The Scoopergen 2007 Awards !
Last Updated : 02/01/08
ell then, here we go again! Just when the multinational mega-corps felt it was safe to count their ill-gotten cash and have a small sherry to celebrate the festive season (you know, the one where they try to persuade everyone to buy far too much alcohol and thus make obscene amounts of money at the cost of irreparable damage to the domestic and social fabric of the country) here I come again with yet another year's worth of slaggings-off and even the odd congratulation here and there.
You know the format by now... the categories are the same as last year's awards (2006, just in case you forgot or are still signing cheques with the wrong year (cheques? Can you still get them?)) 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.
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 opinions!
2007's vital statistics -
Flight sectors flown : 23
Aircraft miles flown : 25,488 (or thereabouts)
New beers scooped : 958 (530 UK / 428 ROTW)
Non-UK Countries Visited : 11 (Poland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Eire, Chile, Argentina, Slovakia, Austria)
Scoopergen's beers of the year 2007
Pretty self-explanatory really; the best beer I sampled in 2007! I drank 965 "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 that one session? Saying that, I've eventually decided on the top three;
Närke Kulturbryggeri Slättöl (4.4%), Örebro, Sweden. I've had very few Swedish beers and this one totally blew my socks off, but not in the strength stakes, oh no. This beer, a summer-only offering from what I'm told is Sweden's best brewery, was offered to me by Per Samuelsson at a Ratebeer meeting in Glasgow this summer and from the moment I raised the glass to my nose and smelt the pungent, citrussy and piney hops to the agonising second I drained the last drop of this magnificent pale, intensely hoppy yet perfectly balanced brew I knew that it was getting perilously close to my holy grail of beer. I love session beers, and this near-perfect hop monster proves that they can be packed full of flavour and yet still remain what beer was originally brewed for - a refreshing drink, not an exhibit at an "over the top flavour" competition.
Cardos Cerveza Artesanal Barley Wine (12%), Los Cardales, Argentina. I was impressed by Cardos' Cream Stout (6%) during my last visit to Argentina, but I didn't know the depth of quality in all their beers until I had the opportunity to drink all four at a meal hosted by Argentinean micro-brewers from Murrays and Cardos. I'd already enjoyed the Pilsener and Scotch Ale and thought that this one would be the methsy, over-strong and unbalanced runt of the litter... how wrong I was! Most barley wines are huge, strong, palate-blasters and a glass of that is generally enough for me (although the Argentines seem good at stronger beers) but this was a stunner; an amber brew with a gorgeously inviting hue of ruby shot through it, the aroma was beguilingly winey and malty with just a hint of fruitiness but the real surprise was the subtle and complex flavour; a full maltiness, without being too heavy, was joined by a strawberry fruitiness, Madeira, toffee, some dryness and a hint of alcohol burn although all the flavours were integrated into one smooth wholeness rather than milling around the tongue causing mischief as is common in such strong beers. To get a 12% beer so balanced and subtle yet still very drinkable is an artform – and this beer is a masterpiece!
Kinver Double Eagle IPA (7.5%), Kinver, UK. I tried this beast at the Plough in Worcester after missing out a couple of times previously and I'm very, very pleased I eventually caught up with it. A hazy amber brew, it had a full, fruity, citrussy hop nose which shouted complexity at every sniff. A massive hop taste was obvious, but looking deeper I found bitterness, pine resins, hedgerow fruit, citrus peel and leafiness before the citrus hop blast roared into it's massive yet mellow climax of maltiness, bitterness, hop and zest. A real eye-opener from a British brewer and perfectly balanced despite the massive hop rate and strength; I'd not drink this every day, but sometimes it's a real treat to have something different than 4% golden beers with insufficient hopping - well done Kinver for having the cajonas to brew such a monster!
It was really difficult to pick a winner having had so many excellent brews this year and so, to give the rest of my favourites some well-earned credit, here they are!
UK: Thornbridge Hall (all their beers, especially Kipling and Jaipur), Salamander Stoat Stout, Pictish Pacific Gem and Samhain Stout (well, all their beer really!), Hornbeam and Brewdog are showing good promise thus far, George Wright have done a few lovely brews this year and Windsor Castle remain my favourite Black Country brewer - with a twist! Also, respect to Meantime of Greenwich for producing such excellent beers (Pale ale and London Stout in particular) and, most importantly, not pasteurising them!
