The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #13, January 2019

The dark nights are getting shorter, bit by bit. However, there’s still time for plenty of dark beer. We are in to the 34th overall selection box. I’ve only had one from the previous dark selection box so far (plenty of big beasts in there), but I have already finished all of the ones from the last “main” selection box from December, due to their excellent sessionable status.

Let’s dive in to the first selection of 2019…

Buxton – Gatekeeper – 4.1%

When it comes to dark beers, I associate Buxton with big beasts like Kentucky Woods (13.8%), Rain Shadow (11.5%) and Arran (11.5%). So it’s very good to see a traditional porter from them. Bitter coffee and roasted malts lead the charge with more than a hint of liquorice.

Firestone Walker – Mocha Merlin – 5.5%

With an infusion of local roast coffee, a dash of cocoa nibs and touch of seasonal sorcery, Velvet Merlin milk stout has been transformed into Mocha Merlin. This beer is brewed with the Colombia La Granadilla blend from HoneyCo Coffee Roasters. The Colombia La Granadilla coffee meshes perfectly with the chocolatey character from the cocoa nibs, providing an oatmeal stout experience like no other. A touch of lactose provides suggestion of rounded sweetness on the finish. I’ve already polished this one off and there’s no false advertising here, coffee, chocolate and creaminess, a nice gentle stout.

Gipsy Hill – Percolator – 5.0%

Percolator is a coffee oatmeal brown ale collaboration with Dugges. It’s a Café Latte of a beer with three different types of oat, and premium English Cara and Vienna malts. It’s then blended with around a thousand litres of Volcano’s finest cold brew coffee. It offers smooth, full-bodied mouthfuls of oat milk latte.

North Riding – Coffee and Walnut Stout – 7.4%

The Needle & Pin’s 1000th unique cask ale, bottled. Brewed by the team and a few customers at North Riding in September 2018, this is a seriously good coffee stout brewed with a huge sack of locally roasted coffee beans in the FV. It has a little sweetness from the walnuts at the end. I don’t like walnuts, but I’m told this is not an issue.

Redwillow – Restless – 8.5%

Think chocolate fondant meets coffee. Loaded with Vietnamese coffee beans; it’s dark and full bodied with sweet nutty chocolate notes. Good Morning Vietnam! All the Redwillow beers I’ve had so far (quite a few on cask, and lots in cans from Booths) have been great.

Three Hills – Anglian Porter – 5%

From one of the UK’s most up and coming breweries. You may not have heard of them before, but you’re sure to hear lots in the future. Look out for a collaborative brew with them in March. This light, hoppy porter is designed to suit the local water profile and to find the sweet spot between drinkability and flavour.

Wilde Child – Beast Master – 10%

This one is the beast, in name and strength. A salted caramel and cacao nib Imperial Stout. The salted caramel really stands out. Apparently this is up there with Amundsen Zygoat.

Some of these won’t last, some will go into storage for a bit…

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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!

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #12 – December 2018

Selection box number 32 and some big dark beasts for the festive period. As the nights get darker (for the next 19 days anyway), so do the beers. Let’s enter the black hole…

Amundsen – Chocolate Marshmellow – 11.5%

Which idiot came up with the idea that you should pair your beer with a dessert? Why not just make a beer that would be dessert in itself? Save yourself making dessert and just crack one of these open. Amundsen decided to pick out three of their favourite dessert flavours to incorporate in a flagship imperial stout. Dark, sweet and delicious. This version brings back memories of marshmallows and hot chocolate around a camp fire. Will probably go well with smores. Although it’s probably not the season for them.

Left Handed Giant – Woodland Creatures V2 – 6.9%

Pistachio & Honeycomb Milk Stout collab with Uiltje Brewing Company with Bramling Cross hops, Maris Otter, Carafa III, Caramalt, Chocolate, Crystal in the malt bill and pistachios, honeycomb and lactose added in order to turn this into liquid Crunchie.

Moor – Old Freddy Walker – 7.4%

Moor, from Bristol, are celebrating their 11th birthday this year. Old Freddy Walker was Champion Winter Beer of Britain in 2004, and is one of Roger Protz’s “300 beers to try before you die”. A cult ale, described as “one for the connoisseur”, it’s a rich, dark, and full bodied old ale that really has to be tasted to be appreciated. This beer is usually the first to sell out at beer festivals, thanks to its blend of Pale, Lager, Crystal, Wheat and Black malts that are fermented with an English yeast. Bramling Cross hops are added to provide a hint of orange and a balancing dose of bitterness.

