Beer of the year, 2015

This is different from brewery (outlet) of the year. This is about the best beer that I sampled in 2015. This doesn’t necessarily mean it was some special beer that was only brewed in 2015 (although I’ve had a few of those). It’s just my favourite beer of the year, taking into account all of the “beers of the month” from 2015.

January 2015 was a good month for beer sampling. I’m usually lucky enough to get a nice selection of different beers for Xmas (you get what you give, after all), and the first few days were spent in Cumbrian pubs, seeing in the New Year with a few more walks before returning to work.

The winner for January 2015 was one of those Xmas present beers, Russian Imperial Stout from the Flipside Brewery, a small brewery in Colwick, just outside Nottingham. It won the Midlands Region SIBA competition for cask Premium Strong beers for two years running and early in 2014 it won a National Bronze award in that category. It also won a Gold Award for the SIBA Midlands Region in the Bottled Porters, Milds, Old Ales and Stouts category. It is a cracking beer, with hints of chocolate and coffee and roasty and malty flavours. Very tasty and a worthy beer of the month.

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February 2015‘s winner was an import, from the Goose Island brewery in Chicago (sadly now another subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev, although this does mean that there’s more chance of being able to find it in the UK). A predictable choice for a hophead like me, but there you go.

Goose Island IPA “recalls a time when ales shipped from England to India were highly hopped to preserve their distinct taste during the long journey.” Apparently, the result is “a hop lover’s dream with a fruity aroma, set off by a dry malt middle, and long hop finish.” As marketing bumph goes, it’s pretty spot on. It’s not really pale enough for my liking (I have a thing about pale ales that aren’t pale enough) but it does have nice levels of hoppiness. And as we all know, hoppiness=happiness.

March 2015 was an emotional choice, because it was the most emotional month. My dad passed away towards the start of the month, so beer was one of the furthest things from my mind. However, just a week later it was Mrs MOFAD’s 40th birthday, so we took a short break from events to return to our own home and celebrate as best as we could. The support of family and friends were the key to March. Part of this involved a trip to town for a “day before the birthday” Thai meal with friends. Afterwards the two of us retired to the pub next door (The Swan in the Rushes, a long time MOFAD favourite which appears on the map) for a quiet pint and some quiet contemplation.

This pint just happened to be the possibly aptly named Salvation, by the recently opened Charnwood Brewery (our newest and most local brewery). A nice, hoppy golden ale, and just the thing that I was looking for.

April 2015 was a month with so much beer to choose from. A week away, 4 visits to a beer festival,three pub quizzes, a couple of comedy nights, and much more. Around 40 candidates this month, but we travel to Spain (figuratively, since the beer travelled from Spain, via Ales by Mail, to my house) for the winner.

Napar Pale Ale from Spanish brewer Naparbier was April’s winner. Like most American pale ales, it is not pale, instead more golden in hue. Looks don’t really matter at the end of the day, what matters is that it is hoppy, fruity and very good. Spanish craft ale? Whatever next?

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May 2015 saw more tough competition for beer of the month. Two camping trips, one of which included a polypin of Shardlow Cavendish Gold and a polypin of cider, another 50 beers across the month, a trip to a brewery, the fantastic Buxton Tap House and the Blenheim Palace food fair (lots of ales from Two Cocks brewery). So, there were a lot to choose from, and right up until the last day of the month, a Buxton brew was going to be the winner.

However, after a visit to The Wainwright, I had no choice. The Belgium Salted Dark Ale from Fell Brewery was fantastic, complementing my game pie perfectly. Malty, roasted, chocolatey, a touch of sweetness, a touch of saltiness, a great balance. A very unusual yet very drinkable beer. In fact, all three of the Fell Brewery ales on that day were great (YOLO and Progressive Pale being the other two).

June 2015 was an even more competitive month (70 different beers and ciders sampled), as we were on holiday for the first week, which usually ensures a good few pub trips. And this holiday was near a Booths, which is the best supermarket, particularly when it comes to beer. We’d also been camping twice, enjoying a tasty ale or two around the campfire, as well as a trip to a local cider festival. I managed to pay a visit to a few London pubs too.

However, in amongst all of this, there was a clear winner, and that was a 330ml bottle of Rhetoric Edition I by Hardknott brewery, found at Tebay services (told you they had good beer). Malty. Plummy. Raisiny. A hint of anise and some spiciness. A truly awesome beer. Strong and powerful, and one for savouring rather than a gentle session ale.

July 2015 was probably only going to ever have one winner, Cocoa Wonderland from Thornbridge, sampled in the sunshine at the Thornbridge beer festival – it was an explosion of chocolately loveliness. As with some of the other winners, this would make a brilliant Xmas ale, full of flavours of the season. A worthy winner, especially against all of the other hoppy beasts that were tasted during July.