Abroad: Stary Kraków's beers were a delight in Poland, Türbinen Bräu's unfiltered Pilsener impressed me immensely in Zürich, Brewpub København knew what they were doing (as did most of their Danish countrymen; Copenhagen is a must re-visit!), Galway Hooker changed my perception of Irish beer, Szot led the Chilean charge, Murray's of Buenos Aires almost got in the top three again with their delicate yet hoppy Golden Ale (perfect when it's 30˚C outside!), 1516 in Vienna proved they're more than just American copycats with some wild brews, and I finally got to try some very impressive American beers - Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout, Weyerbacher Old Heathen and Pizza Port Hop 15 were just a few... plus I'm glad I can still find time for Lambic from Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen and the rest!
Roll on next year... can it get any better?
Worst beers of the year 2007
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!
Quilmes (InBev) Stout (4.8%), Buenos Aires, Argentina. I really thought I'd tried the worst beers in the world after all this time - but no, along comes a multinational with something called Stout which made me wretch... and I'm not joking, either! I'd been warned off this by various beer lovers in Argentina but, seeing it in a shop for 20p, I foolishly purchased one and later on gave it a go as, after all, "how bad could it be?". VERY bad was the predictable answer; a repulsive black fluid with an aroma and taste of three things - caramel, burnt sugar and harsh, burning artificial sweeteners. I almost threw up... surely nothing can be worse than this...can it?!?
Sternen Honey Brown (5%), Frauenfeld, Switzerland. A light amber, overbearingly sweet fluid with a really unpleasant plastic hint to the taste which develops into a real mess of a finish with the sickly sweetness thankfully masking the less desirable flavours... or at least that's what I wrote when I tried a bottle of it in Zürich during the spring!
Holts Touchwood (4.2%), Cheetham Hill, Manchester. I've finally given up on Holts beer now as it just tastes as cheap as it is, but this one really took the biscuit! My tasting notes say "A filthy amber colour with a cheap, plasticy, toffeeish and rather nauseating apple character with hints of vomit." Sounds yummy, and I distinctly remember most of it ending up in the slops tray behind the bar... funny, that...
Beer discovery of the year 2007
This can be a brewery, beer style, or something totally different - it's completely up to me!
That the brewing scene in Denmark is so much bigger, more enthusiastic, more adventurous and just about the most interesting I've seen anywhere... two days were not enough, we need to get back there in 2008! If you like well-hopped, interesting beers then you can't go far wrong in Denmark...
Brewpubs of the year 2007
Again, reasonably self-explanatory! The only rider is that the pub must brew on the premises.
Lambrate Birrifico – via Adelchi 5, Milan, Italy. Like a British pub! It was noisy and bustling when we were there (it was happy hour, free snacks at the end of the bar) although it was easy enough to get served. The barman gave me samples of all beers first and they were all pretty interesting, especially the smoked stout and Montestella. Well worth a visit, but would be better at quieter times as it’s not very large inside... The beers are interesting, the staff sociable, the atmosphere buzzing - an all-round great brewpub with a wide range of styles amongst it's products.
1516 Brewing Company, Krugerstraße 18, Vienna, Austria. The name says it all; not particularly Austrian, but very good all the same. Brews 2 regular plus up to 6 seasonal beers a month, all tasty, different to the norm in Vienna and very "new world" in style - i.e.; hopped in the American way! Good food, too. The best beers in Vienna if you like hops; Yankee Sticke was an absolute whopper in December...
BrewPub København, Vestergade 29, Copenhagen, Denmark. A relatively new brewpub which looks as if it’s been there for quite a while! Features a terrace out the back and a cosy cellar bar with the brewery on your right as you enter. Tasting trays are available and there are usually at least six home-brewed beers on draught (plus one from cask) and generally a guest beer too. The staff know their stuff, the beers are very impressive (as long as you like strongly-flavoured brews) and overall it’s a superb place which I’ll definitely be going back to; the Cole Porter and Geromino IPA were rabidly good and only severe lack of time made us leave!
Best bars of the year 2007
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!
