The Scoopergen Awards 2009 !
Last Updated : 28/01/10
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!
2009's vital statistics
|Flight sectors flown :||20|
|Aircraft miles flown :||22,563 (or thereabouts)|
|New beers scooped :||1,224 (757 UK / 467 Rest of the World)|
|Countries Visited :||6 (Italy (twice), Germany (twice), Portugal, Japan, Sweden, Poland)|
2009's Award Winners
|Beer of the Year||Marble Dobber|
|Worst beer of the Year||Kormoran Wiśnia|
|Brewery of the Year||Marble|
|Beer Discovery of the Year||The Craft beer (Ji-biru) scene of Japan|
|Brewpub of the Year||Fujizakura, Japan|
|Bar of the Year||Bakusyu club Popeye, Tokyo|
|Beer Shop of the Year||A Tutta Birra, Milan|
|Brewery tap of the Year||Baird's, Tokyo|
|UK Scooping pub of the Year||Harlequin, Sheffield|
|Beer Place of the Year||Tokyo|
|Public transport of the Year||Tokyo|
|Hotel of the Year||Best Western Porto Antico, Genoa|
|Pub Food of the Year||Brewbaker, Berlin|
|Airport of the Year||Stuttgart, Germany|
|Funniest moment of the Year||Blogger Timmy gets his come-uppance|
|Services to Scooping 2009||Paolo Polli, Milan|
Scoopergen's beers of the year 2009
Pretty self-explanatory really; the best beer I sampled in 2009! 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;
Marble Dobber (was 1425) - "A hefty yet refined bitterness combined with a gorgeous juicy, zesty citrus and gooseberry blast with a razor-sharp citrus, grapefruity bite (that'll be Chinooks, then!) which increased into a tongue-punishing crescendo of hop oil, gooseberry, delicate peach and bitterness..." Quite simply the most amazing beer brewed in the UK since West Coast sadly packed up, this has the spirit of a certain Mr Dobbin all through; a thing of burly beauty and I feel emotional just thinking about it; drinking it is like being smothered by a hop pillow!
Hakusekikan Barley Wine - "So much more going on in there; Olorosso sherry, wood, hints of brettanomyces wild yeast, a rich whiff of molasses, dark fruits and plenty more aromas hiding behind the more prominent ones..." A lesson in balance, meshing of flavours and downright exuberance in a glass, this is too good to simply be the final beer of the evening. Probably the finest Barley Wine I've experienced thus far and, as you may have heard, I'm rather partial to them...!
Port Brewing High Tide fresh hop - "I must state that I've never before tasted a beer which gives an impression of chewing unkilned hopcones and I'm not sure I'll ever have a beer like this again! Fresh unkilned Simcoe and Centennial hops are used to great effect in this beast of a beer, brewed once a year when the green hops have just been harvested for maximum zesty juiciness" A joyful thing to behold, a celebration of the hop harvest done as only the Americans can do; full-on, packed with hops and - thankfully - with the crystal malt an afterthought! A true piece of hop heaven in a glass.
Thornbridge Raven - "The main thing I noticed was the oozing citrus of the aroma, all orange peel, tropical fruit and tangerines and not - thankfully - the lighter citrus fruits which clash with roasted grains. I supped deeply and suddenly bells rang, angels fluttered and the room turned fuzzy; this was so, so much better than I'd even hoped it would be, and it was a beer I never thought I'd see - a proper British black IPA!" Mould breaking in the UK, just as Jaipur was, this is an example of how to brew a black IPA; no citrus hops just fruity ones! Sorachi work perfectly and, overall, it's something of which Thornbridge should be very proud.
Brewdog Chaos Theory - "Nelson Sauvin is one of the most interesting hops in the world but rarely is it used in quantities such as this and rarely does it get to shine as it does here: there isn't the full-on gooseberry and cat's piss that sometimes comes with Nelson Sauvin but what's there instead is a huge bitterness and layers of tropical fruit with mango, pineapple, lychee and all those kinds of squishy, fruity delights bursting out of the glass" Brewdog's finest hour in my opinion, the one beer that displays subtlety, complexity and above all love of hops in one mouthful. Their other IPA's are too harsh and samey but this has pure class written all over it - and, if it were a stick of rock, all through it too.
Plus, here's some more which almost made it...
