Well well well... 2015 is nearly over, and what a year it has been for the Craft Beer Industry. In the UK, Craft Beer has never been bigger, with new breweries, pubs and bottleshops springing up left, right and centre across the country. With this in mind, I decided that I ought to celebrate the success of Craft Beer in 2015 by doing my very own 'Golden Pints' awards to recognise the breweries, beers, and bartenders who have helped me in my ongoing quest to becoming a borderline alcoholic and very poor student this year.
* Disclaimer: These awards are just a bit of fun and represent the views of me and myself alone *
Best UK Cask Beer - Winner: Adnams/Magic Rock Brewing Co. The Herbalist
Runners up: Wylam Double Jakehead, Weird Beard/Pig & Porter Weird Pig
A lot has been said about the dwindling influence of Cask Beer, with many new breweries choosing to avoid the more traditional method of serving entirely in favour of more reliable and less taxing Kegging methods. Nonetheless, there remains something undeniably special about Cask Beer and its undying importance historically. Not just that, but some of the best beer's I have tasted this year have been on cask, none more so than the stunning collaboration between Adnams and Magic Rock Brewing Co. The Herbalist was so good that I even ordered a second pint of it in the same pub, something anyone who knows me will know is practically unheard of. A delicious 4.8% Saison with an excellent balance of herbal and fruity lemon flavours. The perfect session beer.
Best UK Keg Beer - Winner: Tiny Rebel Brewing Co. In and Around the Mouth
Runners up: Beavertown Gamma Ray, Summer Wine Mauna Kea
I'm not usually a fan of beers with gimmicky names, but on this occasion had to make an exception. Tiny Rebel might just be one of my favourite breweries around at the moment, and In and Around the Mouth is almost certainly the best beer the Newport-based brewers have made to date. A small-batch exceedingly sweet 6% IPA chocked full of juicy American hops. Very tropical, with lots of pineapple, mango and grapefruit flavours. A worthy summer guzzler.
Best UK Bottled/Canned Beer - Winner: Magic Rock Brewing Co. Cannonball
Runners up: Cloudwater DIPA, Siren Craft Brew Life is a Peach
After what seemed like an eternal wait, the guys at Magic Rock finally announced in November that their long anticipated canning line was fully functional. Despite not being a new beer this year, I can't look further than Magic's 7.4% American IPA Cannonball for my best bottled/canned beer of 2015. Never have I tasted such freshness and full on flavour from a canned beer in my life, so much so that I almost prefer Cannonball out of a can to on tap. Deliciously fruity with an explosion of bitterness, this isn't a beer for the faint-hearted. A special mention to close runners-up Cloudwater for their sensational Double IPA.
Best Overseas Draught Beer - Winner: Camba Bavaria Imperial IPA
Runners up: Stone Vertical Epic Ale 2015, Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck Kasteel Rouge
As is often the case when drinking foreign beers, a great deal of the experience is dependent on the location. There is no greater pleasure than heading to a foreign country and discovering a new bar with a whole host of new and exciting beers to try. This is what happened to me in Prague, when I sought out BeerGeek Bar in the Prague 3 district; almost squealing in pleasure upon walking in to discover 3o beers on tap awaiting me. The best on that day, and probably the best foreign beer I've had this year was the German Imperial IPA by Camba Bavaria - an 8.4% aggressive hop-bomb that left me both reeling and craving another.
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer - Winner: Cantillon Fou Foune
Runners up: Deus (Brut des Flandres) Cuvée Prestige, Evil Twin Hipster Ale
I actually don't tend to drink too many bottled or canned beers from overseas, usually being unable to bring any bottles back with me due to flight restrictions. However, working at a pub which specialises in Belgian beer does have some advantages, as does being able to get a third off the price to take away. I've developed quite an obsession with sour beers over the last twelve months, and Cantillon simply blew me away with the 2015 edition of their apricot Lambic Fou Foune. Lip-smackingly tart and intensely fruity, it really is a superbly made beer and will only improve with time and age. One to share with friends.
Best Collaboration Brew - Winner: Magic Rock Brewing Co./Cigar City Cigarro Roja Magica
Runners up: Siren/Surly Blue Sky Blue Sea, Tiny Rebel/Arbor Bonsai
Whilst my favourite Cask Beer of the year also happened to be a collaboration, I couldn't resist picking a Rainbow Project beer when it came to selecting my favourite collaboration brew. I'll admit to not being the best judge, having not actually tried all of the 2015 Project's offerings yet, but my favourite thus far would have to be Magic Rock and Cigar City's stunning Red Ale Cigarro Roja Magica. A gorgeous caramel-apple aroma is swiftly followed by a well-rounded fruity, hoppy bitterness and a malty backbone. A Red Ale as it was intended to be; same again next year please folks?
