Sunday, 25 January 2015

Tasting the Juicy Banger

I wanted to write an evaluation of the Juicy Banger as having a hand in the creation of this beer has been a fantastic experience for me. I don't, however, really need to as this has already been done ever so eloquently by fellow collaborator Chris Hall and slightly more quixotically in this follow up video by Jonny Garrett of the Craft Beer Channel. Despite already writing a run through of our brew day which also involved Camden Town Brewery's Sofia De Crescentiis and brewer Pete Brown, I still feel the need to wrap things up, for now at least. This also gives me the opportunity to show you some of the photos I took at the launch night and give you my opinion on how this beer turned out. 

Why was brewing this beer such a great experience? Well I've collaborated on brews before but I don't home brew and this was a genuine opportunity to design a beer from the ground up. Each of us had a clear, if perhaps slightly differing, idea of how we wanted this beer to taste and I think the end result was something close to what we had imagined. 

We wanted it to be juicy, that was the whole point but we also wanted a big, drying bitterness, the kind that demands you order a second immediately after you drain the dregs of your first. The beer ended up a little stronger than we had hoped, somewhere closer to 7% ABV (this figure differs depending on who you ask) than our target 6.5%. For me it also turned out a little darker than I had hoped for, we're talking a minuscule amount but it didn't have that similar paleness that characterises other juicy bangers such as Kernel IPA or Pressure Drop Pale Fire. 

The aroma was remarkable, Camden's penchant for brewing clean, well-attenuated beers was evident. This would've been thanks to the extremely hard working house ale yeast. You could pick out the satsuma laden tang of Amarillo, the lemon pith brightness of Centennial and of course, lots of grapefruit. Like, serious grapefruit. The combination of Citra hops and the grapefruit pith and zest had combined to tremendous effect, the aroma was booming. Before kegging Pete had dry hopped the beer with yet more Citra to really get that aroma singing and it was really cranking out the decibels. The aroma was probably my favourite thing about our beer.

On tasting, the first thing I went looking for was that juicy character we were hoping to achieve and thankfully it was there in spades. The malt profile was perhaps a little too forward for my liking. There was a toffee sweetness similar to that found in Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi (the beer ours drew the most comparisons to on the night) which encroached slightly on the space the juicy flavours had to flex their muscles. I was thankful for that extra malt sweetness by the time the beer reached its finish however. All that grapefruit zest we chucked in at the end of the boil, which still had a lot of pith on it, came to the fore in the form of a big, bitter and slightly astringent finish. 

On reflection, it was a probably a little too astringent and slightly unbalanced but I still found it very enjoyable and most importantly, very drinkable. I would've certainly liked to have a few more glasses of it but the only keg was demolished inside thirty-five minutes. Good going team. It was one of those nights that reminds me what a wonderful place the Camden Town Brewery Bar is to be on a Friday Night. So pretty much like every Friday night I spend there. Getting to drink a beer I helped make and then stand on the bar and shouting about it made it all the sweeter though.

Finally, I'd like to give a massive thanks once again to Pete who in reality, stopped a quartet of enthusiasts from brewing something terrible. So thank you, Pete. Now, when do we get to have a go on the big kit?  

Monday, 19 January 2015

Inside New Belgium's Foeder Forest

It's difficult not to enjoy yourself on a tour of New Belgium Brewery, it's one of the most interesting and entertaining brewery tours you can do. The staff, who become part owners of the Northern Colorado brewery after 12 months of service, speak with an infectious enthusiasm and pour a broad range of both core and speciality beers on your way around. They even let you go down a slide. It's no wonder that tours book up months in advance.

There's a lot see on the tour, the gorgeous Abbey-esque brewhouse, the gargantuan two-thousand hectolitre tanks, filled to the brim with fermenting Fat Tire ale and a bottling line that resembles a giant's Scalextric set are a few highlights. One place inside America's third largest craft brewery though, has a majesty that's unlike anything you'll see on your average tour. A maze of towering, odd-shaped, French oak vessels that sit at the heart of New Belgium's expansive sour beer program. This is the Foeder Forest.

