Oh my god. Not again. Mind whirling. Stomach flying solo. Body bloated, white, beached. Barnacles gripping steadfastly to the forehead. A bumpy sand-duned surf ride of excess. A season easily read on the features of the now vacant. A season now come and gone. Boy, was it fun.
But we’re not going to do it again. Never, ever again. The dry January do-gooders are out in force. It’s time to grow up. Be sensible. Hit the gym. Start to break all those promises.
But that’s not our style.
Agreed, I’m not about to neck an imperial stout anytime soon (the memories are all too vivid). But it is time to reflect on a remarkable year of beer.
If January is a time for anything, it’s a time for reflection and it’s a time for quality over quantity. So if you’re abstaining from the trend for abstention, then we’re with you. And if you want to taste the finer things in life, then you could do worse than taste one or two of our beers of the year.
Now before I launch into what is essentially a list, in a month of lists, please let me warn you. This is not objective. This is not a democracy. This is not based on data. This is my blog and it’s my opinion. You will not agree. You must not agree. But if it spurs you into new pastures and generates a debate or two, then that’s grand.
At the halfway stage, Beavertown / Boneyard’s Bloody Notorious was a strong contender and certainly a favourite amongst our team. It came to symbolise two of the stronger trends in 2016: the popularity of the double IPA; and the amazing collaboration beers that were released last year. Maybe it’s something to do with the limited edition nature of them. Maybe it’s the creative genius that comes when two (or more) great brewers come together, but 2016 was definitely the year of the collaboration.
Cigar City’s head brewer Wayne, and Magic Rock, came together to produce Wayniac, a murky fruity IPA which is a strong contender for my beer of the year. Or how about Rule of Thirds which combined Siren, Magic Rock and Beavertown’s beers into a blended combo? A bit less than the sum of its parts, in my opinion. Or Magic Rock and Cloudwater’s Big Dipper double IPA which was very nice indeed.
No. Despite the competition, the collaboration of the year was Brooklyn / Thornbridge’s Serpent. There was so much hype for this beer, that I didn’t bother trying it on release. I couldn’t be bothered to be honest. The downside of collaborations is that they can’t be repeated (or not easily) so the brewers want the beer to be amazing. The hype / PR machines go into overdrive to ensure that, even if they aren’t, at least they sell.
But sometimes, the hype is justified. When I tried this beer at last – a Belgian golden ale, aged in barrels on cider lees – I felt foolish for avoiding it for so long (and immediately bought out our entire stock. Sorry about that). It was perfect. Dry, a bit tart, refreshing, with a hint of the apples that helped to make it. Some felt it too cider-ish but I hate cider so I don’t agree. There aren’t many bottles of this left. Get some wherever you can.
There were so many DIPAs last year, that to pick the best one is almost impossible. A couple of years ago, I never thought that I’d be quietly supping a 9% IPA on a Monday evening in front of the telly, but thanks to Cloudwater, Brew By Numbers, Pirate Life, Thornbridge and others, it was a regular occurrence. Not all of them worked. I wasn’t a huge fan of Human Cannonball, or Restorative Beverage for Invalids & Convalescents or Born to Die. Just throwing IBUs at me isn’t the answer.
At the half year stage, I had BBNo 55 | 01 as my favourite beer and it’s still right up there but my favourite DIPA of the year was Cloudwater’s. I don’t like the hype they generate but I do really like their beers. There’s no hype for really bad beers, after all. What does annoy me is their nomenclature. Each month a new version. I know that they were trying different things in the early days but I’d rather they just called it their DIPA and be done with it. I don’t mind if the recipe changes slightly or their hopping schedule or even the hops. The Kernel have been doing that for years and we aren’t on version 499 of their IPA, are we? So my favourite DIPA is the Cloudater DIPA. Whichever version is on sale right now and whichever one I can buy and drink right now.
Session IPAs were another big trend of 2016. A low alcohol IPA is, of course, a nonsense. But an easy drinking beer full of flavour – I can handle that. Tempest Armadillo is a classic and one I always have in at home. Neck Oil should be revisited. Just because it’s been around for ever doesn’t diminish how good a beer it is. Siren came out with loads: White Tips, Vermont Tea Party, Half Mast. I liked them all. But the one I returned to time and again was the Brew By Numbers Session IPA. Again, I don’t really care which version. I may prefer some of their hops combinations more than others but it’s a great recipe, brewed well and it always works.
Honourable mentions to…
Salopian Sienna: the Shropshire brewery’s stellar black label range was epitomised by this golden brown ale which bridges the gap between classic English and new wave craft. Michael Robertson, band leader of rock blues outfit Paladin, immortalised Sienna in a Paladin song lyric from one of his many compositions penned whist supping an ale in our Putney shop.
Orbit White Label #6 Burton Ale: the most under-appreciated beer of the year? Orbit have had a great year, and I can’t help but feel they don’t get the ‘social’ media attention they deserve. The Burton Ale was a perfect winter warmer, packed with earthy and evocative English hops, with a Belgian sweetness.
Gipsy Hill Bogan: So much Nelson!!! No-one had tried a beer like this, and it put Gipsy Hill on the map.
ToOl Sur Amarillo went down a treat too. And no list of beers of the year is complete without a mention of ToOl – some crazy beers. Some amazing beers. Always amazing artwork. We love them.
But the winner is…
…Beavertown’s Lupuloid. Their first attempt at a core IPA, the pressure on getting this right must have been enormous. Not only putting a beer out there in the most competitive part of the market, but also having to stand up to their existing range. And what a beer. Not too bitter. Not too fruity. Not too alcoholic (and certainly not tasting it’s full 6.7%). Really tasty. All put together in a distinctive can. Made for the perfect train beer. The perfect take out beer. The perfect park beer. The perfect in a taxi on the way to the darts beer. The perfect slab of beer for the family Christmas beer. The perfect beer.