Beer of the month, January (#tryanuary) 2017 – Autumn + Winter IPA Mosaic Exp 431 by Cloudwater Brew Co.

January has been rebranded #tryanuary, a reaction to all of this #dryjanuary nonsense, where people seem to think that you do lots of faddy things to “detox” yourself. You already contain things that detox you. Those things are called kidneys and a liver. Treat them with respect and they will look after you.

Let’s look at some of the best beers of #tryanuary then. We start with Frambuzi from Tiny Rebel Brewing Co, an Uzi 9mm full of sour raspberry flavours. Certainly no sweet “supermarket fruit beer” nonsense here.

Next up we visit Hampshire, for Vibrant Forest Summerlands, a golden summer session beer brewed exclusively with American hops to give a slight citrus character and a rich hop aroma. A relatively low ABV makes this a true golden session ale to enjoy whatever the weather.

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They are not wrong. I’ve never had so much hoppiness in 3.5% – a cracking session beer, and even sweeter as it was a free sample for taking part in #CraftBeerHour

I wrote about “the limited edition crowdsourced beer experiments” of Cloudwater Brew Co back in August. I had DIPA v3 which turned out to be beer of the year, as well as v6 and v7 during 2016. I also collected v8, v9 and v10 in 2016, and v11 came out recently. From next month, the beer switches to cans, and v12 will be the first canned release.

So DIPA v8 makes the list for January, full of tropical dankness but very easy drinking. I’ve still not found one I like more than v3 yet.

Speaking of cans, we move on to one next, Storm In A Teacup by Wild Weather Ales. Over to Wild Weather for the blurb:-

Two things are loved the world over; a warm cup of tea and a cool glass of beer. And it’s with this worldwide love affair firmly in mind that we crafted this beer. Using hops from the US, New Zealand & Australia, tea inspired by China and the finest English malt. A true intercontinental behemoth.

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It does exactly what it says on the tin. “Earl Grey IPA” is what it says on the tin. It is literally that. Gentle tea flavours mixed with hoppy goodness.

Across the North sea to Denmark, for Peter, Pale & Mary from Mikkeller, probably the most famous “cuckoo” brewery, as they don’t have their own brewery premises, but collaborate with other brewers to get their beers made. This particular brew has cracking hoppy flavours and is definitely my kind of pale ale. Sessionable goodness. Yes please!

We return to Manchester and Cloudwater Brew Co for our winner, the snappily titled, Autumn + Winter IPA Mosaic Exp 431, which is described as “a dank, juicy, hoppy IPA featuring Mosaic, E431 and Vic’s Secret hops and fruity esters from WLP4000 yeast.”

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It is indeed stuffed full of dank hoppiness, absolutely delicious stuff, very much my favourite beer this month, even though the others in the list have been very good.

The first candidate for beer of the year 2017!

Beer of the year, 2016 – Cloudwater DIPA v3

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Beer of the month, December 2016 -Christmas Cake Imperial Stout by Cloudwater Brew Co and ToØl

No messing around, straight down to business. The last day of the year means a lot of round up posts. Beer and pub of the month, followed by beer and pub of the year, and a few other summary posts too.

So let’s get going. As we had the 12 days of Thornbridge at The Needle & Pin earlier this month, no surprise to find a couple of Thornbridge beers in the list.

We start with Thornbridge Lucaria, essentially chocolate ice cream in a glass, an ice cream porter that does exactly what it says on the pump clip. Rich and sweet with vanilla, lactose and chocolate.

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We move on to Thornbridge Serpent, which was the subject of the first visit to the N&P this month.  A deconstruction of the beer ensued, and it was a great night. It almost feels wrong to put this in for beer of the month, as it really feels and tastes more like a cider. . Serpent is a Belgian style golden ale, brewed with cider lees (the leftover bits from fermenting cider, yeasts, skins and whatever’s left), and then aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels. For two years.

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It was worth it.

No IPA yet? Worry no more, here comes an American style one, a collaboration between Siren Craft Brew of Berkshire and Brewdog Shepherds Bush. They put their heads together and decided to create a fruit smoothie beer, a juice-packed IPA with the most fruit they’ve ever used in a brew (mango, papaya and passionfruit), plus a huge hit of lactose for a thick and smooth body. And it is indeed smooth, just like a silk (as Shaggy once proclaimed). A silk woven from hops and a calippo to create a smooth juice bomb.

On to our winner, and appropriately enough for December it’s a Christmas beer. It’s actually the first time a festive “themed” beer has even got a look in, as they so often tend towards massive disappointment, waving a cinammon stick at an amber ale does not cut it in these enlightened times.

