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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Everyone's A Winner, Baby

After a dose of flu' suffered over New Year, (which drove me to the solace of my bed by 8pm New Year's Eve, and, after stupidly dragging myself to work the next day, I spent most of the next three days back there, cocooned in a sweat dampened duvet), I curtailed my socialising just a tad. Whilst laying in my pit, awaiting a resurrection of sorts, and facing my return to work on lates, my mind was drawn to what I would put down as the personal highlights of my year of imbibing. T'other 'arf and I, as you may be already aware, have had a few sessions, home and away, during the last 12 months, but, because I have only been blogging since May 2014, I decided to only include those locations, beers and events which have appeared on my blog. So, what to call these inaugural awards? We have Oscars, BAFTAs, Golden Globes and a host of others for cinema and TV, and in literature we have The Pulitzer and Booker awards. Being boring, I decided on The Firkin. If anyone out there already has or issues these awards, I apologies. I googled all the Firkin awards and didn't find a Firkin winner anywhere. So here we go

The Firkin Best Local Pub (N E Lincs) 2014

As has been evident in my blog, whilst on “home” territory, I have kept to a select few pubs. Over the next 12 months, I shall be trying to poke my nose in some of those I have, either, never visited or haven't visited in years. That said, I have a choice to make. In Grimsby, my regular haunts of The Yarborough Hotel & The Ice Barque, both JDW's run establishments, although at times present an excellent pint at a good price, with a huge selection of “new”, untried beers and ales to sample, can, also, be lacking in personality and atmosphere. They are what they are. You can pay more and get less at other places, and vice versa, albeit very rarely though. The International Beer Festivals must be mentioned, which has introduced me to some wonderful US, Antipodean and European beer styles and brands, not always available in cask form in this country. The Parity, is a good “sports” pub that can rival and, sometimes, beat JDW's on price. Beer is quite good, and with 3 regularly changing real ales, a good place to visit. Big matches do make it a touch boisterous at times, although not threatening. The Friary, I'm afraid, does lack beer quality from time to time, as does The Duke of Wellington, even though the latter has a quite unique atmosphere about it!. I do enjoy The ambience, well served ales, excellent meals, and heavy metal music, on The Barge, whilst The Wheatsheaf offers a fair selection of ever changing Ales and a good menu. The County consistently serves up great live music at weekends, if not always accompanied by cask beers, and The Hope and Anchor is also worth mentioning. Millfields. I feel, is gearing itself more towards the food trade, but, as with all the rest, I will be able to determine more on my next visit.
In neighbouring Cleethorpes, The Coliseum Picture House seems to be holding its own, offering a good selection of local beers alongside the usual national JDW selections, and it is rare to find The No2 (Under the Clock) with a glut of empty seats, such is it's reputation for good beer. The No1 also offers up some excellent brews. Moving down the resort, Sea View Street, and the surrounding area, offers the discerning drinker some good hostelries, Willy's (with it's own brewery) with the Marston's run Smuggler's Arms,just a peanut's throw away. The Fisherman's Arms shares the same footfall as The Nottingham Hotel but seems to attract totally different clientele. The Fish' is more a “locals” pub, brash and loud, but somewhat engaging, and funny, whereas The Notts' has a more warming, old fashioned charm about it. It also has a great selection of beers, all served expertly by extremely efficient staff.
I think in Grimsby, my top 3, in no particular order, would have to be The Parity, The Wheatsheaf and The Barge, although I will still, probably, spend most of my time in The Yarborough! In Meggies, my treble would be The No2, The Coliseum Picture House and The Notts. There can only be one winner though, and that boozer to get the Firkin Accolade is :-
THE NOTTINGHAM HOTEL, CLEETHORPES.

The Firkin Best Pub (Lincolnshire)

My excursions around my home county have been a little short this year, with 2 exceptions, my (more correctly, our) Barton trip, and Louth. Both very different places, but also very similar. Barton, a market town which is bustling and busy, with the facade of industrialisation, yet still, somewhat, sleepy. There are quite a few Real Ale pubs here, and to pick the best is a hard choice. We enjoyed the olde worlde feel of The Sloop, as well as the welcome in the very modernly decorated White Swan, but I decided that The George Hotel and The Wheatsheaf, close neighbours, need special mention. Both have excellent beer, and, in each of them, food is reasonably priced and eagerly devoured. I would, though, just edge towards The Wheatsheaf purely for the bigger range of beers.
Louth is also busy and bustling, offering a good range of Real Ale, but with it's agricultural roots ever evident. The pubs choice is certainly varied, but on our visit, which I reviewed back in December, it would come down to two. The Gas Lamp Lounge, basic, welcoming and the brewery tap of a Louth based brewer or The Woolpack, a pub at the heart of the community, with great food and beer. T'other' arf and I have discussed this a few times since our visit, and we both eventually decided on The Gas Lamp, by a fag papers thickness!! Who will get a Firkin Award for Lincolnshire's best pub though? Well, that will go to :-
Louth's GAS LAMP LOUNGE

The Firkin Best Pub Nationally.