A foeder is a large oak vessel that's traditionally used in winemaking and New Belgium has imported its own tanks from France. They come in a range of sizes and typically hold up to around 200 hectolitres of souring beer. New Belgium now has 64 of these things, that's a lot of sour beer. They often arrive unassembled and once they're in place they have to be rehydrated so that the wood expands to form a seal. Once a foeder is ready for beer it's filled about twenty percent of the way with existing sour beer. This inoculates the wood with New Belgium's existing culture of bacteria and creates the terroir that's vital for its beers to gain the characteristics it desires.

Above the door that leads to the Foeder Forest are the words 'Cache la Foeder' which references the Cache la Poudre River that flows through the town of Fort Collins. Stepping through those doors is akin to Alice stepping through the looking glass. You're transported to a world of wood, the home of billions of microscopic organisms that quietly go about their business of souring beer. The terroir within each barrel almost seems to seep out of every pore. There's a magic happening here and it's as infectious as the beer loving bacteria within those tanks.

A stroll around the tanks reveals some of New Belgium’s idiosyncrasies. There are ex-bourbon casks, which get to become the new homes for foeder beers that are tasting particularly exceptional. The walls of the warehouse that houses the Foeder Forest has been turned into a climbing wall, which only further demonstrates that New Belgium is a brewery that likes to play as hard as it works. This is arguably the largest sour beer program in the United States but its size only serves to add to the feeling of wonderment being within it brings.

The beer at the core of New Belgium's sour range is La Folie, a Flanders inspired sour red ale that tastes like Rodenbach Grand Cru on steroids. This is no surprise, New Belgium's brewmaster Peter Bouckaert hails from Belgium and cut his teeth creating beer at Rodenbach. Like the aforementioned Grand Cru, La Folie is a blend of a 3-year and 1-year old base beer, affectionately referred to as 'Oscar' by the brewery. Before blending, beer is pulled from numerous foeders and carefully selected by master blender Lauren Salazar who ensures the quality and consistency in each batch. La Folie masterfully combines notes of raisin and cranberry, which sit on a base of intense lactic sourness. With time in the bottle this beer will gradually become more integrated and its flavours will mellow.

Another of New Belgium’s sour beers, the dry hopped Le Terroir is named in homage of the habitat that contributes to the creation of these beers. Pouring much more pale than La Folie, this beer has intense flavours of sour lemon, elderflower and a pine like bitterness that is once again followed by a pleasingly intense sourness that is characteristic of the beers that emerge from the Foeder Forest. It's exceptional and I don't feel that I'm exaggerating when I say that Le Terroir is comparable to the immaculate beers produced in Brussels by Brasserie Cantillon.

The trouble is, New Belgium is often maligned by the beer geek crowd, partly because of their size and partly because they're better known for producing accessible beers such as Ranger IPA and the ubiquitous Fat Tire. Thanks to the gradual expansion of its sour program new Belgium are now able to produce once limited beers such as La Folie year round. Does their accessibility and production scale make these beers any less wonderful? Of course not but I fear that the beer geek penchant for chasing the rarest, most exclusive beers means that they might be missing out on the wonderful products from this brewery. There's little doubt that New Belgium are producing some of the most accomplished sour beers in the world and thankfully on a scale that means you won't feel guilty about buying it by the case.

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Fall of Goose Island

I'm sat at the bar of Denver's famous Falling Rock Tap House, a foaming pint of Stone's Go-To IPA in my right hand. It single handedly proves to me, with its juicy notes of mango and pineapple, that those revered West Coast breweries can brew sessionable beers that taste as good as those that are twice its strength. My Dad is sat next to me, sipping on a Lost Abbey Devotion and has engaged the barman in light conversation. He asks him if the bar stocks any Goose Island beers now that they're brewed within the State of Colorado.

                                        "I won't have any of that mass-produced shit in my bar" 

When I discovered that Chicago's Goose Island brewery were having its core beers, 312 Wheat, Honkers Ale and IPA brewed at the Anheuser-Busch facility in Fort Collins, Colorado I was eager to give them a try. Goose Island IPA was a very important beer for me. When I first discovered the explosive taste of North American hops it was one of the more easily obtainable imports. It was always in the fridge at Jack's, my local off licence and it soon became a staple in mine. Remarkably, I still have the tasting notes for this beer, from one of the rare occasions when I actually remembered to write them down. They read; chewy caramel and toffee-like malt backbone holding up huge notes of mango and pineapple with a dry, bitter finish.

