For the last six years, Beoir's Beer of the Year competition has offered the clearest picture of the Irish beer connoisseur's drinking preference. That beers of such high calibre as Of Foam & Fury, Shandon Century Stout and The Full Irish have won it previously shows that we are, collectively, a discerning bunch. Uniquely, the competition has no entry process or fees, or limitations on which types of beer and from which kinds of breweries may enter: as long as it's Irish it's eligible and the only judge is the individual drinker's palate.
This year, for the first time, an additional award has been given to the best overall brewery: the one which scored the most points in total across all of the beers nominated. It exists to give particular recognition to those breweries committed to giving customers the quality and variety we seek. Fittingly, the award has been named in honour of the late Oliver Hughes who made an immeasurable contribution to the quality and variety of Irish beer.
2017 Beer of the Year
Surrender to the Void
a double IPA by Whiplash Beer, of no fixed abode
Another year, another champion double IPA. The style, while not exactly ubiquitous in Irish brewing, has certainly become more commonplace. What separates Surrender to the Void from many of its contemporaries, however, is the clean, clear and distinct flavours without any syrupiness or heat. As well as the secret combination of hops, this beer's success owes much to to the care taken with canning and distribution, ensuring it's as fresh as possible when it lands in the glass.
Whiplash arrived on the scene in the first half of 2016, though the man behind it, Alex Lawes, was well-known in Irish beer previously, from his full-time job as Head Brewer at Rye River. Surrender to the Void was brewed at Rye River, though Alex has travelled to other breweries during the year to make different recipes, qualifying Whiplash as a fully-fledged gypsy brewer.
a session IPA by The White Hag Brewery, Ballymote, Co. Sligo
It's not all about pounding great IPAs for the Irish drinker: a need for beer by the pint is still part of the national character. And few beers are as rewarding to drink by the pint as Little Fawn, the 4.2% ABV session beer that White Hag introduced in the summer of 2015. It was a bit of a gamble for a brewery which specialised in stronger, heavier beers, especially since the style of session IPA had never been brewed here before. But it paid off handsomely, becoming the brewery's most popular beer by the time it was celebrating its second birthday in July 2016.
Mosaic is the signature hop, giving it a mouthwatering tropical fruit character backed by just enough of a bitter pinch to balance the flavour.
an India dark ale by O Brother, Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow
Pester-power is not to be underestimated. Bonita caused a sensation when it arrived in a very limited edition in early 2015. The reason for it being such a small batch was perhaps understandable: it's all of 7.1% ABV for one thing, and its amazing dark malt and floral hop complexity suggested that it was very expensive to make. And sure, maybe it was just a fluke. After a year of being asked when Bonita is coming back, the O Brother brothers finally gave in in autumn 2016 and brought it back, this time sending it out bottled as well as kegged, with a small amount on cask as well. And proving, of course, that they were well capable of repeating the feat of brewing a stand-out, unique, style-defying beer. Unsurprisingly, Beoir members deemed that deserving of an award, though presumably only to ensure a more regular supply.
The Oliver Hughes Award for Best Brewery
The White Hag
Ballymote, Co. Sligo
Among the several hundred votes cast, for a total of 135 different beers from 39 different suppliers, a handful of breweries stood out as being the consistent favourites. When the final count was tallied, The White Hag scored highest, its total spread across eight of its beers. Though other breweries had more beers in the running, it's clear that White Hag's made a bigger impact on a per-beer basis, receiving plaudits for annual seasonals such as Yule, radical one-offs like their Brett Pale Ale, as well as permanent fixtures such as Little Fawn.
When White Hag arrived in a blaze of glory at the Irish Craft Beer Festival in 2014, Oliver Hughes was amazed that a new brewery in Sligo could be producing such a high-quality diverse output. It's fitting that the first recipient of the award bearing his name is that same brewery, still amazing the customers two and half years later.
Thanks as always to everyone who voted, and congratulations to all the winners.