The Scoopergen Awards 2010 !
Last Updated : 15/01/11
ere we go again... yes, it's time for another round of worthless awards that no-one cares about! You know the format by now; the categories are the same as the awards done for the previous 3 years and so, without further ado, hey-ho here we go... Feel free to contact me if there's anything you want to slag me off for, contradict me with, correct me in or otherwise lambaste my piss-poor judgement; thank you in advance.
Obviously all opinions are my own, and I reserve the right to give my opinions on the beers I've sampled during the year for better or worse. If you don't agree then go and try them for yourself and then, if you still disagree, let me know. If you brew any of these beers and wish to kick me/buy me a pint, likewise email me, but if I've slagged your beer off and you don't agree then just remember - it's all about personal opinions!
2010's vital statistics
|Flight sectors flown :||23 (including 8 for work)|
|Aircraft miles flown :||18,890 (or thereabouts)|
|New beers scooped :||692 / 611 = 1,303 ( UK / Rest of the World / Total)|
|Countries Visited :||Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, USA, Lithuania, Netherlands (twice)|
2010's Award Winners
|Beer of the Year||Hopworks (HUB) Organic IPA (Portland, USA)|
|Worst beer of the Year||Namysłów Malinowe (Poland)|
|Brewery of the Year||Hopworks (HUB), Portland, Oregon, USA|
|Beer Discovery of the Year||Lithuanian Kaimiškas beer|
|Brewpub of the Year||Revolution, Chicago, USA|
|Bar of the Year||Alaus Namai, Vilnius, Lithuania|
|Beer Shop of the Year||Grain d'Orge, Crissier, Lausanne, Switzerland|
|Brewery tap of the Year||Upright Brewing, Portland, Oregon, USA|
|UK Scooping pub of the Year||Rutland Arms, Sheffield|
|Beer Place of the Year||Portland, Oregon, USA|
|Public transport of the Year||Portland, Oregon, USA|
|Hotel of the Year||"Empire Builder" Amtrak train, Chicago-Portland!|
|Pub Food of the Year||Suitbertus-Stuben, Ratingen, Germany|
|Airport of the Year||Portland, Oregon, USA|
|Funniest moment of the Year||The Leyland National to Fudge's funeral.|
|Services to Scooping 2009||Undecided as yet...|
A very quick review of the year 2010
Yet another superb year beer-wise with way too many excellent brews scooped to list here! It's heartening to see the uptake of craft brewing in countries which were, only recently, written off by most as deserts of multinational kak; Poland, in particular, is worthy of special mention although there is a gap widening between the amount of bars wanting to sell good micro-brew and local brewers actually making the stuff: hopefully this will be remedied in 2011! Another Johnny-come-lately to the craft beer party is Eire where the micro revolution - which has been bubbling away just under the surface for a number of years in the shape of Porterhouse, Carlow, Galway Hooker etc - has now emerged... just as the country is involved in financial and political problems, and I really hope the new bars and brewers don't fail because of these issues not of their making. Spain (or, more accurately, Cataluńya) is also breeding breweries at an astounding rate and, although I hear varying reports on their quality, every revolution begins with a few casualties... we've just come back from an amazing weekend in Barcelona which yielded 40+ Catalan micro beers, well over 2 dozen new breweries and meeting many enthusiastic, sociable shop and bar owners who are committed to spreading the gospel of craft beer; not every one was a great beer but there were some stand-outs and none were infected or off, something I'd been warned about before our visit, so I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Barcelona to witness this young revolution whilst it's still in it's infancy.
The UK sees a never-ending stream of new breweries although, sadly, the products of many are either badly made or, bizarrely, brewed to the old "Brown bitter with English hops" mantra... why?!? You can't beat the big brewers at that game so the only course of action is to brew something different... like Mid-Atlantic Pale Ale! I'd love to see more new brewers making interesting beer but it seems as if the majority see brewing as a way to make money and, with that attitude, hops are an expensive luxury; shame, as there's more brewers in the UK now than for many, many years, but if most of them are making bland or bad beer are we really any better off than if there were 100 making good beer? I know "good beer" is a very personal thing, but in my opinion there's simply no excuse, with the amount of competition these days, in trying to sell beer with infections or serious brewing faults... which is what a worrying amount of micros are currently doing.
I scaled back the travelling a notch in 2010 yet still managed to visit a good spread of countries and I'm particularly happy about our May "coast to coast" across the USA and first (but hopefully not last) visit to Portland. The European highlight was probably Lithuania, a country I've been meaning to visit for many years but only in 2010 did I finally get around to it, and the fascinating local Kaimiškas beers are one of Europe's most unknown and exciting beery treasures just waiting to be discovered... get yourselves out there, it's top! It was also great to see a localised micro explosion around Lausanne in Switzerland where some very enthusiastic people are making and selling craft beer, plus Poland continues to impress with a steady increase in the amount of craft beer available although, at present, a lot of it is from the Czech Republic!
So, what do I expect from 2011? Hopefully new UK brewers will learn to brew before buying a brewery and then make some interesting stuff, more "lost" beer countries (I'm looking at you, Portugal) will join the beery revolution, those which already have will keep expanding the number of bars and brewers and the brewing world as a whole will outlaw crystal malt. OK, the last bit may be made up, but if there was one thing I could wish for that would be it; oh, and more hops, that's always a good one! Let's hope Bacchus is listening...
Scoopergen's beers of the year 2010
Pretty self-explanatory really; the best beer I sampled in 2010! I drank well over a thousand "new" beers during the year (as well as hundreds I've tried before) and had some rather good ones to choose from - although there were also some horrible ones I'd rather not remember... It's hard to decide a true winner as it's always the situation which adds an extra 0.5 to a particular beer, or maybe the tastebuds were just firing perfectly during that session? Saying that, I've eventually decided on the top five;
Hopworks (HUB) Organic IPA (At the brewpub, Portland, Oregon, USA) - "It simply oozed fruity, zesty aromatic citrus hops on the nose and, wonder of wonders, the flavour was uncluttered by an excess of dark malts (there was a smidgeon, but only that) allowing the bitter, lemony, fruity (apricots, peaches) and downright hoppy flavour to proceed uninhibited into a gloriously dry, bitter and juicily hoppy finish which implored you to drink more of this glorious example of West Coast IPA. Another thing lacking was excess alcohol, a common problem with IPA's which burns out the tastebuds and therefore ruins the hop experience, meaning the 6.6% was just about noticeable although it played it's supporting role perfectly. Overall, then, a classic WCIPA which is full of lovely hops and thankfully lacking excess alcohol and caramel malts which are the ruin of many a similar beer". You can probably tell from this gushing prose that I quite liked it but it's difficult to describe just how much I think this beer is a classic of it's kind and one of the very best beers I've had the pleasure to drink in my scooping career... do yourself a favour and get to the brewpub and see just how good it is; put it this way, we were very short of time yet still had a pint in addition to our tasting tray it was that good! Simply perfect.
