Advent Beer

I’m quite annoyed. On Tuesday a load of posts on this blog were missing, vanished, disappearing into the ether. I luckily managed to recreate them via Google cache and wrote a couple of new posts, one detailing what had happened and the other the list of my advent beers. So imagine my surprise this morning, to find that both the explanation and advent beer list posts were both missing. In their place, the original missing posts and their comments were back, but it meant that I had to recreate this list from scratch, as I couldn’t find a cached copy on line. My hosting company hasn’t responded to my query about why it’s happened yet, which is most unlike them, hence my annoyance.

Anyway, it’s December, that means that it’s time to do some more advent beer. Last year I modified the list half way through, hopefully I wont be doing the same this year, but I am going to Paris this weekend, so some French beer might suddenly appear next week. So without further ado, here’s the beers on my advent beer list, they will be drank in some sort of random order, that days beer being pulled from a hat.

Black IPA

One things that puzzles me about Cascadian Dark Ale, American-Style India Black Ale or Black IPAs, call them what you will, is that quite a few aren’t black. Take the Mike Hall Furry I had in The Mitre the other week, it was decidedly brown, all be it a dark brown, but still brown. I have a mental image in my head that anything calling itself black, should be, well, black.

The Brewers Association defines a Black IPA as:

American-Style India Black Ale (Page 12)
American-style India black ale has medium high to high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. The style is further characterized by a moderate degree of caramel malt character and medium to strong dark roasted malt flavor and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins may contribute to aroma and flavor.

Original Gravity (ºPlato) 1.056-1.075 (14-18.2 ºPlato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (ºPlato) 1.012-1.018 (3-4.5 ºPlato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 5-6% (6 -7.5%)
Bitterness (IBU) 50-70
Color SRM (EBC) 25+ (50+ EBC)

That pegs the colour at something a shade darker than this  . I’ve definitely had lighter beers that have called themselves a Black IPA. What about the taste though, as an American invention*, I have an expectation that it will be chock full of C hops, so get a bit disappointed when they’re not. If the beer’s not rammed full of piney, resinous, citrus and tropical flavours, shirley it’s then just a modern version of an India Export Porter.

Why am I bringing all this up now, when it’s been done to death plenty of times already. Well, I’m drinking a Hardknott Code Black, which proudly proclaims itself to be a Black IPA. It nearly looks black in the glass, but it’s really just a really deep, deep brown, you can see through it when it’s held up to a light. I didn’t really get much on the nose, but it felt good in the mouth, with a good level of bitterness. Taste wise, it seemed to be all about the roasted flavours, I certainly didn’t get much in the way of citrus hop flavours to contract all the roastedness.

I’ve been thinking about doing a homebrew Black IPA, which would essentially be one of my existing pale and hoppy recipes (like I have more than one at the moment) with some Carafa Special in it. This is a speciality malt, that is a de-husked barley malt that adds aroma, color and body, with a mild, smooth flavour. To me, a Black IPA shouldn’t be about roasted notes, it should be about the hops, essentially just an IPA that’s black; bitter, malty, with good hop flavour, but black.

Take The Kernel’s Black IPA, which I believe is a 21st Amendment recipe, or at least based on that recipe. It’s got far less of the roasted notes and far more piney resinous flavours. That’s the kind of Black IPA I’d like to brew, less of the roast, more of the massive C hop flavour. I know that doesn’t necessarily conform to the Brewers Association definition above, Code Black certainly does and it’s a nice beer, but if I’m going to brew one, I want to brew it to my tastes.

I suppose it’s all a bit of a nonsense really, Black IPA or India Export Porter, it’s just a name. Shirley it’s the quality of the beer that counts, rather than some style definition? After all, styles and their definitions change over time, just look at Mild. I’ll definitely be giving it a go at some point next year, maybe by then I’ll have tried a few more and decided exactly what I want in one. As for this Hardknott Code Black, while it’s nice, I think it could do with a few more flavour hops to combat all the roasted notes, but that’s just me.

* As we all know, thanks to Ron and Martyn, there is nothing new in brewing…

International Stout Day

It was International Stout Day last week, did you notice…? It didn’t seem to have quite the same enthusiasm that #IPADay did earlier in the year, at least from what I could tell. The official website didn’t even have images or banners for people to stick on their websites, lots of people, me included, have nabbed the Stout Day badge from Untappd instead. There also appeared to be less involvement from UK pubs and a general air of, yeah, whatever.

