same value on it as others do around the world. I would love in 2019 to see a focus on innovative cask beers from breweries and exciting cask lead events.
What do you think will be good/interesting/different in 2019?
For me personally, I will be releasing the first Wild Card beers from my barrel aged beer programme. In 2018 Walthamstow had one of the best grape harvests in living memory (Yes in East London!) and I made a fair amount of Rioja Barrel Aged Saison Hybrids with Walthamstow grapes. I’m beyond excited about it.
What were your top 3 beers for 2018?
Passion Fruit Gose, 4.7% - Wild Card Brewery
As a team we’re really pleased with our special 440ml canned releases in 2018. The Passion Fruit Gose was my personal favourite. It was fresh, zesty and packed full of passionfruit. It was also very expensive to produce. Passion fruit is one the most expensive fruits money can buy, so I was suitably nervous when we were making it. It turned out fantastically, and the feedback received was pretty incredible. In 2018 Moving the brewery to bigger premises has allowed us the time and space to brew things other than core range. We have some really interesting releases in 2019, starting with a 2.7% Table Beer, made with really fresh 2018 crop Enigma and Vic Secret from Australia.
Sidewinder - 2.7% - Track Brewing Co.
I was sitting with Alix (co-founder of the Crafty Beer Girls) in Cafe Beer Moth in Manchester, the day after the big Ladies That Beer & Crafty Beer Girls Meet Up. We were feeling suitably delicate and I had a train to catch in a few hours time. Everything about this beer was perfect. Ridiculously refreshing. I had more beer from Track Brewing Co the next time I was in Manchester, this time on cask and again it was fantastic (Venue: Port Street Beer House). Definitely a brewery to watch in 2019.
Into The Haze, 6.2% - Deya
I love it when a brilliant beer hits you when you least expect it. It was a very unremarkable Wednesday evening, and I was meeting a beer loving relative who was staying with me and a couple of friends for a few drinks after work. Trying to impress, I took them to Pressure Drops ‘The Experiment’ bar in Hackney. When we got there it was closed (my fault, should have googled it), so we stumbled into the closest pub ‘The Cock Tavern’ in Hackney. There was someone gleefully playing the piano as we approached the bar. The range in The Cock is pretty staggering, so after we tried a few we settled on Deya’s Into the Haze. It’s a juicy, dank hop bomb, but also a well balanced tasty pale. We tried to switch beers several times that evening, but just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. And yes, it was expensive, but honestly...it was beyond worth it.
Many thanks for reading and best of luck to you all for 2019!