Again, my travels have not been extensive in 2014, but I still managed visits to The Isle of Thanet, Canterbury and The Norfolk Broads during my stewardship of the beermonsters blog. My favourite place to visit was The Broads, but, having the Grandchildren certainly restricted my research, although I frequented some lovely public houses whilst here. Canterbury is always a great place to explore, whilst Margate surprised me immensely, with the micro-pubs springing up all over. The pubs in all these localities were friendly, embracing of Ales and knowledgable of their craft. I would put the following on my shortlist, but that is not to dismiss the others. The Lion Inn at Thurne, Horning's Ferry Inn are definitely good mooring places to any Broads visitor, and The Foundry, and The City Arms, both Canterbury Brewery run establishments, always demand a visit, when in Kent's Cathedral City, along with the brilliantly run George and Dragon, in nearby Fordwich. The Lifeboat, Harbour Arms, 39 Steps and The Chapel represent Thanet, and the Micro-pub revolution. Beers straight from the barrel are a wonderful way to experience the Brewers' craft, and this has swayed my decision. The Foundry almost stole the award, and would have been a worthy winner, but there is just “something” about those micro-pubs which fulfils me. Tradition, maybe, alchemy, possibly, enjoyment definitely. Of the 4 I drank in, my favourite, and winner of Firkin Best Pub Nationally is:-
THE LIFEBOAT, MARGATE & THE 39 STEPS, BROADSTAIRS.
I honestly could not split them. Firkin prizes everywhere!

The Firkin Best Beers Tasted 2014.

Everyone's tastes are different, so to pick “champion” beers must be a thankless task. I, on the other hand, am only picking beers I have enjoyed, and are memorable to me. I don't want to start cataloguing every beer I taste on every night out, for a start, I haven't the time. In essence, that is why I blog, so I can look back on my outings myself, as well as sharing my experiences. That said, maybe I should keep a little list of scores in a secret dossier. A beermonsters Bible (or Imbibe Ale, yeah, I like that.) with which I could cross reference. Hmm. Right. On with the show.

The Firkin Best Beers Tasted 2014 have been grouped into their relative styles, although I admit, some styles may overlap and some may not be distinctive enough to stand alone. I have tried to pick 3 in each group.

MILD
I have tasted a few this year, a style that seems on the up, but my pick of the most satisfying milds are as follows
BATEMAN'S COLONELS WHISKERS
MOORHOUSE'S BLACK CAT
FULSTOW MARSH MILD

BITTER/BEST BITTER
Well, this is where it gets difficult, with so many breweries producing bitter, best bitter, and a myriad of others under the same umbrella of styles. Unfortunately, a superfluous amount of ales in this style doesn't mean quality throughout. With this in mind, I have chosen 3, to carry the flag, all good session beers, and all extremely consistant wherever they are enjoyed.
WOODFORDE'S WHERRY
OLDERSHAW'S OLD BOY
ADNAMS SOUTHWOLD BITTER

GOLDEN ALES
A style, sitting between Bitters and Pale Ales, which offers so much for the summer drinkers. It can, though, be quite confusing as to which group some Ales belong. My choices in this category are:-
LONG MAN GOLDEN TIPPLE
WANTSUM DYNAMO
DARK STAR HOPHEAD

PALE ALE
A good Pale Ale is getting easier to find, an outstanding one, though, is another matter. I hope I have chosen correctly here, I think I have. My Firkin treble are:-
SHEPHERD NEAME/FAVERSHAM STEAM BREWERY WHITSTABLE BAY PALE ALE
INNIS AND GUNN EDINGBURGH PALE ALE
ROOSTER'S YANKEE

IPA
There seems to be more styles within the IPA range every time I go drinking. English IPA, American IPA, Black IPA et al. The ones I was particularly drawn to, and enthused about are:-
KELHAM ISLAND MIND CONTROL
BARLEY BROWN'S BLACK IPA
ST AUSTELL PROPER JOB

STOUT AND PORTER
Good when they are good, but quite insipid when poorly produced, I have a passion for this style. I like to assure myself that not all stouts have to come across the Irish Sea, to be served almost sub-zero in temperature, with the addition of a silly hat proclaiming another Country's Patron Saint's festivities. Since starting my blog, I have been lucky to have tasted some really excellent beers in this style, but the three outstanding brews chosen are:-
FLIPSIDE RUSSIAN ROUBLE
BOX STEAM BREWERY FUNNEL BLOWER
MILESTONE'S BLACK PEARL

OTHERS
4 beers that don't sit in the above groups, but definitely need a mention are:-
LAGUNITAS IPA (Bottled beer)
GUINNESS WEST INDIES PORTER (Also bottled)
DEVIL'S BACKBONE AMERICAN IPA (Keg)
UPSTAIRS BREWING HAZY HOEDOWN (Wheat Beer)

My favourite overall? I think I would have to say, either the HAZY HOEDOWN, or RUSSIAN ROUBLE would be the winner of The Firkin Best Beer of 2014.

Remember, this is only my opinion on the places I have visited, and the beers sampled since May 2014. If you agree, OK, if not, do your own Firkin list !!!
Cheers and keep it “Real”