Birrificio Lambrate Ligera (At Hop, Milan, Italy) - "A stunning hop oil nose, full of raw Columbus and tempered by toffee maltiness, showed that this was going to be so much better than the pint we'd had at the brewpub not an hour previously! The flavour was pure CTZ, masses of oily hops, juicy fruitiness and a solid malt backbone, but it was all about the hops at the finish with a rasping bitterness and a huge dry-hopped, oily, resinous and just plain gorgeous hopflower punch which put a huge smile on my face". I know that transplanting another country's beer culture into another is a recipe for badly-brewed beer and the watering-down or loss of the indiginous beer culture, but I really like the way Europeans are taking American hops and brewing methods then, rather than brewing copies of US IPA's, brew something which is a distinctive cross-over between their own beer traditions and the American one; it's happening in Italy, the UK, Denmark, Eire and many more places and, in my opinion, can yield some stunning brews such as this one which is American in it's hopping but far more European in it's other attributes... the perfect crossover!
Saints & Sinners (Brewwharf) Military Intelligence Black IPA (At Brewwharf, London) - "Jet black in the glass with a huge Simcoe and fruit aroma; the flavour had more of the oily, fruity hops and some smooth chocolate which led onto a smooth, chocolatey yet full-bodied flavour giving very little indication of the strength; I’d have guessed 4.5% if I’d not had the clip a few feet from my nose! The hop oils soon came in and combined excellently with the rich, sweetish chocolate and toasty flavour with a skunky, juicy hop finish complemented perfectly by the firm backbone of chocolate and cocoa with a final flourish of mangoey Simcoes to end a fabulously complex and endlessly fascinating brew, one that could hold the attention for hours. It’s so dangerously drinkable that a session on this is a real – if dangerous – possibility!". Black IPA's are a very difficult style to get right but this beauty nailed it! Smoothness from the Weyermann de-husked malt combined with a juicy, fruity hop attack made this a real cracker of a brew and a dangerously drinkable one, too...
St Austell James' Flemish Red (St Austell Celtic beer festival, at the brewery) - "this is probably the best rendition of this stupendously difficult style I’ve tasted and that includes some of the much-vaunted US brews which, to be honest, just don’t cut it at all. A near-perfect combination of sour vinegar, woodiness, sweet yet sour malt, a caramelly dryness and even more vinegary, acetic and massively complex woody flavours – again with a hint of rum – amazed me with their authenticity and outright gorgeousness and, had I not had dozens of other beers I really wanted to try, this would have been my beer of choice all day. It’s rare I’ve had a beer which is as true to the style and flavour of the original and they couldn’t really have picked a more difficult beer style to recreate!". If someone had told me that a UK regional had brewed a gloriously authentic Flemish Red I'd have laughed so I don't expect anyone to believe me... but it's true! This whopper had all the acetic, vinegary notes you'd expect atop a dry yet sweet caramel body, plenty of vanilla woodiness and a subtle hint of rum barrels drowned in acetic tanginess; just pure fucking genius!
Jovarų Alus Kaimiškas Gyvas Alus (At the Alaus Namai - "Beer House" - bar in Vilnius) - "Made by brewster Aldona Udrienės at her Jovarų Alus brewery, the stunning Kaimiškas Gyvas Alus (which translates roughly as “rustic living beer”, basically unpasteurised farmhouse beer) is one of the real Kaimiškas brews which, in common with many of the other remaining farmhouse brewers, has been listed by the government as part of the cultural and culinary heritage of Lithuania; why can’t we do immensely sensible things like that in the rest of Europe? The beer is a massively complex amber brew with a nose of toffee, malt, sweetness and brettanomyces and, in a strange way, reminds me of the beer from some of the Black Country homebrew pubs! It is sweet and malty in flavour with Fino sherry notes, lots of complex musty brett, and finishes with layer upon layer of complexity with malt, sweetness, yeast, breadiness, dryness, bitterness, grassy hops, fruit and farmyards coming together is a truly amazing way; this isn’t a simple beer, it’s not a session beer, but it’s a totally fascinating brew made in the same way for generations in one of the last remaining areas in Europe not yet changed by the industrialisation of beer and, thus, should be sought out by everyone who claims to love beer and all it’s differences… and, believe me, it’s gloriously different!". Let's put it this way... you probably won't have tasted many beer like this one and, if you're not into Lambic, you certainly won't have and will probably hate it! Different, yes, but it's part of an almost forgotten culture of rural farmhouse brewing which had only survived in remote areas such as Northern Lithuania and, as such, is part of a very precious bit of our beery heritage. This wouldn't mean a thing if the beer was crap but, thankfully, it's one of the more rewarding drinks I've sampled recently and I can't wait to get back there and scoop some more!
Plus, here's some more which almost made it...
UK : Harwich Town Phoenix APA was a simple yet very effective citrussy, hoppy modern pale ale, Mallinson's Bettison's Tower was a very complex mix of hops (including Sorachi Ace) which produced a gorgeous fruity hoppiness whilst Hops at Work had a big hop nose and full-on, bitter flavour, Little Ale Cart have brewed some cracking beer this year including the limey, citrussy and very hoppy Gladiateur, tangeriney Centenary and downright drinkable Oxfordshire, Brewdog Tesco's Finest American IPA was a bout as much Simcoe as any man can take in one go and my bottled beer of the year by a country mile, Great Oakley Welland Valley Mild a classic old-fashioned dark mild with a timeless flavour and a delight to drink, Oakham Tranquility a riot of orange zest and tangerines, Thornbridge Pollard was a strange sweet stout with cofffee that almost worked, Pictish Citra a vanillary, catty, peachy gobful, Marble W90 a lesson in how to brew a low ABV pale ale chock-full of hops and flavour, Adnams Ghost Ship an astoundingly good "Mid-Atlantic" pale ale with the tell-tale notes of mangoey Citra, Windsor Castle's surprisingly hoppy and very interesting (and well-named!) Hop Bomb, Oakham's totally un-festive but pungently hop-licious Crackers and finally St Austell Starling's Dance IPA a complex, bitter and hoppy glass of experimental confusion!
