It seems like only yesterday that I sat considering my best beers of 2014, I recall writing then that 2014 was a great year both for beers and brewing here in Blighty.
And the British craft beer scene has gone from strength to strength.
According to Wikipedia: “In 2000, there were around 500 breweries in the UK, the 2015 edition of the Good Beer Guide lists 1,285 breweries now operating in Britain.”
“A 2015 government analysis reveals a new brewery is opening in Britain every other day with Britain becoming a ‘brewing powerhouse'”.
In my review of 2014 I mentioned Meantime in Greenwich as a craft brewery that has expanded while retaining its craft roots. That commitment was challenged in May 2015 when Meantime was bought by SAB Miller, and the new combined InBev/SAB juggernaut last week announced its purchase of another London craft brewer – Camden.
That said, Pubs continue to close at an alarming and increasing rate, now around 29 a week.
While there were some 69,000 pubs in Britain in 1980 their numbers are down to around 50,000. This is often blamed on a combination of competition from supermarkets – who will sell a four pack of beers for the price of a pint ‘down the pub’ – the ban on smoking indoors – and property speculators – who can erect an apartment block on the site of an old pub, particularly in City Centres where space is at a premium.
But there might be light at the end of that particular tunnel, with the growth – as I wrote here back in September – of micro pubs.
I know of three or four within a short drive of my home, with capacities between 10 and 20 drinkers, such as ‘The Farmers Arms‘ in Maldon.
Anyway, onto my favourite beers of what has frankly been a so-so year here at The Brewclub, I’ve reviewed a higher than average range of two and three star beers. As the saying goes ‘you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince’ and there have been some good uns.
Here’s this year’s top five, in reverse order:
5. J.W. Lees ‘Manchester Star’ Ale
I reviewed this in November (here), a rich dark ‘old school’ English Ale, it’s based on a recipe that dates back to 1884, but with more modern Styrian and Hallertau hops.
As I wrote back in November “each sip reveals a different fruity aspect of warm comfort” and was happy to give it 5 Brewclub Stars.
4. Hardknott Azimuth IPA
Another potent IPA, this one from the Hardknott brewery in the North West of England, reviewed here.
This boasts “with a mix of hops from around the Pacific rim, Some West Coast USA ‘C’ hops, but rounded off with a balance of NZ hops just for the hell of it” adding “Generally, in Azimuth, we use a blend of Cascade, Centennial, Galaxy, Citra, Pacific Jade and Wakatu. But we might vary occasionally.”.
I described it as being “dry and crisp, a rich blend of citrus -mainly grapefruit and peaches, with pine resin and an almost metallic tang” I also suggested that it ‘out-punked’ Brewdog’s Punk IPA.
A description that ‘Hardknott Dave’ told me had caused some amusement, when I bumped into him at the Great British Beer Festival.
3. Thornbridge Jehanne
Jehanne, named for Joan of Arc, was Thornbridge’s take on a French Biere de Garde. My favourite brewery takes on my favourite beer style, what’s not to like?
I reviewed it (here) back last February and enjoyed a few winter evenings by the fire in the company of ‘Jehanne’.
I described it as being “rich, warming and comforting, with peppery spice… with hints of (over-ripe) bananas, spice, and orange peel, but the main flavours are toffee and treacle (molasses).”
2. Truman’s London Keeper 8% ABV
This is a late entry to my ‘Top 5’ as I enjoyed this literally a couple of days before Christmas, and it’s the resurrected Truman’s brewery’s first ever brew, a recreation of an Export Stout, from a recipe dating back to 1880.
I described it, as Pete Brown described it, as “vinous” and went on to say “there’s dark treacle (Molasses) with woody, resiny liquorice. It’s malty and sweet, in a balsamic vinegar sort of way, and there are those American hops in there. It’s fascinating, a brew to share with beer connoisseurs on a dark winter’s night, up there with Rodenbach Grand Cru.
I mentioned that I’d bought a couple of these, and that I’m keeping the other bottle to try in a few years’ time.
My number one beer of 2015 should come as no surprise to anybody that know me or my taste in beer, it’s Thornbridge’s triumphant 10 year anniversary reinvention of their award winning ‘Jaipur’ IPA.
1. Thornbridge Japiur X Imperial IPA
While unashamedly potent and exclusive – the first brew sold out in two hours – they brewed a second batch to round 2015 off and it again sold out in a triceand again I managed to get a case. That’s January sorted.
I struggled to describe it (here) as “difficult; it’s almost like when Springsteen released ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ after a gap of three years. It’s more than a beer; it’s both an event and a beer.“
Fortunately Adrian Tierney-Jones, author of ‘1001 Beers you must try before you die’ responded “It is indeed, an incredible guitar solo that seemed to encompass hop succulence, restraint and then outage all in one glass.”
So, as I mentioned earlier, this year has thrown up rather more 1, 2 and 3 star brews that recent years, but I’ve also found some real gems.
It just leaves me to wish all Brewclub readers a happy and healthy New Year, and here’s to 2016.