I first paid a visit to the Anheuser-Busch facility in Fort Collins when I helped my Dad move to the Northern Colorado town back in the summer of 2010. The immense, brutalist structure was visible from my bedroom window in the house he used to rent. The tour was quite something, after visits to the Odell and New Belgium breweries in town the difference in scale was quite remarkable. Like Goose Island themselves in 2011, Busch had recently been taken over by Belgian industry giants InBev and at the end of the tour I was offered a taster of Stella Artois. The guy pouring my beer lent towards me and spoke; "You Brits won't like anything we've got on tap here, head to Odell's in town, that's where I drink." I'm pretty sure that's exactly what we did. 

On hearing that the tasting rooms at Busch's Fort Collins facility had been relaunched as a German style 'Biergarten' I was even more curious to pay a return visit. So, unwittingly, I dragged my family along to the Anheuser Busch Biergarten with the promise of beer and bratwurst. We arrive at the small, office style building opposite the sprawling brewhouse and on asking for directions are ushered into the same room where I was offered a taster of Stella almost five years ago. The large tasting room had been given a lick of paint and the word 'Biergarten' had been printed on several of the walls. They'd even stuck in a few long, Munich style communal beer tables but it's still the same old Busch tasting room I remember from a few years ago. We take a seat, ask for a menu and I order a pint of Goose Island IPA. 

After some deliberation from the staff, who I've asked to confirm that the beer is in fact brewed in house, the tap room manager comes over and confirms this. I eye the pint glass carefully, a shrunken, British style nonic with Goose Islands smart, eye catching new branding present on the side. I'd really been looking forward to this, a true classic American IPA, one that turned me on to the style, brewed with all the precision and experience that the mighty AB-InBev could provide. I position my nose above the beer to get a whiff of those fruity aromas but all I get is the faint whiff of yeast esters. 

Yes, yeast esters, the last thing you'd expect to detect in the aroma of an American Style IPA which, traditionally uses a yeast that produces little detectable flavour in order to let the malt and hops shine. They're detectable on the palate too, only faintly but still there. Gone is the chewy, toffee malt flavour that balanced the bitter flavours, instead replaced by a cereal-like character. There is none of the juicy tropical fruit I remember tasting, just a wave of nearly characterless bitterness. "It tastes like a dumbed-down, mass produced version of an American IPA" remarks my Dad. Like the majority of the time, he's not wrong.

I'm aware that tastes change and palates evolve. I fully accept that I am a victim of lupulin threshold shift but I refuse to believe that my palate isn't good enough to detect a change this drastic. This is the beer labelled as Goose Island IPA that's being distributed to the entirety of the west of the United States but it's not the Goose Island IPA I remember. The good news for drinkers in the UK is that the bottles imported here via Greene King aren't brewed in Fort Collins, they're brewed in Baldwinsville, New York, if that's any consolation. There's more good news too, the 312 Wheat tastes as good as I've ever tasted it, zesty and popping with lemon notes, backed up by a dry body with subtle hits of, you've guessed it, yeast esters. It's still a superb American twist on a classic wheat beer that I can see becoming as popular as Shock Top or Blue Moon.   

I'm still a huge fan of Goose Island, without them I simply wouldn't have been able to get my hop fix a few years ago and I'll never forget them for that. I finish my IPA and order a pair of Goose Island's Chicago brewed Belgian inspired ales, Matilda and Sofie. Both are exceptional, crisp and dry, with a massive depth of character despite being so subtle. I still sought out a bottle of this years Bourbon County Brand Stout to bring home with me, of course I did, it's one of the best examples of its style in the world. I had to bring it back though, as we won't be getting any more in the UK for a while, not now that Greene King have reduced the range they're importing to just Honkers Ale, IPA and 312 Wheat. 
There is no doubting that AB-InBev have treated Goose Island well. The rebrand is slick, the upscaling of their core range has allowed them to significantly expand their barrel ageing program and they're reaching more people than ever before. The thing is, if fundamentally important beers such as Goose Island IPA are treated with this apparent irreverence then this once respected Chicago brewery will soon become irrelevant, to lovers of great beer at least. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

That Brewery You Like Is Going Out Of Style

That brewery you like is going out of style
Scraping together pennies for a very last gyle.

