It’s been one hell of a year for beer in Ireland.
It’s been one hell of a year for beer in the UK.
Given that I’m a Brit abroad in sunny Dublin, it’s only fair that I include both Irish and British categories into this low-down of my beers (et al.) of 2013.
This is the year that good beer has really started to kick off in Ireland. There’s a growing beer scene not just in the capital, but in many of the country’s other towns and cities. Irish folk are increasingly shunning the mainstream and getting a taste for decent brews (both local and international). And thank God for that. I can now get decent beer (indeed, a selection of decent beer) in a shedload of places in my adopted home of Dublin. It’s finally got to the point where there’s more new good beer than I can drink. Everyone’s a bloody winner. So here we go:
Best Irish Cask Beer
Never a good thing to start on a less-than-cheery note, but let’s get real. There’s nobody out there in Ireland doing consistently good cask ale. Plenty of brewers have released some really solid cask offerings this year, but there’s been nothing that’s really knocked it out of the park. In fairness, the breweries aren’t helped by the often piss-poor level of cellarmanship in the country, so that must be taken into account. The recent availability of wonderful British cask ales from the likes of Thornbridge, Kirkstall, and Purity have lit up the cask scene and piqued many people’s interest, so hopefully we’ll see an increase of truly great Irish cask ale in the New Year. That said, we’ve still got some very decent stuff hitting the handpumps; this is exemplified by my cask ale of the year: Metalman Pale Ale – always a delight. Bright, citrusy, sessionable. Solid.
Shout-out to Dungarvan Comeragh Challenger too – it’s the best bitter in the country (loads of great marmalade character) but I can’t help but feeling gipped paying a fiver (or more) for a 3.8% ABV throwing beer.
Best Irish Keg Beer
Here’s a category not lacking in quality or choice: keg ‘craft’ has kicked off this year. Yes, many have been, well, shite, but that’s par for the course anywhere in the world. There have been many gems though, so this is tough. Actually no it’s not.
Galway Bay Of Foam And Fury Double IPA – YES, Ireland has a top notch DIPA. It’s brilliant. Totally surprised me. And no, I’m not just saying this cos my mug will be on the bottles in the New Year.
Big respect to other Irish hop-bringers this year: Eight Degrees Hurricane IPA ended up as a seriously well executed Citra-dominated IPA. Like a bucket of tropical fruit Starbursts. Crisp, fruity, glorious. The surprise package came in the form of County Offaly’s Bo Bristle American Brown Ale. Full of thick pine resin and huge sticky caramel. A brute. Brilliant stuff that I hope won’t remain as a ‘festival one-off’.
Best Irish Bottled Beer
I’ll be honest, I don’t buy too much Irish bottled beer. But this year, I’ve bought a lot of the following brew. I’ve even bought a job-lot of it for the office beer fridge.
Brown Paper Bag Project Doxie – a Belgian-inspired blonde wheat ale packed full of orangey goodness from judicious use of Amarillo hops. Very lively in the bottle (be warned), but this is a really top notch and innovative piece of brewing from probably the most exciting brewer in the country.
I’ll put a note in here expressing my hopes for 2014: that Eight Degrees get their bloody bottling line consistency issues sorted out. Unfortunately, the hit-and-miss nature of Cork’s finest’s bottles make me shy away from buying them. Even though the beers themselves are cracking.
Best Irish Brewery
The sheer quality and trend-bucking innovation of Dublin’s Brown Paper Bag Project gives them the crown, no doubt. Big kudos to Black’s of Kinsale too – they’ve burst onto the scene in a flurry of American-hop goodness. Very excited to see what 2014 holds for both of these (and the many other top quality brewers this country has at its disposal).
Best Irish Beer Bar
For tap selection, it’s got to be Against the Grain. The first to get their hands on most new releases of imports and local gear (and an increasingly fantastic range of house-brews from Galway Bay Brewery). Big shout out to Dorset Street’s W.J. Kavanagh’s too: if you want cask ale in Ireland, this has to be your first choice destination.
Best Overall Irish Beer
Galway Bay’s Of Foam And Fury. This beer has quite literally answered the prayers of every hop-loving beer drinker in the country.
Best UK Cask Beer
Moor Beer Company Nor’Hop. This is what a session cask ale should be. Summer in a glass. And Autumn. And Winter. And Spring. So bloody juicy. Just glorious.
Best UK Keg Beer
Jesus. Where to start. Back in March I was absolutely blown away on a beer trip to Edinburgh by Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss. I’m no Gose expert, but I thought this was incredible – sea salt and lemon rind tartness giving one of the most refreshing bits of boozing I’ve done in a long time. Then again, Buxton’s Axe Edge IPA is a thing of beauty on keg. Either of those are more than welcome to the crown.
Best UK Bottled Beer
The Kernel Double Citra IPA. Was lucky enough to get a two week old batch of this pure HEAVENLY liquid. My top rated beer ever. It’s absolutely stunning. Enjoyed it much more than I did six day old Pliny earlier this year. And that’s saying something.
Massive shout-out to Thornbridge Halcyon. No need to ever even think about buying imported IPAs when this is in town.
Best UK Beer Bar 2013
Never thought I’d say this, but it’s in Devon. The Teign Cellars of Newton Abbot is a fantastic bastion of great beer in an otherwise deserted landscape. Always more than a dozen of the UK and Europe’s finest beer on keg and cask, shedloads of brilliant bottles (there’s a bottle shop in the basement), and some of the cheapest pricing out there. Kernel IPA variants for three and a bit quid a pint? Devon tourist board should include that in their pamphlets. Friendly crowd, good scotch eggs, great beer. Visiting the other half’s family has never tasted so damn good.
Miscellaneous “Best Of 2013s”
Best Overseas Beer
Rip Current In The Curl IIPA. The undoubted highlight of a couple of visits to California. This ties with Kernel’s Double Citra for the title of best Double IPA I’ve ever had. Clean biscuit malt, breathtaking peach, blood orange and grapefruit hop kick. Devastatingly enjoyable.
Best Imported Beer (Ireland)
Having Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus available less than ten minutes walk from my front door in Dublin makes me weep with joy. To Øl Dangerously Close To Stupid comes dangerously close to winning my affections for this category, as does the fresh batch of Stone Ruination that’s recently arrived on Irish shores.
Best Beer Blog
My good friend and beer-brain-extraordinaire, Aidan, writes a brilliant and criminally under-publicised blog called Brews International. Well worth a read.
Best Beer Retailer (Ireland)
Drinkstore of Stoneybatter. The best. Always has been. Selection and service are both sublime.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
@TheBeerNut is always good value for Irish beer happenings, as is @BeoirFinder for his banterful omnipresence. However, no one can beat the definitely-real @brouwervanklomp for cutting insight into the coal-face of the beer industry.
2013 has been a wonderful year for beer. But, you know what, I’m pretty sure 2014 will be even better. Merry Christmas to you all!