The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #17 – October 2019

It’s box number 45 overall, and more darkness to get us through the darker evenings and rainy autumn days. Most of these will probably go into storage for future sharing events as there are some more big units in here, but a few will be out to accompany some weekend puddings.

Arbor – Goo Goo G Joob – 12%

Arbor are renowned for their pale hoppy beers, but they also brew some very special dark beers, and this is a great example of Maple Imperial Stout with complex dark malt, burnt caramel and black treacle flavours. Whether it contains any actual walrus is yet to be determined.

Beartown – Imperial Crème Bearlee – 9%

A velvety stout with burnt cream, Madagascan vanilla and molasses. I’d like to tell you more than that, but there’s very little information out there.

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Chimay – Blue – 9%

The Cistercian Trappist monks of Chimay have been brewing since 1862, with their abbey being located on the site of a well which provides pure water for the beer.

Chimay Blue Strong Dark Ale is world-class Belgian elegance in a bottle. This authentic Belgian beer is complex, rich and powerful, all of which improve and transform over many years thanks to its classic bottle-conditioning.

Whilst obviously strong, the alcohol is barely noticeable, giving way instead to the beautiful aromas of spicy Belgian yeast, bread dough and toffee, the mark of great craftsmanship. Rich and intense with lovely caramel notes, it’s the lovely dry finish allows the distinct Belgian flavours to linger well into the next sip. Absolutely gorgeous.

Evil Twin – 60 Day Dry Aged Stout – 6%

Evil Twin have treated us to a lovely stout, it’s a style that is often neglected by breweries due to the big boys in Dublin. However, the style originated in London. A jet-black pour leads to an aroma of dark chocolate and tobacco. You’re then warmly greeted with a light, airy mouthfeel with a dry smoky finish. 60 days does seem like a while but some things are certainly worth waiting for. And for once, it’s a dark beer from Evil Twin that isn’t 10%+

Left-Handed Giant – That Life – 6.9%

You’ll want triple servings and you’ll dish out a triple thumbs up for Left-Handed Giant’s Triple Chocolate Stout. Hopped with Bramling Cross and packed with creamy rich ingredients such as vanilla, chocolate, cacao nibs, lactose and cocoa powder, this brew means there’s no need for dessert.

Wander Beyond – Scoop – 11%

Scoop is an Imperial Black Ice cream IPA. Based on the theme of mint choc chip ice creams, Wander Beyond added cacao nibs and vanilla to a dark milkshake IPA base before dry hopping with Fuggles, Polaris and Citra hops and steeping peppermint tea from their friends at Atkinsons of Lancaster.

I’ve been looking for a chocolate mint beer since Thornbridge’s Baize. I love chocolate and mint in my puddings and chocolate covered minty sweets that are consumed 20 hours into the day, but there’s very little out there in the beer world that will stand up to them.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – sour beer selection box #8 – September 2019

It’s box number 44 overall, and some interesting sours for the end of summer. I enjoy them all year round, but some people think they are not for winter. Let’s dive in to the next selection of sours…

Dugges – Tutti Frutti – 6.0%

How many fruits do you need for a tutti frutti? Together with Sweden’s Wizard Brewing, Dugges decided to go for all of them. Almost. Pear, mango, passion fruit, peach, pineapple and mandarin. That’s right. Tutti Frutti! Not to be confused with Rowntree’s Tooty Frooties, that 80s tangy sweet. Although it does taste quite like them, absolutely crammed with fruitiness.

Mashionistas – As Lime Gose By – 4.1%

First brewed in collaboration with Warwick University Students’ Union Real Ale Society for their 2019 Real Ale Festival, this is a light tangy and refreshing gose made with Indian white limes, Calabrian Bergamot, and Himalayan pink rock salt. Oh, and Coventry’s finest water!

I’ve already had a bottle of this from an early batch and it has a subtle saltiness and citrus tang. Because of my obssession with lime, I want loads more lime in it. The Crooked Stave version of Key Lime Tau is probably my lime beer blueprint, with Westbrook Key Lime Pie Gose not far behind.

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Siren – Guava Script – 4.0%

Both Sean (Siren’s new Head Brewer) and Erwin (from collaborating brewery Van Moll) have been keen to experiment with pink guava, so this collaboration recipe almost wrote itself. This sour sensation is intensified with mango and passionfruit before being dry-hopped with Azacca and Mosaic. I’m intrigued by this.