Abroad : Trois Dames Bise Noire had a deliciously subtle orange hint to it's dark malt, I realised that I prefer Füchschen's treacle toffee-ish Altbier to the rest, even Uerige's bitter, nettley, hoppy beast, Baüscia Onice was yet another complex and tasty beer from Paolo Polli's Milan micro, Amber Żywe Niefiltrowane might be the best lager made in Poland at the moment, Revolution Brewing Let's have a War Belgian IPA had enough Citra even for me giving a gloriously pungent, catty, mango-heavy character, Lagunitas New Dogtown Pale Ale was a lesson in peachy, fruity, Simcoey deliciousness, Moonshine Able Danger IPA billowed mangoey, catty hops into the air magnificently, Alameda Yellow Wolf was as pale an American beer as I've seen and stuffed full of bitter, fruity hops, Hair of the Dog Blue Spot IPA a bizarre yet, somehow, excellent example of a wood-aged hoppy IPA which lived up to it's hype, A Grigonio individuali įmonė Šinkorių Tamsus Alus was yet another bizarre Lithuanian farmhouse beer with so many flavours in there I gave up with tasting notes and just enjoyed it, Mikkeller (Proef) Spontanale was about as close to Lambic as you can get without actually being Lambic itself and, finally, Port Brewing Midnight Sessions showed that American brewers can do subtlety if they want to with absolutely superb results.
So, roll on next year... and, once again, I'll say "can it get any better?". Full details and tasting notes for these beers and more can be found on my "Beer of the Month" page here.
Worst beers of the year 2010
And on the flipside of the above, we have my least favourite beers! For every ying there must be yang and here they are... all my personal opinion, yes, but it matters to me! Feel free to try these beers and let me know what you think about them... or just take my opinion and leave them well alone!
I know I've said it before but it bears repeating; what the fuck is all this adding artificial fruity flavours to beer in Poland about? Namysłów Malinowe is the "raspberry" version of, presumably, an industrial lager made even more delectable by being served from a can! Bright pink in colour, it reminded me of that red sauce Mr Curly Top, our ice cream man when I was a lad, used to dribble over the ice creams except, if anything, it had an even more artificial, chemically, industrially-made taste. As if this wasn't bad enough the "beer" (and it didn't taste of beer whatsoever) also possessed a nasty saccharine dry bitterness which made finishing more than a few sips physically impossible lest I threw up my evening's scoops in a lurid pink pool on the floor; absolutely disgusting, not really beer and definitely, absolutely, their last chance... boycotted!
Maybe I'm being hard on Praght Corpulentebock; maybe it was an infected keg but, whatever the problem, I object to being served something that tastes like industrial strength weedkiller tempered with caustic acid and laced with raging infections; this was totally undrinkable and should never, ever have been on sale in this condition... even if it's meant to taste like this which I find very, very hard to believe.... repulsive.
Gwaun Valley Bitter Ale has the same problems the rest of their beers have, namely a lack of hops, nasty dried yeast flavours and more than a hint of infection and sour apples. Having visited the brewery right out in the wind-blasted far west of Wales I really wanted to like their beer but, try as I might, they all taste like bad homebrew with yeast problems to me... sorry, but it's just not good enough these days to brew stuff like this.
Plus : Neath Abbey Ale had a nasty bitter astringency which didn't taste natural, Gwaun Valley St David's had the same infection issues as all four Gwaun beers I've tried this far, Deschutes Twilight was a thin yet sickly-sweet toffee and caramel mess, Keltek Green Room Kudos just plain badly brewed and horrible, Green Dragon (Portland) King Ghidorah Biere de Garde is something I really hope I never, ever taste anything remotely similar to ever again, Bravaria (Vilnius) Medaus a bizarre and repulsive mix of ginger and infected honey, and finally Locher Schwarzer Kristall a sickly-sweet caramelly fluid with nothing positive in it's favour whatsoever.
Here's hoping that next year I don't have to suffer anything like this rubbish, but experience has taught me that amongst jewels will always be lumps of crap! There were plenty more I could rant about but it brings back too many bad memories...
Brewery of the year 2010
This brewery can be from anywhere and make anything but it must make whatever it does consistently and superbly... that's the only rider!
Hopworks (HUB) in Portland, Oregon, was the first brewery to spring to mind and, apart from Little Ale Cart of Sheffield and Revolution in Chicago, I can't think of a brewery whose beers I enjoyed more during the year. Okay, so I only visited Hopworks once, but it's a telling message when every beer on the board, all 12, were brilliantly brewed and individual beers and every one had something to like about it, some having lots of things to like! Strength across the range is a very difficult thing to achieve and, when your range runs from a standard lager through an IPA to a barrel-aged barley wine you need to know what you're doing... and Hopworks seem to know!
After enjoying the beers we went for a quick nosey at the brewery underneath the building and were shown around by a very sociable brewster who, although clearly busy, took the time to talk to us about the beers brewed there and the difference between the UK and US beer scenes (she seemed surprised we only use whole hops!) and then, as we left, handed us two bottles to take away; just how good is that? Don't think this impromptu tour bought my vote, however, as my mind was made up in the bar above and it 's a telling indication on the quality of the beers brewed there that my beer of the year is their stunningly hoppy Organic IPA!
Revolution Brewing in Chicago must come a close second, however, as once again their entire range of brews - ranging from a proper Mild through some very unusual brews to a double IPA - were consistently excellent and some extremely good indeed, the Antihero IPA, Let's have a War Belgian IPA and Workingman Mild the standouts for me with all the brews on tap that day being interesting, well made and full of flavour, Let's Have a War coming close to the top five and, had I not had so many excellent beers in 2010, would have easily been a top-three award winner.
