HonestBrew Ultimate Advent Calendar 2017

After making the agonising decision over which beer advent calendar to plump for this year, I patiently waited for the 1st December to come around and for my box to turn up. 

Look at that beaut. The box was designed by HonestBrew regular collaborator, HATCH (or Dave Smith to his mates) and is a lot prettier than the plain cardboard box from Mikkeller last year. 

I was a bit sceptical going into this as the regular box HonestBrew put out last year seemed to have a lot of core range beers and not much out of the ordinary but I've had a great experience using HonestBrew over the last year that I decided to give the Ultimate box a go. 

So how was it? Without further ado...

 Day One: DDH Pale Enigma Galaxy - Pale Ale 5.7% // Cloudwater Brew Co.

Off to an absolute flyer with this wonderful double dry hopped pale from Beer Voyage favourites, Cloudwater. If this is an indication of things to come, I'm going to have an incredible month working through this advent calendar. 

This beer just epitomises everything that Cloudwater are great at. Perfectly balanced pale beers packed full of flavour and a boatload of hops - Nelson Sauvin, Enigma and Galaxy. I don't think I've had Enigma hops in many beers but the other two are pretty common these days so I knew I was going to be on board with this. 

This definitely went down far too quickly and smelt super fresh and grassy. 

Bring on the rest of the box!

Day Two: I Love You Honey Bunny - American IPA 6.3% // Siren Craft Brew Co. & Other Half Brewing

Earlier this year, Siren bashed out two fruit smoothie IPAs in the shape of Comfortable Silence and Ten Dollar Shake and they have followed up those two excellent beers with this new addition to the smoothie IPA family. Only this time round the fruit has been replaced with an absolute boatload (that's 200kg) of blossom honey. Oh and Brooklyn's Other Half helped make it if all of that wasn't enough to get your mouth watering. 

I missed out on this when it launched at Beavertown Extravaganza back in September so was more than happy to see this pop out of the box on day two. I really enjoyed the two aforementioned fruit smoothie IPAs so had a feeling this was going to be right up my street. It obviously was. 

Thick and smooth, this beer was very easy to drink and the after taste of honey on the palate was the perfect balance and not at all overpoweringly sweet. If I was a bee, I would be drunk FOREVER.  

Day 3:  Fruitbooter - Sour Ale 5.7% // The Wild Beer Co.

When the beer is called Fruitbooter and the label says 'Raspberries - Pink Peppercorns - Raspberries' you know this sour from Somerset's Wild Beer is going to be a fruity bastard. 

The smell of this beer was a weird combination of raspberry and farts but if you can look past that, you get an excellent, sharp, face-puckering sour. It's all about the raspberries in this beer which are obviously the biggest flavour (they've listed it twice on the bottle for a reason) but the subtle hint of pepper from the pink peppercorns (no way) really elevated this beer from being a run-of-the-mill fruity sour to a beer I would happily have again. 

We're 3/3 so far, can this advent calendar keep it up?

Day Four: Patrons Project 4.03 DDH Double Mango Lassi IPA, Northern Tropics (Drew Millward) - Double IPA 8.7% // Northern Monk

You bet your ass it can! After having the original Mango Lassi IPA earlier this autumn I was all in when I heard about this version released as part of the Patrons Project

Also, look at that can. I've been a big fan of Drew Millward's art work for some time as he has designed various band and gig posters over the years. I absolutely loved his previous can designs for the Patrons Project but this one is probably my favourite so far. 

Does the book (err, beer) match the cover (err, label)? Abso-bloody-exactly it does. This is like the original Mango Lassi's younger, rowdier sibling. I'd willingly take a punch to get a hit of this beer. It smells like a Solero and goes down like fruit juice. There is so much mango in this beer that it feels like I'm drinking fruit juice. That is not a criticism; I am all about dat juice. There is no way this beer is 8.7%. 

I am impressed that so far in this box, all of the beers have been new to me. Quite a mean feat for someone that is a fairly well-read (well-drank?) beer fan.  

Day Five: Me So Honey - Blonde Ale 5.5% // Belching Beaver Brewery

Yet another beer I've not tried before. I've seen this and their peanut butter milk stout a few times online and in bottle shops but, for whatever reason, never tried them so was quite happy to have it in the box.

Blonde ales are a style that I find fairly uninspiring but I hoped that the addition of honey might offer an interesting take on things. It didn't. It was just a bit bland really. I can't really say anymore than that. 

