Brewery outlet of the year, 2016 – Fat Monk Brewing Co, Bridge Pa, New Zealand

This is a round up of some of the breweries and brewery taps that we visited in 2016. There were quite a few visits across the year, and many camping trips ended with bringing home a box or two of bottled beer. So this is my brewery (outlet) of 2016, based on those visited, not based on their output alone. Pub of the year will follow shortly…

Adnams Cellar & Kitchen featured in last year’s round up. We enjoyed our time in Suffolk so much in 2015 that we returned for a week in 2016. That led to lots of pub trips and adventures, and a lot of Adnams beer. It’s still worth a trip to the home of the Southwold mafia for a spot of lunch and shopping though. After a lazy Sunday morning (I’d cooked the customary full English earlier on) we had a stroll around Southwold, along the beach, along the pier and just generally mooched about the place.

If you want to know more about Adnams Cellar & Kitchen, then you can read the 2015 post. It’s pretty much identical to when we visited last year, with a few new beers and wines on offer.

On this visit, I opted for the Jack Brand Dry Hopped lager, something I’ve had in bottles before. From the keg it was certainly an improvement on the bottled version. It doesn’t live up to the hoppy promises of its blurb, “a super hoppy aroma of tropical fruits, citrus and passionfruit”, but it’s a decent effort that needs more hops.

Let’s quickly step back to 2015. Here is the smoked fish brewer’s board I had then:-

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And now here is the October 2016 version:-

Not a lot has changed, in fact it could still be the same board, with more scratches and scrapes after 14 months of going through the dishwasher every day. The difference is the addition of shrimps and the switch of the horseradish and capers for a dill mayonaisse. The horseradish was very good with the mackerel and it was missed, but the 2016 board was still very tasty, very good fish and the bread was good too.

After lunch we went shopping…

The Beer Hall, Hawkshead Brewery, Staveley bookended the year. We visited in January for the full experience, and again today, New Year’s Eve, for a quick spot of shopping.

Even though the surrounding environment is perhaps less pleasing than some of the other contenders here (an industrial estate in Staveley), the great food and brilliant beer on offer ensure that it gets on to the list.

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Hawkshead Brewery started life in 2002, just outside Hawkshead where they could brew around 8,500 pints of beer a week. In 2006 they moved over to Staveley, where they have been expanding ever since, increasing their brewing capacity and developing The Beer Hall.

We sampled several beers on our visit in January, as well as having the “Brewer’s lunch”, huntsman’s pie (pork, chicken and stuffing), Brodie’s Prime sausages (made with the beer of that name), parma ham, slices of local ham, black pudding, sticky bbq ribs, a pickled onion, piccalilli, salad, sourdough bread and butter. Great food and great beer. The lack of beers for Mrs MOFAD turned our December visit into just a shopping one. A shame, as it would have been nice to eat there again too.

Another pub/brewery combination comes next, with a trip to The Vale Inn, Bollington in April. For my birthday. Because it’s a pub with a brewery. There are always lots of Bollington Brewery ales on tap, as well as two guest ales and several proper ciders. The menu changes with the seasons, and there’s also a specials board which changes more frequently.

A feast of food and drink began with sticky oriental ribs, sweet and spicy and delightful. It’s not often I have ribs whilst out, but with triple pork nirvana at stake, it had to be some tasty pork.

Mrs MOFAD had very tasty halloumi starter, it is so often just lightly cooked and bland, this was perfectly cooked whilst retaining the essential squeak of the squeakiest of cheeses.

My ribs were accompanied by a pint of Bollington Long Hop, delicious hoppy goodness and a perfect opener.

The main course was a juicy and moist fried chicken breast burger, with a very nice (and spicy) mayonnaise and some crisp potato wedges. Very tasty and very filling, with some token salad inside the bun.

I  had the Bollington Dinner Ale to accompany, a classic session bitter but it needs more hops.

There was something a bit different lined up for pudding. First it was time for another drink, this time a Bollington White Nancy (named after the white sugar loaf monument that can be seen on the saddle of Kerridge above Bollington). The beer was light, fruity and very drinkable.

The pub knew I was coming, so they added some artwork in honour of my birthday.

Time for the final flourish, Mrs MOFAD’s cake creation, which tasted as good as it looked. We all enoyed some chocolatey goodness, whilst attraction jealous looks from other tables.

And if all of that wasn’t good enough, I left with a box of beers, because they have a range of bottled Bollington beers for sale. A pub with great beer, great food, a brewery and beer to take away? You can’t get much better than that!

However, the first three are about to get blown out of the water by the last three. It’s a slightly unfair fight, as the last three are all on the north island of New Zealand, where we were lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in February/March.

The Shakespeare in Auckland is a hotel, a pub, a restaurant and a brewery all rolled into one, and was just a few hundred yards from our hotel. Everything has a Shakespeare theme, from The Bard pale ale to The Jester pilsner and “The Works of Shakespeare” burger….

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That’s a burger, with a fried egg, bacon, beetroot, tomato, lettuce and a pineapple ring. Definitely the complete works of Mr S. A proper hand made burger, perfectly cooked, juicy and delicious. It lived up to their “best burger in Auckland” claim. We visited twice, on two separate stays in Auckland, and although the beer line ups didn’t rotate between visits, the beers were good. And there’s plenty of competition within walking distance, so they have to be on top of their game.