UK : Little Ale Cart Cameronian and Osprey were solidly aromatic, hoppy and fruity, Marble Trial Run had a bewitching hop aroma although needed a dollop more bitterness to shine, Brass Monkey Capucin had a near-perfect balance of hop, fruit, bitterness and spiciness, Mallinsons Let there be More Hops did just what it said and more, Brewdog How to Disappear Completely was a beer no-one had done before, a "lite" IPA, but it remains my favourite sub-4% beer of the year, Teme Valley Hop Nouveau First Gold played a blinder this year with a lip-smacking spicy, citrussy bitterness, Arbor Motueka was like liquefied rose petals, Oakham Citra was a simply gorgeous gobful of pure fruity, hoppy, oily goodness, and Blue Monkey Cathedral Quarter was a cheeky little number with a simple yet effective bitter, hop-led flavour that grew on me.
Abroad : Bi-Du Rodersch was a lesson in lager and hops although these were unashamedly European, Nynäshamns Ångbryggeri Pickla Pils yet another albeit more Czech kvasnicové in style, De Cam Kriek Lambiek 05 should be taught in schools as how to make a traditional kriekenlambic, Barfußer Rotgold a deliciously different beer in a land of same-iness, Mikkeller (Proef) Simcoe IPA was exactly what you'd expect from them but the catty Simcoes shone here as rarely they get chance to do, Hops & Barley (Berlin) Bernstein was a cracker of a sessionable toasty, bitter Dunkel with, happily, no sign of Sinimar, Shiga Kogen IPA just one of the superb beers I sampled in Tokyo, Pictish Columbus a juicy, fruity, zesty and sticky hop-beast, Ölands Gammeltokens Rököl a beer of which you could honestly say is like nothing else for miles around, Sigtuna Månens 099 Barley Wine a heavenly mix of barley wine and Seville oranges, Toccalmatto Re-Hop an example of the sheer grassy, hayfield-like freshness European hops can sometimes provide, Zum Schwannen Bockbier a full-on malty bock with a superb fruitiness in the background, and finally König von Flandern Urhell a clean, hoppy, spicy and downright gluggable session beer with character.
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 2009
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!
Kormoran Wiśnia - Why, Poland, why oh why do so many of your brewers make dross like this? Imagine the sweetest cough syrup possible, double it, add some chemicals then red colouring and you're part of the way there... absolutely disgusting and not really beer!
Dorset Piddle Cocky Pot - How this ever got out of the fermenter into casks and not down the drain is totally beyond me; I mean, it's difficult to appreciate how a beer is going to evolve when it's very green, we've had the same problem with Steel City, but you can tell if a beer has major issues such as phenolic concentrations fit to sterilise an Olympic-sized swimming pool! This should never have left the brewery - except via the drain.
Stuttgarter Hofbräu Weihnachts-Bier - Picture a strong, industrial lager with absolutely zero Xmas connotations to it at all, now make it even more industrial, harsh, methanol-laden and syrupy... and you're nowhere near to this monstrosity at all; it's a blessing that it was less than a Euro in a supermarket but, still, I wish we'd not bothered! Saying that, the label is nice... and that, believe me, is by far the best part of this embarrassment of a beer.
Plus : Double Maxim's beer is disgusting and not improving, Golden Valley have quality issues endemic of the new wave of UK micros, Williams make some passable beer although much of it is bizarre, unpalatable slops such as this was, Alehouse need to sort their consistency out as I really like their beer in general but some are still - sorry Kev - unpleasant, Mayfield are improving although they could only really go one way, honey beer doesn't always work but, let me tell you, dark artificial honey beer really doesn't work such as Krajan Miodowe Ciemne from Poland, Portugal's beer scene is as crap as ever and just to prove that República da Cerveja Spring Beer was one of the lowlights of last year, Arboga Majbock confirmed that Carlsberg don't brew a lot worth talking about (although there is some!), T Y Harbour in Tokyo proved that not all Japanese micro-brewed beer is good, Exeter brewery beers still taste like TCP... and I'll stop there before I fill up the internet with my ranting!
Brewery of the year 2009
This brewery can be from anywhere and make anything but it must make whatever it does consistently and superbly... that's the only rider!
A difficult one as the brewer I thought was a dead cert, Pictish, has had some issues recently with Diacetyl which all but ruined the previous hop special for me. So, who else is there? Thornbridge, despite the glories of Raven, still live too much in the shoes of the past so it can't be them, Brewdog's beer isn't consistent enough, I've not drunk enough Mallinsons or Phoenix to be 100% sure, so there's only one other candidate - Marble.
Let's face facts here; unless you're a crystal-malt loving hop-hating veg you should love Marble beers, they're the epitome of luscious hoppiness, are superbly well made, have a massive diverse range and are chock-full of hops. The only problem with them is that they're not seen outside Manchester often enough although, hopefully, the new much bigger brewkit will allow this to happen.