Brasserie Trois Dames of the Vaud region in Switzerland were maybe the most unlikely discovery of the year during my work there in January. I scooped 9 beers which ranged from an English best bitter via wheat beer, red ale through various stouts to a cracking IPA and even a brown IPA! Every beer I had was well brewed and, although some weren't to my taste, they were all excellent beers which Raphael the brewer should be proud of! Apparently he learnt his skills in Vancouver, Canada, before setting up properly in Switzerland and his beers, whilst not very Swiss, may be the most interesting and well-made beers in the whole country. Quality and consistency are key and I drank three bottles of the IPA, liking it more each time, and even on tap the beer (La Pacifique, a stunningly hoppy pale ale) was gloriously flavoursome and hoppy; there are still some beers I require from Trois Dames (Bov, the Swiss top man, has scooped 32!) and I'll be looking out for those!
Little Ale Cart would also be in with a shout as their output has been very consistent this year but, even so, I just can't give the award to a brewery which (99% of the time) makes a single style of beer, no matter how well it does it! It's the breadth of beer styles which mark out US brewpubs and I really wish we had more of them here in the UK.
Beer discovery of the year 2010
This can be a brewery, beer style, or something totally different - it's completely up to me!
Lithuanian Kaimiškas beer is unquestionably the discovery of the year and I'm so pleased that it lived up to my expectations! We had been planning a visit to Lithuania for many years (it was our last Baltic country to scoop, Kaliningrad excepted!) but it was only when I heard about bars opening in Vilnius serving the mega-rare Kaimiškas brews that we decided it was time to book some flights now that finding the beers didn't mean wandering around villages trying to speak Lithuanian (as much fun as this sounds...)!
The beers are referred to as Kaimiškas Gyvas Alus (which translates roughly as “rustic living beer” or, in other words, unpasteurised traditional "farmhouse" beer) and it seems as if they are now safe as the government has declared some of the more traditional makers to be "part of the cultural and culinary heritage of Lithuania" and so the preservation of what is one of the final bastions (plus the island of Gotland, Sweden and parts of Finland) of this brewing tradition which is as old as civilisation itself should be assured. For the first time in many years new producers have begun to appear and, with the growing availability of the beers in the capital city and other southern towns (the brewers are almost all in the rural north around Panevėžys and Pasvalys) it's easier than it ever has been to visit Lithuania and scoop in some of these fascinating beers!
Don't imagine, though, that this is just another range of fizzy Foreign pilsner-esque clones; definitely not! If you know anything about Lambic beers (and liking Lambic is a very good start!) you'll instantly recognise the "horseblanket" wild yeast character from Brettanomyces, similar to Lambic, but there is also a lot of fruitiness (sometimes from added fruit!), residual sweetness - sometimes from added honey - and even spiciness from herbs which are added to some of the brews, red clover for example! There is no real set of guidelines you can pin these beers down to but, despite their differences, they are distinctly in the same family of unfiltered, unpasteurised "rustic" beer with a cobwebby, farmy yeast flavour and other unusual tastes swirling around a sweetish maltiness with, sometimes, a decent bitterness too; a few of the more traditional ones aren't actually boiled after mashing; they simply brew a hop-tea which is added to the wort after run-off before the top-fermenting yeast is pitched!
Trying to explain Kaimiškas is difficult and it's much easier to suggest going there and trying them out for yourself! In Vilnius there are a growing number of bars which sell these beers including the quite superb Alaus Namai (which translates as Beer House!) and two branches of Šnekutis plus two more "normal" brewpubs so there's no excuse for not getting yourself out there and trying some of these unique and bizarre brews! Honestly, if you're into interesting beer just go... you won't regret it.
Well, I suppose there's a chance you might, but that's your problem.
More info is available here, here and here. Ryanair fly to Kaunas from many UK airports and Wizzair will fly from 17th April to Vilnius from Bristol, Luton and Donny/Sheffield.
Brewpubs of the year 2010
Again, reasonably self-explanatory! The only rider is that the pub must (obviously) brew on the premises.
Revolution Brewing, Chicago. We only found out about this place a couple of months before we set off as it opened in January 2010; being close to an "L" station (the city's bizarre elevated railway which clanks over the streets on ancient steel supports) and opening at 11:00 meant it was our first call after the mildly disappointing West Lakeview liquor store which didn't have anywhere near as many scoops as we hoped for (but we made up for that shortfall at Vas Foremost by Revolution!). First impressions were good and I particularly liked the "clenched fist" beer taps although I thought they had wimped out by using a six-pointed star rather than a "proper" Soviet one...! The beers were faultless and ranged from a very plausible Mild through a big roasty porter (more a stout, but still), two versions of pale ale (one very Mid-Atlantic!) via a superb Citra dry-hopped "Belgian IPA" through to their strong hoppy IPA; strength in depth is the saying and the beers certainly matched up to inspection with "Let's have a War" being a close contender for one of my top-five beers of the year! The staff were very sociable, the whole place clean and inviting and so, all in all, I couldn't really find much to fault with Revolution apart from it not being 3,800 miles closer to my house!
Hopworks Urban Brewery, Portland. Americans have the brewpub down to a tee; whilst we in the UK hide our scabby breweries in sheds and make no shakes about the beer and brewing in the US brewpubs are a veritable celebration of home-made beer with a wide range of brews on tap, beer and brewing information readily to hand and, usually, a brewplant shining away to itself and, more often than not, in use too. Hopworks ticks most of those boxes with a very upbeat and modern attitude to beer, food and... well, everything really! It was a real pleasure to sit at the bar, scooping our tasting tray, and watch the obvious pleasure the staff and customers got from the beers being served, as did we; once again, strength in depth was well in evidence and it's a good measure of how good their beer is that even the Bourbon cask matured brew was a real delight to drink! The star of the show, however, was their classic IPA which, besides being my beer of the year, should be a template for how to brew a great IPA; not too strong, not too dark, but with shed-loads of hops... and, after all, how can I not like a place called Hopworks?!?
