It's that time of the year again. The time of year where I get to give my own personal review of the past 12 months and pick some of my favourites. 2014 was probably the busiest year in Irish Craft Beer history with a record number of new breweries opening, multitudes of new contract brands appearing and a plethora of awesome Irish beers hitting our shelves and bars.
Best Irish Cask Beer:Ireland is not known for cask ale but it has made a comeback. Unlike the UK, cask ale in Ireland is a premium product. It often costs the same or more than its kegged counterpart. Only a few breweries do regular cask ale and then others do specials from time to time, usually at beer festivals. For me, the best cask beer which was consistently good throughout the year was the Barrelhead pale ale. Brewed at the J.W. Sweetman's brewpub in Dublin, it never lasted much more than a day or two whenever it appeared which meant it was always fresh and delicious.
Honourable mention to Dungarvan's Black Rock stout, one of the best cask stouts I have ever tasted.
Best Irish Keg Beer:
This is where it gets a lot more difficult. There are many excellent kegged beers in Ireland, almost too many to pick from. I'm going to go with one that stood out to me as just being absolutely stunning no matter where I had it. Black's of Kinsale's: Black IPA. There are more interesting beers out there but this ticked all the boxes which included the ability to drink it all night but remained complex enough to keep me interested.
Honourable mention to Goodbye Blue Monday from Galway Bay, I love this beer but availability meant I could only get hold of it a few times during the year.
Best Irish Bottled or Canned Beer:
While Metalman is the first Irish brewery to have a canning line, the first cans will not be available commercially until the new year. The best bottled Irish beer for me has to be the one that I drink the most of. There are more interesting beers but when it comes to drinkability, flavour and the fact that it's the one beer I would gladly drink if it was the only beer left in the world, O'Hara's: Leann Folláin is just pure drinking pleasure and wins it for me.
Honourable mention to Beoir#1 (Black's). It wasn't available commercially in bottles, only on draught but those of us that got the bottled version are very happy with our investment.
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer:
How do you pick the best overseas bottle or can? Everything outside of Ireland is overseas and the world is huge! Of the many hundreds of beers I had during 2014, perhaps one that I can still remember in anticipation of trying it again, Cantillon Gueuze 2006 vintage. Sitting in the Cantillon brewery and drinking this alongside their regular gueuze was mind blowing because I already consider regular Cantillon gueuze as the pinnacle that all others try and usually fail to achieve.
Honourable mention to La Folie from New Belgium, just a stunning beer that I wish I had a full cellar of.
Best Collaboration Brew:
Beoir#1 of course! Not just because I put the endeavour together or was one of those brewing it on the day. It was the best collaboration because here was 40 beer consumers for Ireland's Beer Consumer group, pooling their money together to raise €2000 for a new brewery. While Beoir#1 might not have turned out quite the way we envisaged, it was literally a mind blowing beer and a complete one off, never to be brewed again. For a brief few months, we walked around with big grins pointing at our beer on tap. Yes, we will do other collaborations very soon but this was the first and this one helped launch a brewery. That kind of special only happens once.
Honourable mention to
Best Overall Beer for 2014:This is never one that I can pick with ease. Last year it was easy. Of Foam And Fury (Galway Bay) just blew everyone's mind and it still does. Beoir#1 was similarly excellent. Where Of Foam and Fury was all about the hops, Beoir#1 was a little more about the body with the massive hop levels balancing that out. Was there a better beer than Of Foam And Fury in 2014? I have no doubt that there was but it still stood out for me as being a world class beer without equal.
Honourable mention to Brown Paper Bag Project: Gose, a wonderful beer of almost unequalled thirst quenchability.
Best Irish Brewery:How does one pick a Best Irish Brewery? I didn't even bother last year. What sort of criteria does one use? Is it the brewery that produces the best beer? Or simply has the best people working for them? Or maybe they just do a lot for the Irish Craft Beer Scene? There are so many to choose from. In order to make my decision, I have combined as many elements as I can and decided that the best Irish Brewery of 2014 was the Galway Bay Brewery. There are a number of reasons for this. Their beer has pushed the boundaries of Irish brewing and in doing so, forced other breweries to up their game. Their bars have provided a gathering place for craft beer fans to crowd together and enjoy great beer, be it their own or someone else. They are a great bunch of people, are intelligent in running their business but still know how to have a good time.
