This was my third year of challenging myself to try 200 new (to me) beers. In 2013 I managed to get to a total of 216 and thought that 2014 was going to be much more difficult as I’d have exhausted most local supplies.
I kicked off 2014 with a Goose Island Pepe Nero and finished the year with a bottle of Black Sheep Ale on New Year’s Eve, but that wasn’t new to me so my last ‘official’ beer of the year was a festive local choice – a pint of Hoppy Christmas from the Grey Trees brewery in Aberdare at the wonderful Landsdowne.
Did I make my challenge? I drank my 200th new beer at La Vita on 12 September – a Beavertown Neck Oil which is a lovely sessionable IPA that went down very well with one of their fantastic pizzas. I have to admit I was a little surprised to get to my final total – 266 new beers in 2014.
I thought it would be more of a challenge, but the truth is many more venues have finally woken up to the beer revolution that’s going on around them. It’s now so much easier to find decent beer in restaurants, bars and hotels as well as on the bar in pubs around the country.
I was also helped by a few weeks in America where craft beer is truly mainstream – everywhere we went to eat had a couple of local brews on tap or in bottles and even the baseball stadium we went to had won awards for its many craft beer bars. Something I was really chuffed to see replicated in the Millennium Stadium when we found the great little Brains real ale bar during the autumn internationals 🙂
And the beer scene in Cardiff has grown again this year – we welcomed Brewdog and the Gravity Station and a whole host of new diners and restaurants. On top of its own brilliant pop-up explosion, Cardiff’s also become the city of choice for London restaurants looking to spread their wings outside the M25. So I’m pleased to say, in the spirt of #tryanuary, that there’s never been a better time to be a beer explorer.
Think I might even go for 300 in 2015…
My top beers
I use the untappd app to record the beers I drink – it turns drinking into a legitimate hobby 🙂
It allows you to score each beer out of 5 – and here’s the 38 beers that I gave full marks to last year.
I was glad to see local boys Crafty Devil on the list – they’ve set up this year and are doing some amazing American style ales. It’s been great to follow their progress during the year as they’ve tried new recipes and refined the brews. They’re about to move to a bigger brewery in the next couple of weeks and I just know they’re going to go from strength to strength.
Other Welsh brewers repeatedly hitting the list are the wonderful Waen brewery – their Snowball and Pamplemouse are well worth hunting out – and the Brains craft brewery which continues to produce interesting brews in a huge range of styles. There’s a few more Belgian beers on the list this year as I was looking for beer matches to go with a coq au vin for a radio cooking challenge I did in the summer – having tried many interesting Belgians, it was a Brains Atlantic White which eventually went to London with me to face the judges.
I’ve got to give a special mention to the Handmade Beer Company – I used to work with designer-turned-brewer Ian whose beers are now happily appearing all over Cardiff. He’s brewing a classic ale range, all done brilliantly and every one I’ve tried has been perfect!
Out in America, it was really interesting to see US brewers producing cask ales as special brews – having originally taken their inspiration from European styles then made very American versions of those beers, it’s great to see something of a return to their roots. My first stop when we arrived was to go out to see the Brooklyn Brewery – it’s a very cool building in the hipster heart of New York and their brewery tap had some amazing treats to try. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
Here’s my top 38…
|Adlerkönig Urtyp Hell||Der Hirschbräu Höss||Helles Lager||4.7|
|Ale House Rock||Crafty Devil Brewing Co||American Pale Ale||6.2|
|ALS Buster Beer 2||Brooklyn Brewery||Black IPA / Cascadian Dark Ale||6.9|
|Anchor Summer Beer||Anchor Brewing Company||American Pale Wheat Ale||4.6|
|Best Bitter||Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.||English Bitter||4.3|
|Bourbon County Brand Stout (2013)||Goose Island Beer Co.||American Imperial / Double Stout||14.9|
|Farmer Walloon||Brains Craft Brewery||Saison / Farmhouse Ale||4.5|
|Five Points Pale||The Five Points Brewing Company||American Pale Ale||4.4|
|Gamma Ray||Beavertown||American Pale Ale||5.4|
|Gentleman’s Wit||Camden Town Brewery||Witbier||4.3|