Best Overall Beer - Winner: Magic Rock Brewing Co. Cannonball
Runners up: Tiny Rebel In and Around the Mouth, Cloudwater DIPA
A very difficult decision. There have been so many fantastic new beers brewed this year, and I'm fully aware of my obvious bias towards the lighter, hoppier end of the spectrum when it comes to my tipple of choice. Brewers across the country have consistently defied expectations and pushed new boundaries in terms of flavours, styles and strength. However, for me, the most consistently excellent and robust beer this year is (just) Magic Rock's Cannonball. Now available in cans, the beer is widely accessible as well as being incredibly tasty and is my go to beer whenever I see it on tap in any bar in the country. A worthy overall winner.
Best New Brewery - Winner: Cloudwater Brew Co.
Runners up: Chorlton Brewing Company, Alpha State
There was only ever going to be one winner in this category. Cloudwater Brew Co. have absolutely blown me away in the last twelve months, and are comfortably the most exciting and innovative new brewery in the country right now. Brewing a limited range of seasonal beers in Manchester, from IPA's to Red Ales and Porters, Cloudwater have nailed the ethos of Craft Beer and have consistently defied my expectations. Their beers will only improve with time and experience, and I have seriously high hopes for what they have in store for 2016. Oh, and I've met them and they're absolutely charming folks too.
Best UK Brewery - Winner: Magic Rock Brewing Co.
Runners up: Beavertown, Salopian
Dominating my awards, Magic Rock have had one hell of a year in 2015. As well as finally launching their much anticipated cans, the Huddersfield-based brewery also opened the doors to their very own Taproom for the first time in June, and hosted the launch of the 2015 Rainbow Project at said venue in September. I'm yet to visit, but have been reliably informed that it is absolutely awesome. Combine this success with brewing my favourite canned, cask and collaboration beers of the year, some standout marketing and branding and just generally being all round awesome guys and you're onto a winner. Beavertown and Salopian have also both had awesome 2015's for totally different reasons and are worthy runners up.
Best Overseas Brewery - Winner: Cantillon Brewery
Runners up: Firestone Walker, Mikkeller
A clear winner, Brasserie-Brouwerij Cantillon are the undisputed Kings of Lambic and purveyors of all things sour. Based in Brussels and founded way back in 1900, these Belgian beer Gods have continued to expand and innovate in 2015, with new brews such as the outstanding Fou Foune sitting comfortably alongside regulars such as their Kriek and Rosé de Gambrinus. The brewery also hopes to double its production size by 2016/17, news that will come as music to the ears of sour-loving beer geeks such as myself.
Pub/Bar of the year - Winner: Tiny Rebel Urban Tap House Cardiff
Runners up: Fuggles Beer Cafe, Small Bar Bristol
Not a difficult choice. Tiny Rebel's Cardiff bar is an absolutely stonking venue located just a stone's throw from the Millennium Stadium and close to the centre of the city. With eight cask lines, eleven keg lines and over 50 bottles in the fridge, there is plenty to chose from. Regular tap takeovers, delicious burgers and new beer launches keep the punters coming back for more, and best of all the pub is open till the ungodly 2am EVERY SINGLE DAY. Almost certainly to have been the cause of a hangover or three this year. Shoutouts also go to Fuggles Beer Cafe in Tunbridge Wells for its impressive charcuterie and cheese selection, and Small Bar in Bristol for its awesome token system and top notch beers.
Bottleshop of the year - Winner: Hops + Crafts (Exeter)
Runners up: Beer Central (Sheffield), The Gravity Station (Cardiff)
A bit of a curve-ball this one. Exeter is certainly not the kind of place one would associate with Craft Beer, having seemingly been stuck in the 1970s for the last 40-odd years in terms of receptiveness to change. The owner of The Beer Cellar, Exeter's only real Craft Beer bar, once told me he couldn't get canned beer into his pub because "the locals won't touch it." However, things started to change in September when Hops + Crafts opened their doors down in McCoys Arcade in Fore Street. Run by a friendly American beer nut Chris, Hops + Crafts has become my go-to destination for beer shopping, boasting over 120 beers from the UK and overseas, including all the latest brews from the likes of Harbour, Beavertown, Magic Rock, Tiny Rebel and much more all at extremely reasonable prices. Pretty much responsible for most of my alcohol expenditure at University this term. He's even got the locals buying cans!