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Real Ale, Real Music's Golden Pints, 2018....

It seems customary these days to give your end of year review of all things beer and pub-related a title involving 'Golden Pints'. So in a shameless lack of originality, here are my thoughts on whether it has been, to almost quote Elvis Costello, a good year for the goses (other beer styles are available)....


I have drunk some mighty fine beer in some mighty fine pubs and bars over the past 12 months. From Canterbury to Cumbria, from Bristol to the Borders, I have roamed the land, often blogging about it, sometimes not, and have met some lovely, interesting people along the way. I have drunk cask, I have drunk craft, out of glasses, and out of cans. And to pick the best out of it all and fit it into a few hundred words is an impossible task (Well, you decided to do it! - Ed).

So, here are a few highlights....

The Beers
Maybe it's because I'm more discerning these days, and maybe it's because I embrace craft with the same enthusiasm as I do cask, but I honestly think this has been the best year for beer there has been since I started these blogs back in 2014. I look back on some of my earlier posts, and some of the beers I referred to in those - in blog terms - sepia-tinged days (and nights) are, by today's standards, a bit humdrum. Because the overall bar (no pun intended) has been raised so much higher. Competition between the breweries, the readiness to look at other countries, markets, hop varieties, malts, and flavours for inspiration, plus the increase in collaborations between brewers means the brewing world is awash with ideas and creativity. And whereas a couple of years ago, you would probably have been right to say that most of the innovation was going into craft keg, it certainly isn't the case today as many brewers - Cloudwater being the notable example - have rediscovered their mojo in terms of brewing cask beers. And it has been helped by the fact that, certainly in the places I visit regularly, the level of cellarmanship has improved significantly, the perceived lack of this being one of the reasons behind Cloudwater's decision to move out of cask back in 2017 before coming back to it in October this year.

So to my favourites.

I had consistently good cask beer from North Riding - who just go from strength to strength, having been my top brewery of 2017 - Squawk, Wylam, Fyne, Hawkshead, Salopian, and new boys Pomona Island, who I declared after trying their beers at the Manchester Beer Festival that a "new star is born".

I can remember the best pint I had all year, Zero Zero, from Bristol brewers, Arbor, at the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in Halifax back in August, which was phenomenal. I wrote "I am not exaggerating when I say this is the best beer I have had all year. A 4.3% unfined New England IPA, packed with Citra and Mosaic hops to give a fruity punchiness. An absolute stunner of a beer, so good that I had to take a picture..."
Full marks for Zero Zero
The second best I had all year was on a windy day in November at the Free Trade Inn in Newcastle. This was another cask beer, Echelon, from local brewers, Almasty of Shiremoor. And it must have been good, as it was even better than the always-consistent beer on the next pump....
The almighty Almasty....
I remember the best craft beer I had as well. This was Striding Edge from Northern Monk, which I enjoyed at Vocation and Co in Hebden Bridge. Maybe it was the day, an exceptionally hot one for late September, maybe it was the mood I was in, but it just hit the spot. It only weighed in at 3% ABV, but I doubt you could better it for a light IPA, or another craft beer for that matter....
Striding Edge comes to Hebden Bridge....
In terms of other craft beers, Pomona Island could do no wrong. Their NZ PA and APA, 5% plus ABV in both cases, were bursting with hop flavours from New Zealand and the US. I also enjoyed virtually everything I tried by Burning Sky, Cloudwater, Salopian, Burnt Mill, Verdant, Magic Rock - whose gose-style Salty Kiss is one of my favourite beers full stop - and Torrside.

Best Cask I Had This Year: Zero Zero, Arbor Ales, Victorian Craft Beer Company, Halifax
Cask Brewer Of The Year: North Riding Brewery
Best Craft Keg I Had This Year: Striding Edge, Northern Monk Brewing, Vocation and Co, Hebden Bridge
Craft Keg Brewer Of The Year: Pomona Island

Overall Brewer Of The Year:
1. Pomona Island, Salford
2. North Riding, Scarborough
3. Hawkshead, Staveley, Cumbria

4. Salopian, Hadnall, Shropshire
5. Squawk, Manchester
6. Wylam, Newcastle
7. Arbor Ales, Bristol
8. Fyne Ales, Archadunan, Scotland
9. Almasty, Newcastle
10.Bristol Beer Factory, Bristol

Pomona Island, based in Salford, only launched just over a year ago, but soon made an impact. They soon became a regular visitor to the Grayston Unity, and some of my favourite memories of this long hot summer were stood watching Sunday afternoon music in the backyard with a refreshing pint of NZPA. And I enjoyed a couple of pints of theirs only the other week at The Gas Lamp in Manchester, the bar that two of the team behind the brewery own.
Relaxing with a pint of Pomona Island at The Gas Lamp
They just pipped North Riding for the overall title, but it was difficult to separate the two. The boys from Scarborough maintained an amazing level of consistency all year across a wide variety of styles, and it was a pleasure to meet up with Stuart and Colin at a most entertaining Meet The Brewer night at the Buffet Bar back in March.
Colin and Stuart from North Riding Brewery
Brewers To Watch in 2019 - Wilde Child Brewing, Leeds

