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 Otter, Kegworth, December 2019

For the eighth time in ten years we find ourselves at The Otter, my team’s traditional Xmas lunch venue. Every year I take my team out for lunch, a small token of appreciation for another year of hard work. I’ve written about this pub loads, so I’ll crack straight on with a quick round up of the food and drink.

Beer first, and with only two sad looking pumps of Doom Bar and Wainwright (and an awful pint of Atlantic last year), I decided to chance my arm with keg instead, Chieftain IPA from “Franciscan Well brewing”, who sound very exotic, but are just a Coors subsidiary. Simple and malty, and not much more.

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On to food. Regular readers may recall that I have very similar things every year, as they don’t change the menu massively each time (no need to change a winning formula). For the third year in a row, I opted for the duck & port parfait, this time with a “mulled Cumberland sauce” (stop mulling things!) and “toasted rustic bread”. It was grilled on one side, and better than last year’s bread which had just been waved near a light bulb. No leaves this time, or slices of radish (2017). It was very tasty. The sauce was way too thin though, it needed to be reduced.

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My main course is so predictable that everyone knows what I’ll be having. I always have the rib of beef, this time boneless, served on a bed of truffle & parsley mash (no sign of truffle), with honey-roasted carrots, glazed sprouts (no thanks) and a red wine jus. No onion rings (2015), spiced vegetable fritter (2016) or marrow (2018). As delicious as ever, and paired with some nice hot English mustard of course.

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My pudding choice is also utterly predictable, Belgian chocolate brownie with Irish liqueur ice cream. I have the chocolate pudding every year. Last year’s was probably the high point for this, but the 2019 version was also pretty good. It was the most popular pudding in our party. Thankfully they’ve finally ditched the out of season strawberries.

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Another lovely lunch at The Otter. A shame that the service was extra slow this year, despite pre-ordering for the first time. Don’t get me started on that either, it was an utter farce, with an online system that didn’t have the same options as the menu, and e-mail addresses that didn’t work. After some back and forth, everything got sorted, but it took a bit of the shine off things. It also took them about three goes to find our table.

Despite all of that, I’m sure we’ll be back next year.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – selection box #21 – December 2019

It’s box number 47 overall, and not a moment too soon, as I’m all out of sessionable beers again. Oh, hang on, this box doesn’t have anything in the session category, but at least there are a few five percenters, and nothing over 6.5%. They probably won’t make it past Christmas because I need some easier drinking pales and lagers to offset those big imperial stouts that are calling my name.

Black Lodge – $100 Volvo – 5%

A lovely easy drinking Ekuanot Pale Ale. Hazy, fruity, lovely! Despite the name, it’s from Liverpool.

Cloudwater – The World, Just As It Is – 5%

Vienna lager is a style with a long history, pre-dating all other pale lager beers, but one that very nearly died out. Cloudwater are glad it didn’t, as the rich, elegant malt profile, and the balance between subtle sweetness and crisp bitterness create a lager that’s complex yet easy-drinking. The Cloudwater twist comes from the use of a New Zealand hop known for bright citrus and marmalade flavours.

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Cloudwater – West Coast IPA – 6.5%

The West Coast IPA style is a modern classic that changed perceptions of what beer could be, and paved the way for today’s craft beer scene. The Cloudwater approach is informed by experiences working with trailblazing brewers and diving deep into their celebrated beers, so this delivers the hallmark layered bitterness and a clean, dry, resinous finish alongside punchy flavours provided by a blend of modern and classic hop varietals.

Pomona Island – Aquarius and My Name is Ralph – 6.5%

It’s not every day that you get a beer named after a lyric found in “Float On” by The Floaters. This is an IPA that’s fermented with London Fog and double dry hopped with Vic Secret, Citra and Simcoe for juicy citrus and stone fruit flavours.

Float on.

Time and Tide – Manfred – 5%

All the way from Kent, the N&P crew are big fans of Time and Tide. Who can forget Spratwaffler? If double dry hopped beers are your thing, this one’s for you. Mosaic, Simcoe, Citra and Ekuanot all combine to give a full bodied, wonderfully spicy, fruity flavour with moderate bitterness.

Track – Half Dome APA – 5.3%

A super fruity American style pale ale. Crisp notes of pineapple and mango. A complex malt bill to give body and a beautiful yellow colour – hopped with Galaxy, Citra and Simcoe.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #18 – December 2019

It’s box number 46 overall, full of some big units and that rare thing, a session porter. A couple of these might make their way into my Christmas beer line up and quite a few will be saved for sharing next year.