I love Marble beers; I loved 'em when Brendan Dobbin created them, I still liked them even during their disastrous "vegan" phase, but it's only now that they're really getting into their stride and showing us what they can do; Marble Dobber was - by quite a margin - my beer of the year and they have two other brews in my top UK beers this year... so, who else could I really give this to?
Marble - you've got a rare talent, please share it about more this year!!!
Beer discovery of the year 2009
This can be a brewery, beer style, or something totally different - it's completely up to me!
Without a doubt it's got to be the Craft beer (Ji-biru) scene in Japan. Before I visited in May I'd never have guessed that so many quality brewers existed there and their beers would be so enthralling, different and downright tasty! From barley wines to hop-monster IPA's through everything in-between this is a country with a lot to offer beer-wise, but a visit it so much more than the beer: it's a total culture shock to step out of Ueno station for the first time and to be confronted with Tokyo in all it's mad neon glory, much the same as sleeping in a 2x1.5 metre tube, trying to work out what Pachinko is all about, or ordering food from a vending machine to get a ticket which you then hand to the cook...
The list goes on and on, but if I could say one thing about Japan it would be GO! If you like things bland and safe then maybe not, but if you've a hankering for something different than yet another European city then Japan's your place and, going on my experience, Tokyo is a great place to start with the best beer bars in the country plus a totally unforgettable cultural experience; just do it.
(Ji-Biru means literally "regional beer" but is taken to mean anything non-industrial!)
Brewpubs of the year 2009
Again, reasonably self-explanatory! The only rider is that the pub must brew on the premises.
Fujizakura, Kawaguchiko-cho, Yamanashi-ken, Japan - Maybe it was the stunning location under a snow-capped Mount Fuji or maybe it was the sociability of the brewer that's pipped the others to the top spot, or maybe it's just a combination of excellent beer, surroundings and food. Difficult to get to but well worth the effort, this brewpub doesn't attempt to blow you away with extreme beers but concentrates on making superlative copies of European beer styles; the smoked bock was truly a wondrous thing.
Monk’s Café Wallingatan, Stockholm, Sweden - The beer range might not be as stunningly good as it's sister bar in Sveavägen but the range of home-brewed beers was exemplary. The variety of beer styles was wide and impressive with an orange ale (whatever that is), American pale, Saison, Porter and Barley Wine on offer of which all were well-made and interesting, plus there are loads of guest bottles too!
Marble Arch, Manchester, UK - Probably my favourite pub in the whole of Britain, this place is a gorgeous narrow roomed bar with sloping tiled floors, tiled walls, tiled ceilings (there's a lot of tiles) and ten cask ales on the bar of which half are generally from my brewery of the year in the cellar or just down the road on their new larger kit. If you've not visited the Marble then you've not drunk beer in the UK, simple as that.
Hops & Barley, Berlin, Germany - A smaller than usual brewpub in an unpromising area of the city which blasts it's way into the top five on account of the quality of the beers brewed there. A constantly changing special is served which can be something very interesting indeed and the whole place oozes that relaxed, cosy and comforting air so many of Germany's better bars have. Oh, and they don't serve beer to Nazis, either, which is a very commendable policy!
Zum Schwannen, Esslingen, Germany - A brewpub hidden away in the picturesque centre of a wine-growing village on the south-eastern outskirts of Stuttgart doesn't sound like the kind of place to impress me greatly, but it's not simply the safe "holy trinity" of helles, dunkel and weiss here; the seasonal beer was a doppelbock and, although this is only seasonal, it was one of the best beers I had all year plus, if this isn't enough reason to visit, the standard Märzen was a deliciously bready and tasty treat.
Others worthy of a mention :
Barfußer Ulm, Brewbaker & Hops and Barley Berlin, Spiż Wrocław, Barfußer Ulm, Yokohama tap Yokohama.
Best bars of the year 2009
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!
Bakusyu club Popeye, Tokyo - Quite simply the best bar between Helsinki and the West Coast of America - and that's a lot of miles of frozen tundra, believe me! An unassuming place that has become a temple to craft beer and is one of the only places I've been to for a long time where the love of beer is palpable. Take a bow, Aoki-san!
BQ, Milan - It's not often we visit a city then find the best bar whilst there, but this stunner happened exactly thus. Very non-European in style with a huge 20+ tap array, but Paolo Polli is a true beer lover and is giving the lucky citizens of Milan - which already has some great bars - more choice than most cities for miles around. Cask ale, rare Italian scoops, bizarre imports, real lambic... what more could you want? Oh yes, sampler glasses too! An all-round must-visit in Europe.
