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 – 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 – 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 2019 International Rainbow Project beer box

I’ve written about the International Rainbow Project every year, so I’m not going to wax lyrical about it again. You can read lots about it from my 2016 post. The good news this year is that there was no need to use HonestBrew to get hold of the box set, so it was a very simple and pleasant buying process, unlike every other year where something went wrong. The whole process was easy and a few days later it arrived safe and sound without any HonestBrew induced dramas. It looks like I’ll never have to use them again, which is good. They were also charging more for this box set than other sites!

Last year was supposed to be the swansong of this project, as the original team felt they had done enough with it, going out with a barrel-aged bang. After conversations at fesivals, Siren handed the project over to Bristol’s Left Handed Giant, who decided to pull together a group of breweries of around their age (3 years) or younger. Their intention is to manage the project with the 6 breweries for the next 3 years, before passing it on to the next generation of young breweries.

Here’s what they came up with for 2019…

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Red

Track Brewing Co. (Manchester) x Highland Park Brewery (Los Angeles, CA)
Frontier Psychiatrist – 7.0% – Fruited IPA

A deep, rich IPA hopped with Citra, Galaxy & Sabro giving huge notes of Mango & Coconut elevated by additions of Flaked Coconut, Passionfruit, Grapefruit Zest & Vanilla, all tied together with Dragonfruit giving this beer its red hue.

Just your everyday run-of-the-mill dragonfruit IPA named after a song by The Avalanches. Said no one ever. Interesting sour fruit & hops.

Orange

North Brewing Co. (Leeds) x Fieldwork Brewing (Berkeley, CA)
Golden Milk – 6.0% – Sour With Fruit & Spices

North X Field Work – ‘Orange’ in 2019’s Rainbow Project.

A 6% sour beer brewed with a 20% grist of naked + rolled oats, 15kg of fresh peeled turmeric in the whirlpool, cinnamon in the boil, coconut in the mash, whirlpool and fermenter and then triple fruited with 1.2 tons of apricot.

This one weirded me out – too much going on, it’s like a fight in a glass and no-one seems to win.

Yellow

Burnt Mill Brewery (Suffolk) x Cascade Brewing (Portland, OR)
Panacea – 6.4% – IPA

An IPA dry hopped with Lemondrop & Citra, rounded out with ginger, chamomile & local honey.

I must admit that I didn’t get any of those adjuncts, just a pleasant pale ale with a hint of pine.

Green

Deya Brewing Company (Cheltenham) x Holy Mountain (Seattle, WA)
Emerald Visions – 5.5% – Lime Wit

This one is supposed to have loads of lime and I really hope it does because I love lime.

Blue

Left Handed Giant (Bristol) x Alesong Brewing & Blending (Eugene, OR)
Why I Love The Moon – 6.2% – Blueberry Gose With Borage Flowers

Blueberry Gose with the addition of hand picked, local, Borage flowers and Oregon sea salt.

Indigo

Verdant Brewing Co. (Falmouth) x Temescal Brewing (Oakland, CA)
Indigo Tie-Dye Wolf T-Shirt – 8.8% – Imperial Stout

A strong stout inspired by baklava, the wonderful sweet of the east. Sticky and nutty from pistachios alongside flavours of cinnamon and rose.

Violet

Unity Brewing Co. (Southampton) x Alvarado Street Brewery (Monterey, CA)
Tech-Noir – 5.0% – Sour Porter

While trying to figure out what violet tastes like, they brewed a sour oatmeal porter with blueberry and vanilla. Inspired by the juxtaposition of dark nostalgic sci-fi and warm, fluffy, familiar flavours.

An interesting sour, but not a porter.

This year also had an added bonus of a 7 way collaboration between all of the UK breweries, which resulted in:-

Colour Vision – 7.0% – IPA

This beer was brewed to celebrate the spirit of the Rainbow Project. Brewed with a heavy dry hop of Galaxy, Loral, Mosaic and Voss Kveik yeast.

A mega collab which gets better as it goes on.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #16 – August 2019

Despite the recent deluges, flooding, abandoned international scout and guide camps, dams bursting and everything else, it’s still summer. However, there’s always a place for some big dark beers in your cold storage area, and most of these ones are absolute units, great for sharing with friends around the camp fire when the nights are cooling a little. This is the first dark beer selection to be exclusively all cans.

