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!

The Needle & Pin Craft Beer Club – selection box #19 – July 2019

It’s box number 41, and what could be better for summer evenings than some crisp and refreshing session pales? In fact, there are only two that are session in here, with the rest weighing in at 5, 6 and 7 or more percent.

Amundsen – Pillars of Light – Lemon – 7.5%

Milkshake IPA with Amarillo, Citra, Lemondrop, Mosaic, Lactose, Lemon and Vanilla. Pillars of Light is a small series being produced throughout 2019, mixing up fruit and flavour to create a new milkshake experience every few months. This one is all about lemon.

Arbor – Zero Zero – 4.3%

A session strength New England IPA brewed with lots of Citra and Mosaic hops. Should be murky and juicy without being a 9% beast.

Framework – Jackpin – 3.9%

Your friends and mine, with a new design. Had this one 18 months ago, a delightful bitter ale that has flavour way beyond its session strength. This is their first ever canned beer.

Howling Hops – Pinball – 6.7%

A NEIPA brewed in collaboration with Track Brewing Co and heavily hopped with Galaxy, cryo Citra and cryo Amarillo. A light hazy yellow appearance and a pillowy white head mixes with aromas of citrus and peach. A beautiful soft and delicate mouthfeel with a bit of hop bite at the end. Stone fruits dominate the juicy flavour with a slight late bitterness. The real life equivalent of an added time multi-ball bonus!

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Polly’s Brew Co – Ekuanot Mosaic – 5.1%

The artists formerly known as Loka Polly present two great hops combined into a hazy golden beer. The aroma has notes of citrus fruits, hops, and malt. The flavour is sweet with notes of hops, citrus fruits, and malt, leading to a bitter finish.

Ridgeside x Black Iris – What we Brew in the Shadows – 6.0%

New Zealand IPA collaboration with Black Iris. They’ve gone all Kiwi with the hop bill: Motueka, Nelson Sauvin & Waimea dry hop, alongside a pale barley, wheat and oat grist for a soft, pillowy mouthfeel.

The Pilot, Greenwich, June 2019

South of the river? Whatever next. Greenwich is in the famous bend in the Thames, so you can easily spot it on the Eastenders title sequence. It’s also the bit where you’ll find the O2 (Millennium Dome in old money). Sadly, James Bond was nowhere to be seen.

The Pilot is situated in a little block of old London Georgian cottages (grade II listed) constructed for workers from the nearby tidal mill and chemical works, and dates back around 200 years, built in the early 1800s to serve the local coal workers. A painted stone tablet on the wall of the pub reads “Ceylon Place New East Greenwich 1801”, so it could be the oldest surviving building on the Greenwich Peninsula. It certainly sticks out amongst all of the modern tower blocks and student flats that are just a stone’s throw away. Several of the massive O2 car parks can be seen across the road.

You might be aware of the cottages and the pub, as they featured in the video for Blur’s “Park Life”. You know what I mean?

Anyway, on to the pub. You can get here by cable car (not many pubs you can say that about), plane (London CIty airport is just on the other side of the river), boat and train. Or you can just walk from your nearby hotel, which is what I did. It’s a lovely old London pub, one of many in the Fuller’s estate that they are now concentrating on since they sold all of their brewing activity to Asahi earlier this year.

It’s definitely got the feel of a “food pub” as opposed to a “pub pub”, lots of dining space, and staff on the prowl as you arrive to find you a table to eat at. There is a little spot along the bar where you could have a pint and a chat, but on this overcast June evening, most people were dining.

I was shown to a little table just up the stairs and my order was taken. The barman/waiter seemed to struggle with it a little bit, as I’d ordered Misprized, one of the recent Fuller’s and Friends collaboration brews, and I suspect most tourists who come in here order London Pride. It was soon sorted out and my pint arrived.

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It wasn’t really worth the wait. Slightly woody, slightly mild, and mostly meh. I think I can see what they were trying to do, but it just didn’t work for me. However, the food was much better.

Even though we are just ten days away from midsummer night, it felt very much like a pie and mash kind of night, and a steak and ale pie with caramelised shallot & button mushrooms, spring greens and red wine gravy was enough to warm the cockles on a grey evening. A proper pie, completely encased in lovely crusty pastry, and none of this “pastry lid on a small casserole dish” nonsense.

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It was very tasty (juicy meat, crisp pastry and very nicely seasoned) and it was also soon hoovered up and I made my way off into the grey night. Some more veg and gravy wouldn’t have gone amiss, but everything worked well together.

A nice little food pub which offers a small number of menu options that they probably do well (based on a sample size of this one pie) rather than twenty different things in five or six cuisine styles which are all done to mediocrity.

Recommended if you find yourself looking for some food when you are south of the river.

The Needle & Pin Craft Beer Club – selection box #16 – March 2019

The 36th selection box overall.  Spring is upon as and the days are getting longer. There are still dark beers for the dark nights, but when the sun starts shining, there’s definitely a need for something pale and hoppy. Let’s get stuck in, there are four in the session category (most welcome) and two bigger beasts.

Abbeydale – Heathen – 4.1%

Formerly called Mosaic. Wonderfully refreshing pale session beer showcasing the marvellous Mosaic hops from America. Bursting with tropical fruit flavours and a pleasant citrus bitterness. Just in case there wasn’t enough in the initial brew, Abbeydale have dry hopped with even more Mosaic for good measure. A lovely session pale ale that I’ve had a few of.