After I finished the beer, I noticed that HonestBrew had emailed me to say that they had been let down by their suppliers of this beer and so it was not as fresh as they'd hoped. Checking the brewed on date on the underside of the can confirmed this (October 2016) which may explain why I found the beer pretty boring. HonestBrew have offered all customers of the box a £5 voucher with free postage to make amends which I think is more than generous - I didn't even notice it had been brewed a while ago so it's great to see them correct this. Let's hope day 6 gets things back on track.

Day Six: American Barley Wine - Barley Wine 11.5% // Brouwerij Kees

We're back on track after the slight disappointment of day five with the first real big hitter of the box, this wonderful barley wine from Dutch brewery, Kees. I find barley wines as a style very hit and miss but when done right they are excellent. I'm pleased to report this is a good example of the style. 

It's the perfect beer for this time of year, heavy oak and dried fruit flavours means this one is definitely a sipper. Moreso when the ABV clocks in at 11.5%. The dry finish means that it's not a beer you want to chug and rightfully so - this is a beer to be savoured. Good stuff. 

Day Seven: Planet Oedipus Lifeform No. 6 PO17-CW-NBPA - Belgian Pale Ale 7% // Oedipus Brewing x  Cloudwater Brew Co.

A beer from a brewery I'd never heard of (Oedipus Brewing) collaborating with one of my favourites (Cloudwater Brew Co.) was behind door number seven. 

Belgian pale ales are a style I'm not overly enamoured with, I'd much rather a straight up pale instead as I find a lot of Belgian beers to be quite rich and filling. (And also because I may have overindulged during a trip to Bruges a few years ago that I've likely ruined Belgian beer for myself). I digress, this beer is fine. It doesn't really do anything extraordinary but it does what it's meant to and is drinkable. 

Not one I'd rush out to try again but wouldn't turn it down if I was offered it.  

Day Eight: Superluminal Raspberry - Sour Farmhouse IPA 7% // Buxton Brewery x Stillwater Artisanal

On first sniff I thought this was going to be super sweet and fruity as it's just all raspberries invading your nostrils so much so I had to double check the bottle to see if it was a sour. I never got around to trying the regular version of this so was pretty happy to pull this out of the box on day eight.

The aroma totally threw my tastebuds out of whack which made the tart flavour all the more powerful - I was a little taken aback with the sour punch that followed after the first mouthful. It's tangy and salty and sharp and great. I likely would've hated this beer a year ago as I just didn't get sour beer and whilst I'm not a total convert, I am appreciating them more and more. 

I thought we may have had a stout by now what with it being winter and cold - here's hoping they are saving them for the latter stages. 

Day Nine: Orval - Belgian Pale Ale 6.2% // Brasserie d'Orval

I first had this beer back in 2014 in Bruges (it's a fucking fairytale town, isn't it!) and remember enjoying it. I've read many a thing about aging this beer and the taste developing differently over time with varying opinions that it's best 6 months, 12 months, 18 months or even 2 years after it's been brewed. 

This one was brewed this year and, whilst I would've liked to have aged it, the advent calendar demanded it be drunk. I dutifully obliged but sort of wish I hadn't. It was fine, not quite as good as I remembered, but think it may have benefited from aging a little longer.

It's your typical belgian pale ale with some added funk and it does taste very fresh but the flavours are quite muted. Ah well, I will definitely pick up a bottle or two to experiment with aging. 

Day Ten: D'être: Ultime - Saison 4.1% // Boundary Brewing

We're into double figures and a new brewery with Northern Ireland's Boundary Brewing who apparently specialise in Belgian and US style beers. It makes sense that this is a saison then. 

I really like the label design, it's very minimal but still stands out. The beer itself is also pretty good. I'm not a huge fan of your basic saison but this is a fantastic take on it. It doesn't do anything out of the ordinary but it doesn't need to - the label says it's taken them a year to be wowed by saison yeast and now they are wowed. Whislt I wouldn't go that far, it's clear that the experimenting has paid off as this is a very clean and refreshing beer. 

A brewery to keep an eye on I think. I am interested in trying their US style beers now. 

Day Eleven: Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout - Stout 7% // Kiuchi Brewery

It took eleven days but we have our first stout. Hooray! 

