Beer Ambleside – #Tryanuary 2020

Shortly after our last “proper” visit to Ambleside, the nice people at Tarn Hows brewery opened up a shop and tasting room called Beer Ambleside. It’s taken me until now to visit as we’ve not been to Ambleside “properly” for quite a while.

I say “proper” and “properly” because we were in Ambleside in August 2017, but we’d walked over from Brothers Water via Middle Dodd and Red Screes and only had time for dinner and a taxi back.

After a few winters in Keswick and summers elsewhere in Cumbria, we are back in Ambleside, with a few more Wainwrights ticked off (144 down, 70 to go). Today’s weather was awful, low cloud mixing with rain, and then more rain. Rather than ticking off another Wainwright in the rain (that was October’s quest), we decided to nip over to Grasmere for a wander round the shops, then back to Ambleside for more shopping.

As well as picking up a few other bits (including a very nice new down jacket) there was time for some beer shopping. When this is just some of the selection you have to choose from (multiple fridges not pictured):-

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you know that you’ve got your work cut out for a little while, picking out a selection to have with dinner for the next few nights, and some to take home for the rest of the month of #Tryanuary.

After a long peruse, I managed to come away with a little selection from some of my favourite breweries (including one that I crowd-funded). You’ll spot lagers, pales, sours and similar styles, and just one stout from Tarn Hows brewery. This is because I’ve got shed loads of massive stouts still to get through so I don’t need to stock up on those. Session ales, table beers and lagers are what I need right now!

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There’s so much to choose from, and plenty of help available if you need it, with ciders, natural wines and gins also available alongside some merchandise and glassware (something else I definitely don’t need any more of).

Ambleside has been crying out for something like this for a good few years, so come here and buy beer, and don’t go to Tesco! You can also get growler fills of the beers that they currently have on (not available today as they are on holiday for a couple of weeks from this weekend).

The Otter, Kegworth, December 2019

For the eighth time in ten years we find ourselves at The Otter, my team’s traditional Xmas lunch venue. Every year I take my team out for lunch, a small token of appreciation for another year of hard work. I’ve written about this pub loads, so I’ll crack straight on with a quick round up of the food and drink.

Beer first, and with only two sad looking pumps of Doom Bar and Wainwright (and an awful pint of Atlantic last year), I decided to chance my arm with keg instead, Chieftain IPA from “Franciscan Well brewing”, who sound very exotic, but are just a Coors subsidiary. Simple and malty, and not much more.

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On to food. Regular readers may recall that I have very similar things every year, as they don’t change the menu massively each time (no need to change a winning formula). For the third year in a row, I opted for the duck & port parfait, this time with a “mulled Cumberland sauce” (stop mulling things!) and “toasted rustic bread”. It was grilled on one side, and better than last year’s bread which had just been waved near a light bulb. No leaves this time, or slices of radish (2017). It was very tasty. The sauce was way too thin though, it needed to be reduced.

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My main course is so predictable that everyone knows what I’ll be having. I always have the rib of beef, this time boneless, served on a bed of truffle & parsley mash (no sign of truffle), with honey-roasted carrots, glazed sprouts (no thanks) and a red wine jus. No onion rings (2015), spiced vegetable fritter (2016) or marrow (2018). As delicious as ever, and paired with some nice hot English mustard of course.

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My pudding choice is also utterly predictable, Belgian chocolate brownie with Irish liqueur ice cream. I have the chocolate pudding every year. Last year’s was probably the high point for this, but the 2019 version was also pretty good. It was the most popular pudding in our party. Thankfully they’ve finally ditched the out of season strawberries.

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Another lovely lunch at The Otter. A shame that the service was extra slow this year, despite pre-ordering for the first time. Don’t get me started on that either, it was an utter farce, with an online system that didn’t have the same options as the menu, and e-mail addresses that didn’t work. After some back and forth, everything got sorted, but it took a bit of the shine off things. It also took them about three goes to find our table.

Despite all of that, I’m sure we’ll be back next year.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – selection box #21 – December 2019

It’s box number 47 overall, and not a moment too soon, as I’m all out of sessionable beers again. Oh, hang on, this box doesn’t have anything in the session category, but at least there are a few five percenters, and nothing over 6.5%. They probably won’t make it past Christmas because I need some easier drinking pales and lagers to offset those big imperial stouts that are calling my name.

Black Lodge – $100 Volvo – 5%

A lovely easy drinking Ekuanot Pale Ale. Hazy, fruity, lovely! Despite the name, it’s from Liverpool.

