As I sit here in late December, surrounded by a concerning number of empty chocolate wrappers (even after several trips to the bin, in a pitiful attempt to conceal some of the sugar-based shame), what’s clear is 2017 has been an ever-changing, and at times, rather turbulent year in the beer world. Anyway, welcome to the first Craft Beer Newcastle Golden Pints, based on the beers and experiences which have left the biggest impact this year.
Best UK Cask: Almasty Brewing Co. Salted Caramild
CBN also loves: Track Brewing Co. Sonoma
I’m making it my mission to drink more cask in 2018; too many places with poorly-managed cask ales have put me off in the past, but it’s time to give it another shot. Almasty has been knocking it out of the beery park for some time now, and this proved to be a beer to revisit time and time again.
CBN also loves: Magic Rock Brewing Bearded Lady Hazelnut
You know that moment when you try someone else’s beer, and it’s so good you finish off whatever you had so you can go and get one? That was me with both of these at Craft Beer Calling this year (thanks to Chris from Stu Brew for the former, and Dee from Head of Steam Newcastle for the latter).
Best UK Bottle / Can: Burning Sky Saison à la Provision
Nothing more to say on this one, except try all three, and thank me later.
Best Overseas Draught: Grimm Artisanal Ales Skyspace
CBN also loves: Mikkeller Spontanblueberry
Beer that makes you smile when you try it? Take a bow, Skyspace. Discovered on tap whilst paying a visit to Rattle N Hum East, this dry hopped sour, brewed with raspberries is an absolute delight. As for the Mikkeller nomination, it’s another one to add to my ‘things I don’t like to eat, but flavours I love to drink’ list (along with pineapple, grapefruit, and mango).
Best Overseas Bottle / Can: Borg Brugghús Giljagaur Nr.14
CBN also loves: Other Half Brewing Company DDH Mylar Daydream
Having been lucky enough to visit both of these breweries this year, getting to drink the beer in the place it was created definitely added to the experience (and both beers filled my suitcase for my journey home, too).
Just putting it out there – I bloody love Sour Puss. Minty, sour, but very refreshing…it was everything I wanted it to be, and I’d happily have a fridge full of it right now. 2017 seems to have been a great year for wonderful collaborations (and Newcastle has benefitted from a decent amount of these!). Special mention to the wonderful #HopsNotHate campaign, and all of the breweries who’ve put people before profit to do something positive in the world.
Best Branding: Wander Beyond Brewing
I’d be lying if I said it’s easy to choose the winner for this category; as someone who’s always been fascinated by (and brought up on) all things art, I’ve narrowed it down to this – these are the ones that make me smile the most when I see them.
Best UK Brewery: Odyssey Brew Co.
What makes somewhere the best brewery? Consistency? Innovation? Does it have to be both? I’ve chosen Odyssey because it’s been all of the above in 2017, and more (best beer to make baklava with? Grievous Angel). You don’t have to be the most flamboyant to stand out, and quality should always speak for itself, which with Odyssey, it does. A special mention also goes out to Almasty for stepping it up a notch this year, and to Allendale Brewery, who in my opinion are one of the most underrated breweries in the UK.
Best Overseas Brewery: Dugges
Craft Beer Newcastle went on tour a little this year – from Reykjavik, to Faro, Madrid, New York, and closer to home, Edinburgh, Manchester, and Liverpool. One of these days I’ll get around to blogging about some of these, but in the meantime, you’ll just have to make do with my choices on here, many of which are based on my travels, and the wonderful brewers I’ve met.
Pub/Bar of the Year: The Free Trade Inn
If you live in Newcastle, or are visiting, and you’ve not been to The Free Trade Inn yet, shame on you. Seriously. From the best view of Newcastle via the beer garden in the summer, to the nights sharing beers with friends at the bar, this is one of the greatest examples of somewhere to feel like you can let your guard down and have a great time. TFTI is proof that a great place isn’t determined by spending a fortune on décor, or staff in fancy uniforms trying to impress you when you just want a quiet drink. Honourable mentions also go to North Bar and The Cluny, as all three of these bars has a special warmth and personality from wonderful staff and managers, who treat each other more like family than work colleagues.