That brewery you like is going out of style
Couldn't afford the rent on the Bermondsey Beer Mile.

That brewery you like is going out of style
Selling out to the man, all the geeks spit bile.

That brewery you like is going out of style
Hold on, here's a Kickstarter, we'll be around for a while.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Horse and Dragon Brewing Company - Fort Collins, Colorado

It's just gone 8am when I arrive at the small, out-of-town industrial estate in Fort Collins, Colorado that's home to the Horse and Dragon Brewing Company. When I enter the sizable warehouse that contains the brewery the air is already filled with the heady scent of wet grain. Head Brewer, or more accurately, sole brewer Linsey Cornish is in a state that she'll remain in for the entire brew day, a blur, fizzing with energy, always doing at least two jobs at once and never showing any sign of slowing down. She's already begun mashing in todays brew which will hopefully end up as a transatlantic fusion of a British ESB and an American IPA.

Tim and Carol Cochran spent a good few years planning Horse and Dragon which finally opened in May 2014. Fittingly, this also happened to be the year of the horse. How does a new brewery stand out in a town with as rich a craft brewing history as Fort Collins, that's home to the giants of New Belgium and Odell Brewing? Well their first masterstroke was in employing Cornish. She cut her teeth at Odell where she was a production brewer for over four years. The second was spending plenty of time planning to create a brewery that at only eight months old already feels like part of this Front Range town's fixtures and fittings. This is a brewery that appears to have hit the ground running, much the same as Cornish runs from task to task on the brewery floor.

As Linsey busies herself with monitoring the mash and grinding up coffee grounds for a cold brew infusion that will become an integral part of Sad Panda coffee stout, I try and make myself useful. I'm handed several large bags of palletized hops which I begin weighing out. First a few handfuls of dank Columbus pellets for bittering. I then open a bag of Northern Brewer, a hop that Linsey feels is underused by many brewers but a variety she's turned to when highly sought after Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic varieties are unavailable. Even in pellet form it has a heady, earthy aroma with notes of ripe mango and pineapple. I'm actually surprised that it gets overlooked in favour of other varieties. Then it's time to measure out some Chinook, Willamette and some fantastically pungent Cascade that immerses the room in rich grapefruit scented fog.

Much of brewing is about waiting and as our wort recirculates before being run into the twenty barrel kettle we retire to the tap room at the front of the building. Where the brewery itself is a cavernously large space I imagine many British startup brewers would kill for, the tap room is a cosy, low lit bar that's already a popular destination for locals. I imagine that it must've been a tough decision to leave a well established brewer like Odell but Cornish seems quite relaxed about her choice. Being able to brew her own recipes and stamp her own identity on Horse and Dragon's beers is clearly her main reasoning for this. She usually clocks up around 60 hours a week in the brewery. Currently She brews twice a week with the rest of the time spent ordering supplies, kegging and of course, doing lots of cleaning. 

The influence of the training Cornish received at Odell is clear from my first taste of Picnic Rock Pale Ale. It has all of the clean flavours and pinpoint balance you'd expect from her former employers beers. There's a satisfying cereal malt flavour that's joined by juicy mango flesh and then lemon zest in the finish. However despite any similarities you may draw to Fort Collins' oldest craft brewery it ends there as, very importantly, Horse and Dragon's brews already have a clear identity of their own. The 25:200 IPL is my kind of beer, a huge pungent grapefruit aroma with a resinous, citrus bitterness on the palate and a morishly clean and dry finish. The Scottish Tradesman coconut porter takes me by surprise, I'm halfway through the glass of this indulgent dark beer that's mellowed by toasted coconut before I'm informed it sits at an ABV of 9.5%. It tastes around half of that, I'm seriously impressed. 

