It's that time of year again when the pubs are heaving with seasonal drinkers and the winter solstice is only days away that I start to procrastinate regarding what my beery highlights have been this year, at least those I can still recall!. So with no further ado or gilding of any lilies, here are my top 10 beer picks of 2015!
It was at their meet the brewer in The 23 club, Liverpool that this bizarre, cloudy and brilliant little pale ale made an appearance. The Funky Pale is apparently fermented from a variety of yeasts reclaimed from the end of other beers and provided one of the more interesting tastings of the year. Each sip took a slightly different characteristic with a variety of fruits, fizz and sourness levels. One moment it was a refreshing little pale ale, the next it was a gueuze. While not to everyone's tastes this has been one of my best beer memories of the year and the fact that I'm still thinking about it helps it edge Toccalmatto's Imperial Stout off the list.
Ad Hop (from Liverpool) made it onto my top 10 last year with their licorice lady and this year there were actually two worthy beers that fought to make this list. Code Red was one of my highlights from Indyman and really delivered a hop bomb in a glass (not that I remember a tremendous amount about the rest of the day), but it was a refined edition of last years beer that beat it. The Raspberry Infused Licorice Lady sampled at the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo combined some of my favourite flavours and added a new layer of complexity to an already great beer, ending in a silky smooth finish. Moorish and brilliant.
Originally looking to pick up the puntastic “Citra Ass Down”, I dangerously found myself at a bar in a beer festival with no idea what to order next. On recommendation I went for their 35k stout, a jet black milk stout that was just so pleasantly smooth that it was a joy to drink. The tempting mocha aroma and sweetness perfectly balanced each other. I'll certainly be looking to try more of their beers next year!
7. Black LodgeBrewery – Coffee IPA (Keg)
I really didn't know what to expect when I first visited the Black Lodge, Liverpool's latest Brewery for their pre-launch party. Brought to us through the winning combination of the people behind the 23 Club & Liverpool Craft Brewery they have produced a relaxed atmosphere with a number of very different beers on tap. One immediately stood out above the rest and roared it's way straight into my top 10. Coffee IPA made using cold brew coffee to produce an enchantingly smooth aroma which immediately makes you salivate all before the rich vanilla and cinnamon flavours combine to produce an almost cream like ale. Bonkers, delicious and outstanding!
Although not at the top spot Wild Beer takes my accolade as my favourite brewer for 2015. They make consistently good, as well as very diverse beers and there have been a number that I've enjoyed immensely. Bibble, The Blend (2015), Wildebeest and this years Rainbow Project beer Violet Underground have all ranked highly, but my favourite has to be one that I've tried on cask, keg and in bottle, Millionaire. The Cask version, being served a little warmer really releases the chocolate and salted caramel to their full effect producing a beer that you just want to keep drinking. Love it.
I need to thank Jess from Liverpool Craft Brewery for introducing me to Wylam's Jakehead IPA where I was literally marched over to their stand at Liverpool Craft Beer expo and ordered to drink it (as only she can). And you know what? She was right! I immediately fell in love with this beer. This Northumberland brewed IPA is jam packed full of hops and has an aroma that just entices you to take a sip. I've tried in both cask and on keg, but it was the cask version that won out for me. It's a beer that I look for and one that I have traveled specifically to a pub to enjoy. It also holds the accolade as being voted to the nations “Hottest Beer” 2015 in an online poll.
I've a sneaky feeling that Mad Hatter may well be in contention for next years brewery of the year accolade. They're certainly one to watch and if their impressive 2015 line up is anything to go by, this is one Liverpool brewery that will be on everyone's radar. Fattest Stout, Club Tropicana and Tzatziki Sour are just three of the many beers that I have really enjoyed, but it was their Salted Caramel Quad which has taken my accolade this year. Silky smooth and exceptionally warming, this is a beer that accepts its strength and uses as that to its advantage delivering everything it promises and walks that precarious knife edge between sharp and salty like a goat traversing a mountain. Bonkers, but in the best way possible.
Mikkeller have had quite a good year. Their sponten range has really been thought provoking, especially the single Hop beers, but it's a big sharing beer that clinched my third place. Not even the fantastic Black Ink and Blood could quite touch the behemoth that is Nelson Sauvin (Brut). Brewed at the Proef Brewery in Belgium, they really managed to get the most out of this expensive and delicious hop to produce a beer I simply wanted more of and embarrassingly, I may have even licked the bottle dry!
Second place in my 2015 goes to an established brewer who produced two outstanding beers this year, Buxton. What came between them was simply the method of dispense. Sometimes you have to try a beer poured the right way to decide. Both Yellow Belly and Yellow Belly Sundae were superb bottled beers, but for me it was Yellow Belly served on Cask at the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo which won this spot. The slightly warmer dispense and lack of slightly sharp carbonation really highlighted the nutty, biscuity flavours and left the beer with a super smooth finish. Delicious!
Before I reveal my top pick, I just want to say what a fantastic year 2015. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to have tried so many of the fantastic beers being produced both in the UK as well as from further afield. The local breweries have all been active with all three Wirral Breweries Burton, Brimstage as well as Peerless, releasing new beers. A plethora of new breweries have sprung up in Liverpool and its surrounding area and many are already producing more interesting beer than their more established, larger competition.
Although I'm looking ahead to the worrying reports of hop shortages that 2016 will bring, I find myself bolstered by the anticipation of what beers will be produced. What new unheard of flavour combinations and adjuncts will be used to produce more amazing beer? I'm not sure, but if the standards of this year can be upheld, we're in for a fun time finding out