Dec 30 2020
There really is no requirement to harp on and overstate the obvious. Yes, this year really has been “different”, but I started this blog back in 2011 to be positive about beery things.
And I’m not about to change now. Let’s go.
Pub of the Year – The Marble Arch : It wins cause it is. It wins because it’s the pub I’ve visited most often. It wins because it was the first pub to be visited by my Grandson (before his first birthday – he stared upwards, admiring the ceiling I like to think). It wins because it’s the most beautiful pub, with exceptional beer and even better staff. Chapeau.
Brewtap of the Year – Marble : Manchester has had it hard this year. But the biggest ray of sunshine broke through the Rainy City clouds on 4th July (Yes, it would have to be THAT date) when Marble tentatively re-opened their brew tap on Kansas Avenue in Salford. Friends gathered. Laughed. Took joy in the physical (rather than pixellated) sight of faces. Laughter without broadband fails. Impromptu tasting sessions. Hooray for Gazebos! (Manchester/Salford = Rain. Natch). The beer was exceptional too, needless to say.
Lockdown Heroes – Cloudwater : In March, about a week before lockdown, I rather stupidly sent out the initial invites to breweries for #ISBF7. And as I started to received replies a few days later, an impending sense of dread started to penetrate, take root. The replies which contained the phrase “if we survive…”. Then, real team working started to kick in. The Haves sharing with the Have Nots. I clearly remember RTing messages from Jan Rogers at Marble, advising breweries as to who to contact re VAT and Beer Duty help. Grants and the like. But still I fretted about some of my favourites. The likes of Squawk, Runaway and others. Then another of the “Haves” stepped up. Cloudwater. Inviting breweries to list their beers on their webshop, using their established webshop and distribution to get the product of others out. It was – undoubtedly – a lifeline, giving those breweries times to set up their own websales and made survival more likely. Chapeau.
Collab of the Year – Blended Chocolate Porter & Ginger : Marble Brewery / North Riding Brewery : Putting two of my favourite breweries together for #ISBF7 was a bit of a dream for me. The idea for the beer was Stuart Neilson’s (harking back to blending Marble Chocolate & Ginger in a pub, 15 years earlier). That they managed to pull off such an idea in amongst the chaos of autumn 2020 – especially for #VISBF was humbling. The blend of chocolaty sweetness and the warmth of the Ginger was – for me – perfectly judged. An achievement in so many ways.
Beer of the Year : In a beery sense, my heart yearns for darkness. Sit me down in a warm pub – with friends – and a nice pint of Cask Conditioned Mild, Porter or Stout and I’m in one of my happier places. But, in a positive sense, this year surprised me. I found myself drinking copious amounts of Pilsner and Helles (Marble’s “American Pilsner” being a regular), and paler beers – especially West Coast IPAs – grabbed my attention. Ultimately, the choice came down to a choice from 3 beers that made the greatest impact. “Tawny” from Marble (for me, the best of the Retro releases), “Ageless” by Redwillow and “Oregon Trail” by Elusive. And – fine be the margins – it comes down to that most important (and unknowable of factors) “Time & Place”. That being a holiday with family and friends in the time between Lockdowns. In Devon. And a case of beers ordered from Finchampstead. Oregon Trail gets that nod. An exceptional beer. Chapeau Mr Parker.
Brewery of the Year – This was another close run thing. So much so, that it came down to the release of a single beer amongst many. I love new beers. But what I love even more is the continued production of Core beers amongst the new stuff. Relentless excellence. For me, this year, the balance of my choice was tipped by the release of a Cider Saison. An exceptional Cider Saison. Fabulous Lagers, brilliant Pales, Ryes, Black IPA (and a brilliant Blackberry Saison for #VISBF), Chapeau Redwillow.