Awful for politics, desperate for conflict, horrible for those that lost their heroes, and dire for commuters. 2016 was a stinker, but I did drink extraordinarily well.
It was a year which saw craft brewers – some at least – showing they’d seen a world beyond beers as bitter and boring as Jose Mourinho after losing to Stoke to a poor refereeing decision. We had sour beers, stouts as strong as Russian athletes, and some with more coffee than Milan. Diversity and choice!
Particular highlights of those I sank included:
- Dark Sister by Brussels Beer Project – a black IPA and the best modern beer I have tasted in a very long time. A perfect balance of fresh hop bitterness and rich, complex malty tones. Features treacle, coffee, and bread but remains light and a recognisable pale ale.
- Malt Brown by Harveys – one of the new can offerings. How can such a low gravity ale feel so unctuous and look like a smoke-stained conker? A great modern interpretation of a classic style and a wonderful surprise.
- Gose to Hollywood by To Øl – I went to Leipzig to try Gose direct from the brewery. Loved it. Not so intense a sourness as Berliner Weisse and with more to find interesting. To Øl have captured this brilliantly; just don’t pay more than £6.50 for a can.
- Straffe Hendrik Tripel Wild 2016 by De Halve Maan – as delicious as its name is long. Big complex beer with huge champagne character. Green fruits and herbs abound. Some sweetness and apricot to balance the brettanomyces yeast. I drank a second one too young; leave as long as you can wait.
I did have a few stinkers. Tropigamma from Beavertown was hyped beyond belief before arriving in my gob like someone had dry-hopped Tropical Tango. I didn’t get it in any sense, though I do think brewers will start using fruit with much better results in 2017. The other ‘are you sure this is right?’ moment came with an Imperial Stout from Partizan Brewing. Soapy and completely lacking depth. I am sure there was something wrong but they could offer no explanation, and no, it wasn’t my glass.
Now to don my blue satin cape, black bob wig, stare into the crystal ball with slightly crossed eyes and make good on the joke I used to name this blog post. Let’s see what will be big in 2017.
I still think there is time for sour beers to explode. People claiming not to like beer actually don’t like bitterness. Sour beers go down extremely well with those offended by pale ales and lagers. Gueuze is slowly growing in popularity, and you need to buy your cider-swilling mates a Mikkeller Berliner Weisse, Citrus Gose from Cloudwater (if you can find it), or Calypso from Siren.
American hop shortages could be a blessing in disguise. Malt is the new hops, and brown ales – initially overly bitter because we’ll wrestle with our hop addiction for a while to come – will be everywhere. It will be good to have malt, caramel and biscuit for a while, I promise. I think Belgian-style wits could be slaking thirsts by summer too.
Despite the craft love-in, beer fans can be snobby. Lager still suffers a stigma and hasn’t caught on since a ripple of enthusiasm about six years ago. Tiny Rebel, Franklin’s and others are creating great lagers that are too classy to smack you around the face to get your attention. Let’s welcome back this great beer; you won’t turn into Freddie Flintoff on a boat party if you like it. I want Oktoberfest-style malty monsters; clean, crisp, bitter beauties; and big, bad bocks.
In the wider beer world:
- We will continue to see a move to keg from cask for quality assurance and profit margins (fine by me)
- Smaller (and/or not very good) breweries will fall by the wayside in a post-Brexit economy and with the craft movement reaching saturation point (fine by me)
- The big boys will fight back with enormous marketing campaigns and beers dreamed up by executives who only really drink cocktails (Wild Heineken, anyone?)
Enjoy responsibly (but enough to forget about Trump!)