‘Bout ye? Here we are again at the back end of the year when the focus is on the Golden Pint awards. The more years I’ve done these the more I’ve realised you can pick and choose or even add categories if you wish. So for the first time I’ve merged my Best of NI list with the Golden Pints and let’s see what happens. Plus I couldn’t be bothered thinking too much about categories I don’t really care for, so they’ve been left out. Best supermarket? Aye dead on.
On the brewery side of things, just the one new physical brewery opened in Northern Ireland in 2017 (Beer Hut Brewing of Kilkeel), two contracts emerged (Samuel’s and Fifth Quarter), Inishmacsaint moved location, Brewbot closed, Pokertree is on hold and some new breweries are possibly on the way – full details here. If you know of any more, pass it on.
Please remember not to be an arse when reading this post – this is an opinionated list and as much as I’d have liked, I wasn’t able to have every single Northern Irish brew made this year. Quite a few were missed out, though plenty weren’t. Let’s crack on.
Best NI IPA – Farmageddon – Sparred or Barred
It’s my love for big, juicy, peachy, passion fruity IPAs and in particular this NEIPA on cask that makes Farmageddon’s Sparred or Barred my top IPA of the year. Very similar in style to their Vermont but this takes the win from the Belfast Craft Beer Festival in May. Now if only that damned festival wouldn’t give us ‘mind how you go children, you can’t be trusted with glass’ plastic glasses.
Best NI Pale Ale – Lacada – West Bay
Oh look, a glass glass. The Portrush co-operative continues to pump out some really good beer and among them is West Bay pale ale, which became so popular upon release it’s now part of the core range. Light and subtle grapefruit with a touch of spice.
Best NI Red – Hillstown – 3 Bad Bears
I reviewed this beer only a few days back and maybe implied it was one of the best Northern Irish reds on the market. I lied, it’s THE best NI red we have. More hoppy than malty, if you’re bored of standard red ales and prefer something more along the lines of a red double IPA, grab a can or two. This was brewed in Slovenia but of course had Hillstown input so don’t give me grief. Accept.
Best NI Stout – Lacada – Utopian Stout
Not only was this my favourite Northern Irish stout of last year but also won best overall beer and the Lacada brewery has maintained that superb Utopian mix of smooth coffee and silky chocolate with a dash of aniseed to win again in 2017.
Best of the Rest NI – Boundary Dubbel
I ended my review of Boundary’s Dubbel by saying I was off to buy some more and I was true to my word. Not only is this my favourite ‘non pale/IPA/red/stout’ beer of the year by a local brewery but I felt this was also Boundary’s best beer of the year. Granted, I didn’t have everything from the brewery but it’s hard keeping track you know. So think of this as a broad ‘speciality’ category that includes the likes of saisons, ryes, sours etc.
Best Overall Northern Irish Beer of 2017 – Hillstown – 3 Bad Bears Red Ale
So many great beers now being brewed in Northern Ireland in 2017 but alas just like the Highlander, there can be only one. As well as being a great beer, this wins for the fact that it was much better than I expected for the style.
Cue all the gurning about “oh but you didn’t have… (insert your beer here)” Yup. Remember that line earlier “Please remember not to be an arse when reading this post”
Best Irish but not Northern Irish Beer – Whiplash – Let It Happen DIPA
So many great southern beers but hat doffed to Alex at Whiplash. Citra hops as they’re meant to be used, being punched into a fantastic double IPA. I could have can after can of Let It Happen, I really hope it makes a re-appearance sometime very soon. Please?
Best Irish Brewery – Whiplash
What’s more to say? Nothing really, you all know the score. Yes there are some seriously great breweries down south like YellowBelly, Galway Bay, Kinnegar, White Hag, Eight Degrees and so on but I’ve been most impressed with the prodigious talent that is Alex Lawes (left). And now that he and Alan (right) shitting it 24/7 while running their own brewery full time, for us all, 2018 can’t come quickly enough.
Best UK Brewery – Cloudwater
Again a hard one to call as there are so many great breweries pumping out some stonking brews. Buxton, Verdant, Northern Monk, Magic Rock, Beavertown and Siren Craft all at the upper eschalons of where we want breweries to be but for me Cloudwater’s numbered DIPA series and subsequent beers were a joy to behold – and drink.
Best Overseas Beer – Omnipollo/Dugges – Anagram Maple Blueberry Cheesecake Stout
I had the head-melting pleasure of first smelling this from 3 feet away at the Beavertown Extravaganza. I loved it before I even tasted it. I wish I could have some right now. Sunday morning waffles in a glass. Nuff said. Beezer.
NI Pub of the Year – Kiwi’s, Portrush
The independent craft beer scene in Northern Ireland continues to grow despite Diageo and C&C’s financial grip and stranglehold on many pubs across our towns and villages. Plenty of superb bars serving discerning customers by providing beer that actually tastes great. Overlooking the obvious Belfast city centre establishments, Kiwi’s gets the nod from me as it’s a funky wee bar breaking from the north coast norm. Expect loads of cans and bottles, a craft tap and sometimes a cask – as well as the tastiest burgers and dirty fries. Keep up the good work Kris and the team.
Festival of the Year – Beavertown Extravaganza, London
This was superbly bonkers. Didn’t go to as many festivals as I’d wanted but I loved this. Review here.
Independent NI Retailer of the Year – The Vineyard, Belfast
The best Aladdin’s Cave of an bottle shop you can imagine. (How many people have described it as that?) If a new beer is released, it’ll most likely be here.
Post complete. Carry on.