They say…

Des de Moor
Best beer and travel writing award 2015, 2011 -- British Guild of Beer Writers Awards
Accredited Beer Sommelier
Writer of "Probably the best book about beer in London" - Londonist
"A necessity if you're a beer geek travelling to London town" - Beer Advocate
"A joy to read" - Roger Protz
"Very authoritative" - Tim Webb.
"One of the top beer writers in the UK" - Mark Dredge.
"A beer guru" - Popbitch.
Des de Moor

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Top Tastings 2008

Writing this piece was one of the things that inspired me to launch this website. My mate Chris, who edits the Stereo Jealousy music blog, habitually starts the year by selecting the best albums and singles of the previous one. Seeing his 2008 list inspired me to look back over my tasting notes, for a year that had been one of the most varied of my beer tasting career so far. I ended up picking out 36 beers tasted over the year that had evidenced the skill, dedication and imagination of the world’s top brewers and reaffirmed the joy of beer. It was also a delight to write about a range of beer that stretched far beyond the British bottle conditioned beer brief I worked within for my regular CAMRA writing. But the only place I had to put the resulting list was on facebook, where it was accessible to only a few hundred facebook friends, some of whom, sadly, had no particular interest in beer. It took a year, but by the end of 2009 I finally had a more open outlet in the form of this site — and I’ve Chris to thank, too, for steering me towards using a WordPress platform.

All the beers chosen now have their own entries on this site, but for the record I’ve reproduced the original capsule reveiws here, with links to the full entries.

1. Agullons Bruno Pale Ale, 4.5%, Mediona, Barcelona, Catalunya. From a very new farmhouse brewery that’s already got its beers into British and Belgian festivals, this tasty pale ale was tweaked by Barcelona-based beer guru Steve Huxley. Decent malt and slightly wheaty phenols on a hoppy aroma lead to a full dry palate with the burnt rubber notes of crystal malt and a grapefruity hop bite turning thistly on the tongue, with late resiny notes on the finish. Unpasteurised on draught at Cerveteca, Barcelona.

2. Allagash Victoria Ale, 9%, Portland, Maine, USA. A very special golden ale brewed with Chardonnay grapes, part of the brewery’s “tribute” series, with $1 from each bottle going towards restoration of Portland’s historic Victoria mansion. Cloudy golden with a refined grape aroma and a subtle, slightly sweet palate that’s not overpoweringly grapey. Hints of rose, dry crsip malt and liquorice lead to a chewy finish with restrained vegetable hops, staying very elegant despite the alcoholic kick. Bought at Bierkraft, NYC.

3. Baladin Nora Bira Egizia, 6.8%, Piozzo, Piemonte, Italia. This groundbreaking brewpub doesn’t seem capable of brewing uninteresting beer. A wheat style beer featuring organic Egyptian kamut wheat to try to evoke ancient Egyptian brewing, this is a cloudy orange with a thick head, a very grassy and chaffy aroma, hints of aniseed, lemon, camomile and dates, and a mild but refreshing grainy finish with summer grass and a dash of hops. Bought at the Great British Beer Festival.

4. Bavik Petrus Aged Pale, 7.3%, Bavikhove, West Vlaanderen, Vlaanderen. An unusual wood-aged pale ale from a Belgian independent normally associated with brown ales, this is a deep golden with a perfumed orange aroma, a sweet-sour almost geuze-like palate with a dash of marmalade, and an oily swallow leading to a tart citric finish, with bitter hops giving way to late vanilla and old books. Sampled bottled at the Waagstuk, Antwerpen.

5. Beckstones Black Dog Freddy Mild, 3.9%, Millom, Cumbria, England. When this won silver at the 2008 Champion Beer of Britain you could hear people saying “who?”. But it was well-deserved for this complex mild, with a notably roasty blackcurrant and caramel aroma, a slightly smoky and yoghurty berry fruit palate and a long, moreish, slightly tart finish with subtle roast and strawberry fruit. Cask at Great British Beer Festival.

