Taste of the Year 2009

Although the temporary conversion of the World of Beer website to this blog necessitated the dropping of my Taste of the Month feature, I feel compelled to still carry on the tradition of my Taste of the Year. And having sampled so many extraordinary beers in 2009, making the choice was no easy task, believe me.

In the end, however, one beer stood out amongst all the others as the most immediately and singularly extraordinary flavour experience of the year. And it is…

Worthington White Shield!

I presented this wonderful ale at a sampling in Atlanta in the fall and was positively delighted to find a few left-over bottles stashed in my room by the hotel’s beverage director at the end of the night. I enjoyed a couple while staying up too late watching (yet again) the Guy Ritchie film Snatch on the tube, and then made some detailed notes on the third just before heading out to lunch the next day. An excerpt:

Rich copper in colour, you can smell the “Burton snatch” even from a foot away, but that said, it’s never an overpowering sulphur, but rather one that is fully integrated into marmalade and tobacco notes with faint background suggestions of mineral and newly sawed hardwood, also brandied peaches. Hitting the palate, the ale offers a fruity suggestion of sweetness that blossoms quickly into a beautifully balanced mix of dry orangey spice, light caramel, nuttiness and a rising, spicy hop presence. The finish is quite dry but still with that lingering marmalade thing, and a mild to moderate bitterness lasting on the palate. This is a quite gorgeous ale, subtle yet assertive, complex yet quaffable. More, please.

Gorgeous, indeed. I still want more.

Small Brewery Trend for 2010 – “Extreme” is Here to Stay

Some of my colleagues have mused of late about the decline in the creation of so-called “extreme” beers, possibly at the expense of rising interest in session beers. Don’t believe ‘em for a minute!

The fact is, “extreme” not only sells – look at the run of Sam Adams Utopias when it was released in November, or the excitement about Ola Dubh 40 Year Old I documented over here – it also gets press like crazy. Not because we, the media, are fascinated with the outer edges of brewing style, but because it’s news, plain and simple.

And so long as it stays news, brewing to “extremes” is here to stay, people.

Big Brewery Trend for 2010 – Flavours

The past few years have seen the big breweries embrace flavours added to their beer in a big way, from the almost accidental success of Blue Moon to the juggernaut that was Bud Light Lime. And with most mainstream brands either stagnant or declining in sales, I expect we’ll see a lot more of this kind of thing coming down the pipe.

What kind of flavours, you ask? Well, leaving aside for a moment Molson-Coors’ experimentation with peanut butter at the GABF – under the Blue Moon banner – I imagine we’ll see a whole bunch of citrus before too long, from more lime to orange, lemon and maybe even grapefruit. It’s approachable, drinker-friendly and harmonizes well with the light tastes of most mainstream beers.

Anyone for Bud Light Tangerine?

Trends 2009 – 2010

I am often asked by reporters about what I think were the top trends in beer for the past year, and what are likely to stand out in the year to come. And in this case, I think it’s the same trend…

Barrel-Aging!

The conditioning of beer in wooden barrels has been around for a long, long time, obviously. But it’s use for specific effect reached a new peak in 2009, as brewers by the dozen poured their beers into barrels that had previously held everything from wine to brandy, whisky to port. Sometimes it was good, and sometimes it was very bad, but it was undeniably one of the hottest trends in brewing in 2009 and I’m guessing it will only grow hotter in the year to come.

More Looking Back: Non-Beer Discoveries

In addition to beer finds, I’m also constantly on the look-out for new and interesting flavours in other gastronomic realms, as well. Liquid or solid, raw or cooked, fermented or distilled; I’m not all that picky, I just like good things.

In this regard, my Non-Beer Discovery of the Year has to be…

Forgotten Casks Cognac!

I discovered these gems while preparing the cognac edition of my “Accidental Connoisseur” column for Beer Connoisseur magazine, and I was blown away from the first sniff. Never have I encountered such depth and complexity within a family of brandies as what I found in these four babies, Vats 48, 49, 54 and 91001.

As I understand it, each of these is a blend based upon some very old cognacs discovered behind a false wall at Chateau Paulet, combined with some newer distillates. They are very limited in their availability and likely quite expensive – I was supplied all-too-tiny sample bottles by the importer, Preiss Imports – but if ever there was a reason to splurge, any one of these is most certainly it!

More Looking Back

I travelled quite a bit in 2009, although as ever, not as much as I would have missed. I made some fests – GBBF, Zythos, GABF (sort of) – and missed others, but overall had a blast on the road, also as ever. Through it all, however, one memory rings true as my Beer Travel Moment of the Year, and it is…

Rooming at the Fox & Anchor (115 Charterhouse Street, EC1; 020 7250 1300)!

This Smithfield Market pub in central London has it all: spacious, comfortable and quiet rooms, an excellent pub downstairs, reasonable rates and easy proximity to any number of tremendous pubs and restaurants. If I hadn’t had an agenda while I was in town, I might have just stayed within walking distance of the place the entire time.

Non-Beer Travel Moment: Staying at the Grand Velas Resort on the Riviera Maya. If you think all-inclusives mean bad food and wristbands, you owe it to yourself to experience this place.

Hall of Shame: Sure, it was no fun getting shellfish poisoning at the GABF, but that was just one of those things. Far different was the positively disdainful service Jay Brooks and I received at the otherwise terrific St. JOHN Bar & Restaurant (26 St John Street, EC1; 020 7251 0848) in London, after we had decided to order beer rather than wine with our food. I really thought those days and those attitudes were behind us, and they should be!

More 2009 in Review

I have but a single beer paraphernalia weakness, and it’s glassware. Years ago I had a cabinet made specifically to hold only my beer glasses – each and every one of which I use, incidentally – and its special limit is the only thing that keeps my fondness for glassware from getting entirely out of control.

Given such limitations, you would be correct if you presumed that it takes a special glass to boot out one of the existing collection, and in 2009, several such vessels arrived in my home. Only one, however, will I single out as Beer Glass of the Year, and it is…

Sam Adams Utopias!

As if to make up for their still widely publicized but, let’s face it, consummately unattractive tasting glass, Boston Beer teamed with Riedel to create a fine-lipped and heavy-based glass that is perfect for their 27% alcohol Utopias. And supported their effort by releasing what is, to my mind and taste buds, by far the finest edition of the strong ale thus far crafted.