Cigar City – Caffè Americano – 12%

Bold, strong and dark, traditional Caffè Americano is made by adding water to espresso. Bold, strong, and dark, Cigar City Brewing’s Caffè Americano is made by adding vanilla and Tampa-roasted espresso beans to a formidable double stout base. Aromas of fresh-ground espresso beans, vanilla and alcohol spiciness dominate the nose in this imposing imperial stout. The palate finds strong flavours of fudge, coffee, penuche (an Italian vanilla fudge), and raisin pudding (a sort of spotted dick) balanced by moderate carbonation and an assertive German hop flavour and bitterness, while the sweetness of vanilla rounds out the beer’s long finish.

Nøgne Ø – Porter – 7%

The first dark beer in the club from Norway’s Nøgne Ø. A very traditional (and very good) quite dark ale, where dark malts provide flavours of coffee and dried fruit.

North Riding – Fudge Brownie Stout – 7.4%

A return visit to the dark beer club for this one, a beer originally brewed by North Riding in 2016. Smooth creamy chocolate fudge, hints of vanilla, bucketloads of deliciousness.

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Siren – Barrel Aged Primal Cut – 10%

Primal Cut has been ageing in bourbon casks and Siren are thrilled with how the beer has developed. This complex porter has a beautiful blackcurrant tone with deep coffee and chocolate flavours, complemented by a wisp of smoke in the air and a distinctive bourbon character.

St Bernardus – Christmas Ale – 10%

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is the youngest descendant in the illustrious family of delicious Abbey Ales by Brewery St. Bernardus. This beer is characterised by its deep dark colour, with a creamy, thick head and a full, almost velvety taste with a fruity nose. It’s a seasonal ale, brewed annually for the holiday season. The long winter nights are perfect moments to savour this ale with or without friends and to enjoy its unique, complex taste and aftertaste.

Thornbridge – Market Porter – 4.5%

Thornbridge make some lovely dark beers, and this is no exception. A really creamy and smooth porter, so easy to drink.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – sour beer selection box #9 – November 2019

The nights are drawing in and it’s not all about massive imperial stouts. I enjoy sour beers all year round, but some people think they are not for winter. Let’s dive in to the next selection, box number 46 overall.

3 Fonteinen – Armand & Gaston – 5%

A special cuvee from one of Belgium’s finest producers. This limited release Geuze is packed with lemon sherbet notes and all the funk you’d expect from a premium lambic but with more depth than the standard release.

Burnt Mill – Split your Infinities – 5.6%

A simple malt bill of pale & wheat provided a wort that was soured overnight, boiled, then sent to the fermenter to condition on blueberry puree. Clean, lactic aromas and light tartness are complemented by the Mosaic dry hop and the mellow, sweet taste of blueberries in this refreshing fruited sour.

Cigar City – Margarita Gose – 4.2%

Throw on your Hawaiian shirt and your lederhosen and meet Cigar City Brewing at the intersection of traditional German brewing and tropical relaxation. A German-style Gose with added orange peel and lime essence to create the perfect warm weather ale. It will definitely be drunk in cold weather here!

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Dugges – Black Currant – 4.5%

Premium Dugges. Black Currant is a sour beer fermented with blackcurrants. To give the beer its sour taste, lactobacillus was added to the mix. A beer within the New Nordic Beer Project, brewed with only Nordic ingredients. Think Ribena in beer form, and much classier than a purple nasty.

Dupont – Saison – 6.5%

Saison Dupont is a classic Belgian farmhouse ale. This is a beautifully balanced, complex beer that has a refreshing fruitiness and long, dry finish. It is bottled unfiltered so it may be cloudy or have a slight sediment but this is normal and perfectly natural. One of the greatest beers in the world.

Floris Kriek – Brouwerij Huyghe – 3.6%

Easy drinking and full on, a deep red colour and slightly cloudy, made with Maraschino cherries. Light and very refreshing. Floris is made by Brouwerij Huyghe the brewery famous for Delerium Tremens (the one with the pink elephant).

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – selection box #20 – November 2019

It’s box number 45 overall, and not a moment too soon, as I’m all out of sessionable beers, and three of these count as session. So they probably won’t make it past the weekend, leaving the bigger units to fight another day.

71 Brewing – NEIPA Here Nor There – 6.5%

As Dundee’s first brewery for 50 years, 71 is reviving the lost art of brewing in Scotland’s fourth city. A New England IPA with Simcoe, Citra, Centennial & Azacca in the whirlpool and then double dry-hopped with Simcoe, Mosaic & Citra. I might be tempted to go back to Dundee – the beer scene was awful the last time that I was there!