Honourable Mention to The Carlow Brewing Company who have done so much for raising the profile of craft beer by running large beer festivals each year. They have helped turn beer festivals from small gatherings in beer gardens in to massive events with thousands of attendees.
Best New Brewery Opening 2014:I don't even have to think about this too much. The White Hag Brewery stormed on to the scene with a bang. First, there was the outrage and indignation following the FleadhGate scandal. Then they boldly showed up at the RDS in September with a whopping 6 beers pouring. To top it all off, they had the audacity to be pouring outstanding beers! This was a brand new brewery, how did they do it? That was easy, they had a little money behind them and imported an American brewer with 10 years experience. They are joining the ranks of Irish craft breweries exporting to the US, this will help increase demand for Irish beer and help drive the export market.
Pub/Bar of the Year:
Ireland has seen a great range of pubs and bars opening in recent years. Some of my favourites are Brewdock and Black Sheep, both Galway Bay Bars. I love the Norseman for daring to have a massive craft beer range in the middle of Temple Bar and being great people. The bar I'm picking is about 15 minutes walk from Christchurch Cathedral. It's 57 The Headline and was actually my best new bar choice last year. The reason is simple, they have 20+ taps dedicated to local Irish beer. There might be bars with more taps but few, if any, are dedicated to Irish Craft Beer and for this, I applaud them. It's why Beoir decided to have our Christmas party there. Where better for consumers promoting Irish Craft to go? Since last year, they have started serving food and have opened up the upstairs as a restaurant area.
Best Food and Beer venue:
I don't go to many restaurants if I'm honest. I prefer going to pubs that serve good food and while there are many of these around the country, a few stand out. I'm going to pick L. Mulligan Grocer as my favourite. They have a very busy restaurant area at the back of the pub and booking is often essential. For good reason too, critics have been raving about this spot since it opened up, even as far afield as the New York Times! At first glance, the menu might seem a little limited but it's inventive and somewhat unique in how it approaches many dishes and each dish has a recommended beer to pair with it.
Honourable Mention to The Bull and Castle, still an amazing place to eat after all these years. Steak lovers can still rejoice and pair with some of the best Irish and international beer available.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2014:
Alfie Byrnes opened its doors at the beginning of 2014. Unlike other Galway Bay bars, this one is spacious and has a large outdoor area. It's located in the Conrad hotel complex, though is separately run. It varies from almost empty to completely packed but I love it at any time, especially if it's warm enough to sit outside.
Beer Festival of the Year:
The Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival in the RDS in September. There isn't much more to say about it. The biggest beer event of the year.
Honourable mention to the Alltech Brews and Food in February which was also brilliant.
Supermarket of the Year:
Supervalu has upped their game when it comes to craft beer. They took over the Superquinn chain last year and probably have the largest range of craft beer of any supermarket chain. That said, this is from a very small pool of candidates. Sometimes, Tesco increase their range but it's always short lived and never impressive, I have no idea what goes through the minds of whoever makes ordering decisions and I'm not just talking about beer. Do we really need shelves of Batchelors or Heinz baked beans? No black beans? Rarely any pinto beans, it's very odd.
Independent Retailer of the Year:
Drinkstore is again possibly the best independent retailer for me. They still somehow manage to pack an enormous range in to a tiny shop.
Online Retailer of the Year:We don't have too many of these but drinkstore.ie again wins it for me.
Best Branding, Pumpclip or LabelI'm going to go with a non Irish one here. I think the Beavertown branding is just brilliant on their new can range.
Honourable mention to Trouble Brewing for their inventive cartoon bottles.
Best Beer Book or Magazine:Book: Sláinte – The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider. Ireland finally has a decent book on craft beer and cider. It's aimed more at those new to beer but is entertaining and informative enough to keep the experts happy too and not to mention accurate.
Magazine: Beoir magazine of course. That reminds me, I have to start thinking about the next edition after Christmas. Note to self, print more than 7000 copies.
Best Beer Blog or Website:I don't get to read too many beer blogs regularly these days but The Beer Nut is one that I make time for.
Honourable mention for Fuggled.net for keeping me informed of the goings on of a cask starved Scottsman in Virginia and for getting me in to this whole beer writing thing back in 2008.
Best Beer App:BeoirFinder as it's the only one I use really.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer:The Beer Nut (@thebeernut) again this year for me. His quick wit and informative tweets are always a pleasure to read.
Best Brewery Website:
8 Degrees have a new one and you can even order beer from it, a first for any Irish brewery.