The Link Hotel, Loughborough, December 2016

Another Christmas party post. My turn tonight, as our work Xmas party returns to The Link Hotel (formerly the Quality Hotel and the Friendly Hotel). We’ve rotated around this and Burleigh Court in recent years, due to their proximity to the workplace.

The best news of the night arrived right at the start, during my first trip to the bar. At last they have caught up with “beer trends”, and there is finally some decent ale on, including plenty from our most local brewery, Charnwood Brewery. Other choices on tap too, including the Curious IPA from Curious Drinks (a subsidiary of English winemaker Chapel Down from Kent).

The most curious thing about it is that it’s not an IPA. A decent pint, but just not an IPA.

To start our dinner, smoked salmon and cray fish salad with beetroot purée and vodka crème frâiche. The fish was nice enough (more salmon would have been nice, and a heavier smoke), but the beetroot puree was very muddy and not particularly pleasant. There was also a terrine and a soup on offer.

Saving my turkey rations for the big day (it’s all too easy to get fed up of it during December), so I had the herb-crusted loin of cod with braised fennel, creamy celeriac purée, micro cress “salad” and salsa verde. This was pretty tasty, served with the usual seasonal veg (no sprouts thanks).

As with the turkey option, Xmas pudding was shunned in favour of chocolate brownie with Belgian chocolate sauce and salted caramel ice cream and some weird “soil” stuff. It was the right decision as ever, although a little too rich for some.

After poor coffee and very average mince pies it was time for dancing. Except that (just like last time) the DJ was rubbish. Just couldn’t read the room, no mixing skills, and playing great tunes for a few minutes and then following them up with dancefloor emptying garbage. Christmas party nights are very lucrative gigs, but if you’re not up to the task, it’s no fun for the punters.

At least the couple who were sat at the next table (who looked rather out of place amongst 20 odd tables of work parties) had left by this point so were saved the pain of Whigfield…

Convenient, and with decent beer at last. Thanks to Sharon for organising as usual.

The Needle & Pin Craft Beer Club – selection box #3 – December 2016

I know I haven’t finished drinking all of the beers in the first selection box yet, or even those in the second box, but that’s no reason to stop stocking (no festive pun intended) up on beers. You can read more about the selection box concept in that first link above, I’m just going to dive straight in with details of what’s in this month’s box. Once again, there are several added extras that I’d reserved previously…

Here’s the selection box:-


Anspach & Hobday The Porter 6.7%

Paul (Anspach) & Jack (Hobday), two London graduates, founded Anspach & Hobday in the pursuit of a better beer experience. Guided by the wave of contemporary craft beer and inspired by the illustrious brewing heritage of London, their brewery and and brewery tap are based in an archway in Bermondsey, just a stone’s throw from the Shard and Tower Bridge, and right in the heart of the Victorian brewing quarter.

“The Porter” is their lead beer, rich, dark & roasted, the beer that got them where they are today, and still brewed to the same recipe as the first time it was home-brewed in 2011. It won silver at the International Beer Challenge 2013 as home-brew and then gold in 2014 as a commercial brew.

Beavertown Tropigamma 7%

The N&P love all things Beavertown (as do I), and they especially love this one off brewed to celebrate Beavertown’s 1000th brew. Hugely fruity compared to Gamma Ray, a tropical IPA brewed with lactose, pineapple, mandarin, papaya, passionfruit, guava, mango and lime juice. Enough fruit for you?

Juicy tropical fruits combine with big bold hops on the nose to lure you in with complex aromas of citrus, ripe mango and piney hops. The flavour is fruit driven, leading with sweet mandarin, tangy passionfruit and round mango and finishing with a satisfying hop bite. The oats help make the drinking experience smooth and round. This is literally a fruit explosion in a can.

Buxton Wyoming Sheep Ranch DIPA 9%

Buxton Brewery is ploughing a furrow that often gets overlooked in favour of the Beavertowns and Thornbridges of this world. A big bad hop monster, intense grassy and grapefruit hops combine to knock your senses sideways before a wave of American style bitterness turns your taste buds on their head. This is a big, bold double IPA. It’s fresh, piney, big-bodied and with a bitterness that’ll slap you in the chops.