Ølbaren, Elmegade 2, Copenhagen, Denmark. Superb little bar with a huge interest and enthusiasm for beer which manifests itself in the excellent beer list and choice of draught beers, not to mention in the barstaff and customers! I’ve only been twice yet I rate this bar amongst the very best in Europe for both beer range and the experience of being there – go now; it’s one of the friendliest beer-loving pubs that I’ve been to for years, you'll have a great evening drinking some superb examples of Danish craft brewing.
Cruzat Beer House, Sarmiento 1617 (1st floor), Buenos Aires, Argentina. What an amazing place this is! It bills itself as a "Medieval hall" but this doesn't really wash and they should really just say they're the best beer bar in Argentina at this moment. Over 100 home-grown beers on the massive Belgian-style list encompassing all areas of the country (the list is arranged by region) all kept in the huge fridges alongside the bar. A dozen brews on draught, mainly Koala and Murrays (the only outlet for the excellent Murray's Golden), so any scooper would be well advised to camp out here for a couple of lengthy sessions to get their bearings on the Argentine beer scene. The prices are slightly high (this is a reasonably wealthy area) and average around ARG$12 a bottle which won't break the bank too much... The food looked good too and, overall, I have no hesitation in recommending Cruzat as the best bar in Buenos Aires for scooping purposes!
Bierhaus, Pope’s Quay, Cork, Eire. Let’s get one thing straight before I launch into paroxysms of praise; this place is a classic little bar which I would be a huge fan of wherever it was in the world but, here in Cork, it’s an oasis in a sea of pasteurised mediocrity. Okay, that’s that cleared up, so now I can say how relaxed the atmosphere is, how comfy the couches are, how sociable the landlord is, how wide the beer range is and lots of other things… basically, we really enjoyed our time in the Bierhaus and it’s easy-going charm was impressive and if there’s a better beer bar in Cork then I’ll show my arse in Burton’s window٭
٭ : Dependent on Burtons agreeing.
Best beer shop of the year 2007
A new category which has been created after finding some cracking beer shops during our travels in 2007. I'll list my favourite shops worthy of Bacchanalian praise below.
Ølbutikken, Oehlenschlægersgade 2, Copenhagen, Denmark. This is one amazing shop! With inside dimensions not measuring much more than an average bedroom (or large cupboard) you’d be right not to expect too much – but that would be before you’d been here. The walls are filled with shelves holding shining examples of the brewer’s art from a variety of countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the UK, the US and more with scarcely a dodgy choice amongst the 100 or so choices there – and that’s some going! The range of lambics was particularly strong and all three Westvleteren beers were available, but it’s the Danish micros we were after and there was plenty of choice in that department. An all-round classic shop which doesn’t have many betters - but I bet you can't pronounce the address! (Neither can I, don't worry...)
A Tutta Birra, Via Lazzaro Palazzi 15, Milan, Italy. Superb beer shop with 300+ beers including some decent Italian micro brews, this place is like an Aladdin’s cave of delights! Only five minutes from a tramstop and with a friendly owner, it’s highly recommended to visit and pick up some huge scoops whilst in Milan to drink whilst you're waiting for the brewpubs to open...
Fermento, Via Cibrario Luigi 31, Turin, Italy. Cracking little beer shop selling a large range of all things beery, many UK beers but a decent selection of Italian micro brews too. The owner speaks good English and is very sociable; he was happy to explain the styles of all the beers he had and even gave us free glasses! Highly recommended and not far from the centre, you can even get there by tram (No.13)!
Best brewery tap of the year 2007
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.
Türbinenhalle, Badenerstraße 571, Zürich, Switzerland. Brewery tap of the Türbinenbräu brewery, a large modern affair alongside a busy road in suburban Zürich, this is most definitely a brewery tap and not a brewpub as it majors on food (very nice it looked, too) and plays down the beers made in the surprisingly large futuristic plant through the windows. The standard beers are pretty dull but the specials are more adventurous; on our visit an unfiltered pilsener was on tap and it was superb with masses of citrussy, leafy saaz character. A bit of a trek out of town on tram 2 but well worth it.
Best new UK scooping pub 2007
I know it opened last year, but the scooping pub of the year award must go to the New Oxford in Salford for it's amazing commitment to "scoopable" cask ales and all-round excellence in what is a very difficult area. With the future of the Crescent looking a little more certain now, hopefully the New Oxford can cement it's position as the "must-visit" when in Manchester/Salford - it certainly is for me at the moment, and I'm notoriously reluctant to walk anywhere! So, well done to the New Oxford, and here's to a superb new addition to the Manchester scooping scene.
