My motto for life in general is ‘never cease to be surprised’, and this has certainly applied to my beer drinking and writing activities this year. I’ve been to some great events, tried many new beers and, most importantly, made some delightful new friends along the way. Who could ask for more?
It’s been good to see new trends emerging. Norwich City of Ale was a beer festival with a difference — a ten-day extravaganza set in one of the most lovely of British cities and staged in more than 30 pubs around the city, each hosting a few beers from the very extensive menu. This was a genius idea and while it wouldn’t work in every town or city — you need the pubs fairly close together and a collection of landlords who are passionate about good local ales — it does set down a marker for other venues to have a go. I’m looking forward to the second one, from May 31 to June 10, 2012. The aim is to have even more pubs involved. Should be a good one.
Another exciting new trend is craft keg beer. That word ‘keg’ comes loaded with unhappy memories for many older drinkers. It is the reason CAMRA exists. It remains anathema to many CAMRA members. Yet ironically, for many modern brewers, it could prove their salvation. Respected, award-winning cask brewers, such as Ilkley, in Yorkshire, are creating lovingly brewed keg ranges to extend their market, to take craft-produced beer into venues which can’t sustain cask for reasons of space or turnover, to offer drinkers there a better choice than Carlsberg lager or Tetley’s Smoothflow. I judged keg beers at this year’s SIBA national finals and the beers were a revelation. This is a sector on the rise and hopefully all beer lovers will recognise this soon.
There were new breweries popping up everywhere in 2011, particularly noticeable in areas close to my heart — Cornwall and London. Each of these now boasts a couple of dozen or so brewers of all sizes, from giants such as Fuller’s and Sharp’s (the latter having been acquired by Molson Coors early in the year) to the smaller but perfectly former Redemption, Kernel, London Fields, for instance, in the capital, Penzance, Coastal and Driftwood Spars in Cornwall. In London, where it wasn’t that long ago that there was just Fuller’s and Young’s brewing, the difference is particularly noticeable. But where are all these beers being drunk?
Another new trend, then, the ‘superpub’ — or are they bars rather then pubs? I’m thinking here of the likes of the Craft Beer Co and sister venue Cask and Kitchen in London. I visited the former in Clerkenwell earlier this month. There were 16 handpumps on the bar with beers sourced from independent British micros, and an array of nearly two keg fonts dispensing the wonders of the beer world, including a house lager by Danish brewer Mikkeller. This new breed of pub tends to have another distinguishing feature, too — large chiller cabinets full of bottled beers from the UK and abroad. The Rake, in Borough, does a roaring trade in these, as does the small but perfectly formed Euston Tap, just outside Euston station. Another way to get a good variety of craft beers stocked.
And finally, a special mention to one brewer. This does seem very unfair as I’ve drunk many, many fine beers from from so many excellent brewers. However, at the SIBA South West festival at Newton Abbot, back in April, myself and Star, Crowlas, landlord and owner, Peter Elvin, discovered a new brewery to us, Plain Ales, who had a golden beer, Innocence. It was gorgeous. Pete ordered some for the pub and the regulars there thought it was delightful, too. A divine golden summer ale, crisp and refreshing. Then, earlier this month, their Port Stout turned up on the bar. Again, exceptional, full of flavour, lovely roast malt notes and that port taste. but all subtle and well in proportion. Both were excellent, both memorable, both jointly my beer of the year.
Happy New Year, whether you’re a brewer or a drinker, or both. Here’s to more excellent British brews in 2012!