I'm even more impressed to learn that some of this beer is sat inside a rum barrel that's not so inconspicuously tucked away at the back of the brewery. There's a desire for innovation here as well as consistency and in this part of the world, with such a rich brewing culture, there simply has to be. Sage Adweisse, a crisp and tart Berliner Weisse is further evidence of this, a new beer that's not quite dialled in but definitely a sign that things are going in the right direction.

The brew day carries on apace and it's time to add the hops to our now boiling wort. The pellets fizz and explode as they hit the surface of the water each releasing its characteristic aromas as it does. We retire back to the bar for pizza and Horse and Dragons highly accomplished IPA, arguably there's no better food pairing, especially on a brew day. Even at lunch Cornish is dashing back to check the boil every few minutes, summoning me when it's time for the next hop addition. Once the boil is finished and it's stood for a few minutes after the aroma hops have been added, it's time to run the beer into the fermenter. Here I witness Cornish pitch yeast in line with the wort as it leaves the heat exchanger which she does using a modified keg to contain her yeast. She tells me that this gets fermentation started quicker, I'd never seen this done before but I sure took her word for it. 

As Linsey begins to clean down and I've helped dig the mash tun out to the best of my abilities the brew day draws to a close. The tap room is already filling up with locals enjoying a few beers and we're barely into the early afternoon, on a Monday too. You might not think it possible for a town the size of Fort Collins to sustain as many breweries as it currently does but somehow each manages to retain its own audience and, most importantly, a strong sense of identity. Somehow though, it feels to me that Horse and Dragon won't always be content with being just a local brewery and that they have bigger plans in store. Perhaps Cornish will one day have a whole team of brewers assisting her but I imagine that even then, she'll still be whizzing around the brewery, brimming with energy.

Horse and Dragon Brewing Company can be found at 124 Racquette Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado. The tap room is open from 12 until 6 daily, I strongly suggest you swing by. **EDIT** Originally I had incorrectly stated that Sage Adweisse was brewed with Sage, this is not true, Sage is in fact Linsay's lovely dog which this beer is named after.

Friday, 26 December 2014

The 2014 Golden Post Awards

This year Chris Hall has suggested that as well as handing out Golden Pint awards to our favourite beers and breweries that we also take a closer look at the efforts of beer bloggers and writers. This is a great idea because good writing that manages to inform, educate and entertain deserves to be celebrated and I sincerely hope this is something that builds impetus year on year. These were tough choices to make but after much deliberation these are the pieces of writing (and videos) that I enjoyed the most this year.

·         Best History Post
Winner: Boak and Bailey - Where the Boddies is Buried

Rather guiltily, I don't read a lot of beer history writing. My poor excuse is that I spend all my time and energy on where beer is now and where it is going. However I found this piece by Boak and Bailey on the history of Boddington's Manchester Bitter both scintillating and fascinating. You'll never look at a pint of Boddie's in the same light again.

·         Best Impassioned Rant/Op-Ed
Winner: Richard Taylor, The Beercast - Brewmeister - The Shame of British Brewing
Runners Up: Chris Hall - Designed to be Human, Mark Johnson (Beer Compurgation), Everything Wrong with Beer at this Moment  

It would have been impossible to give this award to anyone else. Richard's piece on the unscrupulous activities at Scotland's Brewmeister wasn't just blogging, this was genuine A-grade journalism. It captured the focus of the beer world at large and, most importantly, made the brewery in question change the way they went about their business. Without it I wouldn't have had the confidence to write a couple of pieces that I published this year. A special mention must go to Chris Hall for his concise deconstruction of the awful 'There's a Beer for That' campaign and Mark Johnson, for telling us how it really is. 

·         Best Pub Post
Winner: Chris Hall - The Golden Tiger
Runner Up: Adrian Tierney-Jones - Beer with a View

In what was an incredibly tough category to pick a winner, it was Chris Hall's piece on the Golden Tiger (U Zlatého Tygra) in Prague that transported me to a place where I swear I could almost taste those endless glasses of Pilsner. Runner up Adrian Tierney-Jones penned several great pub pieces this year and this is just one example of yet more writing that makes you feel like you're right there with him. 