Wander Beyond – Anura – 7%

Following on from Loris, (Wander Beyond’s Imperial Apricot Berliner Weisse), they brewed a high strength Berliner Weisse and refermented it on half a tonne of blueberries. This deep, dark, purple beer is ripe and bursting with tart blueberry fruit flavours.

Yonder – Goose – 6.8%

At last, something goose related that isn’t Untitled Goose Game, which has been all over social media at the moment. There are arguments over the etymology of gooseberry, but it’s quite likely that it did come from the fact that they grew in areas where geese would be found, so I like that explanation. Back to the beer.

Inspired by the wild gooseberries discovered growing in woodlands near the brewery, Goose combines those tart, fruity flavours with Cornish sea salt, for a delicous imperial take on a German Gose.

I’m a big gooseberry fan, we used to have gooseberry bushes and I’ve also made gooseberry jam, so I’m looking forward to this one.

Yeastie Boys – Heaven Up – 3.8%

Heaven Up is a refreshing, lemonade-inspired, Berliner-style pale sour ale with aromatic doses of lemon and lime and an effervescent and satisfying drinkability.

We missed out on this one at Thornbridge Peakender, so it’s time to give it a try.

The Needle & Pin Craft Beer Club – selection box #20 – September 2019

It’s box number 43 overall, and whilst those summer evenings are rapidly shrinking into autumn, there’s still a place for lots of session pales for those evenings enjoying takeaways with friends at a camp site. This box beats the previous one, with three session beers inside, and three that are over, but all 5.5% or less.

[Edit : as these have all been easy drinkers, they didn’t last long, so all have brief reviews added. They all pretty much lived up to their billing.]

Cloudwater – DDH Pale – 5.5%

This DDH (Double Dry Hopped) pale is brewed to soup up your down time by delivering the hop flavour intensity of a Cloudwater DIPA at a moderate ABV. Doubling the standard Pale Ale’s dry-hopping rate of 8g/L, this beer delivers a bold, juicy, hazy, and heavily-hopped pale ale. Out of our hoppy beer range, this sets the marker for balance between drinkability and flavour impact.

Lovely stuff. Nice hoppy notes, hint of lavender and sensibile ABV.

Gipsy Hill – Alleycat – 4.5%

Alleycat is a pale ale pumped full of Galaxy and Citra for their big stone fruit and citrus flavours. The grist kept clean to let the hops shine.

A nice, easy drinking, pale.

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Moor – Slovenia ‘Hop – 4.1%

Part of the ‘Hop series, following on from Nor’Hop, So’Hop, Union’Hop, Italia’Hop, and Espana’Hop this edition has the same malt bill but hopped to the max with Kolihbri and Slovenian Dragon.

Lovely bit of lager business. Super easy drinking, and nice to taste two new (to me) hops.

Neon Raptor – First Incarnation – 5.2%

First Incarnation is a brand-new NE pale ale which is hopped with Mosaic, Simcoe and Chinook. It was brewed with Neon Raptor’s original New England style water profile for a soft mouthfeel.

A soft and gentle pale ale.

Red Willow – Effortless – 3.7%

New Zealand style pale ale. Ultra pale and refreshing with lots of body, gratuitously hopped with Nelson Sauvin for a full fruity flavour.

A light and easy drinking pale, but needs more hops (NMH) for me.

Wylam – It Tastes Like Us – 4.7%

A super smashable pale brewed with flaked and torrified wheat keeping everything soft and bouncy on the palette. Double dry hopped with fresh Lemon Drop, Centennial, Mosaic and Amarillo with a clean zesty bitter finish of blood orange and tangerine.

Soft and bitter, but really easy drinking.

Beer + Burger, King’s Cross, London, 2019

I’ve been here at least 4 times this year. It is now my “pre train home” dinner stop, following a tip off on Twitter back in January. When I find myself in London for a day or more, I prefer to catch a train home around 8:30 in the evening (much less crowded, not so many rude commuters, and much cheaper). This usually means that dinner is required before getting on the train.

Beer + Burger is located around the Coal Drops Yard area of King’s Cross, between Granary Square and York Way, an area which has been massively regenerated over recent years. There are even more buildings going up right now.

Beer + Burger combines two of my very favourite things, and it does them both very well. Around 20 contiunally changing taps of keg beer, plus fantastically well stocked fridges combine with a simple burger menu (cheese, double cheese, bacon cheese, chicken, vegan, monthly special) and a few sides (fries, wings, pickles, coleslaw, gravy, jalapenos) and a couple of desserts.

