It’s been a progressive yet unsettling year for the Northern Ireland beer scene. In the face of escalating energy and ingredients costs, breweries such as Bullhouse, Boundary and Walled City have successfully battled through the quagmire that is bureaucratic red tape and managed to open their own pub or permanent taproom. Boundary have taken over The John Hewitt pub in Belfast city centre as well as opened their own permanent taproom opposite the brewery on the Newtownards Road in the east of the city, Bullhouse have the very popular Bullhouse East 300 yards further down the same road and Walled City in Derry now have a permanent taproom behind the brewery at Ebrington Square. It’s great to see.
However as mentioned, price rises are putting the squeeze on many other local enterprises. According to a list by BeerNouveau, GB is losing over a brewery a week for various reasons and I know that quite a few full time breweries here in Northern Ireland are also in financial difficulties.
Now, more than ever, they need your custom.
On to happier matters and here’s my usual end-of-year Golden Pints list of some of the best beers passing my lips in 2022. As always, I didn’t have every single beer brewed so if you think you had a better beer, that’s nice, I’m happy for you. Make your own list.
NI NEW BEER OF THE YEAR: BOUNDARY – Like Putting On A Wee Jumper
We’re heading back to last January for the Northern Irish New Beer of the Year. A great 10.4% ABV stout that was stored in an Islay whiskey cask for a year. Peat smoke bounces out of the glass in abundance with a delightfully potent Scotch whiskey tickle at the back of the throat. Slàinte Mhath indeed.
* MOURNE MOUNTAINS – Burning Hope (Double IPA)
* WALLED CITY – Belgian Tightener (Tripel)
* BEERHUT – Covered in Citra (IPA) and Duel (Imperial Stout)
* LACADA – Jonesy’s Locker (Imperial stout)
* ARDS – Befuggled (Pale ale)
NI COLLABORATION BEER OF THE YEAR: BOUNDARY/BEERHUT – Excellent GIF Work
A second win for Boundary this year. There haven’t been many local collaborations in 2022 but the 10% ABV tonka bean stout they brewed with Beer Hut at the start of the year was a cracker. My notes say sweet vanilla, light cherry and maybe even a touch of clove and coconut. Mmm…
* BEERHUT/BULLHOUSE – Pyro (Imperial Stout)
NI BREWERY OF THE YEAR…
As I said at the start of this post, special mentions go to Walled City, Beerhut and Boundary for overcoming obstacles in opening pubs and taprooms. However in light of financial circumstances facing all our breweries, I took the unprecedented decision to award NI Brewery of the Year title to….every single NI brewery still in operation.
It’s an unbelievably tough time for business right now so if they’re still ploughing through and managing to brew beer then bravo!
NI BEER LABEL OF THE YEAR: LACADA – Community
I loved this can art by north coast artist James McGonigle. It’s vibrant and evocative, just like the kveik beer in the can. And profits from this beer go to local community groups. Win/win.
IRISH BUT NOT NORTHERN IRISH BEER OF THE YEAR: GALWAY BAY – Barrel Aged Counting Off the Days
Another early year offering makes the top spot. This was available from December 2021 but I didn’t get my hands on one until I spotted it The Vintage off licence in Randalstown in September! This and a couple of other rarities were picked up on that visit I can tell you. This Barrel Aged version of Counting Off the Days spent a year in a steel tank before maturing in bourbon and rum barrels for an additional 9 months. It’s decadently smooth – oozing chocolate, coffee and sweet bourbon.
* BREHON – Crann Beatha (Imperial stout) and Red Right Hand (Barleywine)
* RASCALS – Rude Girl (Black IPA)
* WHIPLASH – Covered in Dust (IPA)
GB BEER OF THE YEAR: BREW YORK – Empress Tonkoko (Imperial stout)
Brewed with tonka beans, Empress is an incredible stout – sweet Bounty bar in a glass. Dripping with chocolate and coconut with a smidge of figgyness at the back end. Buy it if you see it. Then tell me where you bought it.
* VOCATION – BA Damson Stout
* NORTHERN MONK – Death Star EPII (Imperial stout)
* TITANIC – Plum Porter
* VERDANT – Albino Pheasant (Export stout), Allen (Double IPA) and Fruit Car Sight Exhibition (Double IPA)
Yeah, I’m very aware that my GB, Ireland and NI beers of the year are all imperial stouts. I get it. That’s not to say that’s all I drink. Of course it’s not. There was a good chance top spots could have been taken by a pale ale, American IPA, black IPA or barleywine as you can see from the honourable mentions.
NI INDEPENDENT RETAILER OF THE YEAR: DC Wines, Belfast
In the Boucher Road area of Belfast lies a little beer haven. You’d easily drive past it if you didn’t know it was there but you need to stop in, as DC Wines is a treasure trove for good local beer. It specialises in Northern Irish and German beers so you can always pick up a bock or two along with something from here. I love this place – there’s always a smile and a chat from David and Curtis and here’s hoping they have a fruitful 2023.
They’re my beery highlights of 2022. If you agree – or not – let me know. Moving on, what will the new year bring? Who knows? Maybe expect more beer styles that cost less to brew? Could there be a reduction of expensive hop forward IPAs? Will we see a vast decrease in breweries in the coming months? We’ll find out soon enough.
Thanks for reading, cheers and a Happy New Year to you!