|Golden Thread||Salopian Brewery||Golden Ale||5|
|Handmade Special Bitter||The Handmade Beer Company||English Bitter||4.5|
|Harvest Pale||Castle Rock Brewery||Blonde Ale||3.8|
|Helles Golden Lager||Sly Fox Brewing Company||Helles Lager||4.9|
|Imperial Stout Limited Edition||Fuller, Smith & Turner||Russian Imperial Stout||10.7|
|IPA||Crate Brewery||English IPA||5.8|
|Jaipur||Thornbridge Brewery||English IPA||5.9|
|Marks & Spencer London Porter||Meantime Brewing Company||English Porter||5.5|
|Milk Stout||Bristol Beer Factory||Milk / Sweet Stout||4.5|
|Mirror Pond Pale Ale||Deschutes Brewery||American Pale Ale||5|
|NP10 (Golden)||Tiny Rebel Brewing Co||Belgian Blonde / Golden||10|
|O’Reilly’s Stout||Sly Fox Brewing Company||Irish Dry Stout||3.6|
|Pamplemousse||Waen Brewery||English Pale Ale||4.2|
|Paulaner Münchner Hell||Paulaner Gruppe||Helles Lager||4.9|
|Phoenix Pale Ale||Sly Fox Brewing Company||American Pale Ale||5.5|
|Polestar Pilsner||Left Hand Brewing Company||Pilsner||5.5|
|Russian Doll Barleywine||BrewDog||American Barleywine||10|
|Russian Doll Double IPA||BrewDog||Imperial / Double IPA||8|
|Sequoia||Thornbridge Brewery||American Amber / Red Ale||4.5|
|Sorachi Ace||Brooklyn Brewery||Saison / Farmhouse Ale||7.6|
|Sun Day||Brewers and Union||American IPA||5.5|
|Vienna Red||PIPES||Vienna Lager||5.3|
|Viking’s Revenge||Mikkeller||American Pale Ale||6|
|Vintage Reserve||Sheppy’s Cider Ltd||Cider||7.4|
|West Indies Porter||Guinness||Porter||6|
|Westmalle Trappist Dubbel||Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle||Belgian Dubbel||7|
Top venues for beer discovery 2014
So where’s the best place in Cardiff for finding new interesting beers? Urban Taphouse is out in front by a busride. I don’t think I’ve drunk the same beer twice in there and I’ve not even really started on the bottles – we are very lucky indeed to have a venue so dedicated to good beer on the doorstep.
And just down the street in Cardiff’s unofficial beer quarter (I think, maybe Cardiff’s 17th ‘quarter’ now) is the new Brewdog Cardiff. I was like a kid in a sweetshop when this place opened – absolutely in my element. Their own beers are superb, I’m a sucker for the limited editions and they ran a great Mikkeller tap-take over – the idea of the ‘gypsy brewer’ is just too cool for words!
The Great Welsh Beer Festival moved to the Millennium Stadium – it was a top day out for beer, but could be so much more if they’d team up with Cardiff’s street food scene – and I made my 20th consecutive annual visit to the Great British Beer Festival in August and drank a lot of lovely German beer! Special mention has to go to the Triumph Brewing Company – a fantastic brew pub which sits opposite the cutest steam railway station in New Hope, PA. It’s their flight of beers that provided the pic above and a memorable lunch 🙂
Top breweries of 2014
Having the Brains craft brewery on the doorstep means a steady flow of interesting brews hit the bars of Cardiff throughout the year, which is great. And I’m not surprised to see Brewdog and Mikkeller here as I’ve spent quite a lot of time there. I’ve deliberately sought out Thornbridge beers wherever I can – they can do no wrong in my book and Jaipur is an absolute cracker. The rest reflect my travels – both in terms of US breweries visited but also coming back with even more of a taste for American beers.
Favourite beer styles
I’m not going to get into the craft vs cask debate – I’m just a fan of well-made, interesting brews. I think that’s probably reflected in a reasonably even split between UK real ales, conventional beers and American beers.
Two areas I have tried to broaden my range in this year have been Belgian beers and stouts – I’ve always liked both, but never really seek them out. A trip to Dublin at the end of 2013 changed that for me and I’ve only scratched the surface of the range of stout styles that are out there.
I’m looking forward to keeping a close eye on the ever-growing food and beer scene in Cardiff and am already excited about some of the projects rumoured to be heading our way this year.
I think I’m going to see if I can get to 300 new beers this year – despite no plans to venture abroad – and to be a bit more adventurous in the styles I chose.
I’m also about to move house – to somewhere with an outbuilding that would be the perfect size for a small brewkit – so I think this’ll be the year I finally start brewing my own too…
Do you agree with my top beers of the year? What were your favourite beers and beer venues from 2014?