The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #20 – April 2020

Yes, it’s not April yet, but the current situation could require an occasional beer to help us get through, so here we are. The 51st incarnation of the Needle & Pin craft beer club, the 20th dark beer box, full of big units, with one “normal” porter poking its head up. The current situation might require some big units. I didn’t get chance to photograph these, so I’ve borrowed the N&P photos again 🙂

Alefarm – The Truth is in the Walls – 10.5%

Imperial stout brewed with sea salt and cacao. A wonderful stout, perfectly balanced like your favourite chocolate bar. Deep notes of chocolate and a smooth mouthfeel thanks to the salt, making for a rich tasting experience.

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Cloudwater – Multi-Dimensional Being – 7%

Few styles are more suited to the winter months than Baltic Porter. This classic, robust dark beer from the Baltic states is packed with deep, indulgent malt flavours but has the clean, smooth body of a lager, making it rich and remarkably full-flavoured without sitting heavy on the palate.

Northern Monk – Culinary Adventures Deep Fried Caramel Chocolate Bar Stout – 6.5%

I think you know which caramel chocolate bar. The famous one that is sometimes dipped in batter and plunged into the deep fat fryer. Few creations are more infamous, so Northern Monk set about the fun task of how to replicate that sticky, caramel-rich flavour.

They also invited those Twitter funsters and some time brewers Pilot Beer to help out. Over a grist featuring some brown and chocolate malts, light and dark variants of crystal malt and plenty of rounding flaked oats, they added copious amounts of caramel as well as lactose to accentuate the milk chocolate character. They further bulked out the mouthfeel with maltodextrin. In fermentation, chocolate and vanilla were added to seal the deal, to result a rich and sticky stout that transports you to a chippy off the quayside of Leith.

Siren – Cold Blooded – 5%

Welcome back Coldblooded, a brown porter designed to hit the spot when the weather turns. Grains are cold-steeped overnight before brew day to build up a gorgeous chocolatey base before things get started. From there expect roasty notes layered amongst subtle smoke, coffee and dark chocolate. Coldblooded pours silky smooth and drinks with a satisfying richness.

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Siren – Dark and Perilous Nights – 12.4%

An extraordinary collaboration with Florida’s J. Wakefield. Expect rich aromas of dark sugar and toffee, with a comforting chocolate fudge flavour profile, warming spirit complexity and a slick mouthfeel. Sean tried this straight out of the barrel when Siren were debating whether to bottle this back in January. It was incredible then, and it is going to get better. Save this either for a night in autumn when the wind is rattling the windows and the rain lashing down, or when the Grim Reaper calls, whichever is first.

Wylam – Imperial Macchiato – 10%

Double hazelnut praline coffee porter. This remodelled special edition would leave Bernard Quatermass dumbstruck and unarticulated! Double the hazelnut, double the coffee with an extra edition of cacao and caramalt to deliver an opulent, deluxe, sumptuous, hedonistic, rich and costly consumable colossus. Macchiato is a great beer, so this one should be double great.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – selection box #22 – March 2020

So here we are. The 50th incarnation of the Needle & Pin craft beer club, the 22nd “standard” box. There are only 2 people who have collected all 50 since that first one in September 2016, that’s me and regular MOFAD drinking companion Alec.

This month’s collection is brought to you by the letters I, P and A, and is a bit of an “unsung heroes” selection. Siren, featured here, were also in that first selection box, and have continued to grow alongside four of the other breweries in there, Beavertown (now minority owned by Heineken), Tiny Rebel, Thornbridge and Wild Beer Co. The only sad story from the first box is the demise of Hardknott, who closed down in 2018 after 12 years of brewing.

Here’s what is to be found in the March 2020 line up…

Amundsen – Fade to Green – 6.5%

A lovely NEIPA brewed in collaboration with Finback Brewery from New York, using Azacca, Galaxy, Citra, Simcoe and Chinook.