We now hit the road (in our motorhome) and find ourselves down at Crafty Trout Brewing Co in Taupo. This was somewhere I had been looking forward to visiting, and after a long day of walking (we’d been up to Huka Falls and Craters of the Moon), we walked a bit more to get back down in to Taupo and the Trout, to have some great pizzas and good beer.

As with many good brewery tap outlets, they keep their menu simple, with a choice of 8 pizzas, a schnitzel, pie, spare ribs, fish’n’chips, pasta or a cheese’n’meat platter (brewery taps love these) as well as a few other snacks. My “Wild Thing” pizza with venison, olives and spiced grape jelly was very good. As were the beers.

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A lovely place in downtown Taupo.

We move on to our winner, Fat Monk Brewery in Bridge Pa, Hastings. That’s not the Hastings of King Harold getting an arrow in the eye. It’s the one in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. It was without doubt one of the highlights of the Great New Zealand Road Trip 2016. Here are a few words to explain why.

Great ales. Simple pizza. Sunshine. Tunes. Wines. Vines. Blue skies.

I’ll try and expand on that a bit. Back in March we did our version of the “Wineries ride” which is set out in the Hawkes Bay cycling guide. We came up with a modified version (as we pretty much always do), by starting our ride from our camp site in Hastings. This involved cycling through Hastings “city centre” (another New Zealand town abusing the word city), which was surprisingly quiet. There is plenty of well segregated cycling around, although it’s not all perfect. Once you leave Hastings, the paths start to separate from the road, and well packed gravel tracks soon take over, and are the dominant feature for the majority of the ride around the wineries.

Around 10 miles later, you are out of the “city” and well into wine territory. We made our first stop of the day at Abbey Cellars, which incorporates Fat Monk Brewery. You can probably guess why we wanted to come here.

We started off with a wine tasting (after a couple of glasses of water to rehydrate). We sampled a nice riesling, the “passion” rose, and a sweet Gabriel Chardonnay and dessert Malbec (both of which came home with us). A friendly and relaxed tasting.

Things don’t stop there. Further ingredients for the perfect lunchtime rest stop are now added to the mix. During the summer, Abbey put on the “summer sessions”. This involves local acts playing live music out in the back garden. You can sit out and listen whilst enjoying a glass of wine or two, a selection of food or some beers from their brewery.

Today was the turn of Ian Munro, a local act, with a mixture of his own songs and then acoustic covers of Layla, New Kid in Town, Waiting in Vain, Losing My Religion and that antipodean classic “Down Under”. We would have loved to have stayed to listen to it all, but there were more wineries to visit.

Lovely views all around…

So, on to the beer. Today there were four of their beers on tap, so we picked up a “flight” to enjoy out in the sun.

From left to right we have:-

Pilsner – citra hops in a pilsner – a first for me, and a perfect start in the blazing sunshine.

Pacific pale – a better IPA than the IPA, a tropical hoppy delight, utterly delicious.

American IPA – not pale enough (typical of anything classed as an American IPA), and the hops come through very late. A few more wouldn’t go amiss🙂

Raspberry wheat – good raspberry sourness, but suffers in comparison to the lovely hoppy hits from the others.

A lovely line up of beers, and there were more bottles available inside, but with other places to visit on the ride, you have to draw the line somewhere.

These alcoholic beverages need some food to accompany, and there are a few selections to choose from. We opted for some simple margharita pizzas – a simple food done well is a joy, and these were just perfect with a hoppy ale. Thin, crispy, delicious.

Look at all of the ingredients here. They all combine to make the perfect visit. This was a perfect few hours. If you are anywhere in the area, get here and spend some quality time in the sunshine with great food and drink, the combination of which make it my brewery outlet of 2016.

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Pub of the year, 2016 – The Needle & Pin, Loughborough

Continuing the end of year round up fun, we look back at the pubs of the month for 2016 and try to pick a winner.

The Beer Hall, Hawkshead Brewery, Staveley was the winner for January. A pub with a brewery attached, and even though the surrounding environment is perhaps less pleasing (an industrial estate in Staveley), the great food and brilliant beer on offer here made it the winner. It has also featured in brewery outlet of the year, as I choose to round those up separately. It’s a fine line between the two, but I think it is both.

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We sampled several beers on our visit, as well as having the “Brewer’s lunch”, huntsman’s pie (pork, chicken and stuffing), Brodie’s Prime sausages (made with the beer of that name), parma ham, slices of local ham, black pudding, sticky bbq ribs, a pickled onion, piccalilli, salad, sourdough bread and butter. Great food and great beer.

February was almost over when its winner came into view. The Shakespeare in Auckland, a hotel, pub, restaurant and brewery all rolled into one, and just a few hundred yards from our hotel.

Everything has a Shakespeare theme, from The Bard pale ale to The Jester pilsner and “The Works of Shakespeare” burger….

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That’s a burger, with a fried egg, bacon, beetroot, tomato, lettuce and a pineapple ring. Definitely the complete works of Mr S. A big portion and very tasty. A proper hand made burger, perfectly cooked, juicy and delicious. It lived up to their “best burger in Auckland” claim.