Best place visited during 2007
This takes into account the beer choice, transport, brewpubs etc - unfortunately, some great cities would get nowhere owing to their lack of decent beer, Gdansk for example.
Buenos Aires, Argentina. I know this seems like a fix winning for the second year, but I just can't explain how much I love this city... so I'll simply re-hash last year's comments. BsAs is a fascinating and sprawling metropolis with a decent brewpub scene and - if you know where to look - a huge array of micro-brewed beer for sale and it now has a scooping pub worthy of any European city in the shape of Cruzat. Add to this great food (steaks, empanadas...), excellent public transport and a gratifying cheapness all round then you might see why I really enjoy BsAs! If you love beer and/or old diesel trains then you just can't lose!
Copenhagen, Denmark. When I first visited in 1991 there was one brewpub and... well, that was about your lot; Carlsberg had the whole place sewn up tight. What a difference, then, now with six brewpubs and a huge array of bars serving up brews from the rapidly expanding micro brewing industry and it helps that some of these bars are world classics! No trams, unfortunately, but a human-sized city centre adds to the attraction and allows for a superb pub crawl to be carried out. I must get back there as soon as possible!
Vienna, Austria. We'd not visited Austria for nigh on four years but it seemed as if we'd never been away as soon as the tram bashing began! Vienna has the largest tram system in the world (still with a large number of old trams) and, with 13 brewpubs available for your pleasure, rates as one of the best cities beer-wise too. Add to this superb food and all the Habsburg grandeur you can stomach and you've got a city that fires on all cylinders - just get yourself there!
Best public transport system of the year 2007
OK so it's not really about beer, but so what? It helps you get there...
Vienna, Austria. The largest tram network in the world - that's Vienna now St Petersburg has closed swathes of it's once enormous tram network, but it's not just the trams that make Vienna tick (if you'll excuse the pun!); a local rail network criss-crosses the city, sometimes on ancient trestle bridges from the last century, plus a useful underground system and more buses than you can shake a 72-hour pass at (a mere €13.60, valid for 72 hours from punching) and, added together, this creates a wonderful transport system which will get you within a five-minute walk of any of the beery delights the city has to offer - even Eipeltauer!
Best Hotel of the year 2007
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!
Hotel Pollera, Ulica Szpitalna 30, Kraków, Poland. An absolute blinder of a hotel, this; it’s close to the train station, tram stops, the main square and just about everything else in Kraków but on a quiet road (Ulica Szpitalna) and is full of character and history; the stained glass windows on the stair landings are very impressive as is the “Made in USSR” barometer in the ground floor corridor. Booking via the hotel’s website you get a whole raft of discounts (booking online, weekend rates etc) and we ended up paying the equivalent of £40 a night for a double with a pretty decent help yourself breakfast thrown in too; maybe this is expensive for Poland (although Kraków isn’t cheap) but we were more than happy with the room and it’s facilities so I’d recommend it whole heartedly to anyone staying in the city as much for it's location and quality as for it's price - all in all, a real find.
Best pub food of the year 2007
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. For some reason, German bars always do very well in my lists of favourite food...
Fischer Bräu, Billrothstraße 17, Vienna, Austria. As we didn't visit Germany this year, Austria will have to do... which is taking nothing away from the food in Vienna which was universally excellent everywhere we ate. In particular, though, I enjoyed an Austrian speciality here which was simply amazing; Kasnocken is a kind of tiny cheese-filled egg pasta thing (sorry to be a touch vague, but they are pretty unique!) generally called - in the Tirol, their home - Spätzle and, in this dish, they are put into a Balti-esque bowl with loads of cheese, roast onions, leeks, ham and cream then baked in an oven before being served with a green salad. The resulting cheesy mass is filling, delicious and quite indescribable - plus it goes excellently with beer!
