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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!