2014 hasn't been the busiest beer year for the Destrier; what little travelling that was done was not beer-orientated and the cursory trip to Dublin didn't even happen. As such, though I drank my weight sure enough, there's less of a palette to choose from than I'd like. Still, the tricky business of selecting the best must go on.
Best Irish Draught Beer: Eight Degrees Simcoe and White Hag's Black Boar. Trouble Brewing's Graffiti, the Full Irish and Kinnegar's Black Bucket also make good cases, but Simcoe's juicy hop front and sugary, lightly spicy malt body made it very hard to turn down when on tap in the Bierhaus, while the Black Boar immediately announced itself as one of the most impressive Irish stouts I've ever had.
Best Irish Canned/Bottled Beer: There's nothing particularly jumping out at me in terms of exclusively bottled beers, but one I bought plenty of has again been Simcoe. Always tasty and always well priced. The White Hag and Wicklow Wolf bottles also made good impressions across the board, with particular merit in the IPA from both and the Samhain Oktoberfest lager from the White Hag, simply because of the style of the beer is one that is hard to get a hold of at the best of times, and when it's done well (as it is here) it's a real winner.
Best Irish Cask Beer: There really aren't many to choose from, even though the Bierhaus try to right that wrong. Dry-hopped Kinsale Pale Ale is always good from the cask, but nothing showed off the serving style better than the Franciscan Well's Coffee Porter way back at the start of the year. Smooth, round, warming mocha deliciousness that puts the bottled form to shame.
Best Overseas Draught: I accidentally haven't written about it yet, but the two year old Boon Gueuze on tap at the Bierhaus was one of the most delicious draught beers I've ever tasted. Cidery, sour, sherberty lemon curd delivered perfectly from the keg. Not far behind it is the Kriek of the same age, from the same brewer, with tart cherry rounded out with deep marzipan and cream soda. Hoppin' Frog's B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher made an incredible rich, complex and warming imperial stout, but its price and availability make it an impractical choice.
Best Overseas Canned/Bottled Beer: It has to be Hanssens Artisinaal Oude Kriek. Sitting and drinking this in the sun was one of the most enjoyable quiet, beery moments of the year. Honourable mentions for way back in January and some 2012 Chimay Grande Réserve.
Best Overall Beer: Impossible and unfair to choose.
Best Pumpclip/Label: The design of the White Hag bottle labels perfectly reflect the boldly flavoured beers within.
Best Irish Brewery: Eight Degrees. Amber Ella made a return, as did Hurricane. We got Simcoe, Vic Secret and Nelson Sauvin, the brilliant Full Irish and finally the winter trio of Dubbel, DIPA and Imperial Stout. There were others throughout the year but these are fresh in my mind, and the regular Howling Gale is still a bottle to buy plenty of. And you know what? They were all good.
Best Overseas Brewery: A smattering of specials and some deliciously fresh (and rebranded) Jackhammer make Brewdog one of the few non-Irish breweries I've endorsed more than unusual throughout the year. Only by a whisker, though.
Best New Brewery Opening 2014: A dead heat between The White Hag's U.S.-flavoured ballsiness and Wicklow Wolf's mastering of a number of styles right from the off. Mescan were not far behind, and their Belgian-styled farmhouse brewery is probably the most fascinating brewing project in the country.
Pub of the Year: For choice, value, service and lack of loud noise: the Bierhaus.
Beer Festival of the Year: Again I only made it to the Franciscan Well festivals, and the best is as always the Easterfest. Those who attended this year's RDS fest will have something to say about that.
Supermarket of the Year: Dunnes Stores seemed to constantly have 4 Schneider Weisse for €9 this year, which is a bloody good deal. The presence of Howling Gale also made it a handy place to do the shopping.
Independent of the Year: Same as last year, Bradley's. The selection continues to grow, and the new beers cropping up over Ireland and beyond always find their way to North Main Street before long.
Best Beer Book/Magazine of the Year: An easy pick; Sláinte.
Best Beer Blog/Website: The blog I read most of was again The Beer Nut, but visits to The Tale of the Ale, Beermack and Irish Beer Snob were constantly taken, and picking a favourite is simply a case of selecting the most active. Which I cannot do. The wonderful Belgian Smaak must also be mentioned here.
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: This is the year that I discovered mature Gouda, and proceeded to have it with more or less every beer I could.
In 2015 I'd Most Like To...
...live up to 2014's ambitions to go UK beering, with a particular eye to Scotland. More urgently, though, is to increase blogging activity, which has slowed down over the past few months.
As ever, thanks for reading and have a happy 2015!