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.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #19 – February 2020

It’s box number 49 overall. There’s no point even thinking about session beers here, these are all absolutely massive units, most of which will be saved for summer bottle share sessions…

Amundsen – Peanut Butter Caramel Chocolate Brownie – 10.5%

That’s a lot of words for a beer name. A chocolate peanut butter caramel brownie edition of Amundsen’s legendary Dessert in a Can series. Huge peanut aroma, before peanut, chocolate and caramel flavours overwhelm you. Stunning addition to the Dessert in a Can range!

Cloudwater/Track – Love in the Dark – 10%

Since Cloudwater’s good mates from Track are currently sharing their tap room space at Unit 9, they felt it was only right to brew a collaboration with their housemates. This is a true indulgence for the festive period (or beyond), a deliciously deep and smooth imperial stout, loaded with additions of cacao, hazelnut and vanilla, with a touch of fenugreek used for maple-like sweetness.

Aroma & flavour: rich chocolate dessert flavours, caramel and hazelnut
Body: Full-bodied, sweet and silky
Aftertaste: Smooth vanilla, sweet maple and light roastiness.

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It’s a triple Kees nirvana next.

Kees – Caramel Fudge Stout – 11.5%

One of the favourite dark beers ever at The Needle & Pin. This is the beer that they gave to Stu at North Riding and asked if he could brew a beer like it. That was a success, so now time to try the original. It does exactly what it says on the tin.

Kees – Caramel Fudge Stout Maple Oloroso – 11.5%

A Pedro Ximenez edition of Kees’ caramel fudge series, with maple syrup added and then barrel aged in PX barrels. PX does wonders for whisky so I’m certain it will do the same for this beer.

Kees – Export Porter 1750 – 10.5%

Black beer with a modest warm and brown head, full of dark chocolate and coffee, incorporating roasted bitterness and a very intense taste. The aftertaste is very long-lasting. This is an imperial porter that requires your time and attention. This is for an evening when you only want one beer!

Unity – Nocturnal Supremacy – 8%

Unity love their house oatmeal porter Nocturne so much that they decided to take it to the next level by doubling the malt and conditioning it on bourbon, vanilla, and single origin Brazilian Rio Verde coffee from River Coffee Roasters.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – sour beer selection box #9 – February 2020

It’s box number 48 overall, and not a moment too soon (again), as I’m all out of sessionable beers (again). Oh, hang on, this box doesn’t have anything in the session category (again). At least there are three under 5.5%, and I’ve also picked up some other things that are definitely session so I’ll be ok. I’ve borrowed Sean’s photo for this one because I forgot to take my own one! Let’s look in to this winter wonderland…

Brick – Windfall Saison – 5.4%

Brewed in collaboration with their friends from Unbarred Brewery in Brighton. This brew used fresh apricots and quince from Boarden fruit farm in Kent to add a juicy, jammy stone fruit flavour to the spicy, dry and slightly tart beer base. The spice is accentuated from additions of cinnamon and vanilla, giving the final finish of warming and comforting autumnal fruit crumble.

Double-Barrelled – The Martingale System – 5.2%

A relatively new brewery in Reading, established in late 2018, Double- Barrelled have concentrated on brewing sours and dark beers since opening. This kettle sour is made with 600kg of raspberry, blackberry and redcurrant puree, which makes this beer a definite all in on red. High persistent acidity with soft ripe berries on the nose, the body is full of juicy forest fruits with a redcurrant twang. The finish is yoghurty, despite no lactose, with lasting redcurrant and raspberry.

Brauerei Flugge – Imperial Fill – 9.0%

The first ever beer to appear in the Needle & Pin from this brewery in Frankfurt am Main, who were founded in 2017 with a focus on sour and wild ales. This is an imperial blackcurrant sour fermented with lactobacillus, kveik and brettanomyces. A serious beer.

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Northern Monk – Culinary Concepts – 7%

This beer takes the Northern Monk experimentation in fruited sour IPAs and introduces the influence of their friends at Northern Bloc who are ice cream masters. Throw in the sour beer expertise of other guests HOMES and Ology and you have something pretty special for this gold edition culinary concept collaboration. A winning combination of raspberry, guava, passion fruit and vanilla.

The base beer was kettle-soured for 48 hours and features high portions of flaked oats, some wheat and some milk sugar, a perfect combination for a soft and creamy ice cream-like mouthfeel. It was then whirlpool hopped with 6g/l of Citra, enough for some deep tropical fruit without taking away from the 200g/l of fruit puree added through fermentation.

Pressure Drop – Promenade – 4.8%

Pressure Drop say that they always have a blast brewing with yuzu. Their now retired sour IPA, Nanban Kanpai, was all about the yuzu (alongside lots of  Citra and Amarillo) and they have missed its delicious citrus flavours.

With this in mind, and taking inspiration from Espadrille, their first triple fruited sour, they decided to take things up a notch with Promenade. Mega layers of flavour, as yuzu and apricot mingle with vanilla and smooth milk sugar, all with a small sharp kick of sea salt to finish. It’s a smoothie sour party, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

Siren – It’s My Jam – 6.3%

A trio of fruits bring this sour beer to life. There’s blueberry for tangy acidity, blackberry for delicious bramble flavours and then offsetting everything with apricot for some natural stone-fruit sweetness. The tart compote gets an extra dimension with a delicate Mosaic and Ekuanot dry-hop. This is their jam. I hope it’s as good as Acid Jam.

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 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.