I’m not saying that loads of people didn’t drink stouts, although judging from my Twitter feed, it should really have been called International Imperial Stout Day. All I’m saying, is that it didn’t appear to be as well organised or supported as #IPADay, maybe that’ll change next year, who knows. Anyway, I decided to break out a few Imperial Stouts for the occasion and got stuck in.

First up was a 2008 bottle of Harveys Le Coq Imperial Extra Double Stout that I picked up from the brewery shop last time I was down that way. It looked majestic sitting in the glass, a total impenetrable back, with a massive thick brown head. Bags of coffee on the nose with some subtle chocolate notes as well. Huge in the mouth, thick, smooth with coffee and chocolate notes and a slight sharp edge. I’m sure that this beer used to have a certain lactic sour quality to it, at least that’s how I remember it from when I had it in the late ninties.

Next up was another variation on De Molen’s excellent Hel & Verdoemenis, this time the Wild Turkey barrel aged version. I’d heard good things about this, so was really looking forward to comparing it to the three others I’ve tried. I’m sad to say, that for me, this was the worst one I’ve tried, the beer was just lost under an assault of whiskey flavours. It was a case of too much Wild Turkey and not enough Hel & Verdoemenis

Finally, I opened a bottle of Hardknott Vitesse Noir, a Triple Imperial Stout that is infused with vanilla, coffee and chocolate. This beer is brand new and I managed to get an early bottle as I was a beta tester for their online shop. It poured an absolutely impenetrable black, I had to pour form quite a height to get any sort of a head though, as there didn’t appear to be a great deal of life about it. It was massive in the mouth, with lots of chocolate and vanilla and hints of coffee. It was also quite sweet, but not overly so like some other vanilla stouts I’ve had. The after taste lingered all the way to the following morning, where I noticed on the way to the swimming pool that I could still taste it.

I have to say that even thought I think it could have done with a bit more carbonation and a touch more coffee, the Hardknot Vitesse Noir was my beer of the night. It was a close run thing with the Le Coq Imperial Extra Double Stout, while it’s undoubtedly an absolute classic, this was the first brew of Vitesse Noir and to get it so good at the first time of asking is amazing.

Hopefully next years International Stout Day will be a grander affair, it’s certainly a style of beer I enjoy. Although, if I had to pick one of these new fangled celebrate a beer style days, it would be #IPADay

Yakima Gold and Granite 2010

Crouch Vale’s Yakima Gold is one of their seasonal beers for the year and as they have done in the past, they have bottled a limited amount, normally it would only be available from cask. It poured a crystal clear pale, pale golden colour. The rocky white head was one of those that doesn’t want to form, but once you get it going you have to be careful that it doesn’t spill out of the glass. The head dropped over a couple of minutes till it just covered the surface, where it remained. It smelt really light and fresh, with hints of pineapple cubes round the edges.

The mouth feel was nice and lively, with a crisp bitterness. I thought it was well balanced between the malt and the hops and it had a lingering bitter after taste. I’d have no qualms about describing it as being hop forward. My only complaint was the subtleness of the flavour. I had real trouble pinning it down, even my wife wasn’t sure and she’s miles better than me at identifying flavours. I thought there was hints of pear drops, or rhubarb and custard sweets, but nothing really jumped out.

It was a nice beer and while it it had a nice bitterness to it, I think it could have benefited from a few more flavour hops.

This is the second release of Hardknott Granite, the previous version having been produced on the plant they had at the Woolpack Inn. Since they now have a brewery with slightly more capacity than the plant at their old pub, this release didn’t require a thirty hour boil to concentrate the wort to get the desired gravity.

There wasn’t much of a phzt when the bottled opened and it was very hard to get a head going. What creamy tan coloured head I managed to form, sat on top of a beautiful deep red mahogany brown liquid. The beer was instantly recognisable as a Hardknott from the nose, to me at least. I’ve noticed it in a number of their beers, I’d go as far as to say it’s becoming the house style, It’s a sort of rich dried fruit, burnt caramel and crystal malt all melded together and assaulting the nasal passages.

I found that it took me a while to get into Granite 2009, there was some palate readjustment required to handle all those burnt flavours, I also found that it took a while to get into this version of the beer too. There was an initial waft of alcohol in the mouth and faded and reappeared before succumbing to a brutal sweetness that lingered and lingered long into the after taste. I was expecting more of the burnt flavours of the previous version, but all I got was the almost unbearable sweetness. I found that what burnt notes there were, were just obliterated, along with any other flavours.

