Year in Beer, 2017

posted on January 4th, 2018 by Anthony Casey

Beer has become an active part of my life. Not in a nervous system dependent way … but definitely in a hobby/anorak type of way. I’ve written before about how I started logging beers on Instagram … I didn’t really think I’d still be doing it five years later.

This year, I’ve moved things up a notch. I had always taken the stance that I’m not doing this to be a massive beer bore. I wanted to keep things accessible and affordable. I actively tried to stick to beers you could buy in normal shops – specifically supermarkets. I wanted to keep my reviews short, and not go on about hops, nose and mouthfeel. But then I got to about 300 individual beers and … well, it started to get very difficult.

2017 saw a few new developments.

First, I’ve pretty much drunk all the supermarket offerings I can. You have to to take your hats off to them, they have embraced craft beer in a way that few people would have predicted, but new lines are few and far between, and you never get anything *really* good.

Second, it gets very hard to write about beer over-and-over-and-over without starting to talk about the ingredients in it. I’m still not going overboard, I’m still not confident at picking the particular qualities of individual hop varieties and that sort of thing … but I’m sure that will come.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, I have started engaging in the beer community. When I first started, Instagram was still just a photograph platform. I knew there were beer blogs, sites and apps out there, but I actively tried to ignore them. The whole reason for using Instagram rather the something like Untappd was to try and steer clear of other peoples opinions. This year, that changed and I have dipped my toes into the online craft community – and so far I’m enjoying it.

Fourthly, I started to take more care in staging my photos. A plain background, a simple more recognisable style – I even moved away from square format … I think this will further evolve this year. I loathe the woodchip on our (rented) wall … I’m not going to lie, I have briefly looked at little light tent things.

Major FOMO

Being exposed to the community does have a downside. Craft beer, by its nature, means the really good stuff is limited release, small batch, hard to get … expensive. The current hot brewery releases something in a style you love, people start posting about how great it is … oooh the FOMO anxiety that kicks in is something else! It’s tickling the same parts of the brain as football stickers/Pokemon/anything collectable…

I’d been picking up beers, every so often, from smaller bottle shops for a while. It was inevitable, really, but the tipping point probably came in May, when I went out of my way to nab a bottle of Yellow Belly – a beer I’d had my eye on for some time. I mean who doesn’t want to try an 11% Stout which is brewed to taste like peanut butter biscuits … and comes dressed as Klan member?

By the end of the year I started using Honest Brew to keep me stocked. I’m not interested in box subscriptions where the beers are chosen for me (where is the fun in that?), but I’ve found their bottle shop and Bank membership (Use this code if you want to give it a go MBW061502) works well for me.

Highlights

Here are some of the highlight beers I’ve had this year. I’m not going to rank or score them, just give them a mention in the rough order I drank them and take it from there. They aren’t all necessarily the best, or even my favourites of the year, just ones that stuck out.

Westmalle Trappist, Tripel

I started the year with drinking some Christmas presents. I haven’t really dipped too much into the Belgian beer world – I still haven’t. The beers I’ve had have mostly been really accomplished, but not great. This is not one of those – this is top drawer stuff. If you need to convince someone that Belgian beer is all that – this is the one you go for. 9.5% of well-crafted smoothness. It’s affordable too at something like £3.25 a bottle.

It’s little sister, the Dubbel, is also a very worthy drop – and you can pick that up in Marks, if you’re lucky.

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Beavertown, Lupuloid

This was picked up in a supermarket, but not an ordinary one – Booths. Booths, for those who don’t know, is very basically a Northern Waitrose … but a bit more specialised in local ingredients and stuff. They have always had a great beer aisle. They played a key part in how I actually got started on this path, and they have fully embraced craft over the past couple of years in addition to their more traditional ales.

Anyway, Lupuloid – this was one of the first proper-juicy-with-no-actual-juice IPA’s I remember having. I’ve certainly had better since, but it’s definitely one that made me sit up and take notice. It’s also one of Beavertown’s already very strong core range, so it’s also relatively available.

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Howling Hops x Verdant, UTO

Black IPAs were everywhere in 2016 … this year, not so much. That’s a shame because I really like a Black IPA. This was a cracker from two great breweries, my notes are all liquorice, treacle and hops. Everything a Black IPA should be,

I also picked up a Howling Hops Pils from Marks, which was one of those rare Pils I could actively enjoy. I need to try and get some more of their beers.

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Windswept, Typhoon

We love Scotland, specifically the Speyside area. We go up on holiday pretty much every year. Until relatively recently Black Isle were the only brewery around those parts, but now there are a handful of microbrewers putting out a varying quality of beer.

Quickly becoming the pick of the bunch are Windswept, based on the edge of RAF Lossiemouth. Tornado is a cracker of a Citra IPA that I first had a couple of years ago and Typhoon carries on in a similar fashion. Really well balanced, no frills, just let the hops do their thing beers. Their Weizen and Wolf are also well worth drinking.

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Buxton x Omnipollo, Yellow Belly

It took four months of sitting in the fridge before I finally felt ready to drink this. It had built its own mythology in my mind. Stories of general awesomeness, descriptions of peanut butter and biscuit – that iconic bottle covering.

I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a cracking stout with many levels of flavour to savour as you drink. I’d happily buy it again – which is not something I do very often. I would very much like to try the barrel-aged version.

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Magic Rock, Chery Cola Vice Engine Engine #9

Sour beers are … interesting. Sour beers are … different. Sour beers are … well, sour. They don’t really taste like beer, just sort of alcoholic sourness.

I think I’m starting to acquire the taste for them. This beer definitely helped with that. It’s mad. It called Cherry Cola, it brings cherry cola .. but sour. Did I mention it was sour? It’s a bit of a mad drink, but well worth the effort.

It’s worth noting another sour that I tried recently – Cloudwater’s Mormora Sour with coffee and other stuff was another one that has definitely set me on the path to sour enjoyment.

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Siren, The Ketucky Tickle Monster

By now the more exclusive beer are rolling in. This beer is a 16.3% Triple IPA beast that is brewed with Mango, Cedarwood and then put in a bourbon barrel. To make it a fair experiment I also got the none barrel aged version.

The barrel really softens out the hops and mango of the original, despite being strong it’s actually quite mellow. It’s not something you can chug, but taken slowly I got a lot from it. There’s a rich, honey sweetness and a lovely warm, fuzzy finish. I thought it was great. It’s amazing how much the barrel changed the profile of the original, which was a much brighter, hoppier affair.

I’m a firm believer the barrels improve everything.

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Northern Monk, Patrons Project 4.03 DDH Double Mango Lassi

To give it it’s full title. Putting loads of fruit in beer was definitely one this year’s themes. It can be a very hit and miss operation that often walks a fine line.

Here Northern Monk have put so much fruit in that the fine line is a distant memory. This isn’t even a fruit juice, it’s basically a mango smoothie – and my word, does it work well. Sweet, thick and generally glorious. Fruit done well.

Northern Monk have steadily put out great beers all year. The ‘normal’ Mango Lassi was excellent (even if it wasn’t quite as good as the hype I’d seen), the Black Forest Strannik was lovely and I’ve got my eyes on a few more of their recent releases. I was gutted to miss out on their ‘I Like to Moob It Moob It’ collaboration with Wylam – just for the name and can art alone.

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So there you go.

A quick rundown of my year in beer. I think I’m going to try and do a bit more long-form writing about beer this year … I’m just not sure what angle to take with it. I like writing about stuff – I’m just weak-willed, but I would like to use my long-standing, tiny piece of the internet for something!