ABC – Juice Springsteen – 4.5%

A 4.5% tropical fruit juice session IPA. Bags of pineapple, mango, passion fruit, guava and mandarin just bursting to get out of the can. Fruits plz!

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Amundsen x Lervig – Even More Cowbell – 7.5%

This collaboration between Amundsen and Lervig from Norway is the biggest dryhop ever attempted in Scandinavia equivalent to 50 grams/litre. Piney, dank, resinous. Not for the faint hearted, and I’m really looking forward to this one.

Campervan – Leith Juice – 4.7%

A fruity, juicy session IPA dry hopped with Simcoe, Cascade and a van full of orange zest. Leith Juice packs a huge zesty citrus kick, with flavours of grapefruit, lemon and orange in abundance. I had this in Edinburgh at the lovely Holyrood 9A back in September, and it was full of juicy orange flavours.

Hackney – Our House – 3.5%

Our House, in the middle of our street.

A light, summery, refreshing, juicy number. Heavily hopped with Citra and Centennial, it has tropical notes and a nice round body to carry those fruity flavours. At a low abv of 3.5% it is certainly suited to quench your thirst in the heat of the summer. Unfortunately, we are now in cold and dreary November, but this will still do nicely.

Pomona Island – I eat with Gusto – 3.4%

Manchester’s Pomona Island are one of the best breweries around at the moment. Their DDH Table Beer is dry hopped with Citra BBC & Vic Secret. I’ve had one of their previous DDH Table Beers, Bonbonbonbons, which was fantastic.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #17 – October 2019

It’s box number 45 overall, and more darkness to get us through the darker evenings and rainy autumn days. Most of these will probably go into storage for future sharing events as there are some more big units in here, but a few will be out to accompany some weekend puddings.

Arbor – Goo Goo G Joob – 12%

Arbor are renowned for their pale hoppy beers, but they also brew some very special dark beers, and this is a great example of Maple Imperial Stout with complex dark malt, burnt caramel and black treacle flavours. Whether it contains any actual walrus is yet to be determined.

Beartown – Imperial Crème Bearlee – 9%

A velvety stout with burnt cream, Madagascan vanilla and molasses. I’d like to tell you more than that, but there’s very little information out there.

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Chimay – Blue – 9%

The Cistercian Trappist monks of Chimay have been brewing since 1862, with their abbey being located on the site of a well which provides pure water for the beer.

Chimay Blue Strong Dark Ale is world-class Belgian elegance in a bottle. This authentic Belgian beer is complex, rich and powerful, all of which improve and transform over many years thanks to its classic bottle-conditioning.

Whilst obviously strong, the alcohol is barely noticeable, giving way instead to the beautiful aromas of spicy Belgian yeast, bread dough and toffee, the mark of great craftsmanship. Rich and intense with lovely caramel notes, it’s the lovely dry finish allows the distinct Belgian flavours to linger well into the next sip. Absolutely gorgeous.

Evil Twin – 60 Day Dry Aged Stout – 6%

Evil Twin have treated us to a lovely stout, it’s a style that is often neglected by breweries due to the big boys in Dublin. However, the style originated in London. A jet-black pour leads to an aroma of dark chocolate and tobacco. You’re then warmly greeted with a light, airy mouthfeel with a dry smoky finish. 60 days does seem like a while but some things are certainly worth waiting for. And for once, it’s a dark beer from Evil Twin that isn’t 10%+

Left-Handed Giant – That Life – 6.9%

You’ll want triple servings and you’ll dish out a triple thumbs up for Left-Handed Giant’s Triple Chocolate Stout. Hopped with Bramling Cross and packed with creamy rich ingredients such as vanilla, chocolate, cacao nibs, lactose and cocoa powder, this brew means there’s no need for dessert.

Wander Beyond – Scoop – 11%

Scoop is an Imperial Black Ice cream IPA. Based on the theme of mint choc chip ice creams, Wander Beyond added cacao nibs and vanilla to a dark milkshake IPA base before dry hopping with Fuggles, Polaris and Citra hops and steeping peppermint tea from their friends at Atkinsons of Lancaster.

I’ve been looking for a chocolate mint beer since Thornbridge’s Baize. I love chocolate and mint in my puddings and chocolate covered minty sweets that are consumed 20 hours into the day, but there’s very little out there in the beer world that will stand up to them.