As sure as Mourinho was gonna be sacked by Manchester United 😛 the end of December means a Golden Pints post for the year.
So, 2018, how was it for you? A year when Brexit headlined every news bulletin, local politicians still acted like childish clowns, everyone got what seemed like a million GDPR emails and Mo Salah was mercilessly annihilated by the most evil footballer ever to live, Sergio Ramos.
On the Northern Irish beer scene, four new beer names entered the commercial arena – MashDown, Baronscourt, Lecale and Loopland, bringing the number of breweries to 26 with a further 8 contract brands.
And the best of the year? Well, that would be down to you and your own mind. There were certainly some cracking beers brewed in Northern Ireland in 2018 and this Golden Pints list is a selection of some of my favourite local brews of the year. Hopefully you’ll agree with some.
NI BEER OF THE YEAR: BOUNDARY – DOUBLE SCREWBALL
Milkshake IPAs are my new favourite thing, you’ll notice that further down this list. They were everywhere in 2018. Perfect for a summer’s day, or even a winter one, a well brewed combination of fruit, lactose and beer ticks all the boxes for me and this is my favourite local beer of the year. Double Screwball is the bigger brother of 2017’s Screwball, ramped up to 8.5% ABV and brewed to celebrate the brewery’s third birthday. Raspberry ripple ice cream double IPA with a really deep and smooth mouthfeel. Divine.
Lacada – Utopian Stout
Beer Hut – Simcoe Simon
Lacada – 9 Rubies
Utopian stout has been one of the most consistent NI brews and has featured in my beer of the year reviews since 2016. It’s the Portrush brewery’s best beer and I was overjoyed to see it finally being released as a core beer this year.
Beer Hut from Kilkeel has become one of the best breweries in Northern Ireland, producing some consistently good beer over the last twelve months. 2018 started with the first – and in my opinion the best – batch of a new NE IPA Simcoe Simon. A blast of peach and mango fruitiness. Subsequent batches maybe didn’t reach the same level of greatness during the year but this effort still deserves to be recognised.
Back to Lacada and back to milkshake IPAs (I told you there were more coming). At ‘only’ 5.5% ABV, 9 Rubies doesn’t have that deep alcohol boom of Double Screwball but even on rainy days, it reminds you of summer and looking forward to getting the barbecue out again. Again, smooth milky lactose and raspberry to the fore.
NI COLLABORATION OF THE YEAR: BOUNDARY/CLOUDWATER – WATERFALL
First thing to hit you with this Belfast/Manchester NE IPA is the banging fruitiness. That’s quickly followed by a level and really tasty bitterness pulling through. A superb beer.
Beer Hut/Bullhouse – Stop, Collaborate and Listen
Boundary/Northern Monk/Odyssey/Track/Verdant/ Deya – Mutual Feelings
NI BREWERY OF THE YEAR: BEER HUT
The south Down outfit has been on the go for 18-24 months and while last year saw them finding their feet with regards brewing styles and branding, 2018 is when they’ve really upped their game. The core range, now including Fluffy Bunny marshallow stout, has become more consistent and specials such as Mixtape IPA and Boombox DIPA have been receiving deserved praise. Yes there are more established breweries on the scene making a greater number of beers but Beer Hut is on the up and on their tails. And with them moving into bigger premises in the immediate future, I’m glad to say this brewery has a bright 2019 ahead.
BEST IRISH BUT NOT NORTHERN IRISH BEER OF THE YEAR: WHIPLASH – NORTHERN LIGHTS
With an ABV of only 2.8% this is a controversial decision m’lud, but one which is wholly justified, I think. Yes, definitely.
The Whiplash boys, undisputed double IPA kings of Ireland. not only do massive beasts like Swoon and Do Ya Wanna Touch Me? but they can brew a beer a third of the ABV and retain most of the DIPA flavour. That’s not easy. Northern Lights is an an amazingly flavoursome beer for the style. It’s one I easily return to again and again.
Kinnegar Double Bunny
Galway Bay Two Hundred Fathoms
UK BEER OF THE YEAR: BREW YORK – EMPRESS TONKOKO
Yup, another curveball. Not from Verdant or Cloudwater or Magic Rock or Buxton or Marble or Northern Monk. But Brew York. A brewery from, er, York. Making a stonking great creamy 10.6% ABV stout with lashings of tonka bean, vanilla, coconut and chocolate. Empress is the third generation of its Tonoko range, following on from Tonkoko and Imperial Tonkoko. I absolutely love Empress Tonkoko and big congrats to Brew York for such a superbly crafted coconut stout.
Well done to the names mentioned above and here’s to a successful future for all Northern Irish breweries.