I don’t think it felt like a 10% beer in the mouth, even with the waft of alcohol at the start and all that sweetness. However, unlike the previous version, which I found myself liking despite the burntness being a touch over done, I don’t feel the same about this version. It was too sweet, far too sweet, at least for me. Dare I say that it could have done with a few more hops…?

I was also disappointed that there wasn’t enough of the the burnt caramel toffee flavours that are supposed to be the hall mark of this beer. You could say that the 2009 version was over done in this respect and that this version was under done. Here’s hoping that the 2011 version is somewhere in the middle, as then it’ll be pretty tasty beer.


I picked up a couple of bottles of this beer when it first came out. I drank one soon after, but then it took another couple of months till I drank the second. I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for me to post this, as it’s been a while since I had that last bottle.

It poured a slightly opaque, chestnut brown, with a loose off white head. The head formed after a bit of persuasion and dropped to a patchy covering fairly quickly and then to a thin ring round the edge. The nose was complex, with malty tones mixed with hints of bananay esters. There was also an undertone that reminded me of Infra Red, but it was quite subtle.

The mouth feel was surprisingly smooth, I’d say it could do with a touch more carbonation, it felt a touch lifeless. The taste was rich and malty, with lots of dried fruity notes, like a rich fruit cake. There wasn’t anywhere near the bitterness I was expecting, very malt driven, almost too much for my tastes. There was a lot of Belgian yeast character going on as well, with a touch of alcohol at the edges.

The Belgian yeast character really came alive when the beer warmed up a bit, but for me, it just wasn’t bitter enough, so was a bit unbalanced. I have certain expectations when a bottle of beer has "Double IPA" written on the front and unfortunately, this didn’t live up to that moniker. I had a conversation with Dave Bailey, the brewer, on Twitter when he was brewing the next batch, evidently it was shown some more hops. I look forward to trying that version and seeing how the beer has changed.

Here’s some tweets that happened after I posted this article:!/HardKnottDave/status/78392801578074113!/RecentlyDrunk/status/78410220291883008!/HardKnottDave/status/78411063707705344!/HardknottAnn/status/78413195907305472
So if you fancy trying the newer version that’s been shown a few more hops, then grab one with a best before date of 29th March 2014 or later…

The Session #49: Regular Beer

This months Session is being hosted by Stan Hieronymous at Appellation Beer and the topic is A ‘regular’ beer.

I was out with friends last night, we went to a number of pubs to the North of Cambridge city centre. It was a bit hit and miss if I’m being honest, but I managed to try eight different beers, all of which you could say were regular beers. In the UK a regular beer is most likely to be defined by most drinkers as a session beer, something they’ll have multiple pints of down the pub, or a few bottles of at home.

The SessionSo what is regular beer? Is it the beer you drink regularly, your favourite pint down the pub, the one that you drink every time you see it. Or is a regular beer one that isn’t extreme, doesn’t have weird ingredients and is to most people, normal?

For a beer geek though, I don’t think there is such thing as a regular beer in either sense. We seem to seek out the new, the novel, the weird and the downright strange. That’s not to say that we don’t have our favourites though. Those beers that we have every now and again, that sit at the back of the cupboard for when we just fancy a beer, with out having to think.

But that’s the thing, it’s an occasional thing, we’re too busy trying new beers left right and centre to be drinking the same beer regularly. Even our go to beer is probably not thought of as being a normal beer by non geeks. I doubt most beer drinkers in the UK would consider Marble Dobber, at 5.9% to be a normal beer, it’s far too high in ABV for the majority of session beer drinkers to even consider.

I don’t want to drink normal beer though, I’m not sure I even want to drink the same beer regularly, I’m too obsessed with what I haven’t had before. The whole reason I started this blog was because I’d fallen into a rut, I was drinking the same beers all the time, there was no variety and as we all know, variety is the spice of life. So I don’t really have a regular, normal beer, if I did though, it would probably be either Marble Dobber or HardKnott Infra Red, cracking beers both.

Dark Energy

I’ve decided to start off this years reviews with a beer from the same brewery I finished last years with. A nice symmetry you might say, I say I was just gagging to try it and didn’t want to wait any longer.