Cloudwater – The World, Just As It Is – 5%

Vienna lager is a style with a long history, pre-dating all other pale lager beers, but one that very nearly died out. Cloudwater are glad it didn’t, as the rich, elegant malt profile, and the balance between subtle sweetness and crisp bitterness create a lager that’s complex yet easy-drinking. The Cloudwater twist comes from the use of a New Zealand hop known for bright citrus and marmalade flavours.

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Cloudwater – West Coast IPA – 6.5%

The West Coast IPA style is a modern classic that changed perceptions of what beer could be, and paved the way for today’s craft beer scene. The Cloudwater approach is informed by experiences working with trailblazing brewers and diving deep into their celebrated beers, so this delivers the hallmark layered bitterness and a clean, dry, resinous finish alongside punchy flavours provided by a blend of modern and classic hop varietals.

Pomona Island – Aquarius and My Name is Ralph – 6.5%

It’s not every day that you get a beer named after a lyric found in “Float On” by The Floaters. This is an IPA that’s fermented with London Fog and double dry hopped with Vic Secret, Citra and Simcoe for juicy citrus and stone fruit flavours.

Float on.

Time and Tide – Manfred – 5%

All the way from Kent, the N&P crew are big fans of Time and Tide. Who can forget Spratwaffler? If double dry hopped beers are your thing, this one’s for you. Mosaic, Simcoe, Citra and Ekuanot all combine to give a full bodied, wonderfully spicy, fruity flavour with moderate bitterness.

Track – Half Dome APA – 5.3%

A super fruity American style pale ale. Crisp notes of pineapple and mango. A complex malt bill to give body and a beautiful yellow colour – hopped with Galaxy, Citra and Simcoe.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #18 – December 2019

It’s box number 46 overall, full of some big units and that rare thing, a session porter. A couple of these might make their way into my Christmas beer line up and quite a few will be saved for sharing next year.

Cigar City – Caffè Americano – 12%

Bold, strong and dark, traditional Caffè Americano is made by adding water to espresso. Bold, strong, and dark, Cigar City Brewing’s Caffè Americano is made by adding vanilla and Tampa-roasted espresso beans to a formidable double stout base. Aromas of fresh-ground espresso beans, vanilla and alcohol spiciness dominate the nose in this imposing imperial stout. The palate finds strong flavours of fudge, coffee, penuche (an Italian vanilla fudge), and raisin pudding (a sort of spotted dick) balanced by moderate carbonation and an assertive German hop flavour and bitterness, while the sweetness of vanilla rounds out the beer’s long finish.

Nøgne Ø – Porter – 7%

The first dark beer in the club from Norway’s Nøgne Ø. A very traditional (and very good) quite dark ale, where dark malts provide flavours of coffee and dried fruit.

North Riding – Fudge Brownie Stout – 7.4%

A return visit to the dark beer club for this one, a beer originally brewed by North Riding in 2016. Smooth creamy chocolate fudge, hints of vanilla, bucketloads of deliciousness.

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Siren – Barrel Aged Primal Cut – 10%

Primal Cut has been ageing in bourbon casks and Siren are thrilled with how the beer has developed. This complex porter has a beautiful blackcurrant tone with deep coffee and chocolate flavours, complemented by a wisp of smoke in the air and a distinctive bourbon character.

St Bernardus – Christmas Ale – 10%

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is the youngest descendant in the illustrious family of delicious Abbey Ales by Brewery St. Bernardus. This beer is characterised by its deep dark colour, with a creamy, thick head and a full, almost velvety taste with a fruity nose. It’s a seasonal ale, brewed annually for the holiday season. The long winter nights are perfect moments to savour this ale with or without friends and to enjoy its unique, complex taste and aftertaste.

Thornbridge – Market Porter – 4.5%

Thornbridge make some lovely dark beers, and this is no exception. A really creamy and smooth porter, so easy to drink.

BBC Good Food Show 2019

The annual round up of the annual pilgrimage to the BBC Good Food show. I think it’s also going to be the annual moan that it’s not as good as it used to be. Once more it seems to have shrunk, this year we had completed every stall before 2pm and there seemed to be a distinct lack of some of our favourite smaller producers.

If you like gin, you would have been in luck. I lost count of the number of gin producers that were there, it was absolutely heaving with them. Some of them had very interesting variations which were worth a further look, but there were so many plain gin producers too. We even saw New Zealand’s Cardrona distillery again, who we first met at Pub in the Park in June.

The lack of beer was startling. Church Farm from Warwickshire were there again (not far to travel for them), as well as a brewer of brown beers from the south west, but that was it. I got some lovely beers from Padstow Brewing Co last year, but they were nowhere to be seen. Good beer was to be found in 2017 and 2016 too, but no sign in 2019.