Arbor – Basta Rosse – 5%

A beautiful red IPA brewed with Cascade, Vic Secret & Mosaic hops, in collaboration with Italian brewery Mezzo Passo. I had this one back in 2018, a delightful hoppy red ale. It was also one of the only beers on in the taproom when we visited in March 2019.

Black Iris – Anarchists Across the Pond – 6.9%

Back in Oct, we brewed up a tasty New England IPA with renowned American home brewer, Andy Tipler, while he visited Nottingham from Connecticut. Packed full of Citra, Mosaic, Vic Secret and Simcoe and fermented with London III Ale Yeast, this NEIPA has a big fruit character with notes of pineapple and peach.

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Overtone – Citra Mosaic NEIPA V3 – 6%

The V3 New England IPA is very much the same as v2, except that it is juicer, hazier and thicker than the first time around, with more of a mouth presence. A beautiful aroma of tropical fruits comes bursting out, well balanced with the bitterness hitting you late.

Siren – Hard Rollin’ – 7%

Dry & Bitter return for the first Siren collaboration of 2020. Hard Rollin’ is one of the most pillowy, smooth and creamy IPAs they’ve ever created, with plentiful rolled oats, flaked oats and milk sugar all working their magic. It’s lavishly hopped with Ekuanot, Citra, Hallertau Blanc and Mandarina Bavaria for a beautiful dank depth with aromas of tropical fruit.

Time and Tide – Ham Sandwich – 7.4%

New England IPA packed to the rafters with Mosaic hops. This one is fruity, juicy and refreshing. I’ve had it already because why wouldn’t you want to try a beer called Ham Sandwich? Just don’t put mustard on it.

January 2020 round up

This is an attempt to try and write a little something each month, to get out of the bad habits of 2019 when I didn’t write very much at all. Rather than piling up 10 or more drafts a month and never finishing any of them, getting at least one round up published might be the way forward. It’s got to be worth a try.

So what’s been happening in January 2020? A lovely trip to the Lakes concluded with some fantastic pizza from The Sourdough Pizza Co in Ambleside. They are not really geared up for visiting customers at the moment, with a distinct lack of counter facilities, but we didn’t have time to wait for a delivery, so collection was the quickest optio. Pulled pork and apple sauce pizza? Yes please!

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There was also the customary trip to The Mortal Man, via Wansfell as usual, a lovely pub with good food and a warm welcome. The MOFAD card left many years ago is still there. It’s a fantastic walk and it was a great day to do it.

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The only other pub trip this month was a quick pint in The Ale Stop, with MOFAD companion Andy, whilst we were waiting for our curries to be cooked. A lovely little micro pub in the centre of Buxton, full of lively locals. The only other trip “out out” this month featured a pleasant new carbonara pizza at Pizza Express (no sign of Prince Andrew), before we went to see Bad Boys For Life (quality action nonsense).

Some of my favourite beers this month have been Donzoko Northern Helles (great lager, believe the hype), Escape Pod by Pressure Drop (liquid Bounty bar mixed with crude oil) and the fantastic Sunshine by Brass Castle, a good old fashioned fantastic IPA. No adjuncts, no lactose, no fruit purées. Just a great balance of malts and hops.

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The aforementioned Andy and I also shared some big unit stouts and porters like Tokyo* Death and Siren’s 2019 Barrel Aged Caribbean Chocolate Cake.

My least favourite beers were all of the Lidl ones, brewed under the made up “Hatherwood Craft Beer Company” name. They were very cheap, but not very good. If you pay a pound for an IPA, you get a pound’s worth of IPA.

Recipe of the month was probably slow cooker jerk chicken. Looking forward to refining that one a bit more.

So that was the first 2020 round up, hopefully I’ll get to do one each month. February should see a few more trips out, with the Leicester comedy festival tempting us into a couple of trips…

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 Needle & Pin Craft Beer Club – selection box #20 – September 2019

It’s box number 43 overall, and whilst those summer evenings are rapidly shrinking into autumn, there’s still a place for lots of session pales for those evenings enjoying takeaways with friends at a camp site. This box beats the previous one, with three session beers inside, and three that are over, but all 5.5% or less.