One of the important ingredients of Christmas is Christmas cake. But what if you are on a liquid diet? How about a Christmas cake in beer form? That can be arranged. I was within cycling distance of one of only 12 casks of Christmas Cake Imperial Stout, brewed by Cloudwater Brew Co in collaboration with ToØl of Denmark. Some say that the cakey Imperial Stout was infused with fresh ground spices and dried fruits to create something fruity, and rich, with lingering warming spices.

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…

A worthy winner of beer of the month, and there’s a bottle maturing in the garage for MOFAD drinking companion Matt, who has this to look forward to…

It goes into the final for beer of the year… That’s up next, so stay tuned…

Beer of the month, November 2016 – Universal Mind by Beavertown

There were lots of beers that nearly made the shortlist this month, such as  Mosaic Pale Ale by London Beer Lab, Bloody Notorious by Beavertown, Comfortably Numb by BAD Co, and BrewDog’s Jet Black Heart.

Here are the top five for this month. It’s been another month for home beers, nothing that I’ve had whilst out and about has made the list. And there’s no IPA in the list either. I’m as shocked as you.

We start with one that does exactly what it says on the tin (bottle). Old Engine Oil by Harviestoun Brewery. If it’s called that, you’d expect it to be thick, dark and delicious. And it is. Exactly that. Smooth and creamy with coffee, toffee and chocolate.

Something a lot lighter up next, in the form of Atlantic APA by Brixton Brewery from a Needle & Pin selection box. Hoppy and properly pale loveliness makes for a very good ale.

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Into cans next for a Pride & Joy by Vocation brewery. I’d only seen these in Booths until recently, but you can now find some of their cans in Tesco. Pride & Joy is a super hoppy APA much like the Atlantic APA above.

We go dark again, for Holy Cowbell India Stout by Beavertown brewery.  This one features heavy malts, lots of fruits and plenty of hops. There are hints of lavender in here too. It’s very drinkable indeed.

We stay with Beavertown for our winner, Universal Mind by Beavertown, their Rainbow Project 2016 collaboration with ParrotDog, a take on the old German style called Adambier.

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Oak. Smoke. Sweetness. Marsala. Creaminess. A strong sipper. Good complexity. My favourite Rainbow Project beer so far. It goes forward to beer of the year…

Beer of the month – October 2016 – Bourbon Oktober, Vibrant Forest Brewery

A tricky month this one. Lots of strong contenders (in terms of quality and alcoholic strength). All bar one of these were sampled in the same week of October, when we were on our East Anglian epic adventure, part two.

Finishing off our “Summer House Beer Festival“, we had a Guatemalan Coffee Extra Porter by Buxton Brewery, bottom right in the picture.

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We’re up all night to drink coffee. Massive coffee nose, big coffee flavours with vanilla mixing in there too. There are lots of coffee porters out and about, this is a good one.

Another new beer next, a Triple Knot Tripel by Adnams (perhaps unsurprisingly for a week in Southwold), made with Pilsner malt, acidulated malt and invert sugar fermented using Adnams house yeast as well as white wine yeast. It’s hopped with Eldorado and Pacific jade and a sprinkling of botanicals – lavender, orange blossom and jasmine. Quite unusual for a beer.

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Orange, honey and lovely warming Autumn flavours. Dangerously drinkable for 10%, it tastes nowhere near that. A slight bready character often associated with sparkling wine too. Really delicious stuff, this would make a great Christmas day ale.

We step outside of the holiday bubble for a moment to try a Three’s Company by Cloudwater Brew Co. A three way collaboration with Magic Rock and JW Lees, using the latter’s 4709th generation yeast culture.

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Boom! A hop bomb has been dropped from a great height. Massive NZ hop flavours and something to tide everyone over until Cloudwater’s DIPA v8 gets out into the wild.

We stay hoppy with an Imperial Red IPA Special Edition by Vibrant Forest Brewery which is “built” on their “RadicAle Imperial Red IPA”.  This is what they have to say about it. “The aroma now sits on a maltier backing with reduced hops and the giant citrus and tropical notes have replaced by thick fortified waves of cherry, plum and deep woody syrups. The boozy aftertaste has mellowed and the whole experience is utterly different to how we initially presented it.”

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This is what I have to say about it. Boooooooom! Massive caramel malts, hoppy happiness. Very very good. A special edition indeed. As you can tell, I liked this one.

We return to our collage (bottom left) for this month’s winner, Bourbon Oktober, again by Vibrant Forest Brewery. This is”Black Oktober” but aged in a fresh bourbon barrel for nearly 6 months.

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This 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.

