The Society of Independent Brewers has been busy judging fifty six of the UK's finest micro ales at the Barrels pub in Hereford this month. The seven beers in each of the eight categories had won through their regional heats in January to vie for SIBA's national beer awards, the most coveted of the year for small brewers.
The final list has now been whittled down to just sixteen brews with the outright winners to be announced at SIBA's annual conference in York on 7th March. Amongst the lucky few is the staggeringly beautiful Cairngorm Trade Winds, possibly the best beer out of Scotland since Harviestoun's Schiehallion (until recently that is) although it doesn't get out nearly enough for my liking!
I say 'until recently' because my first and so far only encounter with Fraserburgh based Brew Dog's stupendous ale at The Star's winter festival last year was like some sort of religious experience. Their 'in your face' style has certainly raised the standard of Scottish brewing to a new level, with the sort of audacious flair more commonly associated with US west coast brewers. The Scots of course, unlike other gaelic nations, have always been able to produce good beer and it was no surprise at all to see so many outfits from north of the border making SIBA's shortlist.
What did surprise me however was the absence of Brew Dog from even the regional finals - I mean how on earth can that happen? Then it dawned on me. These guys must be The Clash of the micro-brewing world! Indeed I have visions of them deliberately snubbing the establishment and doing it their way, like not appearing for the media lest accusations of selling out be levelled, or refusing to dilute their product in the face of ever increasing prices - even though everybody else is at it!!(??) In any event, sampling as much of their ale, whether critically acclaimed or not, is one new year's resolution I'm determined to keep - that and replacing my worn out copy of London Calling of course!
In the meantime don't forget to check back at SIBA's website next month to discover just who's won what 'cos there's bound to be a surprise, though I sincerely hope it doesn't involve St. Austell.
But that's another story!
For any of you yet to sample Trade Winds from Cairngorm or anything from Brew Dog's stable, may I recommend making the pilgrimage north to alleviate your dire situation asap. Aviemore Beer Festival (7th-9th March) should do the trick or failing that April's always a good month up there - I'm booked in already!