It's that time of the year again when we spend some time looking back and reflecting on a year in beer. Like many have already commented, it has been an excellent year for British breweries and British beers and each year choosing a definitive beer or brewery for each category gets just that little bit harder. However, I'd rather be spoiled for choice and face the difficult decision of what to leave out as that, to me, is a happy barometer reading of just how good the British beer and brewing scene has been in 2013.
With some categories, it has been nigh on impossible to select just one beer or brewery and I've allowed myself some indulgence in listing more than one. I'm sure that you'll allow me a little bit of latitude in doing so.
Best UK Cask
I'm a simple city boy with simple city tastes and, in 2013, I've been a creature of simple habits. A beer hunter on a lupulin safari with one kind of prey firmly in my sights; hoppy citrussy beers. The kind of beer that tickles your tastebuds, pleases your palate and sends you in the immediate direction of the bar wanting more of the same. Boomerang beers that make you want to return to them time after time after time. I've bagged a few beer beasts this year but none have given me more satisfaction than the following trio of terrific tinctures.
1. Oakham Citra
2. Marble Pint (the new recipe has added an extra hop dimension and is bang on the money)
3. Hawkshead Windermere Pale
Best UK Keg
1. Kernel Biere de Table
2. Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack
Best UK Bottled/Can Beer
In 2013, my bottled pleasures were usually German and more often than not Franconian bottled beers. But, I did seek the company of a few good British bottled beers throughout the year and these three were the most memorable.
1. Marks and Spencer's Greenwich Hospital Porter. Brewed by Meantime to a recipe dating back to 1790. Barrel aged in Islay whisky casks, it was an absolute delight.
1. Camden Hells. Described by Pete Brown as the world's best lager. I wouldn't go that far but, out of a cold tactile can, it is a satisfying beer. Clean and crisp malt giving way to a hop dryness and a deep dimension of flavour from a beer that has been properly lagered.
1. Marks and Spencer's Single Variety Hop Citra IPA. Made by Oakham for M and S. It's been tweaked a wee bit from Oakham's own recipe for their Citra beer and it is a cracking beer full of tropical fruit and citrus.
Best Collaboration Beer
Summer 2013 was the season of Sours and Saisons and one beer, for me, captured the endless hot July and August hazy, lazy days superbly. Indeed, I would go as far to say that this collaboration brew was the perfect beer for a perfect summer. It was the zeitgeist beer of the summer. Well done to Greg and Andy for creating such a stunning beer.
Elusive Brewing/Weird Beard Brewing - Nelson Saison
Best Overseas Draught Beer
In 2013, I spent more time in Bamberg brewery taps than I did in some of my local Glasgow pubs. I was fortunate enough to experience Annafest in the Kellerwald at Forchheim and to be present when Mahr's Brau tapped their Bock in October. So it is no surprise that my favourite overseas draught beers of 2013 are all Franconian.
1. Mahrs Bräu Kellerbier Ungespundet Hefetrüb - Floral hops and smooth malt. It never disappoints.
2. Greifenklau Kellerbier - Drink it as nature intended; from a Seidla in the Greifenklau Biergarten.
3. Zehendner Brauerei Ungespundet Lagerbier, Monschsambach.
1. Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus
2. Cantillon Lambic Bio Gueuze
3. Pyraser Landbrauerei - Weinachts Festbier 2013
Best Overall Beer
1. Oakham Citra
2. Marble Pint
3. Mahrs Bräu Kellerbier Ungespundet Hefetrüb
Best Brewery Branding/Label/Pumpclip
Woe is me. Not another difficult category that's impossible to pin down to a single brewery. It also wouldn't be fair as there are so many great breweries producing quality beer that zing with flavour and scream consistency. So, no best UK brewery choice. Instead, breweries of note that deserve praise, recognition and kudos for their craft, skill and knowledge in creating consistently good beers. I give you, The Magnificent Seven.
1. Tyne Bank
1. Fyne Ales
Best Overseas Brewery
3. Mahr's Brauerei
Pub / Bar of the Year
In Glasgow, The State Bar has done what many pubs don't do; they asked their punters what beers they would like to see on the State's beer board. They listened, acted and delivered with some of the best beers and breweries in the UK becoming regular staples in the Pub. It also knows how to keep and maintain the beers. Their cellar skills are second to none. The best pint in Glasgow. Easy. Well deserved winners.
Over in the East Coast, Staggs Bar in Musselburgh excels itself with the choice and quality of their beers and in England, The Marble Arch in Manchester is quite simply, sublime.
I can't decide which is best. So, the pub / bar of the year is shared between the three pubs.
Best City in UK for Beer
Best Beer Fest
Paisley Beer Festival floats my boat every year but that's because I thoroughly enjoy helping out in the Foreign Bar, so, I'm not going to count Paisley as I'm the other side of the bar. It has to be Annafest on the outskirts of Forchheim. What's there not to like? Twenty three bierkellers in a forest in Franconia serving 6% festbier in litre krugs to 300,000 thirsty Lederhosen Herren and Dirndl Damen. That'll do.
Marks and Spencer have upped their game and now carry an impressive range of own brand beers made by some solid and consistent breweries such as Oakham and Meantime.
There has been a marked improvement in the range, quality and choice of beers in Glasgow with credit for this upturn in beer fortunes being laid firmly at the door of Hippo Beer and Valhalla's Goat. So equal first prize to Hippo Beer and Valhalla's Goat.
With exceptional service and an ever growing choice of tasty beer, it has to be Alesela.
I've bought quite a few beer books this year but the three that stand out are:
1. Amber, Black and Gold - The History of Britain's Great Beers. Martyn Cornell
2. Brewing Britain - The Quest for the Perfect Pint. Andy Hamilton
3. Frankens Brauereien und Brauereigaststätten. Markus Raupach
I use Untappd for checking in beers that I'm drinking and Brew Pal for my Home Brew recipes. One has a practical purpose, the other serves no purpose at all but you get nice badges every time you reach a new level of beer vanity.
Simon Johnson Award for Beer Twitterer
Only one winner. Simon Johnson himself.
I have enjoyed @broadfordbrewer's tweets too but no one could ever hold a candle to Simon's level of surreal inanity. Sadly missed.
Best Beer Blog
Again, no clear winner but notable mentions for the great and good. Firstly, I tip my hat in the specific direction of the Legendary Richard Taylor of the Beer Cast. Edinburgh's beer scene is in very rude health and brilliant shape. That is, partly, down to the role that Richard has played in charting and chronicling Edinburgh Beer. His energy is tireless, his modesty impressive but credit where credit's due. The British Guild of Beer Writer's award to the Beer Cast is much deserved recognition for the impact that The Beer Cast has had in not only shaping Edinburgh's beer climate but also his wider impact on the Scottish beer scene. Legendary.
Plaudits too for Adam Shafi's Walking and Crawling blog. Adam is our very own Beer Grylls. Follow his hazardous countryside escapades as he searches through bracken and bramble for Scotland's best pints and pubs. He does these things, so we don't have to. An excellent blog.
Kudos also for two blogs that I have gravitated increasingly towards in 2013. These are shut up about Barclay Perkins and Zythophile. Two meticulously researched blogs that are always a pleasure to read.
That concludes the results of the Norwegian jury.
All the very best of beer in 2014.