With the foam beginning to settle on the head of what has been an exceptional pint of beer of a year, it’s high time I turned my attention to the awarding of the Beeson On Beer Golden Pint Awards for 2017.
This annual festive tradition is a great opportunity to look back at some of the highlights of the last twelve months, and to reflect on what has been a whirlwind of a year, both for me personally and for the industry as a whole.
This time last year, I had never been paid to write a piece of journalism about beer. Writing about beer is something I am now paid to do every single day, the fortuitousness of which is not lost on me. To end the year as a full time reporter on a respected trade publication, and as the British Guild of Beer Writers’ Best Young Beer Writer, is a dream come true for me, and something I believe I can justifiably be very proud of.
It’s also been an incredible year for the industry. The number of UK breweries shows no signs of slowing up, shooting past the 2,000 mark according to the latest statistics from the British Beer and Pub Association. In my view, quality is rising across the board too, albeit at a slower rate. Interest in craft beer is also at an all-time high, and the number of beery events is proving neigh-on impossible to keep up with on a daily basis.
With this in mind, it has been harder than ever to narrow down this year’s list of winners. I’ve drunk so much exceptional beer, and been to so many fantastic events this year, and my only regret is that I am not able to namecheck more of them. It’s certainly a good time to be a beer drinker.
NB: This shouldn’t need stating, but I’ll say it anyway. The views expressed here are my own and not those of my employer. It’s only meant to be a bit of fun, so don’t take it too seriously.
Best small pack beer
Winner: Cloudwater Brew Co + Lost & Grounded Brewers + Verdant Brewing Co Loral & Ardi
Honourable mentions: Northern Monk + Wylam I Like To Moob it Moob It, Burning Sky Pretty Mess IPA
It’s no real surprise that putting together three of the best and most innovative breweries in the country should lead to what was quite probably my beer of the year. A stunning 8.2% hoppy tripel, this beer combined the drinkability of the best Cloudwater and Verdant beers with the complexity of the finest Lost and Grounded brews from the last 12 months.
In a year in which we have seen countless collaborations from brewers across the world, Loral & Ardi stood out for me. Dollops of mandarin and orange on the nose were followed by a slightly spicy undertone and a long, dry finish. I could easily have drunk another even after the hefty 440ml can, and hope that a repeat brew is on the cards for the future.
Best keg beer
Winner: Deya Brewery + Verdant Brewing Co High Planes Drifter
Honourable mentions: Other Half Brewing Company DDH Double Mosaic Dream, Cloudwater NW DIPA Citra
New England IPA dominates my keg highlights for 2017. The beer style may split opinion, but I personally can’t think of anything better than a lovely glass of yoghurt juice on tap when it is fresh.
The pick of a very good bunch was Deya and Verdant’s High Planes Drifter, which was the standout beer of Craft Beer Rising back in February. An 8% ABV murk monster that pours like thick pineapple juice and tastes a bit like it to, High Planes Drifter was so good it made me forget how sad I was that Cloudwater were stopping their numbered DIPA series around the same time.
A great number of Other Half beers sampled at the brewery taproom could have come a close second in this category, but the superior balance of High Planes Drifter just tips this one in their favour. Not bad company to be in, considering both the collaborating breweries are less than three years old.
Best cask beer
Winner: The Five Points Brewing Company Derailed Porter
Honourable mentions: Dark Star Hophead Extra, Marble Beers Dobber
I have to hold my hands up and admit that I hadn’t tried The Five Points’ Derailed Porter before this year so I am in no position to compare this year’s incarnation to previous batches. What I am in a position to do, however, is go out on a limb and say that this is quite possibly *the* best dark beer I have ever drunk on cask.
The original Railway Porter is superb, but the Derailed version, pumped full of brettanomyces, hits you like a train. The signature smooth, velvety mouthfeel gives way to a dry and tangy finish, which I imagine is the closest any UK brewery has gotten to recreating the taste of London porters of old. An absolute masterclass.