If these words sound familiar, it’s because this is the first beer to make a second appearance in the craft beer club, this time in a can instead of the large bottle of April 2017. It really is a classic old ale.

It seems to have creeped up by 0.1% since last time too…

Stillwater – Big Bunny – 8.0%

Imperial chocolate milk stout, a collaboration with Arizona Wilderness. Aromas of cocoa nibs, burnt toast and dark, roasted coffee followed by an intense, smooth chocolate flavour. It finishes with a terrifically smooth roastiness.

Weird Beard – Dirrty Hands – 9.8%

Imperial Schwarzbier. Those loveable rogues at Weird Beard collaborated with Haand Bryggeriet to make a dark, sticky, filthy beer worthy of getting your hands dirty. Being an Imperial Black Pilsner, they wanted to get those dark malts pumping, getting just a little naughty at 9.8%

Westbrook – 7th Anniversary Chocolate and Sea Salt – 10%

For their 7th Anniversary Beer, they went big on the chocolate and added a little salt to make it interesting. Luscious notes of liquid cocoa and a smooth salinity make this beer deliciously decadent.

Sean adds: I bought this beer in January and have kept it all year for this beer club. A one off brew to celebrate Westbrook’s 7th Birthday and imported from South Carolina.

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The Bon Accord, Glasgow, November 2018

A pub that I know well from a Facebook group about whisky. A pub that former MOFAD drinking companion Bruce has been to many times. Former, as he fled back to the Shaky Isles 6 months ago, but he will be back for a short trip next year, so I’m sure we will raise a pint again. Members of that group frequent this pub. So when I found out a couple of weeks ago that I would be in Glasgow on business for 24 hours, and that my hotel was just a few minutes away from the pub, there was only one place I was coming for dinner tonight.

I only just got here in time, a few minutes before the kitchen was due to close. Luckily I’d already looked at the menu online, so I knew exactly what I was having, and ordered that and some drinks. I don’t have steak and chips as much as I used to, so when I do I want it to be good.

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It was good. The use of fries over the traditional fat chip might raise a few eyebrows, but it worked well here. Lovely bit of beefy business, nicely rare as requested. A good splodge of mustard was all the accompaniment that was required. There was even pudding (in the shape of that slice of orange peeking out from underneath the steak).

Another stroke of fortune was that there was football on, so I watched Scotland beat Israel 3-2 thanks to a James Forrest hat-trick. Watching a great game amongst passionate Glaswegians was a great expereience. Drinking well kept beer was also good. With a decent amount of cask ale, I made my own flight of a number of halves including Merchant City American pale (nice hoppiness and tea fruitiness), Ekuantot from Peerless (gentle pithiness), and Blackthorn Sloe Porter from the ever familiar Settle Brewery.

There’s also handy signage in case you get lost…

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Swally is “a swallow of” aka a drink.

A lovely night in a lovely pub. Definitely recommended.

The Needle & Pin Craft Beer Club – dark beer selection box #11 – October 2018

The nights are drawing in and the beers are getting darker. That’s not to say that there’s no place for a super hoppy IPA in these shorter months, but a few more winter warmers find their way into the shelf of delights.

Here’s the latest selection, two for now, four for later…

Amundsen – White Crow – 10.5%

A White Imperial Stout packed full of cocoa beans, vanilla beans, tonka beans as well as coffee beans. This beer has all the characteristics of a full bodied imperial stout, whilst at the same time being white.

Brew York – Viking DNA – 5.0%

A smooth well balanced porter with subtly smoky character formed from a rich blend of 6 different malts.

Cloudwater – Parkin Cake – 10%

To celebrate their 500th gyle, Cloudwater brewed an homage to Parkin, the oatmeal and ginger cake much favoured in Yorkshire. In the Imperial Brown Ale base is a rich blend of malts, oats and treacle for sweetness, and added ginger and spices for that distinctive aroma.

Kasteel – Bruin – 11.0%

A strong Belgian brown ale. After extensive tasting, trying to fulfil increasingly strict requirements, the brewmaster found themselves with a creamy, dark Belgian brown ale: Kasteelbier. The quality of the past is still unmatched and the beloved taste is very much of the present. Kasteelbier is a dark, artisanal beer, soft and mild, full and creamy. It can age for many, many years, as indicated on the bottle.

Left Handed Giant – Choc Orange Milk Stout – 5.1%

Deeper Water is a seasonal milk stout, brewed with lactose, vanilla and cacao nibs – this time it’s been given the chocolate orange treatment! Gemma would hate this, I might just love it.