Monk’s Café Sveavägen, Stockholm - A great beer city with many excellent bars but this one stands out, even above it's sister bar which brews, as an amazing beery mecca. The tap range is impressive enough with their own beers plus Swedish guests but it's the bottles which really set it apart; Argentinean micro beer from Patagonia, the cream of Italian brewing such as Del Borgo ReAle extra and interesting Danish micros plus much, much more; many hours (and much money!) could be spent sitting in the airy bar working your way through the extensive menu.
Others worthy of a mention :
North Bar & Foleys Leeds, Star Huddersfield, Harlequin, Kelham Island Tavern & Cask & Cutler Sheffield, Český Ráj Wrocław, Dragon Worcester, Hop Milan, Man in the Moon, Glenfiddich Warehouse & Oliver Twist Stockholm, Wellington & Anchor Birmingham, Sidings Isle of Man, Craft bar & Thrashzone Yokohama, Ushi Tora, Towers Standing Bar, Gambrinus and many others in Tokyo.
Best beer shop of the year 2009
I'll list my favourite shops I've visited this year and lavish Bacchanalian praise on them accordingly.
A Tutta Birra, Milan - This superb shop came second in 2007 but, this year, nailed top spot. A tiny room filled - literally - to the rafters with bottles, glasses and beer-related paraphernalia of all kinds, but it's the beer you'll be after and you won't be disappointed. The Italian range has expanded greatly since my last visit whereas the stupendously good Belgian and German shelves are still groaning with scoops and world-beating beers. It's a telling fact how good this shop is that after choosing half a dozen Italian micros I began gazing at the Lambic range and had to look away it was just so comprehensive and tempting. Whatever you want beer-wise in Europe will probably be in here, a simply amazing establishment.
Bier-Spezialitäten-Laden, Berlin - This shop is a strange 'un. Situated in Stalin's "Palaces of the People" on Karl Marx Allee out in the East of Berlin the shop seems to major on selling bottles for on-site consumption by slightly dodgy-looking skinheads, but they were friendly enough and the beer range is, for a German shop, unbeatable. There aren't many beer shops of this quality in Germany and the width of styles and breweries is deeply impressive; we walked away with a dozen bocks and stronger winter beers and still left dozens more on the shelves. Full of character(s) and an essential visit in a city chock-full of essential visits already. Don't miss the surrounding architecture or statue of a certain Mr Marx just down the road!
Beer8, Genoa - Italians do beer shops very well and this one is no exception. Yet another tiny room more suited to storing mops than hosting a superb beer shop, they somehow manage to squeeze in a fantastic range of beer from all over Europe but, especially, the local micro-brewers of the Liguria region. We bought a dozen bottles and could easily have staggered out with many more although, as usual in Italy, it ain't cheap! Very sociable staff and a great range make this THE essential stop when in Genoa, a city with so much character it actually hurts to look at it; visit and go back 500 years in time.
Close : 101 Piw Wrocław, Shinsu Sake Mura Tokyo, Enoteca Birreria Milan, Beermerchants.com Kent
Best brewery tap of the year 2009
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!
Bairds Nakameguro taproom, Tokyo. As I've said in the preamble here I consider a brewery tap to be a bar attached to a large factory-style brewery which serves the beers from next door which, ideally, are rolled across the the yard straight into the cellar! Baird's isn't in this category but, still, it sells a huge range of beer - around 20 beers including 4 on handpull - and is considered the main Tokyo outlet for Baird's beers so despite it not being a "traditional" brewery tap it fits the modern interpretation of one well.
Best UK scooping pub 2009
Okay, so I don't get out as much as I used to - in the UK anyway - and I don't visit as many scooping pubs as I once did, but the one that stands out, yet again, is the Harlequin in Sheffield. The standard range on any random day will be good, but the regular beer festivals which feature rare and new brews are the clinching factor in the "Harley" retaining it's title for a second year.
Best beer places visited during 2009
This takes into account the beer choice, transport, brewpubs etc - unfortunately, some great cities get nowhere owing to their lack of decent beer.
Tokyo - Quite simply my most memorable cultural experience so far with so much quality beer it was almost too good to be true! I'd recommend anyone to go there, but it helps if you've a touch of the old adventurer spirit and don't mind sleeping in tubes...
Berlin - Our 6th trip to Berlin and we like the place more every visit! With more brewpubs opening all the time and so much more to see in the city and around it's a place we'll be going back to again very shortly. A city where the ghosts of recent past sometimes feel uncomfortably close by, but that's Berlin's attraction.
Milan - Probably the beeriest city in Italy with a huge range of pubs, brewpubs and beer shops. Scooping in Italy isn't cheap, especially in Milan, but there's never a dull moment with Italian beer and bars! Local here Paolo Polli keeps the scoops coming via his brewery, pub, restaurant and shop!
