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Movies, Craft Beer and Geek Stuff

Beer

Beer highlights of the year

The year is wrapping up now and, it’s safe to say I’ve drunk a lot of beer. Well, *tried* a lot of beer. You see, I’ve been attending a fledgling bottle share event in Nottingham, organised by Matt from Brew Cavern, and let me tell you, those guys set the bar pretty fucking high. Anyway, I digress slightly; this post is about my personal highlights and disappointments in craft beer in 2015. So here it goes, I guess.

EDIT: I should say that some of these choices weren’t necessarily released this year. I’m just going to make my choices based on the beers I’ve enjoyed most over the last 12 months.

IPA of the Year – Cloudwater DIPA (Bottle)

Early in the year we had Un-Human Cannonball and that took some beating. It stayed a front-runner for me for quite a while, seeing off cracking beers like Beavertown’s Bloody ‘ell. However, the final months of the year gave way to some absolutely sublime IPAs, the best of which was Cloudwater’s special edition DIPA. A 9% tropical fruit bowl hop bomb that hit all the right spots for me when I think of what an IPA should be. Truly excellent stuff!

Stout of the year – Buxton/Omnipollo Yellow Belly (Bottle)

No surprise here. Wanna know what I thought of this beast, read my review.

Pale Ale of the year – Beavertown Gamma Ray (Can)

Tricky one, this. Especially with great beers like Magic Rock’s Highwire Grapefruit hitting the shelves. But try as I did, I can’t think of a beer I’d rather keep going back to than Gamma Ray. It really is a stunning, well rounded APA that I can’t help but enjoy any time of the year. As flagship beers go, this is definitely top-five material.

Sour of the year – Firestone Walker / Wild Beer Co. Violet Underground (Bottle)

This was part of 2015’s International Rainbow project and, as it happens, my favourite beer from that line-up. Easily the most expensive beer of the bunch at around £12 for a 375ml bottle, this stuff was just incredible. Balanced sourness with a slight floral edge and loads of sharp berries. Kick-ass!

Brewery of the year – Buxton Brewery

Once again, these guys come out on top for me. They consistently crank out banger after banger whether on their own or as part of a collab. Not only that, they continually push boundaries and set out to make the beer they want to make, not what a standard says they should be making. Oh, and they have one of the best tap houses I’ve ever been to!

Favourite Can – Vocation Brewing Life & Death

Canning is beginning to become mainstream now and the public, for the most part, have begun to accept that canned beer is often better to bottled beer, especially when it’s super hoppy stuff. No surprise then, that we’re beginning to see new breweries canning their beers and bypassing bottles all together. My pick for can of the year is Vocation Brewing and their Life & Death IPA. Just like Cloudwater’s DIPA, this stuff is a tropical fruit bomb with a sticky, syrupy sweetness from a beautifully balanced malt bill combined with a banging hop profile which brings in an assertive but not overpowering bitterness.

Favourite Keg – Ballast Point Victory at Sea

When Ballast Point did a tap takeover at BrewDog Nottingham, I figured I’d like the IPAs the most. The three Sculpins (especially the habanero one) were all really good, but the star of the show for me was the 10% Imperial Porter, Victory at Sea. Brewed with coffee, chocolate and enough vanilla to kill an elephant, this brew screamed decadence. The high ABV made sure it had all the body and silky mouthfeel the aroma promises but without tasting boozey. It’s very rich but surprisingly drinkable. Very, very good stuff. I just hope that it stays in production at the same level of quality now that Ballast Point has been taken over.

Favourite Cask – Buxton Brewery Axe Edge

I had this at the Buxton Tap House this summer, shortly before the brewery revealed that it would soon be the only place that it would continue to serve cask beer. I’ve had this beer in bottle, on keg and on cask and, surprisingly cask was easily my favourite. It delivered a silkiness and beefed up body that I never even realised was missing from keg/bottle until I had it. Coupled with the unparalleled freshness and masterful handling of the casks, it made the 60 mile round trip totally worth it.

Most disappointing beers of the year

It’s not been all sunshine and rainbows this year. There have been some stinkers, and from some surprising places. Breweries that I thought could do no wrong have put out some of this years most disappointing beer. Here are my picks.

Magic Rock, Ginspired (Keg)

If I were to say “Gin & Tonic IPA”, you’d expect a few things. Firstly, you’d want a nice brisk carbonation. Next, you’d want that slightly medicinal juniper berry flavour. Finally you’d want that dry bitterness of a good tonic water. Guess what Magic Rock’s Ginspired delivered… that’s right, none of that. Hell, it didn’t even deliver what I’d expect out of a decent IPA, let alone one that promises the flavour of a nice G&T. It’s a no from me.

Magic Rock / Cigar City, Cigarro Roja Magica (Bottle)

Not just a weak link in the Rainbow Project, this was just an all-round boring beer. From two powerhouse breweries, I expected great things. What we got was just a bog standard red IPA, and not even a very good one. All the flavours you want pouring out of a red IPA were subdued and dull. Not enough bitterness, not enough sweetness and a pretty confused malt profile resulted in me giving this beer a resounding thumbs-down.

Buxton Brewery, Pic Tor (Bottle)

Not much to say about this one but “weird”. It smelled like meat. Not cooking meat; more like a butcher’s shop. Not only that, the flavour balance was well and truly off, with massive puckering sourness and not a whole lot of identifiable passion fruit. In fact it was a little reminiscent of bile. Not the one.

BrewDog/Stone, Adopt a Bastard (Keg)

I’ll qualify this by saying I’ve never had original Arrogant Bastard so I have no basis for comparison. However, BrewDog’s attempt at the same beer just fell totally flat for me. The whole affair was just muddy. No smack in the face flavour, just a mess of sort of sweet malts and sort of bitter hops. That’s it.