The Brewers Co-operative in Auckland was March’s winner. Somewhere we visited twice, after spotting it on our first morning in the city. We popped in for a drink after dinner at The Shakespeare (above). The Brewers Co-operative are all about quality craft beer from around NZ, which is a pretty good decision, since there’s so much to choose from. After you’ve been out there for a couple of weeks, you soon recognise some of the names like Garage Project, 8 Wired, Epic and Liberty.

On our second visit, we had dinner. They have a kitchen which specialises in fish dishes, and serves many of them in classic chip shop style, wrapped up in paper. Although I am a plate advocate, this lack of plates fits in perfectly with their laid back vibe. Lovely food, great beer, and a great place to escape the Auckland CBD.

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A well deserved pub of the month!

April’s winner was easy too, The Hanging Bat in Edinburgh. It took me several attempts to get there, due to some inclement weather conditions (rain, hail and snow). As it was over a mile from my hotel, it needed conditions to be right. Eventually they were, so I headed over, the lure of 20 taps of ale and lots of smoked meats was just too strong to resist.

Obviously I chose the pulled pork to eat (I’m the predictable pulled pork guy). With so much beer choice, that takes a bit longer, but they do “flights” of 5 x 1/3 of a pint. And they don’t need you to choose them all on the spot and pour them. You get tokens which you can use to order when you are ready. This gives you time to work out what to have next, either using the old fashioned “talking to people” method (this would never work in London), or more modern methods such as seeing if your mates on Untappd have had any of them.

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Many great beers were sampled, and the pulled pork was perfect. A fantastic pub in a city packed with so many great ones. Very highly recommended for anyone visiting Edinburgh. There’s bound to be a beer of your favourite style on. And the food is great.

May’s winner The Needle & Pin has featured many times during the year, and was nominated for pub of the month in April. May’s visit was not for any special occasion, just a chance to get together with the boys to drink good beer and eat good pizza. We did all of those things in the relaxed surroundings of Loughborough’s newest micropub, which is now my favourite town pub. Great beer, no gimmicks. Where else in Loughborough would you find “Hickey the Rake” by Wylam brewery, an attack of lemons and hops and full of good sharp flavours. Answer – nowhere!

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The unrivalled range of beers on hand pull and in the fridges (in our sleepy little town at least) made this a deserving winner for May.

We return to Edinburgh for June’s winner, The Potting Shed. We happened to be there on the night of our tenth wedding anniversary and celebrated with a very nice meal. It started off very well, with this awesome selection of beer to choose from:-

So much choice, so little time. My first choice was Findhorn Killer by Speyside Craft Brewery. I quickly christened this Hoppy McHopface, a deliciously balanced ale.

For dinner, Mrs MOFAD opted for the slow cooked spicy lamb, with coriander, coconut milk, fragrant rice and “flat breed” (that’s Scotch for bread). This was spicy and delicious, walking that fine line between spice and flavour and just about getting it right in Mrs MOFAD’s eyes.

I opted for the half roast peri peri chicken, with red slaw and skinny fries. A simple chicken dish isn’t something I’ll often eat because it is something that can easily be done badly, but I had faith here as I’d heard good things about the Potting Shed.

This faith was well placed, juicy and delicious chicken, nice and spicy peri peri, good red slaw and crisp fries.As this was a special occasion, we both opted for pudding (we will often share). For me it was Potting Shed Windfall; fruit & nut “soil”, chocolate mousse and a medley of mixed berries. This was as delicious as it looks, and I’ll forgive the plant pot, since it is jokey and there is a plate to actually eat from.

Mrs MOFAD’s eyes were bigger than her belly – a sticky toffee pudding proved to be too much of a challenge – it was delicious though. Being a perfect gentleman, I had some in order to help out🙂

A chocolately pudding needs the right kind of liquid accompaniment. I tried Fathom by Jaw Brew, full of chocolate, coffee and burnt treacle flavours, although it was very thin (they might have boiled the sugar out of the brew).

A lovely anniversary meal, probably one of my favourites. And I haven’t even mentioned that they also have a pizza called Boaty McBoatface:-

Great food and beer, a nice relaxed atmosphere and funky decor. The Potting Shed is a lovely place for a meal or even just a drink or two on a night out in Edinburgh.

July’s winner was also May’s winner, The Needle & Pin. With the 24 hour return of former regular MOFAD drinking companion Bruce, we decided that we had to start and end our little walking tour of Loughborough there.

A Magic Rock High Wire “unapologetically hop forward in character” started proceedings, and it delivers on that promise with mango, lychee, grapefruit and hops hops hops.

An international mash up followed. New Zealand hops (motueka, and it was amusing to hear Alec’s attempted pronunciation) made into a beer by North Riding Brewery in Scarborough. Sadly it needed loads more hops to bring out that distinctive NZ hoppy goodness. Pleasant, but not a showcase for this hop.

Always a pleasure to be at The Needle & Pin, it’s just a great pub with so many great beers to choose from, and changing all the time.

On to August, and Ye Olde Mustard Pot in Midhopestones, on the outskirts of Sheffield. Bank Holiday Monday must involve some kind of pub trip, but so many establishments seem to give their chefs the day off and stop serving food. Great for the hard working chef of course, but what about the hungry customer?