6. Brains Top Notch, 4.4%, Caerdydd, Cymru. Originally a festival special, this beer deserves wider exposure than as a November seasonal. A nut brown beer with a rich nutmeggy head, a sweet nutty malty autumn fruit aroma, a complex chewy palate with toffee and a bit of powdery-dry hops, old ale-like hints and creamy dry finish that leaves a big impression. Cask at Chapter, Caerdydd.

7. BrewDog Edge, 2.7%, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Emerging as one of Britain’s most exciting new breweries, BrewDog makes some great strong beers, but packing so much flavour into a mild at such a low gravity is just showing off! Caramel, blackberry, roast, chalk, wood, burnt toffee, rich resins, artichoke, dark marmalade and finally a dash of pepper. Perhaps a bit hoppy for the style but so much else going on too – astonishing. Cask at London Drinker festival.

8. Brooklyn Local 1, 9%, New York City, New York, USA. Garrett Oliver’s regular bottle conditioned premium treat, a bottle conditioned Belgian-style golden ale in a stylish bottle, with a lively bead, fine white head and a complex apple marmalade, phenol, vanilla and fig aroma. A firm mouth-numbing bitter orange palate feels like it should have coriander hints, and there are slightly burnt notes in a tangy, chewy and lasting finish. Dry, crisp and very distinctive. Bought in a Gristedes supermarket in New York City.

9. Cheddar Totty Pot 4.7%, Cheddar, Somerset, England. A flavourful bottle conditioned porter with a hint of bloody iron in a malty aroma, a full but tangy dark malt palate with notes of cola, caramel toffee, burnt rubber, cough sweets and a dusting of herby hops, and a sugary note kicking off a lightly roast rooty-hoppy finish with dark sultana cake. Review bottle from brewer.

10. Darwin Richmond Ale (Bottle conditioned version) 4.5%, Crook, Durham, England. A satisfying and beautifully made recreation of an old recipe from Richmond, Yorkshire, this is a rich nut-brown beer with a fruity, figgy, nutty aroma with soft raisins, reminiscent of some Belgian abbey browns, and a sappy slightly roasty palate with much orange and blackcurrant fruit, subtle hop resins and belt leather. Burry but gently hops emerge in a long mineral-tinged finish. Notably more complex than the easier to find filtered version. Bought at the Great British Beer Festival.

11. Ducato Nuova Mattina 5.8, Roncole Verdi, Emilia-Romagna, Italia. Jon, barman at the imported beer bar at the Pigs Ear festival where this appeared on draught, and myself agreed this was weird but notable. It’s a hazy blond saison-inspired ale with a twiggy perfumed spice aroma, a fruity pineapple, grapefruit and strawberry palate and a stab of sourness that could have been unintentional but would work well as a nod to Orval. Alcohol was evident on a chewy, subtly spiced, estery and notably long finish.

12. Duvel-Moortgat Vedett Extra White, 4.7%, Breendonk, Antwerpen, Vlaanderen. Previously Duvel’s wheat beer offering was Steendonk, produced in partnership with Palm, but the partnership ended this year and this beer, Duvel’s very own replacement, came as a pleasantly good surprise. OK, it’s a bit lacking in substance and overbalanced by citric lemon squash falvours, but its spicy damp hay, phenol. vanilla and spiced orange aroma, good wheat notes on the palate, and a smooth lemony finish with a hint of chewy hops and friendly and refreshing. Sampled bottled at Bar Fringe, Manchester.

13. Duysters Loterbol Bruin, 10%, Diest, Vlaams Brabant, Vlaanderen. I’ve heard variable reports of the products from this very small brewery but my bottled sample, from Kulminator in Antwerpen, was an excellent strong brown ale of near world-beating quality. Very dark brown in colour with a yellowish head, lots of lace, a dark malt, liquorice, candied fruit and spicy cake aroma, a mouth numbing malty herbal finish turning complex with detergent notes as it warms, and a fresh if slightly vegetal relatively dry finish with sherry and marmalade notes.