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All very simple and unpretentious. Arrive, find a seat (mostly long shared benches), order beers and burgers. The food comes over to you when it’s ready.

Most beers come in halves, some in thirds, two thirds and pints. This is the only area where they sometimes trip up – if you ask for a measure other than the advertised one, they can get themselves in a bit of a mess over how to charge for it, or even if they can.

You can view the beer menu on Untappd before you arrive, and you’ll find lagers, sours, witbiers, IPAs, double IPAs, saisons, pale ales, stouts and porters all represented. The hardest part is choosing which ones to sample in your limited visiting time. I’ve had some absolute crackers this year, including North x Other Half DIPA, Northern Monk Patrons Project 16.02, Cloudwater AW18 Belgian Plum and Howling Hops Jantelagen.

It is the perfect combination of great burgers and great beers (and ciders if that’s your thing).

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I’ve also been to the O2 (Millennium Dome in old money) branch in Greenwich. Same idea, different seating (higher benches) and different food pick up (you get the vibrating light up coaster things). There are also branches in Dalston, Notting Hill and Willesden.

Recommended if you’re looking for a great beer and a great burger in any of these areas of London. This branch is also handy for King’s Place, the nearby arts venue where some of your favourite podcasts might do live recordings.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #16 – August 2019

Despite the recent deluges, flooding, abandoned international scout and guide camps, dams bursting and everything else, it’s still summer. However, there’s always a place for some big dark beers in your cold storage area, and most of these ones are absolute units, great for sharing with friends around the camp fire when the nights are cooling a little. This is the first dark beer selection to be exclusively all cans.

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Abbeydale – Methuselah – 10.5%

An absolutely huge Imperial Stout which has been finished in wooden ex-whisky barrels. Big, bold and boozy – a hugely full bodied malt-driven stout with a hint of Brett funkiness on the nose and just enough tartness to provide balance on the palate. Sumptuously smooth and strikingly robust.

Box Social – Union Black Jamaican Stout – 6%

Based around Skindred’s fourth album, 2011’s Union Black, this beer is full of soul and flavour. Allspice and vanilla give an unctuous sweetness which plays against the roasted notes of coffee and dark chocolate from the malt. Vegan friendly, so that all of the members of the band could enjoy it, this stout is full bodied, rich and moreish.

Polly’s Brew Co –  Cassie – 7%

Everything about this beer is all about decadence – from the silky mouthfeel, to the 10kg of Arabica coffee beans that were added. Cassie rocks up with a metric tonne of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and raisin notes. Cassie, named for the horse that occupied Polly’s stable before Polly, is the biggest beer that Polly’s (formerly Loka Polly) have ever brewed.

Northern Monk – Patrons Project 17.03 – Pete’s Dark Past – 7%

To accentuate hints of biscuit, the grist contains plenty of munich malt; a more heavily kilned German base malt with a prominent flavour, plus some lightly roasted amber malt which compliments and offers notes of toast and cinder toffee. This is backed up by light crystal and Special B to add depth and dark fruit character, chocolate roast malt, plenty of flaked oats and maltodextrin to build out the body.

To recreate the outer layer of a chocolate bar, they added a load of lactose and a touch of vanilla for the basis of that classic milk chocolate flavour. They then went even further adding chocolate during fermentation and copious amounts of caramel late fermentation to boost the ABV and add a decadent dessert sweetness to this rich, deep brown stout. Twix in a glass!!

Pressure Drop – Escape Pod – 10%

Polish your diamonds & find your fanciest hat, because this collaboration is quite a lot
of luxury. Pressure Drop have wanted to brew an intense milk stout for a while, and the Left Handed Giant crew know what they are doing around milk sugars and lactose. If you’re going big on a milk stout, you might as well take it all the way to massive. Escape Pod is maxed out with vanilla, coconut and cacao nibs. Brewed with milk sugars, it is smooth and shamelessly sweet.

Stillwater – Thsi Iiis Nlya Tst 006 – 8%

Yes, it’s really called that. A collaborative brew with Oliver Brewing Co and Ceremony Coffee, both of Baltimore. They all joined together to make a cappuccino stout brewed with coffee, cocoa, vanilla and milk sugar. The beer needs a gentle shake before opening to release the nitrogen to create a silky smooth finish.

Fuller’s and Friends 2019 “box set”

The 2017 Fuller’s and Friends box set was a set of collaboration brews that had piqued quite a lot of peoples’ interest. Some of the biggest UK brewery names in the form of Cloudwater Brew Company, Fourpure Brewing Company, Hardknott Brewery (sadly now defunct), Marble Beers Limited, Moor Beer Company and Thornbridge Brewery were all invited to brew a beer with Fuller’s. I think Galleon was probably my favourite.

