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A round-up of the last 12 months in the world of beers and pubs....


Another year over, another one just begun, as someone (almost) once said. Or most likely did. After a time for reflection, enjoying time with family, friends, and those random acquaintances you see once a year and those you will probably never see again. A toast or two drunk to those no longer with us but always remembered, never forgotten, the memories and sense of their presence wrapping around us like a warm comfort blanket on a wild and chilly winter's night. 2023's contract has now ended, with so many things that are not good in the wider world as we take those first tentative steps into 2024.


Sadly we have lost several breweries over the course of 2023 whilst pubs continue to close on a regular basis. Amongst the breweries we have lost are Bad Seed (Malton), Donkeystone ( Saddleworth), Cains (Liverpool), Revolutions (Castleford), Alphabet (Manchester), Thirst Class (Stockport), and Distant Hills (the brewery formerly known as Howard Town, Glossop). Only in the past few days news broke that longstanding Warwickshire brewers, Purity, had gone in to administration, although one brewery that had been reported to have closed, Black Storm of North Shields were on sale in a couple of pubs I visited over the last weekend in the North East.


But, hey, we are were we are and there are still fortunately some good things to look back on amidst the widespread gloom of the past 12 months, and in some ways it has been a great year for beer and pubs and so here are some of my highlights.


CASK BEER

I was chatting to a friend the other day about our favourite beers, and I jokingly said to him I suppose I could go through my blogs and pick out those beers that I rated most highly during 2023, but I said that I couldn't be bothered to go through them all. But hey, guess what, dear reader, I have done! And so I looked at those beers I had rated 4 on the CAMRA NBSS scale (that's the National Beer Scoring System) which in a nutshell is based on awarding a cask beer a score based on the quality, condition, and freshness of the beer on a scale of 0 to 5 where 0 is undrinkable and 5 is out of this world. Partly because I generally visit places that have a good reputation for their beers. it is rare that I come across a beer that I would rate less than a 3 (ie. good), and most I tend to rate as a 3 or 3.5, although I do feel that in general the overall quality of cask ale is better than it used to be. A beer that is awarded a 4 is therefore one that stands out as excellent in terms of quality, condition, and freshness, and over the year I listed 17 beers that I rated 4. When I was going through checking, I was expecting that most would be session pales because that is what I mainly drink, but there are a few different beers in and amongst, and I surprised myself with some of the breweries involved, which just shows you should keep your tastebuds open. I should also say these are all purely based on the blog, I have also had several great beers in several of my local pubs when I have been 'off duty', but because I am involved with a couple of them I do not feel it would not be fair to include any local places, but suffice to say that compared to some parts of the country, Halifax and Calderdale does extremely well in terms of beer choice and quality.


Here's the list of those beers I felt worthy of a 4 rating, in no particular order, with the brewer, the beer, its style, and the pub where I sampled it:


Two By Two (Byker, Newcastle) - Citra/Azacca/Idaho 7 (New England IPA) - Crown Posada, Newcastle; Taylors (Keighley) - Boltmaker (Bitter) - Excelsior, Liverpool; Salopian (Hadnall, near Shrewsury) Shropshire Gold (Golden Ale) - Vernon Arms, Liverpool; Brimstage (Wirral, Merseyside) - Trappers Hat (Bitter) - Baltic Fleet, Liverpool; Taylors Knowle Spring (Blonde Ale) - Royal Oak, Ripon; North Riding (Snainton, North Yorkshire) - Citra (Pale Ale) - Commercial, Slaithwaite; Howling Hops (Hackney Wick, London) - Tropical Deluxe (Hazy Session IPA) - Euston Tap, London; Surrey Hills (Dorking) - Ranmore (Golden Ale) - Surrey Hills Brewery Tap; Brew By Numbers (North Greenwich, London) - Session IPA (Session IPA) - Chesham Arms, Homerton, London; Five Points (Hackney, London) - Pale (Pale Ale) - Pembury Tavern, Hackney; Five Points - Railway Porter (Porter) - Pembury Tavern; Hadrian & Border (Newburn, Tyne & Wear) Tyneside Blonde (Blonde Ale) - Tynemouth Lodge, Tynemouth; Flash House (North Shields) - Session Pale (Session Pale) - Flash House Brewery Tap; Two By Two - Session Pale (Hazy IPA) - Enigma Tap, North Shields; Pentrich (Derbyshire) - Cloud Chain (Hazy IPA) - Beerheadz, Nottingham; Brightside (Radcliffe) - Odin (Pale Ale) - D'Ale House, Rochdale; Brunswick (Derby) - Rocket (Strong IPA) - Derby Tup, Chesterfield.


The Derby Tup, Chesterfield...some great beer within


BREAKING NEWS!!!
In the past couple of days, and so recent it has not yet featured in a blog, I have drunk a beer which I actually rated as deserving a 4.5! This I only ever reward to a beer that is truly exceptional, and on this occasion I was only having a drink whilst I waited to meet some of the family. I had wandered into the Mean-Eyed Cat in Newcastle, and went for a half of Two By Two Citra Simcoe Ekuanot IPA, a 6% hazy pale which had only just gone on that morning. It was fresh, juicy, and absolutely delicious, and as I waited for the family to get into town, I was more than happy to have this wonderful beer to keep me company.