[Edit : as these have all been easy drinkers, they didn’t last long, so all have brief reviews added. They all pretty much lived up to their billing.]

Cloudwater – DDH Pale – 5.5%

This DDH (Double Dry Hopped) pale is brewed to soup up your down time by delivering the hop flavour intensity of a Cloudwater DIPA at a moderate ABV. Doubling the standard Pale Ale’s dry-hopping rate of 8g/L, this beer delivers a bold, juicy, hazy, and heavily-hopped pale ale. Out of our hoppy beer range, this sets the marker for balance between drinkability and flavour impact.

Lovely stuff. Nice hoppy notes, hint of lavender and sensibile ABV.

Gipsy Hill – Alleycat – 4.5%

Alleycat is a pale ale pumped full of Galaxy and Citra for their big stone fruit and citrus flavours. The grist kept clean to let the hops shine.

A nice, easy drinking, pale.

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Moor – Slovenia ‘Hop – 4.1%

Part of the ‘Hop series, following on from Nor’Hop, So’Hop, Union’Hop, Italia’Hop, and Espana’Hop this edition has the same malt bill but hopped to the max with Kolihbri and Slovenian Dragon.

Lovely bit of lager business. Super easy drinking, and nice to taste two new (to me) hops.

Neon Raptor – First Incarnation – 5.2%

First Incarnation is a brand-new NE pale ale which is hopped with Mosaic, Simcoe and Chinook. It was brewed with Neon Raptor’s original New England style water profile for a soft mouthfeel.

A soft and gentle pale ale.

Red Willow – Effortless – 3.7%

New Zealand style pale ale. Ultra pale and refreshing with lots of body, gratuitously hopped with Nelson Sauvin for a full fruity flavour.

A light and easy drinking pale, but needs more hops (NMH) for me.

Wylam – It Tastes Like Us – 4.7%

A super smashable pale brewed with flaked and torrified wheat keeping everything soft and bouncy on the palette. Double dry hopped with fresh Lemon Drop, Centennial, Mosaic and Amarillo with a clean zesty bitter finish of blood orange and tangerine.

Soft and bitter, but really easy drinking.

Fuller’s and Friends 2019 “box set”

The 2017 Fuller’s and Friends box set was a set of collaboration brews that had piqued quite a lot of peoples’ interest. Some of the biggest UK brewery names in the form of Cloudwater Brew Company, Fourpure Brewing Company, Hardknott Brewery (sadly now defunct), Marble Beers Limited, Moor Beer Company and Thornbridge Brewery were all invited to brew a beer with Fuller’s. I think Galleon was probably my favourite.

Everyone was looking forward to the next set of collaborations, whenever they may come. Then in January 2019, Fuller’s sold their entire drinks business to Asahi for £250,000,000 in order to concentrate on running its chain of pubs and hotels. So there was a bit of a backlash, as there has been every time a brewery has been bought by another one over the last couple of years.

The dust has settled, so let’s have a look at the new set, available in your local Waitrose. This year, it is actually available, rather than the myth that the first box set became (it took quite a while to acutally get out into the wild). This year the beers are also available in Fuller’s pubs on cask and keg (I’ve already had one in Greenwich).

Let’s have a look inside…

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Misprized – Magic Rock

Mild – an undervalued beer style? Not anymore. A celebration of this classic English style, with some tweaks on a traditional recipe from 1920 by adding rum barrel oak chips to give a sweet, nutty depth of flavour. This is the one that I had in The Pilot in Greenwich and I don’t think they had kept it well as it was rather meh.

Respect your Elders – Tiny Rebel

Old brewery meets new brewery and bonds over their mutual appreciation of ESB – that’s the story behind this beer, which gives the classic style a contemporary tropical twist. With a trio of new world hops, this malty, marmaladey beer beautifully bridges the generation gap.

