Although Crema is a single entity and we are often in agreement (at least broadly) on beer-related matters for this post we each wrote our own answers. As you might expect there was a great deal of overlap in our responses. Chris wrote the post and Emma added thoughts where some clarification was required. Probably worth clarifying from the outset that Chris works part time at Weird Beard Brewery.
1. Best UK Cask Beer
Chris: I’ve not had that much cask beer this year that has blown me away but it’d be hard to beat Weird Beard Dark Hopfler, though Hit the Lights is always a solid choice.
Emma: I think Hit the Lights is a better cask beer than keg. The extra carbonation doesn’t do much for it. And even though it was slated to go on at IMBC, it just didn’t happen and I so never got to try Dark Hopfler on cask. :’(
2. Best UK Keg Beer
Chris & Emma: Magic Rock Cannonball for sheer drinkability and an almost sure choice anytime we find it on draught. An honourable mention goes to Brewdog’s Dead Pony Club as a beer that we go back to time and time again when we want something low ABV and refreshing.
3. Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Chris: Thornbridge Halcyon. Great to see more and more of this coming out of Thornbridge’s Riverside brewery and I’ve tried to get a case from every batch they’ve brewed this year. It’d be great to have it as a fridge staple at home in 2015.
Emma: Even though I’ll fight anyone who claims to be a bigger fan of Halcyon than me, if you say ‘best bottle or can of 2013’ to me then I only have one answer: Gamma Ray in #cans. How excited was I about that event? SUPER CRAZY EXCITED. I vividly recall going to Duke’s straight from work on a Monday afternoon and delightedly pouring Gamma Ray into my face straight from the can. So eye-wateringly dank and even though the beer was a super face-melting overkill on the hops, it was everything I had hoped it would be: a great example of something truly living up to the hype. Since that day I’ve enjoyed cans of Gamma Ray as train beers (thank you, Sourced Market), and in bars where I’ve pointed them out to the staff because they didn’t even know they sold them, and as a staple in our beer fridge.
4. Best Overseas Draught Beer
Chris & Emma: Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel!/The Alchemist Moralité. There’s been some of this about at Brewdog bars up and down the UK but nothing beats the night we both tried to drain an entire keg of it at the Brewdog Clapham Junction Meet The Brewer event. Can’t think of a better overseas draught beer we’ve had all year. However, we wouldn’t be surprised if an Italian brewery occupies this slot next year (see below).
5. Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Chris: Birra Del Borgo Rubus. Shared a bottle of this with friends at the Great British Beer Festival (frankly the overseas beers, especially the Italian and American beers, were better than the British offerings) and loved it so much we bought another bottle, which we shared this past Saturday. An absolutely stunning beer that shows where the Italians are heading.
Emma: Special mention for cans of The Alchemist Heady Topper because it was part of an interesting IPA tasting panel we did at home comparing UK and US beers and it was great to experience a super hoppy beer explicitly designed to be consumed direct from the can. If I had frequent access to this beer I’d drink a lot of it.
6. Best Collaboration Brew
Chris: Magic Rock/Lervig Farmhouse IPA. Perhaps not the most stunning beer of the year but certainly the most consistently enjoyable. However, an honourable mention goes out to Magic Rock/Siren/Beavertown Rule of Thirds, which I wasn’t sold on when I had it at the launch at Beavertown but from a bottle a few weeks later, it tasted incredible. More please.
Emma: On the day of Magic Rock’s Unhuman Cannonball release this April the beer people talked about the most afterwards was that Farmhouse IPA. I enjoyed how the character of this beer changes with age too, more bitter when it’s really fresh, then milder and sherberty, then later more, well, farmhousey – a marvellous mosaic of a beer.
The Rule of Thirds has definitely grown on me. I was unsure how I felt about it on launch day, there was something muddled about the flavour... however, when we had it from a bottle on subsequent occasions there was more clarity and sharpness to it. I’m definitely a fan now. But if I had to choose a single collaboration beer of the year it would be the Weird Beard/IMBC black saison with Seville orange: Hacienda. So many black saisons are gimmicky and the darker malts don’t even add anything to the finished beer. Too many saisons that are ‘flavoured’ with fruits are either imperceptible or overwhelming. I love the darker roasty malts with the bittersweet orange underneath and in the finish the (subtle) yeast character. This beer, with a little time to settle and mature, became a highly drinkable, incredibly well-balanced beer.
(Some people ask, “but what does ‘well-balanced’ even mean when referring to a beer?” Well, to me it means nothing stands out or feels out of place or unbalanced; everything is in a happy equilibrium. It’s a bit like seasoning food - you know when you have seasoned a dish right. That’s how I think about a balanced beer. NB: Not all great beers are well balanced.)
7. Best Overall Beer
Chris & Emma: Magic Rock Cannonball. The availability and consistency has increased rapidly and we look forward to the day we can have it at home more. An honourable mention goes to Summer Wine Brewery for their superb Mauna Kea Hawaiian IPA that just blew me (Chris) away with its fantastic tropical fruit aroma and flavour after a very long day in the brewery (on Emma’s recommendation).
8. Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
Chris & Emma: There are two winners. Firstly Magic Rock for their eye catching branding that always draws our eye when arrive at the bar. Secondly, Nick Dywer’s artwork is a defining style for Beavertown’s fantastic branding but the label for Bone King was on another level. Best thing we’ve seen all year (it helped that the beer was damn good too).
Chris: A dishonourable mention goes to Brewdog for going backwards and switching to a bland, corporate branding that smacks of the breweries that they railed against in the past.