We were in transit from our camp site for the weekend to a family BBQ. After a nice drive across the northern edge of the Peak District, we were on the look out for somewhere near to Langsett Reservoir, where we were planning on having a little stroll in the summer sunshine.

Whilst driving around, we chanced upon Ye Olde Mustard Pot in Midhopestones. Despite the massive car park looking a little empty, they were in fact open and doing food (until 4pm), so we parked up and found a table in the bar (there’s a patio with benches out the front and also a beer garden around the back).

We had both ordered the same thing, a roast chicken baguette with chorizo and smoked cheese.

It was absolutely delicious, probably the tasiest thing of the whole month. The baguette was stuffed to the gills with filling, loads of chicken, plenty of chorizo and no skimping on the smoked cheese. Proper home made chips and a decent bit of salad on the side. One of the sandwiches of the year.

A lovely cosy pub serving great food. There was also a good pint on (Bradfield Farmers Blonde) but there was lots more driving to do, so I passed. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area and a worthy winner of pub of the month.

The Globe in Alresford took the title in September. After a lovely day out at the Alresford show we had booked a table at The Globe for dinner. We ordered some food and drinks and relaxed. There was also some local cider for Mrs MOFAD, which we had sampled at the show a few hours earlier. Meon Valley Cider was lightly sparkling from the bottle, a classic cider with toffee apple flavours.

Lots of nice choices on the menu, and I was on a fishy quest again, pan fried fillet of hake, with watercress (if you don’t have it on your menu in Hampshire, something must be wrong), burnt pineapple puree (much nicer than the word burnt implies), roasted sweet potato, ginger, chilli & coriander dressing. This was absolutely delicious, a lovely piece of fish with great flavours to accompany it.

This was joined by the always reliable Bath Ales Gem, a balance of malt and hops that makes for a classic English bitter.

A really nice meal at a really nice pub. Nothing was rushed, everything was relaxed, and their was a friendly atmosphere. Lots of diners on a very busy Saturday night, but the team were able to cope with everyone.

October was an Adnams heavy month, as we were in Southwold for a week. The Jolly Sailor in Orford was the winner, featuring the usual range of Adnams beers and lots of enticing food.

I opted for a Cumberland sausage baguette with onion jam, and it comes with a really nice dressed salad and vegetable crisps (Tyrell’s I suspect):-

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A lovely sausage baguette, great sausages, nice crusty baguette and sweet onion marmalade (they call it jam). Hearty and delicious. Mrs MOFAD opted for the ham & cheese toastie, which was well filled with ham and cheese, and nice and warming on a day of sea breezes. Our cycling and dining companions Hazel & Matt had the cheeseboard and some accompaniments, all very tasty stuff. I also got free grapes from the cheeseboard 🙂

The Jolly Sailor is a lovely seaside pub, and there’s a nice big beer garden out the back for warmer months too. Really nice food and good beer. And they allow dogs. Well worth it if you’re in the area, and definitely worth stopping off at if you’re riding the Suffolk coastal cycle route, which passes within about 50 yards of the pub…

November was a very quiet month, and there was only one pub in the running for pub of the month, because we only went to one pub. The Poppy and Pint in West Bridgford.

We were off to a little film festival being held above the pub, so it was the perfect location for a spot of dinner beforehand. Nestled between the Lady Bay tennis club and bowling green, the Poppy, a former British Legion venue, has become a firm favourite amongst the Lady Bay community and visitors alike, and it has very much a community centre feel to it.

Given that we visited just after Halloween, it was no suprise to find a pumpkin beer, Most Haunted by Castle Rock brewery, in Nottingham. It only had a 2 mile journey to get here – travelling fewer miles than we did tonight!

It was a tasty light porter, a mix of light and dark, with warming spices like a pumpkin pie.

Lots of menu options in the pub too, either the “standard” menu on the table, or lots of choice from the specials board on the wall. Mrs MOFAD and I both turned to the wall for our choices. For me it was this chicken in peppery cream sauce, with good pub chips and a decent salad on the side. It was really tasty, a great pub dish.

Mrs MOFAD went for this sweet potato curry with chickpeas, rice, mini naan, mango chutney and raita – a great pub curry.

A lovely pub with good food and a great selection of beer, both local and from further afield. It really is the heart of this community and well worth a visit if you can navigate your way through the streets full of parked cars. It may have won by default, but it’s a good pub which deserves to be in the company of all of these others.

December’s winner was another new pub. Cumbria provided it, and just like last year, it was visited on New Year’s Eve. The Crafty Baa opened in Windermere in August 2016 and it’s somewhere I’ve been keeping my eye on, hoping to squeeze in a visit. An opportunity arose to stop here for lunch, so we popped in and grabbed a table and then stood for quite a while scratching our heads and looking up and down the board of almost 100 things to drink. The delightful agony of choice.

In the end I kept it local with Fell Brewery’s Robust Porter, full of roasty and smoky flavours with a hint of chocolate. Very nice indeed.

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We were here for food too, the combo sharing platter, with three cheeses, plus a whole baked camembert, four different meats, sun dried tomatoes, olives, chutneys, grapes, and several different breads. Nom!