The Pubs
I am lucky that I have some great pubs I am able to visit on a regular basis. In Brighouse, the Market Tavern consistently serves cask beer that is in excellent condition, and is one of the friendliest places you could wish to go. In Halifax, the Grayston Unity and Victorian Craft Beer Cafe lead the way, but not far behind are The Lantern, Square Chapel, and The Pump Room, with the Cross Keys at Siddal always a reliable place for some top class beer, conversation, and live music. In Hebden Bridge, Vocation and Co, Drink?, and Calan's are where I have enjoyed several pre-gig or post-walk pints, whilst over in Stalybridge, my post-work haunt is the Buffet Bar, which has had some great beer on this year, and is another friendly place. Over in Huddersfield, the Grove and Sportsman have never disappointed with some great beer every time. And in Sowerby Bridge, I have enjoyed my visits to the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms. And it was great see Elland getting its first micro pub, Elland Craft and Tap, which is well worth a visit.

Further afield, in Manchester, The Smithfield, Marble Arch, Cafe Beermoth, City Arms, and Angel remain my favourite places in town, whilst it was great to see a long-time old favourite, The Peveril of The Peak getting back into the Good Beer Guide. I made several visits to the North East, where in Newcastle the Crown Posada continues to be a stand out, although it is hard to think of a better pub crawl than the one around the Ouseburn Valley, taking in the Tyne Tavern, The Cluny, The Cumberland Arms, and The Free Trade Inn. And I tried a few new ones, a couple of excellent micropubs, which I wrote about in The Tale Of The Town Mouse And The Mean Eyed Cat, both of which I liked.

I visited a few new places this year. Bristol was a real discovery. I had had excellent beer from the likes of Arbor, Bristol Beer Factory, and Good Chemistry before, but I didn't realise how many good pubs the city had. The Bag O'Nails - an absolute, cat-friendly gem - The Christmas Steps, The Grain Barge - situated on an old barge moored in the Floating Harbour - and The Seven Stars stood out, whilst I enjoyed an excellent afternoon at the Bristol Beer Factory Tap. And I visited my first pub in Scotland for years, its first and at the time, only micropub, Rutherfords in Kelso, which I enjoyed.
The Bag O'Nails, Bristol
So to the Pubs of the Year....

Local Pub Of The Year: The Grayston Unity, Halifax
There couldn't really have been anywhere else. All the places mentioned above are excellent, but the fact that The Grayston has so many other things going on sets it out above the rest. The beer quality has been high, the choice has been good - Hawkshead, Pomona Island, and beer from newer breweries like Anthology regularly featuring - which means that for just that the Grayston would stand out. But add the fact so much great music and great musicians have appeared in a venue with a capacity of just 18, making it the UK's smallest licensed music venue, great bar staff and customers, many of whom I class as friends, loads of other events which don't necessarily interest me, means it is a special place, the beating heart of a real community. It is small - a narrow room with a bar and a room to the left as you go in with a sofa and random chairs that you might have last seen at your auntie's - but as my Grandma always used to say, you don't get diamonds as big as bricks. A place that hosted the Orielles' album launch, a random appearance by Nadine Shah at the end of Independent Venue Week, and an amazing gig from The Blue Orchids who captivated a large crowd in the yard round the back on the Sunday of the August Bank Holiday weekend. And there is so much more you could say. The Grayston Unity may be small, but it punches well above its weight. Thanks to Michael, Vic, Steve, Chris, and the rest of the team that make it somewhere special.....
Nadine Shah at The Grayston Unity, Halifax
National Pub Of The Year - The Free Trade Inn, Newcastle
This is an absolute gem. Sat on the hillside in Byker above where the mighty River Tyne sweeps around towards the city, it is one of those timeless places that you don't seem to come across these days. Brick and tile exterior, spartan interior with floorboards based around an L-shaped bar which faces into both parts of what is essentially a single, L-shaped room. The views over the sparkling Tyne, with the Baltic and Sage to the left, and the growing presence of the toon to the right, with the bridges fighting for the space in the centre, are stunning.
View from the Free Trade Inn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Beer quality is always excellent, with local beers from the likes of Almasty, Errant, and Wylam jostling for space with quality beers from further afield such as Fyne Ales. Great beer is available on both hand pump and tap. The atmosphere is fantastic, the people are friendly, the free jukebox is legendary - when did you last go to a pub and hear 'Salty Dog' by Procul Harum? The gents are phenomenal - can't speak for the ladies - with grafitti covering every inch of available space. It used to be home to a legendary cat called Craig David who sadly disappeared, leaving a gaping hole in the pub. But...it is another special place, which based on my travels around the country deserves to be acknowledged, and whilst I have been to many great pubs this year, this is the best one I have been to away from home during 2018....
The Free Trade Inn, Newcastle
Congratulations to all mentioned in this piece, you are doing a fantastic job, which, on the back of an outstanding year, means that 2019 has a lot to live up to....

Follow me on Twitter: @realalemusic

Opening Image courtesy of Post Brewing, Colorado

Comments

  1. A great read, lots of beers and pubs I want to try after reading this. Almasty's Pineapple and Coconut pale was my favourite cask beer of the year which I had in Bacchus in Newcastle during a visit there in July. Sadly, only occasionally find their beers on keg here in Aberdeen but they are always great.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kirk, glad I have inspired you to try some beers and pubs! All the best for the New Year!

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