Beer Festival of the Year: Independent Manchester Beer Con
CBN also loves: Craft Beer Calling
Another first for Craft Beer Newcastle this year. Having never been to IMBC before, I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. Heading to Manchester on a Saturday afternoon after a particularly stressful week, the thought of queueing for beer and fighting for somewhere to sit and enjoy it actually filled me with dread. Which is why arriving there and being proved wrong was so wonderful. Victoria Baths is such a wondrous place (I assume Asda and Peaky Blinders agree, judging by their use of the venue recently). The entire afternoon session was the first time in a long while I’d been able to switch off from the world; never underestimate the importance of downtime with friends. From the Buxton room with flamboyant soft-serve, to the couples sharing beers in the old changing room booths (which felt slightly voyeuristic, but in a PG sort of a way), the entire event was an absolute pleasure to attend, and I’ll definitely be back!
Best Beer Book or Magazine: The Little Book of Craft Beer by Melissa Cole
Melissa Cole’s first book, ‘Let Me Tell You About Beer’ became such a staple, I think I’ve bought it ten times over, to give to people wanting to start their beer journey. This is a great addition to my bookshelf, and (thanks to Santa), I also have seven other new beer books to read over the next few months…can’t wait!
Best Beer Blog or Website: Good Beer Hunting
In a world where anyone can write a blog (just look – I’m doing it right now), it takes something special for the words and images to stay with you so long that you end up down the internet rabbit hole, looking deeper into some issues and places mentioned. Good Beer Hunting is guilty of doing this to me (usually at 3am, which my brain has inadvertently decided is ‘peak beer knowledge time’). A fantastic resource, and it’s great to see the team evolving, to add more great voices to their website.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: Tom Stapley (@CraftBeerHour)
Tom has put so much of his time into doing something he loves, and has brought parts of the UK community together in so many ways; from the breweries featured in #CraftBeerHour every Tuesday night, to his latest work on the Tryanuary campaign. He’s someone who really cares about giving a voice to all, and getting people together and talking about beer more. This was a very close-run award, as both Carl’s and Paul’s passion in highlighting and supporting all that’s good in the beer world is also rather contagious (you can thank Carl for giving me the idea to put together the ‘Women + Beer’ list). There are another 30 or so people I could list here, and I’m very proud to be able to call so many of these people friends. There’s no ‘Best Podcast’ category, so my suggestion for 2018 is this – if you’ve got a long car journey or commute on public transport, give one a listen! (I’d start with the North East Sippin Forecast).
Best Brewery Website & Social Media: Beavertown Brewery (with Good Beer Hunting)
CBN also loves: Fourpure Brewing Co.
I was guilty of a FOMO washing over me with regards to the Beavertown Extravaganza (there was no chance attending this and then doing the Great North Run the next day was ever going to be a good idea, so raising money for the wonderful Percy Hedley Foundation obviously came first), so to be able to watch the seminars online via Beavertown / Good Beer Hunting has been fantastic. It’s clear to see people in business who genuinely care about their beers, staff and customers (that’s where my definition of ‘craft’ would start – the size of a company isn’t what’s important, it’s the giving a shit about what really matters that should), and the thanks given to the hard work put in by the team behind the scenes is something I think a lot of businesses could learn from.
Looking ahead to 2018, it’s time to help to spread the beer love from those who are mobilised towards changing attitudes and opinions, and inspiring others to have a voice; from the great work the Tryanuary campaign is doing to help businesses at a really difficult time of the year, to the importance of equality in all aspects of the industry, and the questioning of unacceptable attitudes and standards within our wonderful world. And on that note, I’m starting to waffle, and the chocolate’s calling me again, so…over and out.
P.S. Don’t forget to share your Golden Pints over on Twitter, using #GoldenPints – it’d be great to read what everyone else has loved this year!