Hardknott Dark EnergyIt poured, what at first glance, looked black, but when held up to the light revealed itself to be a seriously dark brown round the edges. A decent tan head was easily formed, it dropped to a covering that then lasted all the way down the glass. I’ve still got the same cold I had before Xmas, so my olfactory system wasn’t up to scratch. However, I did get some roasted notes, with maybe a hint of coffee about them.

I have to say that the taste was sublime, I’d drank two thirds of it before I started writing all of this. I seriously considered not bothering to take any notes, I did have another bottle I could have drank and taken notes. It was smooth, with a lovely weight to the body. There were plenty of roasted notes floating round the mouth, that segwayed perfectly into a nice lingering fruity after taste.

I had a bottle of Bernard Dark the other night, my initial thoughts were that this seriously gives it a run for it’s money. I know they’re not the same kind of beer, but I really fancy doing a side by side to see which I like hte most. Another cracking beer from Hardknott.

The Golden Pints 2010

Originally I was going to do my own round up of the year, I didn’t do one last year as I felt that I’d not been blogging for long enough. This year I felt that I had drank enough to have some thoughts I wanted to share, but then Andy and Mark posted about The Golden Pints. So I decided to combine my thoughts and The Golden Pints categories for this post, hence why I’ve given my top three beers and then a few highly recommendeds.

Now, I don’t normally hold much truck with lists and stuff, they are very personal after all and never seem to align with my view of things. So take this lot with a rather large pinch of salt, it’s only my opinion at the end of the day.

Best UK Draught Beer
  1. Thornbridge Bracia
    I had this at the Euston Tap the day after they opened, it was truly magnificent and while I’ve only had a ½ pint, it stood head and shoulders above anything else I had this year.
  2. Thornbridge Seaforth
    Supposedly an all English version of Jaipur and on this tasting in January, better than its stable mate. Utterly sublime…
  3. Thornbridge Kipling
    Beer of the festival at the Cambridge CAMRA summer beer festival and just about as perfect a beer as you can get for an early summers evening in a crowded tent.
Honourable mentions
Hopshakle Resination, Oakham Chinook, Thornbridge Raven
Best UK Bottled Beer
  1. Thornbridge Halycon 2009
    It took me a while to get hold of, but once I did, I bought every bottle I could find. Only one other beer has come close all year, including foreign imports.
  2. Moor Fusion
    The only beer to render me utterly speechless this year. I couldn’t take notes, I was so blown away…
  3. Marble Dobber
    You can keep your Punk IPA and your Jaipur, this is now my "go to beer".
Honourable mentions
Hardknott Infra Red, Hardknott Æther Blæc, Moor JJJ IPA, Cambridge Moonshine Transforming Tomorrow
Best Overseas Draught Beer
  1. Birra del Borgo ReAle Extra
    Stole my heart when I was in Rome earlier in the year and when I went back recently, it was just as good.
  2. Mikkeller I Beat yoU
    To be honest, it could have been any one of about 10 Mikkeller beers in this slot, but this was the last beer I had in Rome recently and it was an absolute hop monster.
  3. Grassroots Broken Spoke Blackened IPA
    A massive US West coast style IPA, but black. It messed with my senses and tasted sublime. Could have been any of the three Grassroots beers I’ve tried this year though, all of them were spectacular, the Rye Union Porter especially.
Honourable mentions
Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout, De Molen Rasputin, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Bernard Unfiltered, Hornbeer Black Magic Woman, Birrificio del Ducato Bia IPA, Birrificio San Paolo Ipè (Extra Hop)
Best Overseas Bottled Beer
  1. De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis 666
    Possibly the best beer I’ve had this year. Along with the Thornbridge Halcyon, it stands head and shoulders above everything else.
  2. Stone Arrogant Bastard
    I waited 13 years to try it after first seeing an (empty) bottle, it was so worth the wait.
  3. Mikkeller Single Hop IPA Simcoe
    Like drinking liquidised lychees, I’d have drunk more if it wasn’t so expensive and hard to get hold of.
Honourable mentions
Birra del Borgo Duchessic, Saison Dupont, Jandrain Jandrenouille IV Saison, Odel IPA, Dogfish Head Paolo Santo Maron, Hornbeer Oak Aged Cranberry Bastard, Nøgne Ø Porter, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Rogue John John Dead Guy Ale
Best Overall Beer
So hard to choose between Thornbridge Halcyon 2009 and De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis 666. But if I really had to choose between the two, then only as I had more of it, Thornbridge Halcyon 2009.
Best Pumpclip or Label
Anything by Marble.
Best UK Brewery
  1. Thornbridge
    They’ve produced the best UK beer I’ve had this year.
  2. Marble
    Catching Thornbridge up fast, Dobber is sublime.
  3. Moor
    I just wish I could get a moor regular supply…
Honourable mentions
Hardknott, BrewDog, Adnams, Fuller’s
Best Overseas Brewery
  1. Mikkeller
  2. De Molen
  3. Birra del Borgo
Honourable mentions
Grassroots, Nøgne Ø, Rogue, Stone, Hornbeer, Amager
Pub/Bar of the Year
  1. Brasserie 4:20, Rome, Italy
    Possibly the best pub in the world and fantastic food too.
  2. Bir & Fud, Rome, Italy
    The best pizza I’ve ever had, all washed down with lots of amazing Italian craft beer.
  3. Ma ‘Che Siete Venuti a Fà, Rome, Italy
    Could also lay claim to being the best pub in the world, it certainly has the nicest landlord I have ever met.
Honourable mentions
The Euston Tap, London; Cask Pub & Kitchen, London; The Cambridge Blue, Cambridge
Beer Festival of the Year
  1. Cambridge CAMRA Summer beer festival
    Only as I’m now a fully paid up member of the foreign beer bar team…
  2. The Cambridge Blue Winter Festival
    Thornbridge Jaipur, Seaforth and Raven were all on sparkling form.
Supermarket of the Year
Independent Retailer of the Year
The Bacchanalia, Cambridge
Online Retailer of the Year
myBreweryTap and BEERMerchants
Best Beer Book or Magazine
Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher
Best Beer Blog or Website
  1. Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile
  2. The Reluctant Scooper
  3. Real Brewing at the Sharp End
Best Beer Twitterer
The HardKnott’s (@HardKnottDave and @HardKnottAnn); it’s like a Twitter soap opera…
Best Brewery Online
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Orval with chips ‘n’ mayo
In 2011 I’d Most Like To…
Continue to try new and interesting beer and widen my horizons by trying new styles and retrying those styles I think I don’t like.
Open Category: Best Landlord
Manual from Ma ‘Che Siete Venuti a Fà
Within two minutes of meeting me was giving me free beer across the road in Bir & Fud. On subsequent visits, he opened things like Cantillon Zwanze 2009 and gave me bottles to bring home. The nicest beer person I’ve met all year.