Zum Uerige, Düsseldorf. Despite me not liking 95% of German beer I love the country and it's pubs almost as much, maybe more in some cases, than those back home and Uerige is maybe, just maybe, my favourite brewpub in Europe. Situated smack in the middle of the Altstadt the pub is much larger inside than you'd guess from outside with a myriad of rooms, corridors and snugs snaking off into the distance with the brewery at the rear. In stark contrast to US brewpubs with their huge beer range you'll only find one draught beer here, the stupendously good Altbier brewed on-site, served from wooden casks which are rolled through the pub then heaved up onto the stillage by the army of waiters every half an hour or so. There's also a Weissbier in bottle and, twice a year, a special stronger version of the Alt is on sale. In common with other Altbier pubs (and Kölsch ones, too) the glasses are 20cl tubes and the number of beers you have is marked off on your beermat as you drink. The Alt is - for Germany - amazingly hoppy and a happy evening can be spent in the pub watching goings on and enjoying the gorgeous brew; this is one German beer you have to try and is the perfect antidote to over-extracted, over attenuated, under-hopped pils!
Others very worthy of a mention : Moonshine, Chicago was a grungy bar with a very sociable brewer making some good stuff especially the Able Danger IPA ("It’s easy to make beer, the challenge is making good beer. This art form takes 30 minutes to learn but a lifetime to master" he says...), Lompoc 5th Quadrant in Portland felt a million miles from the city centre, out in it's wooden house suburb, but the beer and beer knowledge from behind the bar was pretty good, Alameda, also in Portland, was very industrial in feel with a UK-style "cellar tank" plant in deliciously aromatic use during our visit and some superbly hoppy brews (Fixed Gear pale ale and Yellow Wolf IPA the standouts) on the bar... and the Philly steak sandwich was just what we needed! Back in Europe, Unser Vereinsbräu in Basel, Switzerland, only opens one evening a week for a few hours and is basically a licensed homebrew joint; the beers were very impressive and we were made welcome despite no indication that non-members were allowed! Finally, the opulent King William IV in less than opulent Leyton, East London, is the home of Brodie's brewery and it's great to see a UK brewer able to brew a wide range of different beers and make a pretty good go at all of them! Around a dozen beers are on sale at once including the deliciously hoppy Citra; this is yet another place you just have to go in London these days, it's just a shame it's a bit of a trek to get too (but well worth it!).
Best bars of the year 2010
This award is for the best bar - be it brewpub, tap or just bar - and is based on the venue's ambience, beer selection, staff, food and a myriad of other things. Bars may appear in here even if they've been in (or won) other categories! These are my "must-visit" bars of the year, if you have time give them a go, and if you don't then make time and go to them anyhow!
Alaus Namai, Vilnius, Lithuania. "First impressions aren't good with a nondescript door leading down some nondescript stairs into the bowels of a nondescript building. Once inside, however, things get interesting. It's all dim lighting and about the beer - I'm not sure they sell anything else - although you may catch live music on the right (or wrong, depending on your views) night; we witnessed traditional Lithuanian folk music which I still can't get out of my head two weeks later... bloody fiddles and stampy dancing... sorry, I digress, on most nights - and I do mean nights, it's open until 05:00 Thursday to Saturday - it looks as if you, and everyone else, will be there for the beer and the beer alone! As to the beer, well that's where the Beer House really shines. Up to sixteen Lithuanian beers on tap, almost all unpasteurised and unfiltered - and the amazingly helpful English menu tells you the brewer, filtration and pasteurisation status and tasting notes - including two of the holy grail of Lithuanian beers, the until recently almost impossible-to-find "Kaimiškas" beers made up in the rural north of the country by licensed individuals, often farmers, and it's only now they are becoming more available in mainstream bars"; that's what I said about the "Beer House" back in September when it was my Pub of the Month and I'd recommend anyone with the slightest interest in unusual beers to get their sorry arse over there and get scooping pronto! A classic pub with some classic beers, I absolutely loved the place, and a totally worthy pub of the year. The 16 draught beers are pretty much standard although a few do seem to change regularly so there should always be something to scoop and, anyhow, they have the stunning Jovarų Alus Kaimiškas Gyvas Alus on tap which is worth the airfare by itself!
Pibar, Lausanne, Switzerland. I almost missed this one... being in Lausanne for work I did some beery research but failed to pick up that this bar had recently opened although, whilst scooping the city's huge trolleybus system, I passed it and made a note to check out the "bar with a Chimay sign outside"... I'm glad I looked it up on the internet as it turned out to be one of the best scooping bars I've been to in quite a while! It's small in stature and really small inside (but accommodates a surprising amount of customers!) but, on a foot-by-foot basis, I'd say this bar doesn't have many competitors for number of beers per foot of floorspace except maybe the Football Pub in Rome or that place in Brussels I don't like. Being in the French sector of Switzerland you'd not really expect a great deal beer-wise but, let me tell you, Lausanne and the surrounds is undergoing a bit of a beer revolution at present and many of the new local producers are to be seen on the bar's beer list, most in bottle-conditioned format as is common for the local micros, and luckily they seem to be able to bottle-condition beers a lot better than the majority of UK brewers manage to! The owners are sociable and friendly, the beer range is excellent (they have even more Swiss micro-beers now than when I visited, over 30) and the tapas are inventive and delicious. Overall, then, a classic little bar which you'd never walk past in a million years but will repay the effort taken to get there admirably; it's only ten minutes on bus 1 from the station!
Green Dragon, Portland, Oregon. This basic yet very beery place is now under Rogue's ownership (I think...) but don't think all 50 beers on tap (yes, 50!) will be theirs because they won't! There are 19 taps on the main (front) bar with the rest being on a rather temporary-looking construction at the rear with boards listing what's currently on sale and the cellar door listing what's on next (or "on deck" as they say around Portland). They are installing a brewery out back (as if Portland needs another brewpub...) although you may be unlucky to find one of their "testbrews" done on what looks like a homebrew kit (I say unlucky as the one we had was pretty horrible!) but this place is all about the guest beers from the local area and, thank Bacchus, they do "flights" or tasting trays so you can scoop away and even clear up what you need without having to buy a pint of each; very sociable indeed. The place has a similar air to a lot of other Portland bars/brewpubs in that it's like drinking in an old car repair garage - which a lot of them are - but, even allowing for this, the Green Dragon is a top scooping pub with a huge range of beers just begging to be scooped!