Kroke – Mack

Named after the Norse word for ‘Crowberries’, the sloes come fresh from the Arctic Circle and give this lager a slight tartness to offset its sweet, honeyed notes. Learning from Viking tradition, dried meadowsweet is used to add a slight bitterness to this crisp, pale gold lager.

Love on the Run – Woodstock

This hop-forward IPA is the perfect marriage of London town and Cape Town. The African Queen hop and native African cereal Sorgham are combined with British Olicana and Bramling Cross hops. Fresh blackcurrant and lemongrass aromas offset a dry, earthy malt base in what is a very sessionable IPA.

Way Down Ale – Stone and Wood

A trio of Tasmanian hops – including an unnamed experimental hop – combine to create a beautifully balanced beer, full of tropical fruit flavours. A fitting homage to Tasmania’s hop growers.

Huvvy Dug – Pilot

A Caledonian classic, this Wee Heavy is made using six malts – with not a new world hop in sight. Smooth caramel and biscuit notes come to the fore in this rich, full-bodied ale. Huvvy Dug? Well because it’s ‘huvvy like a huvvy dug’ of course.

Joiners Arms, Bakewell, July 2019

Bakewell has been crying out for a decent pub for a long while. For somewhere that’s the home of the Thornbridge brewery, you’d expect something a little better than some Greene King and Marston’s houses, but that’s what you’ve had to put up with.

Until May 2019, when the Joiners Arms opened its doors for the first time, serving 6 cask lines of local and further afield beer, alongside 6 keg lines which included on opening night (and still do today) Pravha, Staropramen and Aspall’s cider. We’ll come back to them later.

The Joiners Arms is cast in the classic micropub mould, a nice minimalist design based around joinery (I love the planes inset into the bar). It’s all about the beer, which is kept in excellent condition. Food wise, there are some crisps, nuts and other small snacks around, and they have a selection of wines and smaller batch gins as well as soft drinks for those not wanting a beer. They are dog friendly too, with free snacks for your canine companions, and a water bowl for them as well.

I spent a few hours here (with a break for fish’n’chips down by the river) with regular MOFAD drinking companion Steve, and much less regular drinking companion (and friend to badgers everywhere) Andy. Our fourth member was unwell so had stayed back at base.

In different orders, we worked our way across all of the cask ales. The keg lines were ignored, as two of them were empty, one had Thornbridge Satzuma (a permanent fixture, which some of us had yesterday), and the other three contained the offerings mentioned above. On a weekend, you’d expect all of the keg lines to be in action, so it was a shame to miss out on some potential bangers. The cask line up was pretty decent though, so let’s explore what we sampled.

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I started out with West of the Sun from nearby Torrside Brewing, a lovely NZ hop profile coming through. Fruity hoppiness continued with Downdays from Rivington Brewing Co which was mellow and superbly sessionable. A more familiar name came next, Deception from the just over the border Abbeydale Brewery. A classic showcase of another New Zealand hop, Nelson Sauvin.

After our lunch break, the final three beers, all of which were familiar to me. My third encounter with Hawkshead Red, sweet maltiness and much better on cask than the bottled versions that I’d had a few years ago.

I passed on the Jaipur as I’ve had it (and variants like Jaipur X and Dry Hopped Jaipur) many times. That left one more beer, Lucaria from Thornbridge, which I had twice. I first had it back in December 2016, and remember it fondly as chocolate ice cream in a glass, a smooth, milky vanilla porter. There are now four other variants (strawberry, salted caramel, rocky road and mint choc chip, which sounds like old Thornbridge favourite Baize).

It was a nice way to round off our afternoon in the Joiners Arms, which is a pleasant micropub in the centre of Bakewell. You can’t miss it, it’s on the big roundabout on the A6, and passengers in cars can spot you as they pass.

I think the lady behind the bar was having a bit of an off day today, since she got very confused when being offered £11 to pay for £6 worth of drinks.

If I still had time to do my pub of the month round ups, this would definitely be in contention for July 2019. Given that I’m 18 months behind with that, I can’t see them coming back any time soon I’m afraid!