14. Girardin Kriek (draught), 5%, Sint-Ulriks-Kapelle, Vlaams Brabant, Vlaanderen. For the style this is easy drinking but top quality from one of the most respected lambic breweries, a cherry-red cherry beer with a creamy, woody and tannic aroma, a spicily fruity natural cherry palate with sappy lambic and mint notes, and a thick chewy finish, fresh and fruity but not oversour. On CO2 at the Zythos Beer Festival.

15. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, 13%, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Originally brewed to celebrate this outstanding brewery’s 1000th batch of beer in 1992, this became the USA’s first cask matured beer and started a cult phenomenon among enthusiasts. The first batches were matured in ex-Jim Bean casks, but the batch I sampled, at a beer dinner hosted by the brewery at the White Horse, Parsons Green, London (one of the beer events of the year!) had enjoyed 100 days in Hampden Hill/Buffalo Trace casks. The result was black with a sparse pinky brown head, a malty smoky vanilla mint chocolate raisin aroma with some heady whisky cask fumes, a minty gravy malt palate recalling the old Courage Imperial Russian Stout, syrupy but drinkable, and with clear bourbon notes, salty sharpness and stinging hops penetrating the malt, and finishing creamy and meaty with notes of Belgian chocolate couverture. A truly astonishing beer.

16. Grolsch Premium Weizen, 5.3%, Enschede, Overijssel, Nederland. They may have been bought up SAB-Miller but Grolsch are certainly keeping up the quality with this relatively new German-style wheat beer, which raised eyebrows by beating several German producers in blind tastings at the 2007 World Beer Cup. Orange-yellow with a good white head, a tangy citric clove aroma with vanilla notes, a slightly sweet citric palate with chewy and pippy but not bitter hops flavours, and a rounded orange and strawberry finish with late plum. A thin, drinkable texture but plenty of substantial flavour. Bought at Asda.

17. Hoepfner Kräusen, 5.1%, Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, Deutschland. Unfiltered but on CO2 at Cerveteca, Barcelona, as part of their 2008 World Beer Cup Winners selection. A lovely pale yellow Kellerbier with a smooth subtle slightly sweet vanilla honey, vegetal notes, a soft lightly citric clean light malt palate, slight hints of soft fruit and beautifully judged hops, and a refined citric-hoppy finish with gently cleansing berry vanilla hints. A delight.

18. Hofbrouwerijke Hofblues, 5.5%, Beerzel, Antwerpen, Vlaanderen. From a tiny, originally hobby, brewery, this is one of the more obscure beers to have been selected by Tim Webb and Joris Pattyn for their 100 Belgian Beers to Try Before you Die – though others have complained of contaminated bottles. My sample, bought at the Pigs Ear festival, was fine; a decent rich dark ruby stout with a leathery blackcurrant marmite and coffee aroma, a caramel and coffee palate with a bit of hops and detergent, and chewy roast spicy flavours in a chocolatey finish.

19. Hook Norton Double Stout, 4.8%, Hook Norton, Oxfordshire, England. Revived within the last couple of decades from an early 20th century recipe, this stout was decent enough in its former filtered bottled form, but in 2008 it was relaunched as a bottle conditioned beer to become an instant minor classic. A rich malt roast chocolate aroma has a lightly spicy touch, with a gentle sparkle on a smooth chocolate malt palate, hints of slightly tart autumn fruites, pencil lead and burry hops. A lightly spicy swallow heralds a roasty coffee and blackcurrant finish. Bought at Waitrose.

20. Ithaca Excelsior! Ten, 9.9%, Ithaca, New York, USA. According to the bottle, “too many malts to list” and “an excess of American hops” go into this red-brown beer with its big, bubbly orange-yellow tinged head. Ripe fruit, spice, slightly dirty, sulphury, cream and ceramic notes are apparent on the aroma, while a firm malt palate has thistly, intense hops and ripe fruit. There’s lots more fruit plus mineral notes in a bitter but warming finish with a hint of pepper. Bought at Bierkraft, New York City.