Others worthy of a mention : The beer scene in Poland is beginning to take off and that's no small thanks to chains like the excellent Degustatornia in Gdynia and Gdansk, northern Poland, which sell over a dozen Polish beers on tap plus another hundred in bottle, and Cup of Tea Żywe Club, also in Gdansk, sold some great guest bottles from it's single fridge (plus Kozlak bock is unpasteurised on tap if you count that as different!). The 4th Avenue Pub, Brooklyn, was a quiet oasis of scooping, Ginger Man, Manhattan, was busy yet the high ceilings and continuous flow of scoops can excuse many normals, I still really like the Blind Tiger in Manhattan although we were unlucky with the beer range this time, d.b.a Brooklyn had a great range of craft beer plus hosts regular festivals, Rattle'n'Hum in Manhattan impressed with it's eclectic and wide beer list, Henry's 12th Street Tavern in Portland can be excused it's frozen bartop and trendy trappings for the huge beer range which does include some stunners, whilst Portland's Horse Brass Pub is about as different as you can get yet, in it's own way, just as good as Henry's if not a shade better, Bier Temple in Amsterdam is the new baby of t'Arendsnest owner Peter and, whilst it feels nothing like it's sibling, the quality beer is there too, I can't not mention one of my favourite European bars, BQ in Milan, which looks much better after it's refit, Brew Wharf, Southwark, is housed in atmospheric railway arches (still used occasionally!) and the beers are 10000% better than they were last year, Pimlico's Cask Pub & Kitchen is beginning to sell some excellent beers and deserves all the plaudits it gets, the Hole in the Wall, Portsmouth, is a classic boozer which just happens to serve a top beer range, Hunters Arms in Kilburn, Derbyshire, is all I'd ever want from a village pub (including the scoops!) likewise the amazingly good Old Oak at Horsley Woodhouse which, at weekends, gets even better with it's RuRad bar out back, Sheffield's Rutland Arms is getting better all the time, the Sheffield Tap is selling more interesting foreign beers than it used to and, finally, the Wellington, Birmingham, is still a great place to stop in the centre if you're too lazy to walk to the equally good Anchor in Digbeth!
Best beer shop of the year 2010
I'll list my favourite shops I've visited this year and lavish Bacchanalian praise on them accordingly.
Au Grain d'Orge, Crissier, Lausanne. Bloody hell, this place took some finding! It's aimed squarely at those who drive up the ramp and load crates into their car boot (the shop itself is hidden inside what looks like a loading bay!) but you're free to brave those picking up beer and visit on foot. The range is wide and impressive, but it's the huge array of bottles from the myriad of local micro-brewers which impressed me most; it's always good to see a shop or bar supporting local brewers and this place supports it's local micros very well indeed! I was sans auto so carried all I could back to Lausanne in a cardboard box on the bus (note to self: take a bigger bloody rucksack next time...) but, even buying twice as much as I intended, I still left loads of scoops sat on the shelves! A top beer shop, then, and one not to miss when in Lausanne although note that it's in Crissier which is a 20-minute bus ride out of town then a ten-minute walk around an industrial estate to find it...!
Vas Foremost Liquors, Chicago. We'd just left one of the best brewpubs I've ever been in , the superb Revolution Brewing, when we saw this place across the road and so, after some more supplies for our epic 48-hour train journey to Portland, we were inside like terriers down a rabbit hole. There are more fridges in here than I think I've ever seen in one place at once and, between them, they hold a staggering amount of beers of all types and from all manner of brewers. We bought a dozen large (660ml) bottles plus a chunky US pint glass each and, whilst we were unlucky with some of our beers being not as hoppy as we'd have liked (a common problem...!), the price was very reasonable and the choice of beer excellent. There are other top-sounding shops in Chicago although they'd have to go some to beat this place... Lakeview didn't come close in our opinion.
Roybeer, Milan. Italy knows how to do beer shops, that's one fact I've learnt during my travels, and this place is no exception. We'd already visited the indescribably good A Tutta Birra but, after some different beers, we tried this place which we'd not managed to get to on the last two trips. I'm glad we did this time as the beer range, not just Italian but from all over the world, was top-notch and we scooped another bagful of bottles for consumption. As usual in Italy it's not cheap - craft beer there isn't, that's the way it is, live with it - but the range makes Roybeer one of the shops I'd definitely visit when in Milan again... along with A Tutta Birra and Birreria Decanter, obviously!
Close : Birreria Decanter, Milan, is a small yet perfectly formed beer shop with many scoops, likewise A Tutta Birra which has even more beers on sale; Drinks of the World in Basel and Bern sells a load of right old kak alongside a great range of micro-brews and, usefully, the shops are in or next to rail stations; Gyvo Alaus Krautuvėlė in Vilnius sold a fair bit of the local beers in bottle and is well worth a visit; Utobeer, London, is situated in the atmospheric Borough Market and has a wide and varied range of beer with many standouts; Beers of Europe, King's Lynn, is probably still the biggest range of beer in the UK and has a whole load of good stuff which is slowly getting more interesting and, finally, De Bierkoning in Amsterdam is ram-packed full of local and not-so-local brews and a must-visit in a city already full of those things!
Best brewery tap of the year 2010
Pretty self-explanatory... a pub close to a (usually) larger brewery which functions as the official tap for that brewery; a dying breed these days with the closure of many medium-sized brewers. Some newer micros have the tap a fair way from the brewery which is fine by me if they sell a good range of beer although it somewhat misses the point of a brewery tap!
Upright Brewing, Portland, Oregon. The most bizarre bar of our 2010 US trip award must go to Upright Brewing in Portland; to get a beer you need to find an unsignposted lift inside an unmanned lobby in an unmarked building then take it to the basement to find the brewery complete with deck chairs scattered liberally around for imbibing purposes! It's not really a brewpub but more of a brewery with some beers on tap and a few chairs for anyone desperate enough to find the place to sit on (plus it only opens 2 days a week), but the beers were fascinating (all wood-aged in the casks which lie around all over the place) and, although I didn't like all of them, they were well-made and full of character with Apricot Anniversary coming out best in my opinion with it's incredibly lambic-like bone-dry palate with a sourish, dry yet juicy fruitiness and even hints of marzipan; bizarre, complex and very interesting indeed... both the place and the beer! A must-visit in a city with a ludicrous amount of must-visits already.