Best overseas brewery
Winner: Other Half Brewing Company (USA)
Honourable mentions: Omnipollo (Sweeden), De Molen (Netherlands)
Twelve months ago, I’m not sure many UK beer drinkers would have heard of Other Half Brewing Company. Since then, this Brooklyn brewery has taken the UK market by storm, and has almost single handedly brought with it the biggest beer trend – or fad (depending on your perspective) – seen in beer in the last five years.
I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Other Half on a trip to New York in July, and the experience of seeing people drive for hundreds of miles to stand in line at the brewery taproom confirmed to me that, despite the progress made, UK beer culture has a long way to go just yet. Other Half have been ever-present on the UK festival circuit this year, and have brought with them some exceptional hazy beers that wouldn’t look out of place on Garrett Oliver’s Instagram. A worthy winner.
Best UK brewery
Winner: The Five Points Brewing Company
Honourable mentions: Verdant Brewing Co, Northern Monk
Strangely enough, this was one of the easiest decisions on this list. There are many incredible breweries making superb beers and doing wonderful things for the UK scene, but this year one in particular has been a cut above the rest. Not only have The Five Points Brewing Company produced some of the best beers I have drunk this year – Derailed Porter, Pils and Brickfield Brown to name just three – they have also led the way in both innovation and in social responsibility.
Their first-ever Green Hop beer was an absolute triumph; the perfect marriage of traditional and modern brewing, whilst their Living Wage Beer festival was also one of my favourite events of the year (see below).
Five Points are a community led brewery with a social conscience and a perfect range of exciting and consistent beers, and for that reason it is a pleasure to name them my UK brewery of the year.
Winner: Mason & Co Living Wage Beer Festival
Honourable mentions: Christmas Carols at Anspach & Hobday, Brooklyn Brewery Ghost Bottle tasting
I’ve cheated a little bit here with this one, but it didn’t seem fair to consider Mason & Company’s Living Wage Beer Festival alongside events of the magnitude and scale of Beavertown and Indy Man.
This free-to-attend tap takeover, featuring beers from accredited living wage brewers from across the UK, was a huge success and a great way to celebrate Living Wage Week. Featuring beers from some of the UK’s best breweries and in the uber-modern and vibrant setting of Five Points’ taproom bar, the event rightly gave limelight to breweries going above and beyond for their employees.
As someone who self identifies as a socialist and who believes in business’ need to have a sense of social responsibility, this festival ticked all the boxes for me.
Winner: Beavertown Extravaganza
Honourable mentions: Indy Man Beer Con, Uppers & Downers
Another straightforward decision. The sheer ambition of Beavertown in putting on an event of this scale, so soon after being burnt badly after failing to anticipate demand for their fourth birthday party in 2016, is commendable in itself. Not only that, but they absolutely killed it. Nearly 80 breweries served up some of the best beers in the world to 8,000 people over two days; and barely a thing went wrong.
Some things weren’t perfect. The stampede mentality that was encouraged by penning people in until opening time was less than ideal, and there was a slight shortage of beer on the Saturday of the festival, but these are minor quibbles that I have no doubt will be ironed out for 2018’s festival.
The sheer range and quality of beer was like nothing before seen in the UK, whilst The Good Beer Hunting Symposium provided stimulating and engaging debate from some of the leading lights in the industry. This felt like a pivotal moment in the UK beer scene that we will be talking about for years to come.
Best beer communicator
Winner: Pete Brown
Honourable mentions: Jonny Garrett, Breandán Kearney
My award for best beer communicator this year goes to someone who didn’t win any awards at The British Guild of Beer Writers annual dinner, because he was the one giving them out.
Last year’s Beer Writer of the Year, Pete Brown has had an exceptionally good 2017. Not only has he penned an effortlessly readable new book in Miracle Brew, he has also revamped his own website, lead Original Gravity from strength to strength and continued to provoke and inspire discussion with his regular column for The Morning Advertiser.