August 2015 was perhaps a slightly odd choice for a summer month, but the Scotch Ale from Black Isle brewery was dark and delicious. Very heavy roasted flavours and very very nice. Oh, and it’s all organic too.

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September 2015 also saw something darker take the prize, 1698 from Shepherd Neame, an excellent “old ale”, full of hops, mixed in with malty and caramel flavours. Apart from the “Classic Collection IPA”, this was the best Shepherd Neame beer that I’d ever had.

October 2015 was also an easy choice. Cwtch from Tiny Rebel. As soon as I saw this in the fridge at the Fox & Hounds in Lyndhurst, I had a feeling that Cwtch by Tiny Rebel would be this month’s victor. Hoppy redness, just fantastic.

November 2015 saw West Coast Pale Ale from Renegade Brewery take the crown. A super hop hammer hit on this one #hophammertime – definitely one for hop heads (like me) and a worthy winner!

December 2015 also saw another hoppy winner, in the shape of Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale by Flying Dog Brewery, full of hoppiness and happiness.

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So, those are the contenders. On to the winners…

Taking the Bronze medal, we have Rhetoric Edition I by Hardknott brewery from June 2015:-

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The Silver medal goes to Cocoa Wonderland from Thornbridge in July 2015:-

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There was only ever going to be one Gold medal winner. It is Cwtch from Tiny Rebel from October 2015, so much hoppy happiness:-

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It’s not hard to see why this was champion beer of Britain this year. It was my champion too.

Pub of the month, December 2015 – The Albert, Bowness

Several good pubs to choose from this month, including two new ones – always nice to have new pubs appearing in pub of the month. The Greyhound in Burton on the Wolds is the first new pub. It was our lunch venue after a damp and muddy walk with friends, timed perfectly to arrive back at the pub in time for lunch. A couple of ales on, and some interesting bottles in the fridge are a good start. Combine that with a good selection of food on the menu and a sensible pub that serves food all day, so there’s no need to rush back before the kitchen staff all run away at 1:55pm, and you have a good pub. Food was nice, and the Flying Dog Pale Ale was delicious.

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The Otter in Kegworth takes the runner up spot this month. This was a venue for an Xmas lunch, one that we’ve been to several times. It’s a Vintage Inn, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting, and it will be consistent and good quality. Online booking was great, and then on arrival there were a few good ales on the bar and we had an excellent member of staff taking care of us, making sure our order got into the kitchen before the table of twenty odd that came in shortly after us.

Very tasty food, a lovely piece of beef, and the other courses were equally good.

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So, on to our winner, The Albert in Bowness. A very late entry into the competition, as we visited on New Year’s Eve, but you’ve got to be in it to win it!

The Albert is a Robinsons pub, as are so many in the area. This is generally a sign that it will be pretty decent, and that is certainly the case here. As I mentioned before, they do refer to the mythical “Lake Windermere” (a personal pedantic bugbear), but that is their only real crime.

The food was very tasty, a Cumberland sausage baguette with Lakeland cheese, and a simple sprinkling of salad:-

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Mrs MOFAD had the fish goujons from the specials menu, whilst a pint of Hartleys Cumbria Way, from Robinsons (#obvs), was a classic English bitter to accompany the lunch.

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An excellent pub, and a worthy winner. Into the final 12 for pub of the year, that’s going to be a tough competition!

Beer of the month, December 2015

December is a busy month, lots of trips out to various places to eat and drink. Although several of these venues were chosen by others. So it doesn’t actually come as a massive surprise to see that all but one of this month’s choices is a beer drunk at home.

So let’s begin with one of those, a Crafty Ales Red Rye by Hook Norton Brewery:-

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This is a slice of hippity hoppity happiness. As you may already be aware, I am a fan of good hoppiness, and this red rye really delivers.

Next up, we have a Citra by Oakham Ales:-

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This is a beer that I’ve been drinking for a good few years, as it is a regular at one of my regulars, The Generous Briton. It is hoppy and fresh (as you might expect for a beer named after the hop it contains). It’s fair to say that it’s a modern classic.

Now we move on to a Skye Black by Isle of Skye Brewing Company:-

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This was really well flavoured, with heather honey, fruit, hops, oats  and malt all coming through. A very nice ale indeed. In another month, this could have taken the title, well worth seeking out. Mine came from Booth’s.

Another hoppy beast next, a Crafty Dan by Thwaites Brewery:-

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As you may have guessed, happiness=hoppiness in my glass. But a pale ale should be pale, not amber. I do have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about this, but you can see from the picture, this is a golden or amber ale.