Close - Lompoc Side Bar, Portland. Although there is a "brewpub" on site here, in actuality it's a brewery with two pubs attached! The main one is the 5th Quadrant "brewpub" and the second is this new bar which we only found by accident as we'd gone the wrong way down the side of the building; it's basically a small room with basic furnishings and different beers that the main pub around the corner: the focus here is on special aged and/or brewed beers so expect some unusual stuff. The barman was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic, the atmosphere was sociable and quiet - we were the only two customers for much of the time - and so, between here and the main pub, you'll score a whole heap of winners! Make sure, however, you ask which brewery the beers are from as Lompoc have another brewpub in the centre of Portland and at least one of the beers we scooped here was from there. An unusual bar but definitely well worth a visit.
Best UK scooping pub 2010
My favourite pub in the UK for beer scooping purposes, plain and simple... not necessarily the most winners in a pub, although that helps, but more of an all-round excellece award!
Rutland Arms, Brown Street, Sheffield. Now the Harlequin, my favourite UK scooping pub for the past two years, has eschewed scoops to some degree to concentrate (understandably) on beers from Pete's Brew Company who now run it, I need to find somewhere else that is making efforts with new beers. I'd be the first to admit I don't really get about much in the UK these days for a variety of reasons, mainly I can't be arsed and prefer drinking abroad, but I still like to find a pub which is obviously making huge efforts on all fronts and succeeding... so, step forwards the Rutland Arms!
With it's superb Duncan Gilmour tiled frontage and unusual layout this is a pub that should be good for beer - and being in Sheffield helps - but when you consider the Rutland was closed only a few years back and the current landlord has built up the now roaring trade from nothing it's even more impressive! The pub stocks around eight beers on cask with regulars from the local Sheffield brewers - including us at Steel City - plus guests from mainly within 50 miles or so but including some very good and rare brews with the range getting better all the time. In addition to the beer is some good food, much better than most pubs, what I reckon are the best chocolate brownies (made on-site) I've tasted ever and a jukebox which scores highly in the Goth/Punk/Metal areas there's not a lot to dislike about the Rutland. Oh, and if you like battery acid, they also have a whole load of this stuff in boxes behind the bar, too... and it's very close to the station and would be the closest scooping pub in Sheffield to the shack if there wasn't one (Sheffield Tap) right on it!
There are pubs in Sheffield where you'd generally scoop more beers, that's a fact, but for it's excellence in so many areas - plus it's sociability, great jukebox, interesting food and the best chocolate brownies in the world - the Rutland is my favourite scooping pub for 2010 and here's hoping the recent increase in scoops in maintained in the coming year to make it even better!
Best beer places visited during 2010
This primarily takes into account the city's beer choice but also it's transport, brewpubs, ambience and suchlike - unfortunately, some great cities get nowhere owing to their lack of decent beer.
Portland, Oregon. They call this city Beervana locally and, having visited, it's easy to see why this is... it is! With around 50 brewpubs and micros within the city limits (yes, 50!) you'll not be short of drinking - and scooping - targets even if your stay in town is a week long! Put it this way; we were there for four days, scooped basically all day every day, and still missed out on a whole load of bars and brewpubs I wanted to do! Don't get caught up in the mantra that all US beer is good, however, as we had some bland and even ropey beer during our stay (Deschutes was particularly kakky) but there were some absolute stunners too with Hopworks and Alameda standing out in particular. The easiest way there is to fly into the small-ish and relaxed airport (with craft beer bars on-site plus a tram link directly into the city centre!) but, to do it properly, catch the Empire Builder from Chicago with two-dozen bottles of craft beer then sit back and experience the wide open plains of Montana then the Rocky mountains close up and personal as you scoop your way across the US; the journey is unforgettable and something I can't recommend highly enough if you have 2 days to spare... and even if you don't!
Vilnius, Lithuania. If you've been paying attention thus far - if so you've way too much time on your hands - then you'll know that Lithuanian Kaimiškas beer is something I like a lot and am very enthusiastic about telling scoopers to go and explore. I say explore as, whilst nowadays you don't need to wander around villages asking if someone brews their own beer, that sounds like a lot of fun and I may do that next time I visit! Vilnius, the capital, has a growing number of bars which sell beer from the - also growing - number of registered Kaimiškas brewers so scooping the stuff is getting easier! There's no real style as such to the beer apart from a general hint (sometimes flood) of brettanomyces wild yeast giving the beers a very complex and unusual flavour. Add to this Lithuania being a sociable, fascinating country which is relatively easy to get to and get around (no trams, sadly, although Vilnius and Kaunas have big trolleybus systems if you're into that kind of thing) and a visit here suddenly doesn't seem so scary... does it?
Chicago, Illinois. The "windy city" certainly lived up to it's name during our all-too-brief stay whereupon exiting the station we were greeted by gusty wind, rain and anything over 50 metres up being hidden by swirling fog! I loved the bizarre "L" elevated metro for it's clanking heritageness and the beer scene... well, next time I'm staying a night at least there as we missed out on so much! Revolution Brewing was a superb brewpub with a range of interesting beers, Moonshine was more scuzzy yet the beer was very good indeed, Piece was an unusual mix of restaurant and brewpub which I didn't like that much but some of the beers were great, and we simply ran out of time to scoop the two Goose Island brewpubs, Half Acre and a couple more... and that's before we even got a chance to try any of the bars, some of which sounded scoop-tastic! So, next time it's going to be a stop-over...
Best public transport system of the year 2010
OK so it's not really about beer, but so what? It helps you get there...
Portland, Oregon - a very airy, clean and likeable city with two tram systems, light rail, cable cars, buses, trains... in Europe it's eminently believable, but surely not in America? Americans drive everywhere in big gas-guzzlers and don't have time for Commie crap like public transport, don't they? Well, not in green and environmentally-conscious Portland they don't! The city has built not one but two tram systems which allow the beer scooper, with help from the stunningly good bus services, to get to any brewpub or bar they wish with minimum effort or hassle, even the more remote ones... and the tram even goes to the airport! The system is run by TriMet and is incredibly easy to use with maps at almost all stops, an information centre dispensing maps, timetables and gen right in the main square and good information at the stops.
