Here we are at the end of what’s been a year to remember and as is customary for the blog at this time of year (since 2014), it’s the Quare Swally Northern Ireland Golden Pints awards. Challenges bring diversity and innovation, and well done to all breweries for getting to the end of one of the toughest years. Fair play to new breweries Armagh Brewing, Bloodline Brewing and the yet unopened Bell’s Brewery at Deer’s Head brewpub in Belfast for giving it at go in 2020. Some breweries haven’t been seen in quite a while so we’ll wait to see what 2021 brings.
As is always the case with the Golden Pints, I can only give awards to beers I have had during the year. I’m sure there are many more excellent beers out there that have yet to meet my lips.
NI NEW BEER OF THE YEAR – PUBLIC VOTE: Mourne Mountains – Hoops & Staves (BA stout)
For the first time in 7 years, I opened this category to the public, allowing you to choose a winner in a Twitter vote. It was a close run thing but well done to MMB. Hoops and Staves is a great BA stout.
- Honourable mentions: Boundary – Dodgy Science (coffee stout) and HR (triple IPA)
- Lacada – Blue Pool (NEIPA)
- Beer Hut – Sparks Will Fly (stout)
- Ards – Irish Whiskey Barrel Aged Stout (Quiet Man version) This superb stout from small outfit Ards Brewery at Greyabbey would possibly be my New NI Beer of 2020 but the decision was yours this year.
NI BREWERY OF THE YEAR: Beer Hut
The Beer Hut boys have been brewing some excellent beers all through lockdown, as have many other breweries of course. However they scoop the title for maintaining a very high level of output and quality with the resources available.
NI COLLABORATION BEER OF THE YEAR: Boundary/Zapato – You’re Not Getting Any (blueberry stout)
I absolutely love this blueberry stout so much it wins the category for the second year in a row.
- Honourable mentions: Heaney/Boundary – I Can See The Stars (Imperial stout)
- Mourne Mountains/Waen – Moto Pyscho Nightmare (Chocolate stout)
- Lacada/Beer Hut – Surface Noise (Sour IPA)
NI LABEL OF THE YEAR: Mourne Mountains – Hypothesis (helles lager)
Mourne Mountains’ rebranding over the past 6 months has been superb with some stunning photography on the labels. It was hard to choose but I think Hypothesis is probably my favourite of them all. It’s a cracking beer too.
- Honourable mentions: MMB – Phantoms (NE DIPA) and Ways of Escape (NE pale)
- Beer Hut – Boombox (double IPA)
- Lacada – Diffuser (pale ale)
SELF INDULGENT PHOTO OF THE YEAR: Heaney – Style Over Everything (IPA)
Just because. Bikes and beer innit.
IRISH BUT NOT NORTHERN IRISH BEER OF THE YEAR: Larkins – Morrigan (BA stout)
This was a very tough call. Any one of the honourable mentions below could could have won on another day and certainly Leann Folláin should win for its consistent brilliance year after year. However Morrigan was a delight. Sticky, sweet, whiskey stout. Find one and enjoy.
- Honourable mentions: Whiplash – Fatal Deviation (imperial stout) and Northern Lights (micro IPA)
- The White Hag – The Dark Druid Chocolate Coconut (stout)
- Rye River – Miami J (NEIPA)
- O’Hara’s – Leann Folláin (extra stout)
GB BEER OF THE YEAR: Verdant – Fruit, Car, Sight, Exhibition (double IPA)
Cornish brewery Verdant brew this gorgeously fluffy double NEIPA bursting with intense peach and passion fruit and although it’s been around for the past couple of years, I first got my lips around it in 2020. Verdant is also my GB brewery of the year.
- Honourable mentions: Verdant – Solid State (NEIPA), Maybe One More PSI? (DIPA) and 300 Laps of Your Garden (pale)
- BBNo – 64 | Imperial Stout Chocolate Coconut (stout)
- Magic Rock – Neo Human Cannonball (DIPA)
- Brew York – John Biscotti (pastry stout)
- Northern Monk – Death (imperial stout)
- Overtone – Lotus Oat Cream (NEIPA)
- Siren Craft – Broken Dream (oatmeal stout)
NI INDEPENDENT RETAILER OF THE YEAR – DC Wines, Boucher Road, Belfast
It’s tough starting a new business and I’d imagine that, unless you’re manufacturing facemasks or hand sanitiser, it’s even tougher starting that new business just before a worldwide pandemic. Such was the case for off sales DC Wines, which began trading at the end of 2019. I’ve had the good fortune of popping in many times over the year and I’ve seen the beer range increase greatly in that time. What started as a craft beer corner soon became an entire wall and now it’s almost half the shop. Pair that beer expansion with the enthusiasm, knowledge and engaging chatty nature of owners Dave and Curtis and you’ve the makings of a superb outlet. Keep up the great work gentlemen.
There you go. Looking back at the winners and honourable mentions, I promise you I do enjoy more than only stouts and DIPAs, it’s just that there aren’t as many great local lagers, barley wines, saisons, wheat beers etc available. Stouts and IPAs in their various forms continue to be the darlings of the beer world.
Let’s face it, everyone is looking forward to seeing the end of 2020. I hope you have a good year ahead, may you stay safe and healthy, enjoy some great beers and best of luck to all breweries and independent stores with maintaining business in 2021.
To you all, cheers and sláinte!