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Abbeydale – Methuselah – 10.5%

An absolutely huge Imperial Stout which has been finished in wooden ex-whisky barrels. Big, bold and boozy – a hugely full bodied malt-driven stout with a hint of Brett funkiness on the nose and just enough tartness to provide balance on the palate. Sumptuously smooth and strikingly robust.

Box Social – Union Black Jamaican Stout – 6%

Based around Skindred’s fourth album, 2011’s Union Black, this beer is full of soul and flavour. Allspice and vanilla give an unctuous sweetness which plays against the roasted notes of coffee and dark chocolate from the malt. Vegan friendly, so that all of the members of the band could enjoy it, this stout is full bodied, rich and moreish.

Polly’s Brew Co –  Cassie – 7%

Everything about this beer is all about decadence – from the silky mouthfeel, to the 10kg of Arabica coffee beans that were added. Cassie rocks up with a metric tonne of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and raisin notes. Cassie, named for the horse that occupied Polly’s stable before Polly, is the biggest beer that Polly’s (formerly Loka Polly) have ever brewed.

Northern Monk – Patrons Project 17.03 – Pete’s Dark Past – 7%

To accentuate hints of biscuit, the grist contains plenty of munich malt; a more heavily kilned German base malt with a prominent flavour, plus some lightly roasted amber malt which compliments and offers notes of toast and cinder toffee. This is backed up by light crystal and Special B to add depth and dark fruit character, chocolate roast malt, plenty of flaked oats and maltodextrin to build out the body.

To recreate the outer layer of a chocolate bar, they added a load of lactose and a touch of vanilla for the basis of that classic milk chocolate flavour. They then went even further adding chocolate during fermentation and copious amounts of caramel late fermentation to boost the ABV and add a decadent dessert sweetness to this rich, deep brown stout. Twix in a glass!!

Pressure Drop – Escape Pod – 10%

Polish your diamonds & find your fanciest hat, because this collaboration is quite a lot
of luxury. Pressure Drop have wanted to brew an intense milk stout for a while, and the Left Handed Giant crew know what they are doing around milk sugars and lactose. If you’re going big on a milk stout, you might as well take it all the way to massive. Escape Pod is maxed out with vanilla, coconut and cacao nibs. Brewed with milk sugars, it is smooth and shamelessly sweet.

Stillwater – Thsi Iiis Nlya Tst 006 – 8%

Yes, it’s really called that. A collaborative brew with Oliver Brewing Co and Ceremony Coffee, both of Baltimore. They all joined together to make a cappuccino stout brewed with coffee, cocoa, vanilla and milk sugar. The beer needs a gentle shake before opening to release the nitrogen to create a silky smooth finish.

Brewdog fanzine issue 25

Remember these round ups? There hasn’t been one since October, when BD stopped updating their web site with details of what was being sent out. It obviously existed electronically because they still had a print out in the box. However, they were not interested in sending this out to subscribers. During this time, they’ve also stripped it back to a monthly box, but at least they’ve kept the price the same so far.

I think that Transatlantic Telegram and Old World Russian Stout (which featured in that October box) have been my favourites in the last six months or so. Here’s what’s in the July box…

Humulus Helmsman (5.6%) – West Coast IPA

Setting a course for the West Coast with some true American muscle. Seven different US hops have been deployed to proudly fly the flag for America’s favourite craft beer style in Humulus Helmsman – Simcoe, Cascade, Citra, Centennial, Ahtanum, Mosaic and Chinook. A who’s who of IPA, all involved in this tropical, citrus and pine-led new world hero. I have very high hopes for this one, so let’s hope it’s as good as the description might lead us to believe.

Coffee Caramel Curfew (5.0%) – Caramel Macchiato Coffee Porter

Get off the streets and take refuge with this night-black porter, brewed with five different malts and five different additions. You’ll find milk sugars, honey, Demerara sugar, vanilla and coffee pairing with crystal and dark malts to create a smooth, roasty coffee and chocolate porter with notes of mellow Macchiato and a sweet nuttiness. Another one that sounds very good, and nice to see they’ve included two below 6% for once.

Pulp Patriot V4 (9.5%) – Single Hop Double IPA

I really hope this is better than the first two that I had. V1 and V2 didn’t have much more than strength going for them. It’s about time that I had V3, because then I can have this one which is a tribute to Mosaic, introduced into the whirlpool and at the dry-hop stage. This single-hopped superpower is a classic Mosaicathon – tropical fruit, mango, stone fruit and citrus. Resinous pine also gets a look in but the wheat and flaked oats balance the body and lift the mouthfeel as the near-10% ABV brings the flavour home, and then some.

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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!