Tickets are reasonably priced with a 7-day ticket (available from the machines at most stops, cards are even accepted!) a measly $20 for the two central zones and only $3 more for the far-flung areas. The city has a "free rail zone" in the centre where travel by MAX tram or Portland Streetcar (the other tram!) is totally free and allows you to visit quite a number of city-centre brewpubs and bars without paying a cent to travel! If you want to scoop a bit further out you'll need a ticket but, as I've already said, these are cheap and, with a bit of planning, you can get anywhere and scoop anything you want!
Best Hotel of the year 2010
You need hotels when scooping, so this matters - I don't go as much for 5-star comfort as for location, sociability and the provision of public transport nearby, and a load of character adds many points too!
This year's winner is a strange one in that it's not a hotel per se but it fulfils all the functions of one plus it moves, too! I'm talking about a train, obviously, but not any train; this one takes 48 hours to make it's complete journey from Chicago to Portland passing through eight states en-route; travelling from fascinating (and very beery!) Chicago, you see the Mississippi river, the great plains of Montana, the stunning Rockies and a final mesmerising thrash along the banks of the Columbus river with Mount Hood rearing it's snowy head in the distance... it truly is an amazing journey and, in my opinion, well worth spending a couple of days doing rather than simply flying and seeing nothing.
The Amtrak Empire Builder is one of the company's famous long distance trains which link Chicago to the four corners of the country using double-deck trains which contain roomy standard seats (which recline and are okay for a night) plus various sleeping accommodations. We travelled in a Superliner Roomette which is basically a compartment with two seats and limited storage (although we fitted our two big bags and two dozen beers in there so there must have been enough!) which converts into bunk beds at night. The service is amazingly good with ample toilets, a shower downstairs, free welcome US "champagne" and throughout the trip you can help yourself to bottled water, coffee, ice (good for chilling beer!) and fruit juices. Each car has an attendant who looks after the passengers, converts the rooms into beds as required and generally makes sure everything is good. If you sleep in a room you get free choice from the Restaurant menu for breakfast, dinner and evening meal and the food is, considering you're on a train, fantastic! I had a tender, tasty steak one evening and ribs the following and you can either eat in the restaurant car or have the food brought to your compartment, advisable during the Rockies part of the trip as this allows you to gawp at the amazing scenery without interruption.
All in all, then, a totally recommended way of seeing the US and, considering we paid a mere $300 each for New York - Washington DC - Chicago - Portland, including two nights' sleep in the roomette and six meals, this is amazing value and worth doing... I'll certainly be using Amtrak again next time!
Runners up : Bonum, Gdansk, was a quiet and smart little place just out of the touristy centre yet close to Degustatornia, Tilto, Vilnius was similar and equally as good value and comfortable, Santakos, Kaunas, was a lovely old warehouse conversion looking like something from Manchester and amazingly good value whilst Nasco, Milan was worth the money (yet was still quite cheap) as it allowed us to walk back from BQ in five minutes!
Best pub food of the year 2010
Fuel for scooping! Pub food is an overlooked but very important issue for the serious scooper, and these pubs provide great beer as well as food.
Suitbertus-Stuben, Oberstraße 23, Ratingen, Düsseldorf, Germany. I've always been a huge fan of the German pub (although not many of their beers) although this one is even better than most! A lovely old timber-framed building in a suburb of Düsseldorf reachable via tram and selling the delicious Uerige altbier vom faß, expect all the usual Rheinland specialities such as Haxe (roasted pork leg), Sauerbraten (beef marinated in vinegar, wine and spices) or Himmel und Erde (potatoes, black pudding and apple sauce) all cooked to perfection and at very reasonable prices too. It's a bit of a trek out of Düsseldorf but, on the upside, it's worth it as the 712 tram still "drops" real ones frequently and there are several pubs around town owned by the local Altbier breweries plus a brewpub making a decent beer crawl possible followed by a delicious meal here; highly recommended.
Other mentions : Most American brewpubs serve up decent food although Alameda in Portland, was especially good with it's gorgeous Philly cheese sandwich! Birrificio Lambrate in Milan does a superb veggie aperitivo buffet which is yours to plunder for the price of a pint, Alaus Namai in Vilnius served up the best Kepta Juoda Duonelė - black rye bread fried with garlic - we tried all week and, finally, the rambling old brewpub Fuchschen in Düsseldorf served up a truly superb plate of boiled oxen with very beige vegetables... just the kind of thing you need when out on the beer!
Best / Worst airports of the year 2010
My personal opinions of those I've visited during the last 12 months.
Best : Portland, Oregon is a relatively small airport with two massive plus points; one, you can get there on a tram from the city centre and two, it has bars selling craft beer from local micros! Just how good is that? There are no direct flights to the UK but you can get there from Amsterdam... and, with possibly the best beer city in the world 30 minutes away by tram, what are you waiting for?
Worst : Paris CDG, France. Why oh why is CDG so crap? Maybe it's because it's so feckin' huge that moving between terminals requires a 10-minute bus ride (from poorly signposted stops on crappy buses), maybe it's the distance from Paris and not brilliant links into town, maybe it's the Hitleresque security, maybe it's the lack of useful information... it's all these things and more, but let's suffice it to say that I truly detest CDG and hope I never have to set foot in the place ever again, even if work are paying!
Funniest thing in 2010
What I consider the most amusing scooping-related tale of the year!
Despite the truly sad day which was Chris Fudge's funeral I can't help but smile to think of a huge crowd of scoopers/rail cranks stood outside Tamworth station dressed in black and looking like a Mafiosi convention waiting for a preserved Leyland National bus to the crematorium! This duly arrived with the headcode of "RIP" and we all piled on, standing room only, and when the wheezing vehicle finally pulled up at the crematorium it promptly failed owing, presumably, to Willis, Pogo and Meatloaf being aboard and the combined weight exceeding the maximum safe working amount! It was good to see so many old faces aboard and, for a short while, something resembling a party atmosphere ruled aboard the bus before we arrived.
As I said, a very sad day but it was times like this which made it bearable.
The "Services to Scooping" award 2010
This category recognises people - could be scoopers or non-scoopers - anywhere in the world who have done a lot to increase the public's perception of the hobby and/or craft beer appreciation as a whole. A rather nebulous category, agreed, but there you go, that's Scoopergen...
I'm still thinking about this one...!
© Gazza 24/01/2011.