So we come to our winner, and the only one found in a pub. This was Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale by Flying Dog Brewery, at the Greyhound Inn:-

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Hoppy Christmas! It was best that I was going to have that day, and it turned out to be the best beer of the month. So it goes into the hat for beer of the year, which comes up next…

2015 – another year in beer

This is just a very short statto post. In 2014 I started using Untappd to keep track of the beers that I have been drinking. It’s a great little app if you are a beer explorer, as it helps you to find new beers and avoid beers that you’ve had in the past that you didn’t really like all that much.

In 2015 I tasted 515 new beers and ciders from another 15 different states/counties/countries (on top of the 16 from last year). Before you start arranging an intervention, that’s not 515 pints, but a sample of 515 beers. Some of them will have been pints, others halves, others thirds.

April was a good month for tastings, with 4 visits to a beer festival, although my favourite beer that month came from Spain, Napar Pale Ale from Naparbier. More exploring came the following month with a trip to a brewery, the fantastic Buxton Tap House and the Blenheim Palace food fair (lots of ales from Two Cocks brewery).

The Thornbridge beer festival was the place for a lot more beer sampling in July, and the theme continued for the rest of the year, with beers from supermarkets mingling alongside some lovely ones tried in pubs and at breweries. Being a beer tourist is good fun!

It’s not a competition, but I’m looking forward to seeing what 2016’s stats will be like…

Jintana Thai Restaurant, Ambleside, December 2015

New Year’s Eve is a traditional takeaway night for us. Who wants to pay 5 quid to get in to a pub that is free to enter on 364 days of the year? So it’s an easy night in, no cooking, and the drink of your choice. And no queue to get to the bar. And no drunken idiots yelling in your ear.

For most of the last 15 years, we’ve been opting for a Chinese takeaway, but in the last couple of years, we have switched allegiances to Thai. As usual over the festive period, Doi Intanon was closed, so it was off to Jintana, our Thai of choice for New Year’s Eve. Mr Predictable strikes again – a starter of chicken satay with peanut chilli sauce and a chicken mussaman curry:-

The mussaman is probably one of the most consistent curries across different venues, with meat, potato, carrot, onion and peanuts almost always present. Jintana’s mussaman is a good one, with a nice hint of chilli.

One other item of note, the last beer of 2015, this Bibble from The Wild Beer Co – a fruity pale ale that cans well, and a very tasty way to finish off a year of lovely beers…

Happy new year!

Brewery (outlet) of the year, 2015 – Buxton Tap House

This is a round up of breweries and brewery taps visited in 2015. There were quite a few visits, and many camping trips ended with bringing home a box or two of bottled beer. So this is my brewery (outlet) of 2015, based on those visited, not based on their output alone.

The first honourable mention based on output goes to Settle Brewing Company (I had five of their beers during and after our visit to Settle). Yes, it was a camping trip.

Wincle Brewery, from Cheshire, were also another I came across on our travels, taking home a mixed case of their beers from Bakewell Farmers Market back in July 2015. I’ve had 6 of their beers, with one more still in stock. The Old Hag and Old Oak are particularly tasty.

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Finally in the honourable mention category we have Two Cocks brewery (hello people who’ve arrived at this post from those keywords in search of bifurcation action). I met these nice chaps at Blenheim Palace food fair, finding out all about their story (they appeared on Grand Designs) and returning home with a mixed case of all seven of their beers. Their 1643 Puritan Stout and 1643 Leveller bitter were particular highlights, but all of the beers were very good.

Whatever you do, don’t Google for them. Use this link instead:-

http://www.twococksbrewery.com/

So, on to breweries and outlets visited. I’ve not done the tours (if they were available). I kind of know how beer is made, so I’m not really interested in the mechanics, just the end product.

We visited Hook Norton back in July 2015. Not the first time that we’ve visited this brewery either, as we popped in on a previous camping trip a few years ago.

After you make your way down the little narrow lane that leads to the brewery, you get to a little car park out the back, and then step into the visitor centre/shop/tasting room. From here you can go on brewery tours, or just wander around the little museum, or buy stuff, or any combination of these things. The “stuff” you can buy includes lots of merchandise, as well as local foods and the all important beer.

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As you can see, I departed with plenty of that, 15 bottles for less than £30, with something for everyone’s tastes, from mild to IPA via rye beer and stout.

Just a couple of weeks later, Billericay Brewery was the next destination. Once again, we were camping just down the road, and needed somewhere to stock up on vital supplies. Billericay Brewery have just the thing, with their shop and “micropub” – this has that “someone’s front room” feel about it. A few tables dotted about, a small bar, a couple of fridges, and several shelving units full of beer. And a friendly welcome too.

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Sadly we didn’t have time to stop and sample a few pints, but instead we filled several boxes between us, with pretty much the full Billericay Brewery range, plus a few from neighbours Brentwood Brewery, some other London brews and a couple of Belgian fruity numbers. It was a lovely little place, and well worth a visit if you’re in the area. I’ve had 7 of their ales, with the Dead Zeppelin and Mild With No Name being highlights.

