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 – 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.

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.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #15 – June 2019

It’s box number 40, and whilst the evenings are getting lighter (it’s light until 10pm in Cumbria at the minute), the beers in here are getting darker. These ones are pretty much all absolute units, with just a couple of five percenters in the mix. As I don’t have my selection yet, I’m borrowing N&P photos again 🙂

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Arbor – Breakfast Stout – 7.4%

An elegantly creamy strong stout whose soothing and silky character combines evocative coffee notes with luxurious bittersweet chocolate.

Atom – Into the Abyss – 10.5%

For this collaboration Atom drew inspiration from eating s’mores. They took a biscuity, roasty and chocolatey imperial stout, boiled it for 12 hours to intensify the flavours then added a copious amount of vegan marshmallows.

Box Social – Cry Agony – 7%

A bit of a wildcard this one. Its nether dark nor pale, but Box Social brew some great quirky beers, and this is one of them! A pale beer, with a rich, rounded mouthfeel and savoury sweetness from peanut essence. Real oak wood provides a depth of flavour layered with peanut notes. Hops give a further layer of sweet/vanilla aromas. Safe for those with peanut allergies.

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Moor – Stout – 5%

Moor were asked if they would ever consider a simple request to brew “something purely enjoyable to drink, not a curiosity beverage to tick off.” This is that beer. No unicorn hair, solar dust or celebrity nail clippings. Pontificate if you must, but please just drink and enjoy.

Prairie – Double Dunk – 11.9%

Imperial Stout from Tulsa, Oklahoma (the home of the Danny Flowers song “Tulsa Time”) brewed with Oreo Cookies. A deep dark stout with no head. In aroma, sweet fruity chocolate malt with light vanilla, alcohol warmth, very nice and smooth. In mouth, a nice sweet fruity chocolate malt with loads of vanilla, coffee crisp, oily mouth feel, alcohol warmth, very nice and rich.

Three Hills – Rhubarb Crumble Stout – 5%

This is a very special beer indeed, brewed by three N&P customers at Three Hills. It was launched back in March. It has got better and better over the three months or so that it has aged for so far. Dark roasted flavours with a sweet twang of rhubarb and a hit of dark sugar and vanilla.

The Needle & Pin Craft Beer club – dark beer selection box #14 – April 2019

The nights are getting lighter, the days are getting longer, but there are still times when only darkness will do. This is another month of big beasts, with one sessionable mild in the mix. That was a deliberate choice when we brewed it back in January.

This box has new beers, new breweries, new styles, an old classic, one of the best in the world and one for laying down.

Dig – Durr – 6.8%

Durr is a brand new stout made with milk sugar and conditioned over organic vanilla and roasted cocoa nibs. It comes from Birmingham’s Dig Brew Co, and was released only a few weeks ago.

Erdinger – Pikantus – 7.3%

A wild card beer this month, to demonstrate how beautiful a dark weiss bock can be. There won’t be the usual hit of coffee, vanilla and chocolate in this one.

Framework – Anything But Mild – 3.5%

I made this, along with Alec and those lovely folks at Framework. I’ve already mentioned that we brewed it back in January, and there are only 36 bottles of this little beauty in existence. Mild, gentle, with little hints of coffee, chocolate and maple syrup. A deliberately session mild to provide something other than chocolate laden imperial monsters for the dark beer lover. Here it is in being made…

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Lervig – Three Bean Stout – 13%

A collaboration brew with Way Beer from Brazil. Contains that common trinity of vanilla, cocoa and tonka beans, equating to a big dollop of deliciousness. The N&P team say that this is one of the greatest dark beers ever brewed…

Museum Brewing – P2 Imperial Stout – 8%

This exceptionally smooth stout is produced from the original recipe that was shipped to the Russian port of St. Petersburg for the Tsar’s Imperial Court. The smooth mellowness derives from the long maturation time in cask before being bottled in very limited numbers.

Three Hills – Faba – 11%

This is a very special beer indeed, brewed by Andrew and Zak at Three Hills. There are only 400 bottles of it and 48 of them have gone to the dark beer club. A big Imperial stout brewed with tonka, cacao and vanilla beans. The body is viscous and flavour decadent and rich. Best shared inside by the fire. This one is going into storage for a couple of years…

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Meet the Brewer – Three Hills – Needle & Pin – March 2019

Another lovely meet the brewer event at the N&P. Three Hills owner Andrew cut his teeth as a brewer in China, and now he is back home in the UK brewing up some sensational beers. Named after local neolithic tombs, Three Hills Brewing is a garage nano-brewery based in Woodford, Northamptonshire.

Their mission is to produce high quality, innovative and experimental small-batch beers for those who love to explore new taste sensations (that would be me). Rather than reproducing the same beers, they focus on creating a new recipe every time to keep things interesting. When they say small batch, they mean it: whether it’s IPA, saison, stout, wheat or unhopped gruit, their 225-600L batches allow them to brew with love and creativity. The result is truly unique, limited edition beers. There’s a lot of debate about core ranges versus constant evolution, but I think there’s room in the market for both.

One of the main reasons for tonight was to launch the collaboration brew between Three Hills and the N&P, a 5% Rhubarb Crumble Stout called “Giant Leap”. It was sweet and smooth with definite rhubarb notes. Paired well with a little rhubarb cakey treat too!

The other beers available were:-

Three Hills IPA V4 – sweetness, maltiness and a little bitterness. Well rounded.

Woodford Experiment Pale – smooth cask pale with a tasty hop profile and a nice bitterness.

Kveik – ooh that’s Belgian. I mean technically it’s Norwegian because it’s their word for yeast but a definite Belgian flavour profile. Very farmhouse!

Small Steps V3 – mint on the nose and some grapefruit on the finish. Light and refreshing, a lovely summer beer.

Due to having to catch an earlier bus (curse work in the morning!) I didn’t get chance to have a good natter tonight, but there’s always next time. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more from Three Hills in 2019.