Advent Beer: Æther Blæc 2009

Hardknott Æther BlæcI could go on in my usual fashion and tell you all about this beer, but I’m not going to. It’s Christmas eve, I’m just finishing the wrapping and I’ve got a stinking cold, blogging about beer is well down my list of priorities this evening.

What I will say is this. It’s absolutely. Bloody. Gorgeous. Merry Christmas.

Advent Beer: Granite 2009

I let my wife pick my first advent beer and what a monster she picked. It poured a deep murky brown, almost opaque, with a reddish tinge at the edges. A loose tan head sat proudly on top and while it dropped to a covering fairly quickly, it hung around for quite a while. The nose was dark and complex, to me though, it was mainly a smell reminiscent of smoke and peat. Although, as it warmed up, there was a definite burnt edge to it and it reminded me more of burnt treacle toffee.

Hardknott Granite 2009The first taste was difficult, this is one big complex beer. Once I’d managed to get past my initial revulsion at the taste, it was all big and bad, alcohol, subtle dried fruit and unsubtle smoky burnt toffee, I really started to enjoy this beer. There was a thread of alcohol running right from the start all the way though to the end of the after taste. Weaving in and out of all this alcohol were lots other tastes and sensations, the biggest one being some seriously burnt treacle toffee. The after taste was dominated by a large dose of alcohol mouth burn and a lingering burntness.

I think there was a sweet spot with this beer, probably somewhere around the half pint mark. The initial few sips were difficult, but once my pallet had readjusted, I found myself really getting though it quite quickly. It really didn’t drink like a 10.4% ABV beer. It was only as I got to the last quarter of the glass and started to slow down that, the head died and it became a bit sticky and difficult again.

This was a hell of a beer to get for the first day of my advent beer journey, it’s not an easy beer to drink, although if you give it a chance you might be rewarded. I have another bottle, I think I might just keep it for a decade or so and see what happens.