·         Best Palate Post
Winner: Sarah Warman, Hop Topic - Stone Brewing Enjoy By 08.16.14

Explaining how a beer looks, smells and tastes can be an arduous task, especially if you want to be both engaging and informative. With her short, snappy videos Sarah Warman manages to convey this in less than three minutes and often makes you laugh out loud in the process. More established video bloggers could learn a thing or two from Sarah, mainly, to edit their damn videos. Narrowly missing out here is Chris Hall, again with a tremendous piece about a beer style that is defining the London Craft Brewing Scene and Justin Mason, who fell in love with a best bitter and wrote about it beautifully. 

·         Best Beer Travel Post
Winner: Michael Kiser, Good Beer Hunting - Hill Farmstead Brewery - Sisyphus Sits Upon His Rock
Runners Up: Breandán Kearney, Belgian Smaak - How Mescan Brewery Crafts Belgian Beers on the Slopes of Croagh Patrick, Adrian Tierney-Jones - In the US for the First Time

When Michel Kiser published this, quite frankly, immaculate piece on Vermont's Hill Farmstead Brewery I realised how much harder I had to work to take my own blog further. Kiser is simply on another level and every other blogger needs to take a long hard look at what he's doing and take it on board. He combines photography and words is like no other and the image of a tired, soaking wet Shaun Hill that Kiser shows us is truly evocative. If it wasn't for this then Breandán Kearney would have won hands down for his wonderful piece on Ireland's Mescan Brewery. I've also picked a great piece by Adrian Tierney-Jones as a runner up, purely because it rings so true with experiences of my own.

·         Funniest Post
Winner: Per Steinar, The Evening Brews - April Fools - Kernel Rebranding
Runner Up: Craig Heap - A Return to Rapture, Cardiff's First Underwater Bar

I'm not normally one for April Fools pranks but this post from Per at the Evening Brews was a brilliant poke at the beer industry at large. While we all know that The Kernel would never sell out to 'the man' and re-brand in the way suggested here it's quite believable that other breweries would willingly do so. A superbly written and enjoyable piece. I also really enjoyed Craig Heaps fantastical, Bioshock referencing post, just watch out for those Splicers. 

·         Open Category - Best Audio/Video Post
Winner: Jonny Garrett, The Craft Beer Channel - Glastonbury - Converting the Masses to Craft Beer

When it comes to communicating about beer I feel that you can't do it better than with the written word but then, as a writer, I would say that. It's important not to forget all the other mediums people are using to express their thoughts about our favourite drink be it by video, photography or podcasts. With the Craft Beer Channel Jonny Garrett has created something that's both accessible to newcomers and entertaining for those with an already established interest. This video of Jonny forcing cans on unsuspecting festival goers was one of my favourites. 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The 2014 Golden Pint Awards

Once again it's that difficult time of the year when I have to pick the things in beer that fall into the exclusive category of 'best'. This year has been a whirlwind that has totally encompassed all of my free time but I've willingly and, most importantly, happily immersed myself in it. Perhaps the defining part of my 2014 in beer has been learning to love subtlety in beer, particularly in delicate yet detailed lagers and pilsners. It goes without saying that this has been another incredible twelve months for beer. Without further ado, here are my Golden Pints.

·         Best UK Cask Beer
Winner: Rooster's/Birrifico Italiano The Italian Job
Runners Up: Brodie's Bethnal Green Bitter, Marble Dobber   

In a year that, relatively, I've drank very little cask beer this collaboration between Rooster's of Yorkshire and Italy's Birrifico Italiano was the only one that compelled me to head home and immediately write about it. Floral, zesty and in perfect condition at the Three Compasses in Hornsey, North London. In a word, beautiful. 

·         Best UK Keg Beer 
Winner: Buxton Axe Edge
Runners Up: Beavertown Gamma Ray, Pressure Drop Pale Fire  

So good was the the glass of Axe Edge I supped at Brewdog Shoreditch a few months ago that I drank it within minutes and immediately ordered another, then another. Buxton have come on in leaps and bounds this year and this is, without question, the best beer they brew. 

