The year is wrapping up now and, it’s safe to say I’ve drunk a lot of beer. Well, *tried* a lot of beer. You see, I’ve been attending a fledgling bottle share event in Nottingham, organised by Matt from Brew Cavern, and let me tell you, those guys set the bar pretty fucking high. Anyway, I digress slightly; this post is about my personal highlights and disappointments in craft beer in 2015. So here it goes, I guess.
EDIT: I should say that some of these choices weren’t necessarily released this year. I’m just going to make my choices based on the beers I’ve enjoyed most over the last 12 months.
IPA of the Year – Cloudwater DIPA (Bottle)
Early in the year we had Un-Human Cannonball and that took some beating. It stayed a front-runner for me for quite a while, seeing off cracking beers like Beavertown’s Bloody ‘ell. However, the final months of the year gave way to some absolutely sublime IPAs, the best of which was Cloudwater’s special edition DIPA. A 9% tropical fruit bowl hop bomb that hit all the right spots for me when I think of what an IPA should be. Truly excellent stuff!
Stout of the year – Buxton/Omnipollo Yellow Belly (Bottle)
No surprise here. Wanna know what I thought of this beast, read my review.
Pale Ale of the year – Beavertown Gamma Ray (Can)
Tricky one, this. Especially with great beers like Magic Rock’s Highwire Grapefruit hitting the shelves. But try as I did, I can’t think of a beer I’d rather keep going back to than Gamma Ray. It really is a stunning, well rounded APA that I can’t help but enjoy any time of the year. As flagship beers go, this is definitely top-five material.
Sour of the year – Firestone Walker / Wild Beer Co. Violet Underground (Bottle)
This was part of 2015’s International Rainbow project and, as it happens, my favourite beer from that line-up. Easily the most expensive beer of the bunch at around £12 for a 375ml bottle, this stuff was just incredible. Balanced sourness with a slight floral edge and loads of sharp berries. Kick-ass!
Brewery of the year – Buxton Brewery
Once again, these guys come out on top for me. They consistently crank out banger after banger whether on their own or as part of a collab. Not only that, they continually push boundaries and set out to make the beer they want to make, not what a standard says they should be making. Oh, and they have one of the best tap houses I’ve ever been to!
Favourite Can – Vocation Brewing Life & Death
Canning is beginning to become mainstream now and the public, for the most part, have begun to accept that canned beer is often better to bottled beer, especially when it’s super hoppy stuff. No surprise then, that we’re beginning to see new breweries canning their beers and bypassing bottles all together. My pick for can of the year is Vocation Brewing and their Life & Death IPA. Just like Cloudwater’s DIPA, this stuff is a tropical fruit bomb with a sticky, syrupy sweetness from a beautifully balanced malt bill combined with a banging hop profile which brings in an assertive but not overpowering bitterness.
Favourite Keg – Ballast Point Victory at Sea
When Ballast Point did a tap takeover at BrewDog Nottingham, I figured I’d like the IPAs the most. The three Sculpins (especially the habanero one) were all really good, but the star of the show for me was the 10% Imperial Porter, Victory at Sea. Brewed with coffee, chocolate and enough vanilla to kill an elephant, this brew screamed decadence. The high ABV made sure it had all the body and silky mouthfeel the aroma promises but without tasting boozey. It’s very rich but surprisingly drinkable. Very, very good stuff. I just hope that it stays in production at the same level of quality now that Ballast Point has been taken over.
Favourite Cask – Buxton Brewery Axe Edge
I had this at the Buxton Tap House this summer, shortly before the brewery revealed that it would soon be the only place that it would continue to serve cask beer. I’ve had this beer in bottle, on keg and on cask and, surprisingly cask was easily my favourite. It delivered a silkiness and beefed up body that I never even realised was missing from keg/bottle until I had it. Coupled with the unparalleled freshness and masterful handling of the casks, it made the 60 mile round trip totally worth it.
Most disappointing beers of the year
It’s not been all sunshine and rainbows this year. There have been some stinkers, and from some surprising places. Breweries that I thought could do no wrong have put out some of this years most disappointing beer. Here are my picks.
Magic Rock, Ginspired (Keg)
If I were to say “Gin & Tonic IPA”, you’d expect a few things. Firstly, you’d want a nice brisk carbonation. Next, you’d want that slightly medicinal juniper berry flavour. Finally you’d want that dry bitterness of a good tonic water. Guess what Magic Rock’s Ginspired delivered… that’s right, none of that. Hell, it didn’t even deliver what I’d expect out of a decent IPA, let alone one that promises the flavour of a nice G&T. It’s a no from me.
Magic Rock / Cigar City, Cigarro Roja Magica (Bottle)
Not just a weak link in the Rainbow Project, this was just an all-round boring beer. From two powerhouse breweries, I expected great things. What we got was just a bog standard red IPA, and not even a very good one. All the flavours you want pouring out of a red IPA were subdued and dull. Not enough bitterness, not enough sweetness and a pretty confused malt profile resulted in me giving this beer a resounding thumbs-down.
Buxton Brewery, Pic Tor (Bottle)
Not much to say about this one but “weird”. It smelled like meat. Not cooking meat; more like a butcher’s shop. Not only that, the flavour balance was well and truly off, with massive puckering sourness and not a whole lot of identifiable passion fruit. In fact it was a little reminiscent of bile. Not the one.
BrewDog/Stone, Adopt a Bastard (Keg)
I’ll qualify this by saying I’ve never had original Arrogant Bastard so I have no basis for comparison. However, BrewDog’s attempt at the same beer just fell totally flat for me. The whole affair was just muddy. No smack in the face flavour, just a mess of sort of sweet malts and sort of bitter hops. That’s it.
So there we have it! Let me know in the comments or on Twitter what your beers of the year have been.