Chaper Arts Centre, Market Street, Cardiff. Is there anything Chaper doesn't do well? Not content with having a fridge full of excellent German beers they still manage to produce superb food - indeed, that's why many customers are there! The menu is pretty static, with a few specials, but if you like beef then I'd recommend the Welsh Steak with mushroom sauce; I had this around a dozen times during this autumn and, despite a couple of average plates, in the main the steak was tasty, well-cooked and toothsome plus the sumptuous mushroom sauce (full of a variety of fungi) is a perfect accompaniment to the thin chips, but make sure you add a side of mozzarella garlic bread just to finish things off! Sitting there after my mammoth feast with a few bottles of German beer at least once a week was the highlight of my 4 months in Cardiff!
De Cao Café Notable, Independencia 2400, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentineans love their Picadas and who am I to argue? A picada is, basically, a variety of foods arranged - more often than not - on a wooden platter usually including cheeses, meats (cured/cooked/raw), bread, pickles, biscuits and just about anything else "snacky"! This may not seem like a good idea for a meal but, believe me, when done well a picada is both tasty and filling; the one I had in De Cao with fellow traveller Big Feller was comprised of various hams, sausages, cheeses, olives plus bread, breadsticks and a kind of salsa too - delicious.
Best / Worst airports of the year 2007
My personal opinions of those I've visited during the last 12 months.
Best - Strangely enough, I'm having trouble picking a winner - that's never happened before, especially in this category! The contenders are -
Cork : We were off the plane, through security and out the door in five minutes, although security from the UK to Eire is very lax so I assume we got off lightly... transport to town is easy and frequent (just make sure you ask for the right ticket!) and the airport itself is small, relaxed and efficient.
Bratislava : I quite liked it the last time, but after it's makeover this must now be one of the nicest entries to any of the former Soviet countries; light, airy, uncrowded and now with a public transport kiosk (day ticket stock dependent...) and easy, cheap and frequent bus services to the central station make this a stress-free experience - although I imagine with a few Ryotscare-loads of stag nights around it may be a somewhat different experience!
Basle : Fairly big and bustling yet very organised - very Swiss - this airport serves three counties at once and somehow manages to do it very well. Clear signage, easy gate location, plenty of information and facilities make this big airport seem a lot smaller than it is.
Santiago and Buenos Aires : Despite being huge capital city gateways, both these are remarkably human in scale and easy to navigate, despite having a very South American feel to them in that you're never quite sure what's going on! Both were easy to navigate and pass through, something which I've heard can't be said for airports elsewhere in the continent...
If pressed to chose one, however, I think I'd probably go for Bratislava for it's facilities as much as it's position in Europe which means it's useable as a gateway to Austria, Czech and Hungary as well as Slovakia - we may be there again sooner than I thought, glad I kept that pocketful of crowns...
Worst - It may seem that I've a downer on big airports... well, yes I have, but especially ones where I've not got a fucking clue what's going on, where anything is, where the gates are, what "Zona D" means, etc etc... Madrid Badajos is a truly massive place by itself, but then add on the new T4 and it becomes enormous. But, wait, there's more - T4 also has what's prosaically called "T4 Satellite" which is basically the same thing again, just further away, joined to T4 umbilically by a train like the one at Stansted! I've been through Madrid twice this year and neither time was particularly enjoyable, although spending 3 hours trying to sort out a missed connection to Santiago at 01:00 in the morning must rate as one of life's less gratifying experiences. So, if you can possibly avoid it, don't go via Madrid Badajos - it's just a total shambles!
The "Services to Scooping" award 2007
A new category this year. this one's to recognise 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...
The last thing I want is for this to sound like some cheery-beery, all-mates-together communal back-slapping exercise, so let me assure you it's not, and I don't give a toss if people think that way because that's simply not the case at all! It's a method for me to recognise people who I think have done a lot to bring craft beer - not just scooping, take note - into the collective awareness of "normals" and make drinking artesanal/craft/micro beer a more socially acceptable exercise and not the geeky/nerdish/beardy one it's sometimes seen as by the populace, at least in the UK.
So, to pick a winner... well, the most deserving person I can think of at the moment is Steve Westby of Nottingham Beerfest fame... apart from running the festival with a huge range of beers, many of them scoops, in a very scooper-friendly manner he also finds time to do the beer at Newark and many other little festivals around the area. I'm sure many will agree that his work on behalf of cask beer is excellent, but to do it with us scoopers in mind is just amazing.
So cheers Steve, and here's to many more festivals with "scoopers very welcome" in the WB writeup - how long before CAMRA edit that out, I wonder?!
© Gazza 02/01/2008.