Thursday, 31 December 2015

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Seventh Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

On the seventh day it's traditional to rest for most of the year, on the seventh day of Christmas there are swans a-swimming, but as it's also New Year's Eve it's time to reflect on and celebrate the year we're leaving behind, and look forward to the year to come.

I touched on a few of the things that had happened in Essex beerwise over the past twelve months, but I'd like to be a little self-indulgent and touch on my particular highlights of 2015 in my
Essex Golden Pints

I'm sure you're all familiar with the format, and I've had to trim it a little bit to fit the county's output and breweries (for example, there's no Essex brewery canning its beers at the moment), so here are my personal picks.

Best Essex Cask Beer: I've had plenty of great cask beer from Essex brewers this year as I have in previous years, but there's been a few stand-outs for me. Harwich Town's Mostly Mosaic, Red Fox's Little Fox, all of Crouch Vale's cask output (Mosaic in particular) and recently Shalford's Ebenezer Ale have all impressed, however I'm going to give this prize to one beer that I simply couldn't get enough of, so perfectly was it pitched, so my winner here is Billericay Brewing's Chilli Porter. If you had it at their recent beer festival then you'll know why.

Best Essex Keg Beer: We're not overly blessed with locally produced keg beer in Essex, and as I've yet to have Brentwood's offering, which isn't actually available in it's home county, my winner comes from Wibblers and of their range of four the Dengie IPA edges it for me as a very easy drinker.

Best Essex Bottled Beer: There's a few here I could go with. Crouch Vale's Mosaic blew me away, Maldon's Reminder and Essex Strong Pale Ale were a bit special, and George's Balthazar's Feast (which will feature in this series) was .. well you'll have to wait and see. The was however only one winner for me, and even though it's a bit pricey it's a real celebration beer. my Essex bottled beer winner is the wonderful Brentwood Brewing Company's Van Kannor. Go get some.

Best Essex Brewery: There's a couple in the frame for this one. I've been impressed with the beers from Hope, and Mighty Oak, Round Tower, George's, Brentwood, Saffron and Wibblers have been consistently good, however, if we are talking about consistency and pure damn fine drinkability then step forward Crouch Vale, you clever hop loading brewery. Simply superstars.

Best New Brewery: We have two new breweries open in Essex this year and I've only had beer from one beer from one of them, but what (no pun intended) a beer it was. Full of much promise of great no-frills beer brewed beautifully, my winner is Watts & Co. If you see Oli's beer grab yourself a pint and you'll know why.

Best Essex Branding: This was a tough call. I was unsure whether to go with a one-off label, Colchester's Brazilian sprang to mind, or an overall brewery branding. It was the latter that I decided on, but there were three that I batted backwards and forwards thinking about the relative merits of them all. I really like simplistic no-nonsense designs, and Round Tower and Billericay fit that space perfectly, however what I was really looking for was something eye-catching that would draw me towards it in a bar or bottle shop. They've won before but they fit the bill perfectly, with experience in the industry winning through, it's Crouch Vale again.

Essex Pub or Bar of the Year: Now this was difficult. I love pubs. They're great. I've been to so may in Essex this year that I really found it hard to choose between them. The Five Bells in Colne Engaine, where I went for my birthday this year was a real treat, and they couldn't have been friendlier in the White Heart in Stebbing. Should I choose the Bird In The Hand in Halstead where Shaun has a seemingly inexhaustible cellar full of great bottled beer, or the Spread Eagle in Brentwood, which I now call my local? Then there's the Billericay micro-pub, or maybe the Hop Beer Shop in Chelmsford? It was just too difficult. In the end though I really had to make my mind up between two. It was very close. My runner-up therefore is the Alehouse in Chelmsford, home of the SX Bottleshare each month, it's a great pub, but my winner is, and I bet you've guessed it, a pub that I really wish was a lot closer than it is, step forward The Victoria Inn in Colchester. Thank you for some great times and beers this year!

Essex Beer Festival of the Year: Well, I've been a bit slack this year I must confess. I missed, Chelmsford (both Winter and Summer), Chappel (likewise), Billericay, Brentwood, and Rochford as well. In fact I really only went to festivals in pubs or clubs, and very good they were too. Two stand out for me though. Billericay's Christmas Beer Festival was a real showcase of Essex beer, something I'd like to see more of next year, but my winner is the Future Champions Beer Fest at the Victoria Inn. This home brewers festival is a real treat, and one I'd encourage you to get a ticket for next year as you see budding brewers (and some experienced ones) producing some fantastic beer.

Independent Retailer of The Year: I had to go for the place that I get most of my Essex beer from, so the Billericay Micro-pub shop, the Essex beer shop, wins this hands down. If there's an Essex beer you're after and they don't have it, then the Hop Beer Shop in Chelmsford usually does though.

Online Essex Retailer of the Year: Easy-peasy lemon squeezy, it's those fabulous Billericay-based beer sellers Ale By Mail of course.

Best Essex Book or Magazine: I have to declare an interest here as I contribute articles to it, however if you want a good bi-monthly read of what's happening in Essex beer then you could do a lot worse than pick up a copy of the Thirsty Times. It's free too.

Best Essex Podcast: I know I've been on it a lot, but it's the only one to have featured Essex beers and be part recorded in the county, well some on the time anyway. It's the one and only Beer O'Clock Show.

Best Blog: There is a small but growing number of bloggers in Essex, but a few new-comers this year have caught my eye though. Beer In Review is solely beer reviews, but many of them are Essex beers, and Martin Oates, a good friend and Bottleshare stalwart has started a blog that keeps getting better and better. Matt Chinnery's blog, the Half Pint Gentleman is extremely worthy of your time with every post he releases, however my winner (and no it isn't mine) is Mark Watson's Essex Real Ale blog. The longest running dedicated to Essex and Essex area beer, if you live in the county and you haven't checked it out then you really should.

So there you have it, short-ish and certainly not exhaustive, it was lots of fun to do. I hope I haven't put any noses out of joint, but if you disagree with my choices then let me know, along with the reason why you think I'm wrong.

And now for tonight's beer.

The Seventh Day:
Bishop Nick - Feast 4.5%

Bishop Nick's Winter ale was their first Limited Edition seasonal offering pours a lovely chestnut brown with a frothy off-white head that fades quickly and has the aroma of a rich malty fruitcake, it's rather inviting. Smooth and with a good body, it tastes a good degree darker than it smells with burnt raisin flavour dominating initially, bringing a deeply bitter edge to the taste. This leads to more fruitcake flavours, it's rather good, thin but not overly so, and slips down a treat. The finish brings back echoes of more burnt raisin and this fades nicely over a good few minutes, leaving you just enough time to grab one of those mince pies you still have left before you take your next sip. It's almost essential.

You can find out more about Bishop Nick and the Sacred Ales of Essex you can follow this link to their website. You can even order their beer and merchandise there.

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