9. Best UK Brewery
Chris: For a sheer explosion of creativity and range it’s a close run thing between Buxton and Siren, with the Derbyshire crew, led by bearded genius and all-round awesome guy Colin Stronge, just edging it. Notable highlights include Axe Edge, Ace Edge, Wyoming Sheep Ranch, Rainshadow and the superb Double Axe.
Siren have produced a fantastic range of beers this year with their Discount series, Americano, Shattered Dream, the barrel aged Broken Dreams and the mango punch to the face that was the Tickle Monster.
Emma: We all lost out heads a little bit over Double Axe this summer but I was a fan of Buxton before that. One of my favourite beers at IMBC 13 was their white wine BA saison, but I struggle to think of any of their beers that I haven’t really enjoyed or at least liked between then and now.
I had an epiphany with Siren this year. Having found them hit and miss in 2013, we happened to stop into the Craft Beer Co. on Leather Lane for a drink one Saturday afternoon in spring. In the space of an hour I completely changed my mind after trying Shattered Dream, Americano and Ratchet. Then the Discount series consolidated that decision.
10. Best Overseas Brewery
Chris & Emma: It has to be To Øl. Some highlights from 2014 included Sur Mosiac, Hundelufter Bajer and Sort Maelk plus the countless collaborations with other breweries. We expect more greatness from these crazy Danes. However, an honourable mention goes to Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! for producing stuff that goes blows our minds when we drink it.
11. Pub/Bar of the Year
Chris: Brewdog Shepherd’s Bush for sheer variety of beer available on both draught and in bottle, served in fantastic condition and with the textbook example of how customer service in pubs and bars should be done.
Emma: Same, for the best customer service in any beer outlet in London. Pretty much everywhere else that sells beer could learn from them.
12. Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
Chris & Emma: Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green. A relaxed atmosphere with tasty meat and cheese platters, and possibly the best range of bottled/canned beers in their fridges. The only criticism would be allowing people to sit and drink along the entire length of the bar. When it gets busy it’s a pain in the arse having to lean over people to order, pay for and pick up your drinks. Take a look around town and see how many other bars allow people to occupy the entire length of the bar, thereby blocking access to people who want to buy drinks. Can’t think of anywhere off the top of our heads.
14. Beer Festival of the Year
Chris & Emma: No contest. It’s IMBC as we already described in our previous blog post.
15. Supermarket of the Year
Chris & Emma: Waitrose. We don’t buy much beer from supermarkets but when we do, it tends to be from Waitrose and their support of the Thornbridge home brewing competition this year showed their commitment to innovation and independent breweries. It is a shame the distribution of the award-winning beer wasn’t a bit wider.
16. Independent Retailer of the Year
Chris & Emma: Bottledog . It never disappoints with the range of beers available; there will always be something you love or something you want to try. Honourable mentions to Beermoth in Manchester on the basis of our single visit during IMBC for an eclectic range and engaging staff and to Sourced Market in St Pancras Station for supplying train beers on so many occasions.
17. Online Retailer of the Year
Chris & Emma: this has been a difficult one for us. Compared to 2013, when we ordered a lot online, we’ve significantly reduced our online beer ordering in preference to buying beer in person. Largely because we’ve found it’s been incredibly difficult to arrange delivery to our flat as delivery companies only want to deliver during the day - when we’re at work.
18. Best Beer Book or Magazine
Chris & Emma: hands down it goes to Boak and Bailey for their entertaining and educational Brew Britannia. Well researched and written in a compelling style of prose, we feel that our knowledge of British brewing history has been enriched by this book. An honourable mention to Michael Tonsmeire for his excellent book American Sour Beers, which I’m (Chris) currently reading and finding very, very useful.
19. Best Beer Blog or Website
Chris & Emma: For us, The Beer Diary/Chris Hall Beer has been the consistently best UK beer writing blog, it covers a wide range of topics related to beer and it pulls no punches. From a brewing perspective, Port 66 has quickly come through as the “go-to” resource for advice on a range of subjects although we often find ourselves going back time and time again to Michael Tonsmeire’s the Mad Fermentationist blog as we experiment more and more with different yeast and styles of beer. Honourable mentions to Total Ales for Matt’s bravery in tackling controversial subjects that often split beer fans, and for Richard Taylor’s superb journalistic piece on Brewmeister.
20. Best Beer App
Chris & Emma: Twitter, without which we wouldn’t be able to connect to the whole wonderful world of beer.
21. Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
Chris & Emma: Chris ‘zero tolerance in 2014’ Hall (@ChrisHallBeer), with runners up Dave Bishop (@broadfordbrewer) for his Twatterdoodles, and Matt Curtis (@totalales) for his world class Vines.
22. Best Brewery Website/Social media
Chris & Emma: Brewdog, for showing everyone else how brewery social media should be done. Again.
23. Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Chris: The Thornbridge Sunday Session at the Draft House on Charlotte Street. While both the Weird Beard and Lervig sessions were also good, every single beer and food match at the Thornbridge event were sensational with my favourite being the Raspberry Imperial Stout and the pigeon. Simply incredible. Kudos to that wizard, Max Chater, and his team for turning out such well considered and executed pairings on the day.
Emma: When I think of beer and food pairings I cannot see beyond the magic of the Draft House Sunday Sessions. Each one I’ve attended has been a fantastic, rewarding event which left me with a warm fuzzy afterglow. But I tend to agree with Chris that the Thornbridge event was just in the lead. Every course was great but my favourite was the dessert pairing of Otto (a weizenbock) with a banana cake, banana crisp and sugarwork PLUS a gin grattachecca (shaved ice and gin). Wow. I want it again right now. I had no idea that banana, caramel and gin would work so well together.