Beer of the month – September 2016 – Foreign Extra Stout by Dancing Cows

It’s another month featuring only bottled beers, and only one of them from a bar or pub. This is another “a few drinks at home” month, with a few others at a camp site with friends.

We start with a Spring + Summer Session IPA Simcoe Enigma by Cloudwater Brew Co.

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A very good gentle session IPA, full of happy hoppiness but it lacks the pleasing punch of the DIPA series such as DIPA v3

Another DIPA next (you’ll know that I do like some hoppy beasts). This one is Mr. President by BrewDog, described by them as “an All-American gung-ho of a beer, the first amendment in full on, full tilt flavour. A star spangled banner of big fruit. A Cadillac of chewy toffee malt rolls down the interstate and accelerates hard into relentless bitterness, with sniper bursts of apricot, mango and pine. The Defcon I of IPAs. An all-out bedrock patriot, hell-bent on global domination.”

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Piney, sweet and resinous but lacking the big hop hit you might expect from a BrewDog beast, particularly with all those big words to accompany it. Dare I say that it needs more hops?

We venture out for our next beer, a Spreadsheet Ninja Citra Pils by Weird Beard Brew Co. (who love a comedy beer name). Aromas of melon, peach and zesty citrus are met with bready malts and caramel. Similar flavours appear in this lightly sweet yet balanced lager.

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Hoppy pils! Yes please! This was very nice and further proof that lager can be good and not just associated with the F word.

We now take a trip to the camp site, for a couple of campfire beers with friends.First, an Imperial 15 by Red Cat Brewing, full of coffee, molasses, chocolate and dried fruit. The balance of flavours belies its strength.

This month’s winner is Foreign Extra Stout by Dancing Cows, a deep, complex and strong stout, perfect for sipping on a cool evening outside.

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Fruity flavours, roasty flavours, coffee flavours, smoothness. A very worthy winner of beer of the month. Delicious!

Beer of the month – August 2016 – Cloudwater DIPA v3

August was a strong month for beer. Lots of good candidates in the line up, but all sampled at home this month, for the first time since November 2015.

We start with something from BrewDog, always one of my favourites. The black IPA (or Cascadian dark ale) is something that divides opinion. Many people suggest that such a thing should not exist, or is some kind of abomination. Arcade Nation is a 5.2% black IPA, which is a hybrid of an American IPA and a stout, with malt and hops clashing to produce roasty, chocolate and coffee notes with citrus, mango and pine coming from the hops (Simcoe, Amarillo and Citra).

Next, we travel to Somerset, for a Somerset Wild by The Wild Beer Co. When is a cider not a cider? When it’s a pale, sparkling sour beer fermented with a locally harvested culture of yeasts and bacteria from the apple orchards that Somerset is famous for. Zingy!

To something a little more familiar now, and a Tinderbox IPA by Fell Brewery, a very well rounded IPA. Hoppiness and piney flavours. Tastes more session than the ABV of 6.3% suggests. Everything I’ve had so far from Fell Brewery in Cumbria has been fantastic.

We move from one national park to another, with a trip to the Peak District. Well, almost. Bollington is just yards from the boundary of the Peak District national park, and Bollington Brewing Co produce Goldenthal, which was May’s winner. You can read all about it in that post!

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Back to Somerset again, a Modus Operandi (Modus Vivendi) by The Wild Beer Co who have already featured this month. An old ale matured in oak Bourbon barrels with wild yeast. You were supposed to buy two, one to drink now, and one to lay down. I forgot that bit and just went for the drink now option. Sweet, sour, blueberry, blackberry, red wine, fizz. So much going on, so little time.

There’s time for two more great beers.

First up we have something from the 2015 Rainbow Project, a Key Lime Tau (2π) by Crooked Stave and Hawkshead Breweries. The Rainbow Project challenges brewers to come together and brew a beer inspired by a colour. In its third year, the 2015 project involved seven UK breweries, each paired with a different American brewery and randomly assigned a colour. Crooked Stave and Hawkshead got assigned green, and Key Lime Tau was born, a mixed culture fermentation ale aged in oak with lactose, fresh lime peel and fresh lemongrass

The brief review is simple. Lime lime lime. And then limezzzzzz! With some lime. Super sourness coming through. If you love lime like I love lime, you’ll love this.

This month’s beer of the month was so good, it produced enough words for its own blog post. The DIPA V3 by Cloudwater Brew Co.

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Even after 4 months this is still stunning. 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.

The only disappointment is that I’ll never get to have another bottle of this, because I bloody loved it. I love huge and flavoursome IPAs. This was very much one of those. I just kept sniffing it and drinking it. I had a sneaky feeling that it would be beer of the month for August, and I was quite right.

A strong contender for beer of the year too!