As per last year, I'd like to put together some nominations from the island of Ireland as this bog is all about highlighting the growing beer scene over here. I'm not going to look back at last years until after this post goes live; so it'll be just on my memory and ratebeer scores rather than being influenced by what went before. The usual provisio applies: I wasn't able to try everything that was released and if any more impress before the end of the year I reserve the right to amend my choices!
1. Best Cask Beer I've not had very much Irish cask this year as I missed the ICBCF, but I was able to attend the Franciscan Well winterfest. However I'm going to "cheat" slightly and nominate the Northbound 08 Kolsch which was on key-cask at the CAMRA beer festival. Clean, fresh, flavourful - I had three pints which is a rarity in these days of halves and thirds.
Honourable mention: Lacada Stranded Bunny for tasting just as a porter should and filling a real gap amongst the Irish reds and dry stouts. If I'd had a chance to try it with more condition it could have taken the crown
2. Best Keg Beer I've had a lot more of these, though largely what's been imported to the North as I've only been to Dublin a couple of times. The crown has to go to Eight Degrees for Gasman Rye for its sheer drinkability, which it has no right to have at 7.8%, a tropical melange of hops combatting with a robust and spicy body.
Honourable mention: There are far too many to list really, 2015 has been an excellent beer year but I was really impressed by Killarney Devils Helles a really crisp and nettley doughy pils like beer and the juxtaposition of clean malt and fruity hops that was Trouble Brewing Remix India Pale Lager.
3. Best Bottled/ Canned beer This one is much easier, has to be Galway Bay's Superlative 200 Fathoms. Last year's release was special this year was spot on and one of my highest rated Irish beers altogether. Honourable mentions Farmageddon Hopburst IPA - these guys had a run of infected bottles but this one showed off how the beer is intended, bright juicy tropical hops on a clean lightly bready malt profile.
Boundary Filthy Animal a Christmas special which unfortunately sold out before I could get hold of any more bottles a lightly spicy and smoky rich porter, great with cheese or desserts alike.
4. Best Homebrew has to go to Shane's Raspberry Turbo, outright winner at Sourfest. Its the kind of beer I'd want to keep a few of in the fridge for its sheer enjoyability. Luckily a version of it is currently slumbering in a wine barrel at Boundary and is certainly a contender for best bottled beer next year!
5. Best Overall Beer is a tricky one but I think it has to be the Northbound 08 because it just surprised me on draught after having found it ho-hum in bottle. Its a year-round beer rather than a seasonal like the majority of my other picks this year, try it if you find it!
6.Best Brewery is becoming harder every year as the ranks of excellent breweries swell almost weekly. I could easily give this to Eight Degrees again, who haven't released a bad beer this year but that would be far too easy. Instead I think there's a brewery this year that's really dialled in its core range and released a raft of interesting specials with a head brewer who's really gotten into his stride. That brewery is of course Galway Bay. I can't claim to have loved everything but Foam and Fury continues to be a world class DIPA, the Voyager US IPA filled a real gap in the market and the sessionable kettle sours are real winners. Congrats Chris and team!
7. Best New Brewery -Killarney very much impressed on first outing earlier this summer; but I've not drunk enough to give them the crown. Instead this award goes to a brewery I've drunk monthly from their launch, with a solid core range (though admittedly not all to my taste) and a raft of specials and collaborations it has to be Boundary.(full disclosure: I am both a co-owner and good friends with Matthew the brewer, but I like to think the beer speaks for itself). The ethos behind the brewery and the buy in from the local community are the real things that make it stand out.
8. Best Pub/ Bar has definitely been earned by The Sunflower. Woodfired pizza oven in the garden, host to Belfast beer Club, well kept beer on cask and a great range of local and international beer in the fridges. Saddened and angry to hear that redevelopment may lead to its demolition - I hope not but in the meantime please support it whilst you can.
9. Best New Opening - I've not been to any new bars down south but there's one that immediately springs to mind in the north. I was a bit of a latecomer but I've now visited on a number of occasions and been impressed each time. 10 guest taps with regular takeovers and the biggest bottle list of perhaps any UK bar, interesting small snack plates and a buzzing atmosphere. The award this year goes to Brewbot.
10. Best Food and Beer Pairing I've not eaten out as much this year, but one thing that really does stick in my mind is the fresh, lemony and mouth-filling creaminess of St Tola against the crisp, pithy and brightness of Eight Degrees Full Irish (Cheers to Mike at Fancy Cheese Co. for facilitating this!).
11. Best Festival is really getting some real competition now, with some weekends having multiple events, especially during the summer months. I now have to pick and choose which to attend but in my mind there is one true stand out. Fantastic venue, excellent food and world class beer selection. Great feedback from all who attended - amazing considering its in its first year! This award belongs to ABV. (Disclosure time again: I worked the full weekend at the festival and know the organisers)
12. Best Independent Retailer with a new growler fill station and probably still the best variety of Irish and international beers The Vineyard takes this again.
Honourable mentions: McHughs have made ammends for an inauspicious first few orders and continue to impress with the number of Irish beers they manage to find room for. I'm also very fortunate to have the Winerack in Stewartstown acting as my local good beer hotspot - though of course its helped that I've been able to advise on what should be stocked!