Pete is a close friend and ally, and always the voice of reason in any ongoing debate in the world of beer. His ability to turn a phrase and express something that instantly resonates with the reader is unparalleled, and puts the rest of us to shame. Honourable mentions go to Jonny Garrett for his excellent work with the immediately accessible and entertaining Craft Beer Channel, and Breandán Kearney for the insightful and amusing Belgian Smack podcast.
Winner: The Harp, Covent Garden
Honourable mentions: Fuggles Beer Café, Mason & Company
I’ve always found this category of the Golden Pints to be a bit confusing. Does the bar in question need to have been opened in the current year? Do you have to have visited the pub for the first time this year? I’m not sure what the rules are, or indeed if there are any.
Therefore, I’ve decided to give this award to the pub or bar I have most enjoyed drinking in this year, and that is The Harp in Covent Garden. It’s a pub that I think is often unfairly overlooked when people talk about the London beer scene, and one that I perhaps have taken for granted in the past.
A grand, old fashioned boozer just a stone’s throw from Charing Cross, The Harp has recently become my go-to pub once again, helped in part by the exceptional condition in which it keeps its cask Dark Star Hophead, pints of which I could happily guzzle until the end of days. If you haven’t been, you really don’t know what you’re missing.
Best brewery tap
Winner: Brew By Numbers
Honourable mentions: Bellwoods Brewery (Toronto), Howling Hops
Brew By Numbers have certainly made use of the additional space at their new brewery taproom since opening it at the start of autumn. The new facility and purpose built bar gives their Bermondsey home a much more permanent feel, and has played host to a number of excellent events in the final quarter of the year.
September’s Uppers & Downers festival was an unqualified success that saw breweries and coffee roasters come together to celebrate the common elements of the two cultures, whilst the year was seen out in style with the brewery’s 5th birthday celebrations.
The bar is a fine addition to the Bermondsey beer mile and London’s growing taproom culture, which I wrote about for Ferment magazine this summer.
Of course, the categories in Golden Pints awards fail to even come close to doing justice to the work of the many incredible people I have had the pleasure of meeting, working for or becoming friends with during the course of the last twelve months.
Hence I’d like to spend a (slightly self-indulgent) moment to acknowledge some people who have been hugely influential or kind towards me in 2017, and to briefly pick some standout moments that don’t fit into the rigid categories of these awards.
So, in no particular order I’d like to thank Tim Sheahan of The Brewers Journal for publishing my first ever piece about beer in print, for being a close confidant and for putting me in a taxi after I’d had far too much to drink at Indy Man. Thanks also to Richard Croasdale and Ferment magazine for giving me a steady stream of income and a portfolio of work to establish myself as a writer.
A massive thanks go to Ed, Nic and the whole Morning Advertiser team, who have been absolutely brilliant to me since day one and given me a platform to reach massive new audiences with my writing. You took a punt on me and helped me turn beer writing from a sideline venture into a profession, and I’m eternally grateful.
I’d also like to thank my fellow beer writers, a lot of whom I had never met twelve months ago but now whom I consider close friends. Thanks to Pete Brown, Adrian Tierney-Jones, Matthew Curtis, Jonny Garrett, Sophie Atherton, Melissa Cole, and many, many more writers for your advice, support and friendship over the course of the year. It has been a pleasure getting to know you all.
Finally, I’d like to thank every single one of you, my readers, for continuing to read, share and support my work. It has been hugely rewarding to share some of my favourite stories with you all, and your kind messages make every late night and working-weekend worthwhile.
With that out of the way, here are just a few of the moments that have stood out for me this year.
Smashing beers from the likes of Deya, Gun and Harbour at Craft Beer Rising with my brother and some old university pals.
Going on my first ever fully paid press junket to Flanders and hanging out with established beer writers like Will Hawkes, Sophie Atherton and Des De Moor.
Getting an actual job where someone pays me, every month, to write about a subject I love. It’s pretty awesome I’ve got to tell you.