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It was even tastier than it looks. Lovely meats, interesting cheeses and the gooey camembert was unctious, warming and delightful. And if that wasn’t enough (in all honesty it probably was) we also had a bowl of nachos, with sour cream, salsa and guacamole. Because nachos.

The Crafty Baa had an awesome line up of beer (which is always changing) alongside simple, delicious food and some funky 1970s soul on the sound system, a crackling real fire lovely friendly staff and a great atmosphere.

So now the hard bit. Choosing a winner. So many great contenders, but in the end it has to the the pub that has featured in the monthly round up in every month that I’ve visited it.

The Needle & Pin is the MOFAD pub of the year for 2016, a very well deserved victory. It’s been a great first year for the pub, Sean and the team (Rebecca, Tom, Jethro, Sam and Ben) have achieved so much in a short space of time. Several craft beer nights, a gin night, Xmas shopping events, the launch of the craft beer club, and an ever changing line up of perfectly kept casks of beer complemented by two fridges full of brilliant bottles and cans from near and far, to drink in and take away.

They don’t forget the cider drinker either. There are always plenty of good ciders available, usually up to six. Sean is a cider fan so this is why they’ve had around 50 different ciders on since opening. This also led to them being crowned as Loughborough and North Leicestershire CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year.

In their first year, thirsty drinkers have made their way through 500 casks of ale, and created something else – a community of people who are involved with the success of the pub. As well as the people in charge, a pub is made by the people who support it. This community is on social media (1500 followers on Facebook and 450 odd on Twitter), but most importantly the community is inside the pub, the people who go to the events and who pop in for a pint when they are in town.

As well as numerous trips throughout the year, I had three trips there in December alone, including the brilliant Thornbridge tasting night where we sampled five Thornbridge brews, as well as a deconstruction of Serpent, their Belgian style golden ale, brewed with cider lees (the leftover bits from fermenting cider, yeasts, skins and whatever’s left), and then aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels for two years.

We were back again just eight days later, and “The twelve days of Thornbridge” was still in full flow, which gave us the chance to try Rattlesnake, a dangerously easy to drink 6.5% west coast IPA, and Lucaria, an ice cream porter brewed with lactose for a smooth finish.

Just two weeks later, a special trip was required, as the N&P had procured one of only 12 casks of Christmas Cake Imperial Stout, brewed by Cloudwater Brew Co in collaboration with ToØl of Denmark. It’s this kind of thing that makes an award winning pub.

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Congratulations and cheers to The Needle & Pin, a very worthy winner. I’ll bring your certificate in the next time I’m down…

Beer of the year, 2016 – Cloudwater DIPA v3

In which we look back through the beers of the month for 2016 and attempt to pick a winner for the year. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. I’m willing to give it a try.

January’s winner was Eternal from Northern Monk, full of all the hop flavours, but only 4.1% – top work from a session IPA, a style that many brewers are going for but many are struggling with. This is really good stuff, keeping the numbers low but the hoppiness high.

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February 2016’s winner was Panhead Pale Ale – Quickchange XPA. One of several found in New Zealand at the start of the year, super hoppy hits, Mosaic, Galaxy and Citra hops all joining together, with those alpha oils coming through very strongly.

With another 12 days of NZ beers to choose from, March’s winner was always likely to come from the Southern hemisphere too. Armageddon IPA by Epic Brewing Company was enjoyed at The Brewers Co-operative. As soon as I tasted it, I made a bold claim – “beer of the month for March. No doubt.”

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That claim turned out to be true. A super hoppy smack in the face with malty and tropical fruit notes.

The Antipodean dominance continued into April, with the imported Oyster Stout by Three Boys Brewery taking the title.

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Goldenthal from Bollington was May’s winner, a continental style golden barley wine which was a birthday present to myself on a visit to one of Bollington’s pubs. When Samuel Gregg bought a mill in Bollington in 1832, he named it Goldenthal, a German word which translates to “happy valley”. Residents of Bollington have used this name for the village ever since.

The beer that bears this name is very flavoursome, sweet without being cloying, like an IPA smashed into a barley wine. Dangerously drinkable for 7.4% – I could drink it all night. That would be a bad idea. There’s no way you can #keepitsession with this one.

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A trip to Edinburgh in June introduced me to Findhorn Killer by Speyside Craft Brewery, found at The Potting Shed. This one gained the topical name Hoppy McHopface, a deliciously balanced hoppy ale. If you think that the craft beer revolution is all about London, Manchester or other big English cities, I can confirm that it is alive and well in Scotland too.

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July found lots of us at a beer festival, surely a chance for lots of great beers. Sadly not as it turned out. It was actually a beer bought in 2015 that triumphed.

In 1978, The Courage Brewery brewed a batch of Imperial Russian Stout, aged it in infected wooden barrels and some time later it was put into bottles. In 2012, someone at Buxton Brewery opened a bottle, drank the beer (which was apparently amazing) and then rescued the intruiging combination of sedimented yeasts and debris from the bottom of the aged vessel. They then inocculated a barrel of their own Russian Imperial Stout, Tsar, with this precious sludge and left the beer to its own devices for 9 months. The only attention they gave it was a weekly “roll around the brewery”, apparently the same as the Courage barrels got.