Stillwater – Critical Thinking – 11%

Stillwater brew some incredible beers across the spectrum. This does not disappoint. An opaque black colour with a lovely tan head. Roasted malt flavour with notes of bitter chocolate and liquorice. Big sticky mouthfeel and warming alcohol notes.

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The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #10 – August 2018

More darkness awaits within…

Arbor – Amarone Bristol Porter – 8.4%

One of the favourite N&P breweries have excelled themselves here with a rare dark beer brew, a barrel aged imperial porter brewed with eight different grains and Bramling Cross hops. The recipe for this strong porter was devised to create complex notes of chocolate, burnt caramel and stone fruit. After fermentation, it was matured in Amarone barrels, which allowed these flavours to mellow and contributed additional touches of raisin & vanilla.

De Struise – Cuvee Delphine – 13%

After the success of the De Struise in a recent Dark Beer Club,  it was time for another one. Their beer Black Albert was used in a new barrel aging project. More than a year ago, Carlo was able to get his hands on a stock of Four Roses Bourbon barrels, and filled them up. This unique creation was originally to be named 4 Black Roses in honour of its heritage, but Four Roses strongly advised against it. As the disowned offspring of Black Albert, the name Cuvée Delphine imposed itself. Savouring the Belgian irony, the artwork on the label is by Delphine Boël.

Rudgate – Ruby Mild – 4.4%

Time to go a bit old school. A dark cherry, ruby red mild, with an aroma of sweet, strawberries, and smoke, tasting soft, rich and complex.

To 0l – Mr Brown – 10.0%

This year’s Mr. Brown is very brown. An intense and full bodied stout, brewed with coffee and matured with cognac oak chips and cedar spirals for richness.

West by Three – Chocolate Milk Stout – 4.5%

This was on draft a few months ago and everyone loved it. This deep and creamy stout is built on a rich chocolate malt foundation and laden with toffee aroma from the Amber and Crystal malts. Is it the closest thing you can get to liquid cake? The rolled oats and lactose sugar work together to create a velvet smooth mouth feel. The sweetness is balanced with a touch of bitterness and some subtle chocolaty notes from the cacao nibs. Enjoy this decadent ale with your favourite roast dinner or rich dessert.

Wylam – Macchiato – 6.5%

Wylam have appeared occasionally in the N&P since opening, but you can expect to see a lot more of them in the fridges and on the taps. This hazelnut praline coffee porter has a complex grain bill for extra body and mouth feel, and a cold brew hazelnut coffee shines through in this winter warming porter.

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The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #9 – June 2018

Off we go with another dark beer selection box, some interesting flavours to explore here, even in the height of summer.

Anderson Valley – Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout – 5.8%

With its deep, dark brown-black colour, thick, full-bodied, velvety-smooth mouth feel, mocha character, and, strong (yet subtle) hop bite, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout is one of the thickest, richest, and most complex stouts on the market today.

Bear Republic – Big Bear – 8.1%

Big Bear is a big, black stout that you can really sink your teeth into. The bold, roasty, caramel malt flavour is balanced by those American favourites Centennial and Cascade hops.

Elusive Brewing – Invisible Wall – 8.2%

For their 100th brew Elusive pushed the boat out and brewed something big and decadent. This rich milk stout was taken to the next level by organic cacao nibs that were soaked in Bourbon and a single-origin coffee from Hasbean.

Marble – Decadence – 10.5%

Another big beast from Marble, a double mashed Russian Imperial Stout, barrel aged for nine months, so that it gives a satisfying viscosity with dark and firm bitterness, Black Forest fruits and a hopped aroma.

Odyssey – Grievous Angel V3 – 9%

The third in the series of Odyssey’s Imperial Oatmeal Brown Stouts. The colour is a deep brown and the aroma is all about the coconut and vanilla. A big, smooth body initially yields more coconut and vanilla before chocolate and coffee flavours round the beer out beautifully.

Tiny Rebel/Fierce Beer – Orange Mocha Frapp – 7%

Tiny Rebel’s friends up at Fierce are some of the best in the business when it comes to adding other flavours to beer. Tiny Rebel also think they’re pretty good at it, so they collaborated on a beer with LOTS going on. Inspired by Derek Zoolander’s coffee of choice, Orange Mocha Frapp Stout does exactly what it says on the tin. Orange, chocolate and coffee. It’s reported to be awesome.