Just a few days later we found ourselves at Adnams Cellar & Kitchen in Southwold. Coincidence or careful planning? By now, you’ve probably worked out that it’s careful planning!

Adnams are big. They have a massive site in the centre of Southwold. As you might expect, they have a nice selection of local food, and of course a selection of Adnams ales as well as an interesting range of non-alcoholic drinks…

The food was very tasty:-

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And we stocked up on plenty of local ales as well as some imports from Lagunitas and also some Aspall’s cider. Apparently I’ve now sampled 20 different Adnams ales, some of the favourites from this visit were Jack Brand Mosaic Pale and Tally-Ho!

Our penultimate brewery for this round up is Box Steam Brewery. Guess what? We were camping nearby, so popped over on this warm Friday afternoon (sadly they aren’t open on weekends) to pick up a selection of beers for the weekend, and a few for later. We had a good chat with the friendly lady in the shop and left with a few cases of beer, many of which are pictured in this slightly blurry photo of my haul from the weekend:-

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The beers from Box Steam were consistently very good, with the Funnel Blower porter being light and drinkable, and the nicely hoppy Derail Ale IPA being a particular highlight.

And so we come to our winner, Buxton Tap House. Yet again, we were camping in the area, and with the changeable forecast for the day, we decided on a trip into Buxton for a wander around, with a suitable lunch stop required. There was only one choice, the place that sells some of my favourite beer.

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I’m a fan of their beers, and I’d heard that they do good food. I was right. We wandered in around 1pm and managed to find a table. On Sunday lunchtimes, they serve full roasts, or just a roast in a bap, with roast potatoes, parsnips and gravy. This was a perfect choice for all of us and it tasted as good as it looked. Very nice beef, a good and hot horseradish, good spuds and a really tasty gravy (if no-one else had been watching, I would have downed that too)…

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Several beers were sampled during the visit,  a Moor Top, a lovely mixture of floral hoppy bitterness. And then some more bitterness. American Chinook hops and a hit of grapefruit. A great session pale. This was followed by a Wild Boar, another floral and hoppy ale, this time with hints of mango. Very good indeed.

Jaw Gate, an American IPA made with NZ hops was the final one of the visit. Now, I’m very picky when it comes to IPA, because so many (this one included) do not understand that the P stands for PALE. Apart from the lack of paleness, it’s very good indeed, another one that you could drink all day.

A quick stop at the bar on the way out, to buy a nice little selection to take away. These lovely people will also let you taste a few more if you’re trying to make up your mind, so there was an opportunity to have some Pic Tor, a passion fruit sour which was pretty amazing. It’s probably my second favourite Buxton beer.

It’s fair to say that the Buxton Tap House is my brewery outlet of the year. Find out more at http://www.buxtonbrewery.co.uk/tap/

The Albert, Bowness, Cumbria

A morning of two halves. The forecast was for sunshine followed by rain. The forecast was right. We were up and out and on the fells before 10am this morning, because the forecast told us that this was a good idea. We had a nice wander around School Knott (last visited 17th March 2007 – hurrah for keeping a list of Wainwrights climbed). Just as the clock struck noon, the rain arrived, as predicted. Luckily, we were nearly finished, so were about to make our way back to the car.

This didn’t stop us from getting rained on quite a bit, but the next stop was lunch, so we took a short drive into Bowness, and basically just dived into the first pub we saw. We’ve visited almost all of the others here, so it was just luck that the first one we found was one of the few we’ve not been in.

The Albert is a pretty big pub, situated on the little roundabout at the bottom of the main street in Bowness. It’s a Robinsons pub, so you can be confident it will be pretty good. Unfortunately they do refer to the mythical “Lake Windermere” (a personal pedantic bugbear), but that is their only real crime.

A fairly extensive menu, supplemented by changing specials, is accompanied by a decent ale selection, which are good ingredients for a great pub.

Today, a pint of Hartleys Cumbria Way, from Robinsons (#obvs), a classic English bitter. A good way to round out a year of pub visits.

On to lunch. A very tasty Cumberland sausage baguette with Lakeland cheese, and a simple sprinkling of salad. A very nice sausage, and the cheese is a good addition – not something you see a lot. I also managed to pinch a few chips from Mrs MOFAD – it was very filling.

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Mrs MOFAD had the fish goujons from the specials menu. These were moist and juicy (hello people who have arrived here from those keywords) and the chips were fat and fluffy (more interesting keywords?)

The Albert is a lovely pub, and it was absolutely packed out today, but they still managed to get meals out in good time. If you find yourself in Bowness and in search of a good meal and a pint, The Albert won’t let you down!