Everyone was looking forward to the next set of collaborations, whenever they may come. Then in January 2019, Fuller’s sold their entire drinks business to Asahi for £250,000,000 in order to concentrate on running its chain of pubs and hotels. So there was a bit of a backlash, as there has been every time a brewery has been bought by another one over the last couple of years.

The dust has settled, so let’s have a look at the new set, available in your local Waitrose. This year, it is actually available, rather than the myth that the first box set became (it took quite a while to acutally get out into the wild). This year the beers are also available in Fuller’s pubs on cask and keg (I’ve already had one in Greenwich).

Let’s have a look inside…

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Misprized – Magic Rock

Mild – an undervalued beer style? Not anymore. A celebration of this classic English style, with some tweaks on a traditional recipe from 1920 by adding rum barrel oak chips to give a sweet, nutty depth of flavour. This is the one that I had in The Pilot in Greenwich and I don’t think they had kept it well as it was rather meh.

Respect your Elders – Tiny Rebel

Old brewery meets new brewery and bonds over their mutual appreciation of ESB – that’s the story behind this beer, which gives the classic style a contemporary tropical twist. With a trio of new world hops, this malty, marmaladey beer beautifully bridges the generation gap.

Kroke – Mack

Named after the Norse word for ‘Crowberries’, the sloes come fresh from the Arctic Circle and give this lager a slight tartness to offset its sweet, honeyed notes. Learning from Viking tradition, dried meadowsweet is used to add a slight bitterness to this crisp, pale gold lager.

Love on the Run – Woodstock

This hop-forward IPA is the perfect marriage of London town and Cape Town. The African Queen hop and native African cereal Sorgham are combined with British Olicana and Bramling Cross hops. Fresh blackcurrant and lemongrass aromas offset a dry, earthy malt base in what is a very sessionable IPA.

Way Down Ale – Stone and Wood

A trio of Tasmanian hops – including an unnamed experimental hop – combine to create a beautifully balanced beer, full of tropical fruit flavours. A fitting homage to Tasmania’s hop growers.

Huvvy Dug – Pilot

A Caledonian classic, this Wee Heavy is made using six malts – with not a new world hop in sight. Smooth caramel and biscuit notes come to the fore in this rich, full-bodied ale. Huvvy Dug? Well because it’s ‘huvvy like a huvvy dug’ of course.

Brewdog fanzine issue 25

Remember these round ups? There hasn’t been one since October, when BD stopped updating their web site with details of what was being sent out. It obviously existed electronically because they still had a print out in the box. However, they were not interested in sending this out to subscribers. During this time, they’ve also stripped it back to a monthly box, but at least they’ve kept the price the same so far.

I think that Transatlantic Telegram and Old World Russian Stout (which featured in that October box) have been my favourites in the last six months or so. Here’s what’s in the July box…

Humulus Helmsman (5.6%) – West Coast IPA

Setting a course for the West Coast with some true American muscle. Seven different US hops have been deployed to proudly fly the flag for America’s favourite craft beer style in Humulus Helmsman – Simcoe, Cascade, Citra, Centennial, Ahtanum, Mosaic and Chinook. A who’s who of IPA, all involved in this tropical, citrus and pine-led new world hero. I have very high hopes for this one, so let’s hope it’s as good as the description might lead us to believe.

Coffee Caramel Curfew (5.0%) – Caramel Macchiato Coffee Porter

Get off the streets and take refuge with this night-black porter, brewed with five different malts and five different additions. You’ll find milk sugars, honey, Demerara sugar, vanilla and coffee pairing with crystal and dark malts to create a smooth, roasty coffee and chocolate porter with notes of mellow Macchiato and a sweet nuttiness. Another one that sounds very good, and nice to see they’ve included two below 6% for once.

Pulp Patriot V4 (9.5%) – Single Hop Double IPA

I really hope this is better than the first two that I had. V1 and V2 didn’t have much more than strength going for them. It’s about time that I had V3, because then I can have this one which is a tribute to Mosaic, introduced into the whirlpool and at the dry-hop stage. This single-hopped superpower is a classic Mosaicathon – tropical fruit, mango, stone fruit and citrus. Resinous pine also gets a look in but the wheat and flaked oats balance the body and lift the mouthfeel as the near-10% ABV brings the flavour home, and then some.

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