Following this 9 month ageing, the beer changed in character thanks to the Brettanomyces strain of yeast that had laid dormant in the bottle for all those years waking up when being introduced to some young, fresh Imperial Stout, adding a delicious tartness to the beer to go with the hop bitterness and deep malty and dark fruit flavours.

The Tsar Bomba was born. I’ve been letting it rest, but I couldn’t let it rest any longer. Good call. Dark. Bitter. Sweetness. One for slow sipping and a strong contender for beer of the year.

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Sadly, you won’t be able to buy one like it, until they make the next generation version (much like Cloudwater and their DIPA releases). Speaking of Cloudwater…

August’s beer of the month was so good, it produced enough words for its own blog post. The DIPA V3 by Cloudwater Brew Co.

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It’s a 9% double IPA (DIPA). It doesn’t taste like a 9% DIPA. With many beers of high strength, you can taste the alcohol, and sometimes it can overpower the flavours of the beer (often called “alcohol burn”). Not so here, it’s wonderfully drinkable for a 9% beer.

Juicy Citra and Mosaic hops mingle with Chinook and Comet. Vermont ale yeast makes a big contribution to this beer, bringing a peach flavour to do battle with the tropical notes from the hops. It would appear that over time the hops might have fought back a bit more than when everyone tried it back in April when it was released. Even after 4 months this is still stunning.

The only disappointment is that I’ll never get to have another bottle of this, because I bloody loved it. I had a sneaky feeling that it would be beer of the month for August, and I was quite right.

September’s winner was Foreign Extra Stout by Dancing Cows, a deep, complex and strong stout, perfect for sipping on a cool evening outside. Which is demonstrated by this image.

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Fruity flavours, roasty flavours, coffee flavours, smoothness. A very worthy winner of beer of the month. Delicious!

October’s winner was, appropriately enough, called Bourbon Oktober, by Vibrant Forest Brewery. This is “Black Oktober” but aged in a fresh bourbon barrel for nearly 6 months. We held our own mini beer festival where we sampled lots of nice beers, it was the best on the night and the best of the month.

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Aging the “Black October” produces a big bourbon vanilla beast which was quite stunning. Vibrant took their existing full bodied strong stout (with aromas of dark chocolate and liquorice) and the barrel aging process has added spicy notes and vanilla. It was certainly worth that extra work and wait. Bourbon barrel brilliance and a worthy winner.

November’s winner was Universal Mind by Beavertown, their Rainbow Project 2016 collaboration with ParrotDog, a take on the old German style called Adambier.

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Oak. Smoke. Sweetness. Marsala. Creaminess. A strong sipper. Good complexity. My favourite Rainbow Project beer so far.

And finally, we come to December’s winner, a new festive favourite. Christmas Cake Imperial Stout, brewed by Cloudwater Brew Co in collaboration with ToØl of Denmark.

Our lovely little local, The Needle & Pin, had managed to secure one of these rare casks, and just a few minutes after they opened, I was ready to try some. Sold only in halves or thirds (you don’t need more), this festive delight was sure to delight anyone who came into contact with it.

Indeed it did. Without a doubt it was Christmas cake in a glass, boozy dried fruits and gentle winter spices. Well worth the brief cycle to get out and try it. Nearly everyone who walked through the door during the couple of hours that we were there wanted to try it, the exception being a couple of people who had other things to do, such as driving home or operating heavy machinery…

So now the hard job of picking out a winner from all of these delights.

In good old fashioned Miss World style, we start with third place, which goes to Bourbon Oktober, a big bourbon vanilla beast. There is a use for bourbon barrels, and ageing beer is that use.

In second place, we have Tsar Bomba, another barrel aged beast of a beer with a delicious tartness, some hop bitterness and deep malty and dark fruit flavours. Definitely one for slow sipping.

My beer of the year was from August, and as I’ve already mentioned, it generated its own blog post (I did the work, we don’t have sentient beers yet). Cloudwater DIPA v3 was released on the 9th of April. I didn’t get any at the time, but did manage to snaffle a bottle when picking up my v6 and v7 bottles later in the year.

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There has been a lot of talk about Cloudwater and their DIPA experiments. I’ve tried v3, v6 and v7 this year, with 8, 9 and 10 all waiting to be drunk, and 11 on the way in a few weeks (according to the release schedule). The v3 was definitely my favourite, because I love huge and flavoursome IPAs, and it was very much one of those. I just kept sniffing it, taking in that aroma, and drinking it, taking in that flavour. It was a lovely beer, and although I’ll never get to have it again, I’m happy to have had it.

I’m sure there’ll be more debate about limited release beers and related matters in 2017, but let us close out 2016 by praising Cloudwater DIPA v3 as an experiment that went very well indeed!

Beer of the month, December 2016 -Christmas Cake Imperial Stout by Cloudwater Brew Co and ToØl

No messing around, straight down to business. The last day of the year means a lot of round up posts. Beer and pub of the month, followed by beer and pub of the year, and a few other summary posts too.

So let’s get going. As we had the 12 days of Thornbridge at The Needle & Pin earlier this month, no surprise to find a couple of Thornbridge beers in the list.

We start with Thornbridge Lucaria, essentially chocolate ice cream in a glass, an ice cream porter that does exactly what it says on the pump clip. Rich and sweet with vanilla, lactose and chocolate.