Siren Pompelmocello Sour IPA 6%

This is one of the N&P’s beers of the year, and it will have your mouth watering. Try drinking this on its own, and then with something sweet, and watch the tartness mellow!

This sour IPA is hopped with Enigma, Bravo and Apollo to create the biggest grapefruity hop profile Siren could muster, but they’ve also included grapefruit zest and juice for good measure. Added lactose rounds things off with a smooth and sweet touch.

Weird Beard Five O’Clock Shadow American IPA 7%

The N&P love Weird Beard beers. All their brews have a swagger to them, and you can expect to see more of them in the fridges and on the pumps in the months ahead. Big on hoppiness: both in aroma and taste with citrus and floral notes. Also big on mouthfeel. The bitterness is balanced by classic American IPA malt backbone.

Wild Weather Storm in a Tea Cup Earl Grey IPA 6%

Wild Weather is another of the N&P’s breweries of the year. Who can forget the wonderful Motorcycle Emptiness, Big Muddy or Stormbringer? Me, because I haven’t had any of them!

Two things are loved the world over; a warm cup of tea and a cool glass of beer. And it’s with this worldwide love affair firmly in mind that Wild Weather crafted this beer. Using hops from the America, New Zealand & Australia, tea inspired by China and the finest English malt. A true intercontinental behemoth.

Taking a slightly sweeter approach to bittering, and pairing with hops that will compliment, but not be drowned by, the aromatic bergamot charisma of the Earl Grey.

And now on to the extras…


You’ll spot Cloudwater IPA Mosaic Exp 431, described as a dank hoppy delight. There’s also the DIPA v10, the latest in the DIPA series. From America we have a pair from Firestone Walker in California, the Union Jack IPA and Luponic Distortion Revolution No 003 (they too love messing around with different hops and yeasts).

The lead hop in Revolution 003 is a new German variety that brewer Matt Brynildson first encountered in its experimental infancy while traveling through the Hallertau region during the hop harvest three years ago. “I fell in love with it then, and I’ve been following its development ever since,” he says. “It’s just loaded with this juicy mandarin orange character that is so distinctively German, unlike anything you could grow here in the states.” Luponic Distortion Revolution 003 offers a mandarin orange and ripe peach character with ample supporting notes of citrus, stone fruit and pineapple. The overall profile is round and juicy, leaning heavily on ripe fruits with minimal dank or piney edges. Just my kind of thing.

Continuing from left to right we have Tiny Rebel Stay Puft Marshmallow Porter, Vuur & Vlam (fire & flames) and Buxton Patersbier. Patersbier (or Father’s beer) is traditionally brewed within Belgian monasteries for the monks’ own consumption and not sold to the public. Finally we have The Kernel IPA Citra Summit.

Looking forward to trying all of these. Look out for reviews in the new year.

Christmas 2016 beer gifts from Ales by Mail

There are lots of statistics bandied around about how many people you tell about a good customer service experience, and how many you tell about a bad one. The numbers vary, but it’s something between twice as many or ten times as many people that you tell about a bad experience.

Ales by Mail are nice people who give good service. The last time I ordered from them, they gave me good service. So I like them. They have a great range of beers (and some cider) on their web site. So I like them. They do deals. So I like them. They have special offers. So I like them.

There are over 100 breweries to choose from, including many of those that have already featured in this year’s gift guide posts. They have things you see in shops (BrewDog, Flying Dog, Fyne Ales, Hardknott, Thornbridge) and well as things that you only usually get direct from breweries (Cloudwater, Time and Tide, De Molen). This was the composition of my last selection box (all hand chosen by me, but they have several pre-mixed cases available if you want them to choose for you).


There’s so much to choose from that you’ll find plenty to please the beer lover in your life. Or just yourself if you’re stocking up your Christmas stocking for the festive season. Last orders for Xmas delivery should be made by midday on Monday 19th December, so get moving!