By Jonny Garrett
There’s nothing like an arbitrary date to get you all wistful. Nothing changes between 31 December and 1 January, except things we felt and did are suddenly “last year”, but it’s always a good time to reflect. That might be because I am writing this while a tad hungover, and in desperate need of our beer pancakes.
A lot happened in 2013 – far too much to regale here – but what beers made me most happy last year? Well, the launch of Camden Town’s USA Hells as part of the core range heralded the most significant change in my drinking habits. Their hoppy, unfiltered USA-hopped lager is a triumph, and just the kind of beer to tempt the unconverted away from commercial yellow soda water. The brewery is just 10 minutes from my house, so it’s now my session beer of choice.
The most promising brewery launch of the year is really tough, given that there were about 15 openings in London alone, with Scotland also opening a barrel-load. But in terms of exciting new ventures, Anspach & Hobday have a good shout. Their Pfeffernüsse Saison was really special – loaded with spice and sweetness – and their coffee quad was sweet and silky before the hit of earthy, savoury coffee. Their brewery bar near Tower Bridge will be worth a look when it opens next month. A very honourable mention goes to Howling Hops too, a microbrewery at The Cock Tavern in East London. Their experimental Pale XX was remarkable, with its strong blueberry aroma, and I’m yet to taste a bad beer from them, which is amazing for such a small operation.
My beer of the year goes to Oakham for their endlessly reliable Citra. Beautiful from the bottle, delicious from the pump and absolutely addictive all around. You can even get a version of it in Marks & Spencer now. As for outside of the UK, it’s not exactly a new beer, but I can’t deny that Bruges Zot Dubbel is a really special beer too if you can get your mitts on some.
As for the best pub I went to last year, my brief visit to Manchester was mostly memorable for my experience at the Port Street Beer House – a brilliant modern bar with some serious beer in the fridge, as well as some great keg stuff too. The fact that they had my favourite Christmas beer, Schneider Weisse Tap 6, on tap speaks volumes for their taste. But for me, it has to be Old Street’s The Old Fountain. With Kernel, Redwell and Camden on keg, then about 8 rotating real ales, it just keeps getting better. And that’s before you look at the American stuff in the fridge. With their new kitchen, turning out lovely salads, burgers and classic comfort stuff there’s no better place to drink in London. Not bad for an eighties dive with a fishtank in the corner.
So what’s going to be big this year? Well, last month after a pub crawl with our friends from the Beer O’Clock show, I woke up with sweat that smelt of Simcoe hops, and I think the ballsy American beers may have had their time. Like burgers in street food, they will always have their place but the time has come for more subtle brews. Sales of porters and stouts are on the rise, and as brewers start to hop them a little more to attract attention that’s only going to get stronger. Over in the US there is already a movement towards traditional British bitters and black ales as a reaction to the ultra-modern, palate-smashing pale ales. Those brewers are always miles ahead on trend, so we can expect that next Christmas we’ll be drinking Stone Bitters, Sierra brown ales and Brooklyn chocolate porter by the crate. Add to that the fact that several big British brewers, including the SA-brewing heroes Brains, have opened craft/small batch breweries and starting to produce some really lovely stuff. That’s only going to grow this year.
I for one can’t wait.