21. Jolly Brewer Suzanne’s Stout 3.5%, Wrecsam, Wrecsam, Cymru. From a very small brewery attached to a brewing supplies shop that has produced a string of fascinating beers. A beer with an astonishing depth of flavour given its ABV, with a nutty roasted barley and fruit cake aroma slightly tinged with cough sweet, a dry roasty rye bread and rooty hops palate with toasted vine fruit, an estery swallow and a dry bitter chocolate finish laced with caramel and pepper. From Meadow Farm Shop, Tintern.

22. Mexicana Potro 4.7%, Tecate, Baja California, Mexico. This beer split our tasting team down the middle when we tried it blind at the Tesco Drinks Awards judging. If you’re expecting a straight porter you’ll be surprised as there’s a deliberate wild yeast streak of lambic-like sourness within the stylish blue bottle, softened by dark slightly treacly malt and notes of roast. A tart finish has chocolate, a scattering of hops, fruit and smoke. I loved it.

23. Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast 7.5%, København, Hovedstaden, Danmark. As the name suggests, its US-inspired brewers are well aware of the enthusiast market and unsurprisingly the denizens of ratebeer.com and the like have taken very well to this and their and other products. I also tried their strong, hoppy brown ale Jackie Brown in 2008 and rated it very highly, but I’ve limited myself to one beer per brewer here and this just pips the post. It’s a superb coffee stout with a sophisticated dry fruit note, a chaffy chocolate aroma, complex dry dark palate with red grape tannins and raspberry as well as coffee hints, and an -like brown sugar wash over marmitey malt on a finish that also offers peppery black coffee. Bought at Utobeer.

24. Molen Tsarina Esra Reserva, 11%, Bodegraven, Zuid Holland, Nederland. Available from a huge claret cask at the Great British Beer Festival, this limited edition imperial stout is from one of Europe’s most innovative and consistently interesting brewers. Near-black, with almost no head and a heady winy estery aroma over smooth but intense dark malt, leading to an equally estery and winy warming palate with vanilla and spiced orange liqueur, and a lightly smoky smooth finish with fine chocolate and a little charred wood. An outstanding example of a cask matured beer.

25. Nethergate Augustinian Premium Ale, 4.5%, Sudbury, Suffolk, England. Brewer Ian Hornsey has produced several beers under the Augustinian name, nodding to the nearby priory at Clare, but this bottle conditioned bitter is arguably the best so far. Rich amber with a big rocky head and a pungent hop aroma with a balsamic, sulphurous note, a full biscuity slightly oily palate with complex spicy seedy orange strawberry and hop notes, and a peppery caramel liquorice finish turning sternly hoppy. Bought at Utobeer.

26. Oc’Ale Bière Noire Stout, 6%, Lafrançaise, Midi-Pyrénées, France. Unusual black beer with fresh biscuity malt aroma, banana milkshake and roast notes, malty but slightly sour pineapple juice and dark cake palate with liquorice and more banana, and a sweet-sour finish with chocolate syrup and a hint of roast. From Caves à bulles, Paris, in bottle.

27. Port Lost Abbey The Angel’s Share, 12.5%, San Marcos, California, USA. Another rare treat on draught at the Great British Beer Festival, this extraordinary barrel aged beer has spent six months in Heaven Hill Wheat Whiskey barrels. It comes out black, with a bubbly yellow head, an intense winy woody dark malt and whisky aroma heady with calvados & marzipan fumes, a winy malty fruity spicy palate with notes not only of whisky but liquroice and a tartish tannic note, and a soothing fruity woody finish long developing with late nut, herb and root flavours. Probably my beer of the year.

28. Regenboog ‘t Smisje Meso 2007, 2.5%, Assebroek, West Vlaanderen, Vlaanderen. Another attempt to recreate an ancient beer, this was brewed on the initiative of an archaeologist and linguist based on a 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian recipe, from wheat and barley with herbs rather than hops. Sampled on draught at the Zythos festival, this highly unusual but refreshing pale yellow beer has high carbonation, a rapidly descending foamy white head, an unusual lightly sour lactic aroma with notes of farmyard, tar, paint and vinyl, a lightly fizzy almost cidery palate with burnt plastic and cream notes, and a lightly citric finish, mild rather than sour elderflower and kvass hints.