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We move on to Thornbridge Serpent, which was the subject of the first visit to the N&P this month.  A deconstruction of the beer ensued, and it was a great night. It almost feels wrong to put this in for beer of the month, as it really feels and tastes more like a cider. . Serpent is a Belgian style golden ale, brewed with cider lees (the leftover bits from fermenting cider, yeasts, skins and whatever’s left), and then aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels. For two years.

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It was worth it.

No IPA yet? Worry no more, here comes an American style one, a collaboration between Siren Craft Brew of Berkshire and Brewdog Shepherds Bush. They put their heads together and decided to create a fruit smoothie beer, a juice-packed IPA with the most fruit they’ve ever used in a brew (mango, papaya and passionfruit), plus a huge hit of lactose for a thick and smooth body. And it is indeed smooth, just like a silk (as Shaggy once proclaimed). A silk woven from hops and a calippo to create a smooth juice bomb.

On to our winner, and appropriately enough for December it’s a Christmas beer. It’s actually the first time a festive “themed” beer has even got a look in, as they so often tend towards massive disappointment, waving a cinammon stick at an amber ale does not cut it in these enlightened times.

One of the important ingredients of Christmas is Christmas cake. But what if you are on a liquid diet? How about a Christmas cake in beer form? That can be arranged. I was within cycling distance of one of only 12 casks of Christmas Cake Imperial Stout, brewed by Cloudwater Brew Co in collaboration with ToØl of Denmark. Some say that the cakey Imperial Stout was infused with fresh ground spices and dried fruits to create something fruity, and rich, with lingering warming spices.

Our lovely little local, The Needle & Pin, had managed to secure one of these rare casks, and just a few minutes after they opened, I was ready to try some. Sold only in halves or thirds (you don’t need more), this festive delight was sure to delight anyone who came into contact with it.

Indeed it did. Without a doubt it was Christmas cake in a glass, boozy dried fruits and gentle winter spices. Well worth the brief cycle to get out and try it. Nearly everyone who walked through the door during the couple of hours that we were there wanted to try it, the exception being a couple of people who had other things to do, such as driving home or operating heavy machinery…

A worthy winner of beer of the month, and there’s a bottle maturing in the garage for MOFAD drinking companion Matt, who has this to look forward to…

It goes into the final for beer of the year… That’s up next, so stay tuned…

Pub of the month, December 2016 – The Crafty Baa, Windermere

December is usually a good month for pub visits. A few Christmas parties are usualy in the offing, the odd impromptu gathering with friends perhaps, and a few trips out after Christmas too.

This month’s round up starts at The Otter in Kegworth, which is my team’s traditional Xmas dinner venue. Every year I take my team out for Xmas lunch, a small token of appreciation for another year of hard work. I think it’s now 5 out of 7 years that we’ve been here. We tried a couple of other places, and they were nowhere near as good. If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it, as The Fresh Prince wisely advised us.

Instead of a photo of some dinner, here’s a view instead, because it was a glorious December day:-

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It’s still a Vintage Inn and not much has changed in the last 12 months. They still have an excellent online booking system which makes sorting out your reservation a doddle. Once inside, there’s pretty much the usual selection of ales. I did want the Purity IPA but it was off so it was Sharp’s Atlantic again, a good pale ale that is much better coming from a pump than a bottle. The full three courses were consumed, baked mushrooms in garlic and cheese sauce, slow cooked short rib of beef (not even spoiled by a sneaky sprout in the spiced vegetable fritter) and a lovely chocolate orange torte.

To Cumbria next. After a morning of walking, we descended into Little Langdale for lunch at The Three Shires Inn. It seems like everyone else had that idea, as we managed to grab the last free table inside (most of the outside tables were also full). A lovely pint of Loweswater Gold was soon being consumed, and it wasn’t too long before Mrs MOFAD was chomping on a tuna savoury sandwich whilst I had sausage ciabatta with chutney, which was very tasty, with a bit of salad on the side, and a bowl of chips to share.

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Staying in Cumbria, and travelling back 24 hours, we find ourselves in Tweedies, one of our favourite Lakes pubs. We usually manage to visit it on one of our winter walks. Because they have great beers and do great food. And you can opt for the beer bat/paddle/thingy where you get three different beers all served in 1/3 pint glasses.

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Good food as usual, a posh fish finger sandwich for me, and Mrs MOFAD opted for the rarebit (total cheese fest!) with a nice chutney on the side. It was warming and delicious, and went well with her beer choice of Sleeping Lemons which cuts through the richness of the cheese. It’s even more lemony than it sounds.

Back home next, for three trips to my favourite local pub, The Needle & Pin.

On the first day of December,
My local pub gave to me,
A great event with Thornbridge brewery…

We sampled five Thornbridge brews, as well as a deconstruction of Serpent, a Belgian style golden ale, brewed with cider lees (the leftover bits from fermenting cider, yeasts, skins and whatever’s left), and then aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels. For two years.

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We were back again just eight days later, and “The twelve days of Thornbridge” was still in full flow, which gave us the chance to try Rattlesnake, a dangerously easy to drink 6.5% west coast IPA, and Lucaria, an ice cream porter brewed with lactose for a smooth finish.

