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Here is a look back at my beer highlights of 2014.
2014 was in a year in which my knowledge of beer widened significantly. Here I want to highlight some of my favourite beers of the year and some of my most memorable beer related experiences.
January began with my discovery of small Yorkshire craft brewer Bad Seed. All three beers I tried (the Hefeweizen, the IPA and the Espresso Stout) were to a very good standard but the Espresso Stout stood out for me. It is for me one of the stand out coffee-related beers in what is quite a saturated market.
January also marked my discovery of Green Jack’s Ripper. One of the most pleasurable, drinkable brews there is in my opinion and at 8.5%, deceptively strong. I am yet to try a barley wine comparable.
My next highlight came in March with my brewery tour themed stag do. We visited St Peters, Grain and Woodfordes. It was great to see three different breweries of varying size and differing brewing ethos’s. All three tours were hospitable and excellent experiences. I would recommend a visit to any of the three breweries.
Following my wedding I unintentionally visited Nethergate Brewery on my honeymoon! Waltzing in on a brew day (they were making their best beer and most recognised – Old Growler); it was pretty cool to see a brewery in full flow. I wish Nethergate all of the best and hope they have a good 2015
Probably one of my favourite festivals came in late April with the Dragon Hall Beer Festival in Norwich. This was a delight (I was fortunate to get in and not wait for an age in the queue), for the first time I was able to enjoy the beauty that is Elland 1872 Porter whilst also trying and enjoying four beers from Dark Star. It is a festival I would recommend; but get there early!
In May I attended an old regional favourite in the Sproughton village beer festival. Sproughton is just outside Ipswich and the festival takes place in a barn. As in previous years, the value for money was excellent though it was a shame that the beer this year tended towards more pales compared to previously providing a vast diverse choice.
My summer holiday to North Norfolk in July also bore fruit in the quest for beer knowledge. First of all, I had the good fortune to visit the quaint market town of Holt on the day the brewer at Norfolk Square Brewery was offering samples in one of the shops. I tried all three of his variants on an IPA and I must say I was very impressed. I would particularly recommend the Lunatik IPA which puts a slight Belgian twist on an IPA – delightful!
Secondly, whilst on the North Norfolk coast, I was able to visit the Real Ale shop at Branthill Farm; home to some of the best barley in the country. The shop hosts beer from across Norfolk. I remember fondly what I picked up from Cromer brewer Poppyland and from Beestons.
My next two beers to mention are what I would call my surprise beers of the year. Those beers which I expected to be rather ordinary but in fact were rather good. These were Manchester Star Ale from JW Lees; a subtle, smooth beautiful stout and St Edmunds Golden Beer from Greene King; a new world hopped pale which was quite the ticket for a warm summer’s day.
Next was August’s Great British Beer Festival. My first and I must say I was very impressed. A huge range of beer was tried so I have chosen to list in no particular order my favourites from the festival.
Saltaire Triple Chocholic (ok, I admit it, that was definitely my favourite)
Grain – Blonde Ash
Dunham Massey – Porter
Titanic – All Aboard
Blue Monkey Brew – Ape IPA
RCH Brewery – East Street Cream
Beestons – Village Life
Stewart – 80
I will definitely be going again.
Following such an excellent experience came probably my most disappointing of the year, namely, the non-CAMRA aligned Ipswich beer festival. Expensive non refundable glasses, limited dark beer and no programme, we hope for much better in 2015. The venue and food facilities were excellent; but the beer has to be good. Admittedly, the Belgian bar was good and the trade bars were strong, but as I say, hoping for better next year.
At this point I should also mention that on my travels to London I twice visited the excellent Euston Tap. It was there I tried the outstanding Dark Arts Stout by Magic Rock.
I should also make a shout out for small North West brewer Dunham Massey (producers of the superb porter mentioned above). Whilst attending a wedding in Warrington last Summer I enjoyed tucking into their very drinkable Big Tree Bitter.
Another brief mention should also go to the Sheringham 1940s weekend organisers. Though because I was driving I couldn’t stay long they appeared to have superb range of Norfolk beers at their festival. I was able to have a beer from Wolf in my short stay.
My attention now moves onto the Norwich Beer Festival which as ever was absolutely brilliant. Beers I would recommend from the festival would be:
Grain – Slate Porter
Opa Hay’s – 1914
Green Jack – Mahseer IPA
Old Chimneys – Good King Henry (an old favourite!)
Mauldons – Blackberry Porter
Titanic – Plum Porter
My next festival in early November was the Beccles Beer Festival. This is a beer festival which deserves to come to greater attention. As it truly is a fantastically organised festival. Most impressive is the big interactive screen which tells you which beers are available. Highlights from this festival include:
Green Jack – Ole Cock
Green Jack – Ripper (of course)
St Peters – Christmas Ale
My last big beer related event was myself and a friend finally getting down to Ipswich to visit brewpub Briarbank. I had a brilliant conversation with brewer Rob and thoroughly all of his beers (except for the spiced one, not a fan!). The stand out beers had to be the Black Horse stout and the Christmas special Insanity clause. I look forward to seeing Briarbank come more into the limelight this coming year.
Well that is it from me Chris. Happy New Year and enjoy your beer.