29. De Schans Van Vollenhoven & Co’s Extra Stout 2007, 7%, Uithoorn, Noord Holland, Nederland. This Irish-inspired stout was first brewed at Van Vollenhoven’s brewery in Amsterdam, bought and closed after World War II by Heineken who for several decades continued to produce it as a cold fermented beer. Finally withdrawn in 2002, it’s since been revived to a much more authentic recipe under license from Heineken and at the behest of the foundation that now administers the former brewery workers’ houses. A very good near-black beer with a fine deep fawn head, a fruity coal and dark malt aroma with chocolate, vinyl and bacon smoke traces, a compex bacon and chocolate finish with caramel, raisins and nuts, and a tangy mild touch, charred wood and roast in a long, rich finish. Bottle from London Drinker festival.

30. Southampton Cuvee des Fleurs, 7.7%, Southampton, New York, USA. A saison style ale dosed with lavender, chamomile, marigold and dog rose, this cloudy golden beer has a delicate gingery candy aroma with a fresh haze of straw-like hops, a very complext petally rustic malt palate with strawberry and rose notes, and a burst of incense on a long tangy fnsh with lingering toffee and tart fruit. From Bierkraft, New York City.

31. Southern Tier Hoppe Imperial Extra Pale Ale, 10%, Lakewood, New York, USA. Another Bierkraft choice, this is a delicious and outstanding example of the style that’s well-hopped but, unlike some West Coast examples, not too forbiddingly bitter, achieved by being attractively floral throughout. Strong pineapple and tobacco resin, hopsack and malt on the aroma, a smooth malty peach palate with cleaning pine striking through on the swallow, and rounded but complex resins on a slightly mouth-numbing but elegant finish.

32. St Austell Admiral’s Ale, 5%, St Austell, Kernow. From one of Britain’s best independents, with a great line in bottle conditioned beers, this uses a single malt of Cornish barley specially malted to a unique recipe for both fermentability and depth of flavour, originally produced to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 2005. A cherry red-brown with humbug and blackcurrant on a biscuity aroma, a juicy toffee palate with fruity complexity, vanilla biscuit, nuts, liquorice and thick hops, turning tangy on a drying nutty finish with a subtle roast note. Bottle from Utobeer.

33. St Hélène Djean d’Mady, 5.5%, Èthe, Luxembourg, Wallonie. A sociable, old-fashioned beer from the Gaume region, reddish amber, with a toasty gooseberry fool aroma, clean cherry apple palate with a rustic acid touch, drying spice over cream, some hops in a pleasant sappy finish with a touch of burnt rubber spice. A discovery in bottle at Beer Mania, Bruxelles.

34. Stewart Edinburgh No 3 Scotch Ale, 4.3%, Loanhead, Midlothian, Scotland. A chestnut beer in robust and malty Scottish style, gooseberry tart and autumn fruit on the aroma, a creamy, malty palate with chaffy cereal, nuts and ripe fruit, and a lightly drying tangy finish with plums and more creamy malt. A welcome revival of a traditional heavy style that has become increasingly hard to find, tasted on cask at the Guildford Arms, Edinburgh.

35. Trunk Vierzehnheiligen Nothelfer Dunkel, 5.1%, Vierzehnheiligen, Franken, Bayern. Unpasteurised Dunkel fresh from its cask at the Pigs Ear festival, a dark nut brown with a thick yellowy head, nutty caramel malt aroma with a fudgy note, cracker dry but nicely malty palate, fleeting sweetness round the edges, and a lingering spicy hop and crisp biscuit finish. An elegant and tasty beer.

36. Wells & Youngs Young’s Bitter (bottle conditioned version), 4.5%, Bedford, Bedfordshire, England. The bottled version of the distinctive Young’s Ordinary now relaunched as a bottle conditioned beer and doing its cask brother proud. Pale copper, its sweetish malty aroma with a distinct slightly sour and sulphury note, a firm tasty malty palate with crisp but restrained hops, barley sugar & subtle orange fruit, and a moreish lightly bitter and subtly peppery citric finish.

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