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We still managed to stock up on some Tracklements as usual (oh look, another free tote bag) and some tasty Heck sausages, along with the usual haul from the Isle of Wight garlic farm, the obligatory Curry Sauce Co collection (now available at Ocado), and some new sauces from The Fresh Sauce Co from Ipswich.

So, a reduced haul compared to previous years but there’s still some lovely stuff to be enjoyed over the next few months. I just hope that the organisers can do more to encourage the smaller producers back here. The folks at the Curry Sauce Co were saying that they were considering not coming back next year, for the first time in 20 years…

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – sour beer selection box #9 – November 2019

The nights are drawing in and it’s not all about massive imperial stouts. I enjoy sour beers all year round, but some people think they are not for winter. Let’s dive in to the next selection, box number 46 overall.

3 Fonteinen – Armand & Gaston – 5%

A special cuvee from one of Belgium’s finest producers. This limited release Geuze is packed with lemon sherbet notes and all the funk you’d expect from a premium lambic but with more depth than the standard release.

Burnt Mill – Split your Infinities – 5.6%

A simple malt bill of pale & wheat provided a wort that was soured overnight, boiled, then sent to the fermenter to condition on blueberry puree. Clean, lactic aromas and light tartness are complemented by the Mosaic dry hop and the mellow, sweet taste of blueberries in this refreshing fruited sour.

Cigar City – Margarita Gose – 4.2%

Throw on your Hawaiian shirt and your lederhosen and meet Cigar City Brewing at the intersection of traditional German brewing and tropical relaxation. A German-style Gose with added orange peel and lime essence to create the perfect warm weather ale. It will definitely be drunk in cold weather here!

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Dugges – Black Currant – 4.5%

Premium Dugges. Black Currant is a sour beer fermented with blackcurrants. To give the beer its sour taste, lactobacillus was added to the mix. A beer within the New Nordic Beer Project, brewed with only Nordic ingredients. Think Ribena in beer form, and much classier than a purple nasty.

Dupont – Saison – 6.5%

Saison Dupont is a classic Belgian farmhouse ale. This is a beautifully balanced, complex beer that has a refreshing fruitiness and long, dry finish. It is bottled unfiltered so it may be cloudy or have a slight sediment but this is normal and perfectly natural. One of the greatest beers in the world.

Floris Kriek – Brouwerij Huyghe – 3.6%

Easy drinking and full on, a deep red colour and slightly cloudy, made with Maraschino cherries. Light and very refreshing. Floris is made by Brouwerij Huyghe the brewery famous for Delerium Tremens (the one with the pink elephant).

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – selection box #20 – November 2019

It’s box number 45 overall, and not a moment too soon, as I’m all out of sessionable beers, and three of these count as session. So they probably won’t make it past the weekend, leaving the bigger units to fight another day.

71 Brewing – NEIPA Here Nor There – 6.5%

As Dundee’s first brewery for 50 years, 71 is reviving the lost art of brewing in Scotland’s fourth city. A New England IPA with Simcoe, Citra, Centennial & Azacca in the whirlpool and then double dry-hopped with Simcoe, Mosaic & Citra. I might be tempted to go back to Dundee – the beer scene was awful the last time that I was there!

ABC – Juice Springsteen – 4.5%

A 4.5% tropical fruit juice session IPA. Bags of pineapple, mango, passion fruit, guava and mandarin just bursting to get out of the can. Fruits plz!

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Amundsen x Lervig – Even More Cowbell – 7.5%

This collaboration between Amundsen and Lervig from Norway is the biggest dryhop ever attempted in Scandinavia equivalent to 50 grams/litre. Piney, dank, resinous. Not for the faint hearted, and I’m really looking forward to this one.

Campervan – Leith Juice – 4.7%

A fruity, juicy session IPA dry hopped with Simcoe, Cascade and a van full of orange zest. Leith Juice packs a huge zesty citrus kick, with flavours of grapefruit, lemon and orange in abundance. I had this in Edinburgh at the lovely Holyrood 9A back in September, and it was full of juicy orange flavours.

Hackney – Our House – 3.5%

Our House, in the middle of our street.

A light, summery, refreshing, juicy number. Heavily hopped with Citra and Centennial, it has tropical notes and a nice round body to carry those fruity flavours. At a low abv of 3.5% it is certainly suited to quench your thirst in the heat of the summer. Unfortunately, we are now in cold and dreary November, but this will still do nicely.

Pomona Island – I eat with Gusto – 3.4%

Manchester’s Pomona Island are one of the best breweries around at the moment. Their DDH Table Beer is dry hopped with Citra BBC & Vic Secret. I’ve had one of their previous DDH Table Beers, Bonbonbonbons, which was fantastic.