Happy new year!
I was going to write this post on new years eve, as a kind of self justifying look back at my libations and other slaking exploits, and to throw in some observations about beer and its styles, methods of dispense and price. However, alas, beer got in the way (as did iced pavements but that's another story) so tis is a slightly late review of beer.....
Beer styles eh? Tchh. Who'd av um? Dark this, light that, this with wheat, that with lemon, this aged in marmalade casks, dry hopped with enchanted bark. Its a long running ball ache to keep up. Luckily for me, I know what I like, and know what I would like to try.
This year I found out I still really like saison, the beer you can't buy in the Wellington at Shalesmoor. BrewDog bar opened in Sheffield and sold the excellent Fantome saison, in three flavours, at what in terms of price in the shops is good vakue - £10.00 a bottle. What with their ambitious beer range I was quite often found in BrewDog riking a saison. I was also impressed by the Radler from Burning Sky Brewery. Given that Mark Tranter helped me fall in love with saison when he was at Dark Star, he seems to be leading the way once again.
I also found out I like beers from newer breweries. Siren Craft Brew continue to impress, as do Northern Monk, Sonnet 43, Fuggle Bunny here in Sheffield, Squawk, Burning Sky, First Chop brewing, and Weird Beard Brewing. All supplemented by Magic Rock, Kernel, Cromarty, Abbeydale, Blue Bee, Wild, and many more.
Meanwhile, more specifically, I have developed an insatiable desire to drink beer with rye in it. The Ryesing Tides 7.4% IPA was one of my beers of the festival at Shakespeares and noticing rye as an ingredient, mainly in IPA's, is always a good indication I will like it - brewery notwithstanding that is.
Which leads me on to strength. I am sure my difficult year has played a part but I seem to be much fonder of stronger beers now. In the good old days when we all had polio or something, almost all strong beers were dark and incredibly difficult to drink. Now, that is no longer the case, which costs me money, and sometimes consciousness.....I think I was into double figures for nod-offs in 2014!
The number of shops I can get a decent range of interesting UK bottled beers has also increased, I learnt, with Beer Central, Beeches and Hop Hideout being stand out examples. Despite this, and my obvious bias, the beer range at Archer Road Beer Stop remains exceptional.
My final "learning" (?!) is about desire for beer. Different from the types of UK beers when I started drinking 23 years ago, the sheer and vast range of UK beers, real ale, bottled or kegged, is astonishing. The appeal of these products is, perhaps unsurprisingly, increasing. With still over a 100 breweries opening each year and different venues offering a range of high quality, tasty, uncompromising and enjoyable beers, its now very easy to satisfy that, in my case seemingly never-ending, appetite for real ale, and now, keg and bottled offerings.
I'm sure this increase in demand will be mostly maintained in 2015. However, I am wary of the threat to our dwindling number of National Inventory pubs.
I read on Dimpled Mug's blog today that the exceptional Red Lion at Ampney St Peter in Gloucestershire was shut after the death of the landlord. This is tragic and very sad news and brings into sharp focus another aspect of drinking beer in the UK - where we do so. Last time I visited, with closing time fast approaching, I went to get another pint with a good third in my glass on the table. "You've already got some" said the landlord. I agreed, but assured him I wouldn't dawdle, to be met with the response "You can have one in the wood then" meaning he would bring it over once I had finished my current one, but it would remain in the barrel until then.
I think any post about beer should include the places we drink it in and the traditions and peculiarities that are attached to those places. I hope therefore, that in 2015 we don't see any more historic unspoilt pubs close, and maybe some reopen - but I have little faith that will happen.
Whatever does, I wish you a prosperous and thirst quenching year ahead, with lovely beer in lovely venues that suit your needs.