·         Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Joint Winner: Beavertown Gamma Ray/Camden Town India Hells Lager
Runners Up: Siren Ratchet Saison, Fourpure Pils

It would've been an easy decision to choose Beavertown's Gamma Ray as my favourite British bottled or canned beer before IHL came along and threw a spanner in the works. I've tried but I simply cannot choose between them, so Camden and Beavertown will have to fight amongst themselves for this award. 

·         Best Overseas Draught Beer
Winner: Cantillon Fou' Foune 
Runners Up: Hallertau Maximus Humulus Lupulus, Westbrook Gose

In what should be a fiercely contested category the decision was as easy as a Sunday morning. Although Cantillon's revered apricot lambic is better known for being served from a bottle I was lucky enough to drink it on draught on two separate occasions when it was released this autumn. It simply blew most other beers away. 
·         Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Winner: Galway Bay Of Foam and Fury Double IPA
Runners Up: Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, New Belgium Le Terroir

My summer trip to Dublin for this years European Beer Bloggers Conference was a revelation. I was blown away by the passion and enthusiasm of the burgeoning Irish craft beer scene and the beer itself, well there are some exceptional things happening just across the Irish Sea. This beer from Galway Bay is better than most IPA's being brewed right now to the point where it's genuinely one of the best examples of the style in the world. 

·         Best Collaboration Brew
Winner: Camden Town Brewery/The Kernel Gentlemen's Agreement
Runner Up: Hallertau/Epic/Liberty (Four Horsemen) Hopocaplyse, Rooster's/Birrifico Italiano The Italian Job

At first, I struggled to remember the collaboration brews that really hit home this year but when I remember this effort between Camden and The Kernel it was another easy decision to make. A blend rather than a brew, Gentlemen's Agreement combined Camden's lemon and bergamot infused Wit with The Kernel's tart Berliner weisse, London Sour. The resulting beer was breathtaking but what was more impressive was seeing two breweries, who go about their business so very differently, working together in complete harmony to create something brilliant. 

·         Best Overall Beer
Joint Winner: Beavertown Gamma Ray/Camden Town India Hells Lager

I have drank more Gamma Ray than any other beer this year by a significant margin and that's because it's the best beer being brewed in the UK right now. Well, it was until Camden Town launched India Hells Lager at the end of the year. Both of these beers are immaculate and beautiful to the point when I still burst out with laughter every time I drink either of them.
·         Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
Winner: Camden Town India Hells Lager
Runner Up: Brewdog/Weihenstephan India Pale Weizen, Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Moralité

The three giant orange letters on the front of a can of IHL tell you immediately what you're getting and it really leaps of the bottle shop shelf. Look deeper though and the pagan imagery that purposefully features four British animals worshipping the 'Good Lord Lager' tells a story as well as selling you a can of beer. This is art in the form of a beer can. 
·         Best UK Brewery
Winner: Buxton Brewery
Runners Up: Beavertown, Camden Town Brewery

Despite both Camden and Beavertown rocking my world this year I'd actually already decided on my brewery of the year several weeks ago. They've been prolific with their output, they've experimented and pushed their boundaries but still managed to keep their core beers dialled in and available almost all of the time. Their rebranding is slick and Colin Stronge is without doubt one of the country's finest brewers. I've been blown away by what Buxton have achieved this year and the best thing is, I think that they're going to get even better. 
·         Best Overseas Brewery
Winner: Brasserie Cantillon
Runners Up: Hallertau Brewery, Firestone Walker

I've not been a Cantillon drinker for all that long, relatively speaking, but thankfully it didn't take me a great deal of time to become a huge fan of their beers. This year however was the year that Cantillon beers, for me, ceased to taste complex and tongue twisting and became nuanced and beautifully constructed. It was perhaps on Zwanze Day at the Kernel Brewery when I realised that Cantillon genuinely do things that other breweries can only dream about. I hope its expansion is finished soon because I can see its beers quickly becoming more exclusive and expensive with each passing day. 