Magic Rock x Cloudwater – Big Dipper – 8.3%

A revisit of the collaborative Double IPA brew with their friends from over t’hills Cloudwater Brew Co. Golden Promise, Wheat, Oat and Crystal Malt were used for a smooth, golden, malty body. A combination of Citra, Simcoe, Eureka and Mosaic T90 hops were used in the whirlpool and dry hopping, with additional Citra & Mosaic LupulN2 Pellets added in the dry hop. Fermented with London Fog yeast, the result is a fruit-filled DIPA with loads of mango and peach aroma and flavour, a little residual sweetness and a gravity-defying drinkability. Strap in for a ride on the Big Dipper…

Northern Monk x Deya – Patrons Project 9.06 – Skelatory DDH IPA – 6.8%

This IPA utilises a blend of New Zealand, Australian and American hop varieties, with NZ Motueka taking the lead with its distinctive upfront lime character, Vic Secret and Mosaic contributing hints of passion fruit, dark berries, and grapefruit. Continuing a bit of a theme in projects with DEYA, Northern Monk put together a multi grain grist, with the earth and spice flavours of malted rye prominent once again, this time backed up with malted oats and flaked barley for a robust, complex backbone. And a little bit of politics thrown in.

Northern Monk – Striding Edge – 2.8%

A former Patrons Project beer which is now a core beer for Northern Monk. Patrons Projects beers usually explored working outside of the classic four brewing ingredients, introducing different coffee, fruits, and other additions more common to the culinary world, and most of them have also been very much towards the higher end of the ABV scale.

Striding Edge had no fruit additions, and was without the firm canvas that higher ABV gives, so the team set about creating a low ABV session beer with a flavour, intensity and mouthfeel of a drink of much higher strength. Starting with the base, they made sure the water was super soft and well balanced. Enough sulphates to lift the hops, enough chloride to smooth out the mouthfeel. For the malt they trialled a new super pale variety, making this by far the palest beer they have ever brewed, and made up a quarter of the grist with oats for their creamy mouthfeel.

Ensuring the mash temperature was as high as possible whilst ensuring some enzyme activity, they filled the wort with complex sugars to ensure a higher finishing gravity and consequently a chunkier body. Then add as much hop flavour across 3 dry-hop additions, going with west coast favourites Simcoe, Amarillo and Mosaic for an intense pine, grass and citrus character, backed up with hints of orange and mango from a bonus Citra addition.

It’s one of the best sub 3% beers around, big flavour in small ABV.

North Riding x Needle & Pin – Cryo for Help – 4.3%

A limited edition pale ale brewed with The Needle & Pin to commemorate their 999th different cask ale since opening in late 2015. Brewed back in September 2018, with customers Alex, Matt, Nick and Scott, this is a very powerful Mosaic hopped beer with a strong bitter finish.

Wild Beer – Bibble – 4.2%

Another familiar one that I first had back in summer 2015, a fruity pale ale that goes down nicely. Brewed with Vienna malt and oats, for an unusual mouth filling malt base. Hopped with Mosaic hops, renowned for their tropical fruit beauty. It is unfined, and so naturally hazy. A moreish bitterness is complimented by tropical fruit tastiness. The name ‘Bibble’ in Somerset dialect means to drink loudly, often and well.

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Thornbridge night, The Needle & Pin, Loughborough, December 2018

Oh yes it’s Thornbridge night, and the feeling’s right, oh yes it’s Thornbridge night, oh what a night.

The annual Thornbridge night at The Needle & Pin. Now in its third year, but with a new host, as Meg has moved on to Beavertown (a gentle and fairly playful boo and hiss rippled around the room from the people who hadn’t already heard this news). We met James, field sales manager for Thornbridge.

We talked all things Thornbridge. Having (between us all) been to the previous two Thornbridge nights, been on the brewery tour, and been fairly regular attendees at Peakender (just me on that one), we had a fair bit of Thornbridge knowledge (we wiped the floor with everyone else in last year’s quiz) so bandied around a few topics for discussion, including the popularity of of good cask beer, getting so many beers into Tesco and future beer plans.

And of course there was beer. One of the new variations of Lucaria, Salted Caramel Lucaria, full of toffee, coffee, chocolate and creaminess. A lovely pint to savour.

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Whilst that was going down, so was Thornbridge bingo, Sean’s latest game. Pretty much as you would imagine, bingo cards with names of Thornbridge beers on, and then beer names drawn out of a box to tick off on your card. We had time for a couple of rounds, and we won a couple of lines on our table, with prizes on all of the other tables too. Great fun.

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More chat, and then James remembered something. He disappeared downstairs and returned with two bottles of Serpent to share around. Serpent was the subject of our first Thornbridge night, so once again I think we scared James a bit with our knowledge of it. I bought a bottle that night, and we had it on New Year’s Eve last year. It had aged well.

We had some more tonight, surprised that there was still some in existence. It has continued to age well, still dominated by apple, with some bourbon smoothness in the background. It continues to be the beer that is not a beer.

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There was time to sample Necessary Evil, an absolute malt bomb full of all the malts.

Another great night out at The Needle & Pin. Great fun with lovely people, and perfectly kept beers as usual. Looking forward to the 2019 version already!