As if that wasn’t enough, just two weeks later, a very special trip was necessitated, as the N&P had procured one of only 12 casks of Christmas Cake Imperial Stout, brewed by Cloudwater Brew Co in collaboration with ToØl of Denmark. The cakey Imperial Stout was infused with fresh ground spices and dried fruits to create something fruity, and rich, with lingering warming spices.

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Christmas cake in a glass, boozy dried fruits and gentle winter spices. Well worth the brief cycle to get there and try it. Nearly everyone who walked through the door during the couple of hours that we were there wanted to have some, the exception being a couple of people who had other things to do, such as driving home or operating heavy machinery.

We decided to stay for something a little lighter, Binghams Vanilla Stout, voted CAMRA’s Supreme Champion Beer of Britain earlier this year.

It was a gentle vanilla stout, very tasty, but it certainly won’t be my champion beer this year.

We return to Cumbria for our winner, and just like last year, December’s winner was visited on New Year’s Eve.

The Crafty Baa opened in Windermere in August 2016, filling a much needed gap in the town’s “drink in” beer provision. The “drink at home” customer is well served by Booths, just up the hill from here.

It was hastily lined up as today’s lunch stop. We grabbed a table and then stood for a number of minutes scratching our heads and looking up and down the board of almost 100 things to drink. It took a while, the delightful agony of choice.

In the end I kept it local with Fell Brewery’s Robust Porter, full of roasty and smoky flavours with a hint of chocolate. Very nice indeed.

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We were here for food too, and they keep it simple and tasty with various bar snack options (pork pies, scotch eggs, olives, breads, nachos etc.) as well as a cheese board (slate), a meat board (slate) or a combination of the two.

We had the combo sharing platter, with three cheeses, plus a whole baked camembert, four different meats, sun dried tomatoes, olives, chutneys, grapes, and several different breads.

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It was even tastier than it looks. Lovely meats, interesting cheeses and the gooey camembert was unctious, warming and delightful. And if that wasn’t enough (in all honesty it probably was) we also had a bowl of nachos, with sour cream, salsa and guacamole. Because nachos.

The Crafty Baa has all of the ingredients needed to be pub of the month. An awesome line up of beer (which is always changing). Simple, delicious food. Funky 1970s soul on the sound system. A crackling real fire. Lovely friendly staff and a great atmosphere. We could have stayed there all afternoon, but we had to drive back to Ambleside, so reluctantly left.

A worthy winner of the final pub of the month for 2016. Stay tuned for pub of the year…

2016 – a year in beer

This is another of my “statto” posts. 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.

For the past couple of years, I’ve done a quick statistical round up at the end of the year, mostly for my own interest. In 2015 I tasted 515 new beers and ciders. This year that went up very slightly to 528 beers and ciders, including those from another 4 different states/counties/countries (on top of the 31 from the last 2 years). Although it’s not about the numbers.

This year’s statistics could be slightly skewed by the antics of the Great New Zealand Road Trip 2016. We visited a few breweries, and we were taking every opportunity to seek out new beers and cider wherever we were.

If you organise your own mini beer festival, which we christened the “Summer House Beer Festival“, then you’re bound to be sampling lots of beers. That was literally the whole point of it.

I also have to thank The Needle & Pin for giving me lots of opportunities to try new beers. I’d say at least 10% of my beers this year have either come from or been sampled at the N&P (including 17 during the legendary craft beer tasting night).

The arrival of the Needle & Pin craft beer club has also helped in my quest to try new beers. The club has served up 18 beers so far, 16 of which were new to me. When I’ve been down to pick them up, I’ve always come back with a few more, as the header image of this post shows.

Looking forward to seeing what 2017 brings, starting with #tryanuary

Lucky Dragon, Ambleside, December 2016

A return to an old tradition. For many years, we had a Chinese takeaway on New Year’s Eve. With the closure of Ambleside favourite Jade Garden, this tradition was threatened. We did try an alternative a few years ago, but it wasn’t so good. So for the last few years, we have switched to Thai, with visits to Jintana in 2014 and 2015.

When we rung them up tonight, we were in for a shock. No takeaways. Never mind the fact they’ve been doing it for many years, they just decided to change their mind. Their loss is Lucky Dragon’s gain.

Just a short walk down the same road, Lucky Dragon is a Chinese takeaway, and nothing else. They hadn’t decided to stop doing takeaways tonight, so we carried on down the road to them, and ordered our dinner.

As it’s a celebratory night, crispy duck should be consumed, so we ordered some. It was very good, crispy, not greasy and with good accompaniments.

For the main course, I chose Kung Po chicken, as it’s the dish that I use to test any Chinese restaurant. It was very good indeed, so good that I didn’t stop to take a picture. It was nice and spicy, a good level of chilli heat. There was no pineapple and there were no cashew nuts, common ingredients in many versions of this dish but different places use variations.

What I can show you is a very interesting beer, the Flat Pack Fruit Bat raspberry smoothie IPA – a confusing conflict in a can. The nose is very hoppy, but the taste is smooth and full of fruitiness, with barely a trace of those hops. It’s really nice and goes well with a spicy chicken dish.

A great takeaway, and it should be your first choice for Chinese in Ambleside.