Best public transport system of the year 2009
OK so it's not really about beer, but so what? It helps you get there...
Tokyo proved that a semi-privatised transport system doesn't have to mean crap service, sky-high fares and indifferent service, it can mean a superbly meshed-together transport infrastructure which can get you anywhere you could want to go in the city, although I'd add a rider here that, if you're going to use the buses, these don't have much in the way of English translations so best start learning your kanji! Saying that, we managed to get everywhere we needed all week with very little problem and so I have no hesitation in recommending Tokyo's superb transport to my fellow beer scoopers - and they even have a tramline!
Best Hotel of the year 2009
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!
Best Western Porto Antico, Genoa. A tasteful modernisation of an old building in one of the city's narrow winding lanes; we had a balcony from which you could soak up the atmosphere of the old town and watch goings on below... if it wasn't for the Ape50's and mopeds it could be 500 years ago. A fantastic city, highly recommended for a visit, with a beer scene which is improving quickly.
Runner up : Brianza, Milan. Family-owned hotel with lots of character and in a great location with tramstops on the ring line plus routes 1 and 2 virtually outside the door. If the rates aren't being favourable there's an Ibis just across the road.
Best pub food of the year 2009
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.
Brewbaker, Berlin. An all-round top place with excellent food and beer, all made on-site, and made with obvious care and desire for interesting, flavoursome fare; highly recommended. Something this good should be in the East!
Other mentions : The great curries at Leicester beer festival included curried egg(!), Calwer-Eck-Bräu did us some great local specialities, Bairds in Tokyo has a top "all you can eat" spread, Fujizakura served us a tableful of food which was bloody excellent, the yakitori chicken at Konne, Shinjuku station in Tokyo, was delicious, Shinshu Sake Mura in Tokyo has wonderful little plates such as pickled horsemeat and wasabi greens, Bicu in Genoa did a good pesto meal (and, surprisingly, basil beer too!), the pierogi in Bierhalle, Wrocław, were tasty and, finally, König von Flandern in Augsburg served up typically Germanic portions above the usual standard.
Best / Worst airports of the year 2009
My personal opinions of those I've visited during the last 12 months.
Best : Stuttgart - calm, relaxing, well signposted and everything worked perfectly. This is the kind of experience that makes me want to get on another plane straight away, it's just the knowledge that it's rarely as good as this that prevents me doing so...
Worst : Lisbon - The airport itself isn't too bad, it's just the transport to it! The aerobus sells day tickets which is fine for getting into town but getting back you need to buy one as ordinary day tickets aren't valid; who the fuck thought of that one? There is an option of a normal bus but this takes a lot longer and is a pain in the arse. If they sorted out a metro line to the airport all would be great, or even just got the ticketing to a sensible state... but it's been like this for years and I can't see it changing!
Funniest thing in 2009
What I consider the most amusing scooping-related tale of the year!
Without a doubt, setting aside the hilarity of watching Ratebeerians try and sip 1000 beers in ten minutes, the funniest event of the year was when "beer blogger", and I use the term very loosely, Timmy (or Wurst-lite as he's now known) get his come-uppance. I'll not put a link to his crap blog as I don't want to source him any hits, but suffice it to say he's a total tit-head Aussie with zero beer knowledge who, a few years back, began writing on his irrelevant blog about all the beers he drank. He soon became aware this made him a "ticker" and so, knowing no tickers or what it really meant, he quickly denied his whole past and started slagging the scooping world off in general.
I was tipped off that he'd "dissed me" so I began a ranting war with the poor lad who was quite unable to counteract someone who could string a coherent sentence together, but it was only when I invited all scoopers to comment on his blog that all hell, proverbially speaking, broke loose and much ranting flooded his shite site, more hits in a day than he'd ever had, and in the end he had to enable moderation to keep out irate scoopers from ranting!
It's just so funny to see such a knob get his come-uppance...
The "Services to Scooping" award 2009
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...
Paolo Polli in Milan has this one sewn up. Not content with running a brewery (Baüscia), a beer shop (Birreria Decanter) and a restaurant (Enoteca Decanter) he's now opened what is for all intents and purposes a beer scooping bar (BQ) with 20+ beers from Italy and all over Europe on tap plus cask ales too!
Paolo's enthusiasm for craft beer is amazing and his empire represents all that is good about the exciting new-wave of beer and brewing in Italy with something for everyone. Here's to Paolo, then, and let's hope he continues to spread the good word throughout Italy and beyond this year.
© Gazza 10/01/2010.