Roadtripping around the East Coast of America, visiting breweries in New York, Michigan and Toronto with some of my best friends. Slurping Other Half cans overlooking Torch Lake by moonlight is a memory I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
Meeting the legendary Roger Protz and chatting about everything from pub closures to Premier League football in The Three Johns pub in Islington.
Relaunching the Beeson On Beer website and releasing our first ever piece of merchandise, of which I have sold over 90 units.
Visiting the stunning Marble Arch for the first time, and drinking all weekend in Manchester with some of the loveliest people in the industry.
Being recognised by my peers and industry professionals as Best Young Beer Writer at The British Guild of Beer Writers awards. Still hasn’t sunk in yet, not sure it ever will.
The next twelve months are already looking like they will be even more chaotic, exhausting and fun than 2017 has been. I’m already in the process of booking in trips to Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham and Norwich, and I’ll be further adding to the Beeson On Beer web shop, whilst also launching a brand new series of features early in the new year.
With this in mind, I thought I would end 2017 with a set of three personal resolutions and three predictions for the next year. I look forward to inevitably being proven completely wrong in the coming months.
Be nicer – Without wanting to go into too much detail, the last month or so has been pretty unpleasant at times on social media. Making the transition from ‘blogger’ to journalist has lead to me clashing with people I previously considered to be mentors, colleagues and friends. This has certainly had a negative impact on my own mental wellbeing, and as a result I’m resolving in 2018 to be nicer to everyone, and remember that at the end of the day, it’s just fucking beer.
Support good causes – This resolution is inspired by the excellent work done by a number of breweries, some of whom I have previously mentioned, in supporting their local community and raising money for worthy causes. In an increasingly nasty and profit driven society, it is a relief to me to see that, for the most part, beer people remain good people. Hence, next year I will seek to further champion breweries with a social conscience, and raise more money for charitable causes.
Drink less; drink better – For someone who sings the praises of beer, this may seem like a strange resolution. However, the fact of the matter is that I drink a lot, and it is impacting on my own physical wellbeing. Developing gout at the age of 23 is a sure sign you’re overdoing it, and there have been too many occasions on which I just haven’t been able to stop. Hence, next year I’ll be going a whole month sober (just not January), sticking resolutely to two dry days a week, and only drinking when the beer on the bar is something I actively want to drink.
Craft will keep growing – There are some people in the industry who believe the craft side of the market is reaching saturation, and that 2018 will see a consolidation and maybe even a contraction in the number of breweries in the UK. I disagree. There are still a whole host of market segments that craft is yet to infiltrate, and millions of potential new drinkers to convert to the cause. I predict we’ll see even more and better beer in supermarkets and in tied pubs, and that craft will continue to eat into the mainstream beer market.
Traditional styles will enjoy a renaissance – Okay so I’m definitely not the first person to say this, and I certainly wont be the last, but I think 2018 will bring with it a greater proliferation of some of the more traditional and less fashionable beer styles. With hop prices showing no signs of slowing up, I think we will see a greater Belgian influence in British brewing, and more milds, ESB’s and porters in keg, as brewers switch out the magic green cones for cheaper alternatives.
A big buyout – There have been a number of eyebrow raising buyouts of craft breweries by the larger brewing giants in 2017. In July, London Fields was snapped up by Carlsberg, whilst last month saw Heineken take a 49% stake in Brixton brewery. However, these are mere ripples compared to what is to come in 2018. Craft has proven itself to be more than a flash in the pan, and continues to knaw away at the market dominance enjoyed by so-called big beer, and its vengeance will be swift and merciless. A big name will fall in 2018; the only question is whose resolve will crumble first.
On that exceptionally positive note, it’s goodbye from me for 2017. I’m taking a bit of well earned time off to relax, spend time with my family and drink some of the considerable number of bottles of beer piling up in my cellar. Thanks for reading folks, and see you in 2018!