So there we have it! Let me know in the comments or on Twitter what your beers of the year have been.

Ciao.

Musings

Being a Human

The most heartbreaking thing I’ve seen in recent times is the media making people truly believe that those who are in genuine need and those who just want to cheat the welfare system out of every penny they can are one and the same.

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Brewery: Buxton / Omnipollo
Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 11.0%
Serving: 330ml Bottle
Price: £6-7

Today beer died. It’s over for me now; I need to find a new passion.

Last year, for the Rainbow Project, Buxton collaborated with Omnipollo to create a very special and unique beer, Yellow Belly. This is a peanut butter biscuit imperial stout without any peanut butter or biscuits in it. Yeah, I know. Well I didn’t get to try any last year but, honestly I wasn’t too fussed because the sound of it didn’t really grab me. This year it was brewed again, much to the delight of the beer’s very vocal advocates the first time around.

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Brewery: Wild Beer Co. (Somerset, UK)
Style: Saison / Farmhouse Ale
ABV: 9%
Serving: 750ml Sharing Bottle
Price: I paid £7 but expect to pay up to £15

Celebration beers. They’re a pretty intangible thing, really. Each brewery does something slightly different. Sierra Nevada for instance release an annual celebration ale which is essentially just a standard wet hop IPA. Siren do Ratchet which is a blended, dry hopped saison (which I also tried recently and was kind of weirded out by). A lot of beer heads name Wild Beer Co’s Ninkasi as one of the best in the category and it’s certainly gained high praise on sites like RateBeer. My fellow beer geek, Sam (@samogotchi) recently snapped up the last bottle of Ninkasi at my local craft beer pub, much to my disappointment. However to my delight, I went in this weekend and they had more! Yay!

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Brewery: Founders Brewing Co.
Style: Impreial/Double IPA
ABV: 9.4%
Serving: 355ml Bottle
Price: Around £4 Bottle Shop / £6 Bar

I had a goal at the beginning of the weekend; to try a beer that I’d never had before. On Saturday night on the way home from a friend’s house, I stopped in at a pub near me, The Alexandra Hotel, to pick up a couple of bottles. My intention was to get a bottle of Sierra Nevada Narwahl imperial stout but they had unsurprisingly sold out of that. So I leafed through their impressible bottle menu for something I’d never had. When I spotted Founders Double Trouble I knew I had to go for it. Nothing I’ve had from Founders has been bad and as I’m a sucker for Imperial IPA, this was a no-brainer.

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Directors: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco

Sound the controversy klaxon! Wait, should that be the ballsy marketing campaign klaxon? The cynic in me thinks the latter. At the very least Sony have employed an extremely opportunistic marketing team to take advantage of the publicity surrounding their security hack and recent cyber-attack. (Who says cyber anything these days? It reminds me of chat rooms off of the 90’s and MSN messenger. ASL?) Anyway, after a pulled mainstream cinema release, Sony decided to do a limited Indy theatre release in conjunction with a more widespread on demand release through YouTube, Google Play and Amazon Prime. Personally I think this is the way it should always be because, well frankly I hate big multiplex cinemas. Again, I digress. Last night I checked out the long awaited follow up to This Is The End, The Interview.

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Brewery: BrewDog
Style: Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
ABV: 15%
Serving: 330ml Bottle
Price: Around £16

About a month ago I started thinking about my Christmas Day beer selection and what I decided was that I definitely wanted a really special imperial stout to finish out the evening. At first I had the choice of three BrewDog beers; Tokyo*, Dog C or the mighty Paradox Heaven Hill. But when my local bottle shop, Hopology tweeted that they had some of the increasingly hard to come by 2012 release of BrewDog’s Christmas Paradox in stock, I just had to go for it!

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BrewDog are known for pushing boundaries with their brewing. From brewing beer under the sea, or ice distilling IPA to make the strongest beer in the world they put a lot of stock in the value of experimentation. Each year they produce a range of prototype beers, each with their own little (or perhaps not so little) twist and let the customers decide which one is best and should be turned into a permanent fixture.

Some amazing beers have come of this process, including probably the best IPA BrewDog make, the mighty Jackhammer! So this being the first time I’d been able to try all four entries I was pretty excited to see what the team had produced. On Saturday I popped over to the Nottingham bar and racked up a flight board of the four offerings and got stuck in. Here’s what I thought…

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Brewery: Buxton Brewery
Style: Saison
ABV: 6.3%
Serving: 330ml Bottle
Price: Around £3

My first venture away from mass produced shitty lager was into the world of Belgian beer. Duvel, Chimay and the like were regulars for me and I was always up for trying new ones when they appeared at my local. As such, I’ve always had a lot of love for Saison as a style. The spicy yeast and lively carbonation are always winners for me. Trouble is, I’ve had a few average-to-poor examples from otherwise great non-Belgian craft brewers. Since Buxton always kick ass I just had to give their dry hopped, New World Saison a shot.

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Brewery: BrewDog
Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 15%
Serving: 330ml Bottle
Price: Around £10

It’s that time of year. Winter coats are on, central heating goes on timer and Ant and Dec start selling Christmas stuff on every channel. That’s right, it’s Stout Season! I’ll admit, this is the first year I’ve really been fussed about switching to stout as the weather gets colder, mainly because I love hops so much I tend to drink IPA all year round. This year, though I’m finding myself drawn to the toasty, smooth, sweet, warming characteristics of a great imperial stout. The last couple of times I’ve visited my local BrewDog bar I’ve had RipTide, or even the legendary RipCore (Black and Tan made with RipTide and Hardcore IPA). I’ve also had a couple of stouts from the likes of Thornbridge and Buxton that have really hit the spot in the colder weather.

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