Picking through the above list, there is a mix of different beers and some breweries that I was surprised by, but I think that it just emphasises how important looking after the beer is once it in the pub, which is where the skill of the publican comes in. Cask beer is a living product; look after your beer, and the beer will look after you and your customers.


CASK BREWERY OF 2023
I can only really go for one brewery and that is Two By Two, whose beer as well as on the occasions mentioned above I have fortunately had the opportunity to drink regularly at the Crafty Fox in Brighouse, where their beers have proved to be a big hit with customers. Consistency and flavour are their hallmark, and whilst some of the beers are better than others, even with hops that are often underwhelming they seem to be able to draw something from them. And whilst their beers in keg format are very good, it is in brewing cask beer that they show their true craft.


Beer of the Year from the Cask Brewer of the Year

I also found beers from the likes of Fyne Ales, Track, Squawk, Neepsend, Thornbridge, Almasty, Wensleydale, Marble, Kirkstall, and Salopian to be pretty dependable, whilst it was interesting to see the likes of Verdant, The Kernel, and Deya, previously keg-only brewers, bringing out beers on cask.


KEG BREWERY OF 2023
Because of the way keg beer is stored and served, there is less input required from the pub, and so you are getting the beer more or less as it left the brewery. I have had some excellent beers over the year from Track, Verdant, Deya, Wylam, Floc, Thornbridge, Pomona Island, Anspach & Hobday, Sureshot, and Two By Two, amongst others, and some of Vocation's darker beers were very good, but for me there is one brewery that stands out above all of these.


Drum Roll!!!!


Step forward, Pollys! The Mold-based brewers make some wonderful beers, their NEIPAs in particular can be sensational, and their quality is very consistent, and eminently drinkable. If you haven't tried them yet, make it one of your New Year resolutions for 2024.


BEST PUBS OF 2023
I visited some absolutely cracking pubs over the year, up and down the country. and whilst there are several pubs local to me which I very much enjoy visiting, for the reasons as mentioned above I am leaving these out of the equation, and so these are the best pubs that I encountered on my travels during 2023:


Crown and Kettle, Manchester; Marble Arch, Manchester; Lion, Liverpool; Ship & Mitre, Liverpool; Cobbetts, Dorking, Surrey; Crown Posada, Newcastle Upon Tyne; Free Trade Inn, Newcastle Upon Tyne; Cumberland Arms, Newcastle Upon Tyne; Malt 'N' Hops,Chorley, Lancashire; One Eyed Rat, Ripon, North Yorkshire; Little Ale House, Harrogate; Enigma Tap, North Shields, Tyne & Wear; Derby Tup, Chesterfield; Record Cafe, Bradford; Microbus, Gateshead; Doctor Duncans, Liverpool; City Arms, Manchester


And from that list of cracking places there is only one that can be a winner of Pub of 2023....


And it can only be the Crown Posada, which was good as ever when I visited it again over this last weekend. As I wrote only the other week "This classic pub, a must-visit for any lovers of historic hostelries, is always a pleasure to visit. Its beautifully-restored interior and great beer for a start. It has a special atmosphere that draws you in whether is quiet or super-busy."


Crown Posada, Newcastle: 2023 Pub of the Year


TAPROOM OF THE YEAR
Whilst sitting on some old chairs with a pint outside the Surrey Hills brewery near Dorking on a chilly afternoon in early March was one of the more memorable brewery visits, there can only be one winner as my favourite taproom of 2023.


The Track Brewery Tap in the Cloudwater-dominated Piccadilly Trading Estate in Manchester is a wonderful place to visit. I visited a couple of times during 2023, and when I visited in January I was as impressed as when I first went there the previous year "Now I love this taproom; it is light and airy, with the gleaming steel tanks of the brewery overlooking proceedings. The staff are friendly and there is a chilled vibe, with interesting artwork on the walls, and a cool soundtrack playing over the speakers. Today there was Greek food available in the form of souvlaki, gyros, and filled pittas for when hunger struck. I ordered a pint of the 3.8% Sonoma on cask (well it is one of my favourite beers!) and it hit the spot nicely (NBSS 3.5), but when my glass was empty I decided to venture on to the keg and had a half of No Sleep, No Dream, a 5.2% hazy IPA which was most enjoyable." If you have the opportunity, try and get yourselves there in 2024!


Track Brewery Tap

And so here we are in 2024. It is tough out there, make no mistake. No doubt there will be more closures affecting breweries and pubs as we go through the next few months, but on a more positive note it has just been announced that Purity, who I mentioned above, have been acquired by Breal Leisure who, you may recall, stepped in to buy Black Sheep out of administration last year. No doubt there will be 'synergies', but if it saves some jobs then that is better than nothing. And on a personal level, as we go through the year I look forward to bringing you more of the wonderful pubs and beers we are lucky to have in this country. All that remains for now is to thank you for reading and all your kind comments and feedback during 2023 and wish you and your loved ones a very Happy and Safe 2024....


Opening Image: Doctor Duncans, Liverpool


Follow me on twitter/X: @realalemusic


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