·         Best New Brewery Opening 2014
Winner: Runaway Brewery
Runner Up: Hammerton Brewery

Admittedly, until I was invited to visit the Runaway Brewery on a recent tour of Manchester it wasn't on my radar. What I found was the incredibly modest and hard working Mark Welsby, brewing clean, tasty and accomplished beers that will be enjoyed by beer geeks and casual drinkers alike. Keep a close eye on this one, I'm expecting great things.   

·         Pub/Bar of the Year
Winner: Mother Kelly's
Runners Up: North Bar, The Marble Arch

It gives me great pleasure to give this award to what has rapidly become my favourite bar in London. Whether it's for a quiet afternoon beer and a cheeseboard or a lively Friday night session, Mother Kelly's always has the perfect vibe for the occasion. Well worth going out of your way to pay a visit.  
·         Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2014
Winner: Mother Kelly's
Runner Up: The Hop and Berry, Bundobust

It's hard to believe that Mother Kelly's only opened this year but, it did, so I really can't give this award to anyone else. A special mention must go to the wonderful Bundobust in Leeds that would've had this category wrapped up if it were not for Mother Kelly's existence.
·         Beer Festival of the Year
Winner: The Independent Manchester Beer Convention
Runners Up: The London Craft Beer Festival, Winter Brew Fest

Perhaps the easiest decision to make out of each of these categories, there really is no other beer festival quite like IndyManBeerCon. It has inspired and will continue to inspire a completely new wave of similar festivals around the UK. A true festival, in every sense of the word. 
·         Supermarket of the Year
Winner: Waitrose

I don't buy beer from the supermarket, I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by a raft of great off licences. If I did, however, then I'd surely shop at Waitrose because its selection is not only varied but well chosen. 
·         Independent Retailer of the Year
Winner: Bottledog

When Brewdog decided to open their own bottle shop you knew it would be something special and Bottledog on Grey's Inn Road near Kings Cross has not disappointed. Next year will see a spate of of Bottledog's begin to pop up across the country putting more great beer into the hands of yet more people.    

·         Online Retailer of the Year
Winner: Beermerchants
Due to the rise of the specialist beer shop in London I'm buying less and less beer online but Beermerchants delivered a level of service to me this year that I won't forget in a hurry. A friendly phone call within minutes of me posting a tweet of a broken bottle was an example of going above and beyond the call of customer service. A shining example of how things should be done. 

·         Best Beer Book or Magazine
Winner: Boak and Bailey - Brew Britannia

When I reviewed this must read, award winning book from Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey I described it as 'the most important book about beer in the last ten years.' I stand by this, if you haven't read it yet, go and buy yourself a copy right this moment.    

·         Best Beer Blog or Website
Winner: Good Beer Hunting
Runners Up: The Beer Diary/Chris Hall Beer, Belgian Smaak

When I first came across Michael Kiser's wonderfully constructed piece on Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont I was moved to the point where I realised I needed to raise my game. Kiser is the only blogger producing content that is both as well captured and constructed as the beer we write about. As creators of great content about beer we all need to take a long, hard look at Good Beer Hunting and then try and do better as this guy is way ahead of the curve.   

·         Best Beer App
Winner: Fiz - The Brewery Management Game
Runner Up: Untappd

The hours I spent joyously tapping away at my iPhone playing this wonderful brewery simulation game at the beginning of the year will not be forgotten in a hurry. Informative and entertaining, Fiz was one of the best video games I played over the last twelve months and the fact it was about making beer made it all the sweeter.  

·         Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
Winner: Chris Hall
Runner up: David Bishop (Broadfordbrewer)

It is incredibly self indulgent to give this award to Chris because he's a close friend but his tweets genuinely brighten my day. Witty, humorous, informative and questioning of things he thinks are amiss, It's no wonder he has almost 3000 followers. I often think that if I hadn't have decided to start writing about beer in 2012 then we'd have probably never met. Ain't beer great.  
·         Best Brewery Website/Social media
Winner: Brewdog
Runners Up: Beavertown, Camden Town Brewery  

No other brewery in the world does social media quite like Brewdog, they engage their customers as if they were their friends. I can't see any other brewery winning this award for a long time if they just keep on doing what they do. 

I can see next years selections being even more difficult than they were this year but I can't wait to get started. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all, here's to a fantastic 2015.