I've seen a lot of Hitachino Nest beer in the supermarkets and popular Asian-inspired & Japanese chain restaurant Wagamama but never this stout so I was looking forward to this. I can't say I've had much in the way of Japanese beer outside of Kirin Ichiban or Asahi and they are pretty insipid. I'm happy to report this is not. 

A huge hit of bitter coffee is the dominant flavour here but there's not much else to it. I'm ok with that as I do like coffee stouts but it's a little one-dimensional and a little bit thin. It's basically like drinking a cold brew coffee so if you like that sort of thing then you'll love this. 

Day Twelve: Black House - Oatmeal Stout 5.8% // Modern Times Beer

Just like buses, two stouts turn up at once. This is a way better stout than yesterday's (even though I enjoyed that). It's way more nuanced in flavour but has much more depth to it. The coffee is still prominent but it has a hint of chocolate throughout which makes it very enjoyable. 

San Diego's Modern Times are one of the only breweries in the world to roast their own coffee which I thought was pretty cool. As I'm not a big coffee drinker, I'm pleased they decided to chuck some of it into a beer. I've had several Modern Times beers but definitely need to try more. I imagine this is wonderful on tap. 

We're at the halfway point now and I'm pretty happy with the range of beers and styles so far. Amazingly, still yet to have a beer in here that I've had before (the Orval doesn't count as it's the 2017 version)!

Day Thirteen: Sanguinem Aurantiaco - Sour Ale 3.25% // Evil Twin Brewing

'Sanguinem Aurantiaco' is Latin for 'blood orange' so I was expecting a very bitter orange taste from the sour from Evil Twin Brewing. Sadly, there's not really any there at all.

I'm a big fan of Evil Twin and so had pretty high hopes for this beer, the aroma bolstered these hopes even more so I was a bit letdown on first sip. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine sour but I'd never guess it was meant to be a blood orange sour unless I'd seen the can. At 3.25% it's the lowest ABV so far and I've drank it very quickly so this probably sounds harsher than it's meant to. 

Bit of a disappointment on the whole but you can't win 'em all I suppose. Onwards and upwards hopefully. 

Day Fourteen: Celebrator - Doppelbock 6.7% // Ayinger Privatbrauerei

Like a proper beer wanker, when I open a bottle or a can, I like to give it a little sniff to smell the aroma coming from the beer before my first sip. This doppelbock from Ayinger smelt exactly like malted barley. It was very sweet so I was surprised it poured a very dark brown/bordering black.

Bocks (basically strong German lager) is another style I don't drink often and is probably one I should. A doppelbock is a stronger, maltier version of a regular bock and is generally just a bit more interesting. This beer was very good - very malty and sweet and lots of dried fruit came through. 

One good thing that's come from this advent calendar is that it's reminded me I should drink more traditional styles of beer. Put down the impy stouts and DIPAs, Hedges! 

Day Fifteen: Coffee Brain - Stout 4.5% // Laugar Brewery x Mad Brewing

Another cofee stout, this time from two Spanish breweries: Laugar Brewery and Mad Brewing. Two breweries I am unfamiliar with so, unlike the last beer, I went into this one with no expectations at all. 

It smells exactly like a black coffee and taste pretty close too. It lacks the bitterness of black coffee and instead it finishes with a sweet, chocolatey flavour that's really quite good. Apparently this is made with Brazilian and Guatemalan coffee beans but not being a coffee person, I don't really know if that's why it has a slightly sweet finish. Let's just say it is. 

It's billed as a 4.5% 'session stout perfect for summer' which is a term I've not really come across before. I'm not sure I'd want to session a whole load of stouts in the sunshine. Maybe it's a Spanish thing? Either way, it's made for a decent beer on a winter's evening so make of that what you will! 

Day Sixteen: Running with Spectres - Baltic Porter 6.8% // Lost And Grounded Brewers

I thought this was going to be the first beer of the calendar I've had before as I thought I had a bottle of Running with Sceptres - Lost and Grounded's excellent lager. It turns out this is Running with Spectres, the Bristol brewery's winter seasonal take on the aforementioned lager. 

This is definitely not a lager, it's a porter packed with six different malts and four different hops resulting in a very drinkable dark beer. It does not drink like a 6.8% porter and due to the amount of hops, feels closer to a black IPA. That's not a complaint in the slightest, it's delicious either way. 

I've been a big fan of all of the beers I've tried from Lost and Grounded so far and they've grown massively despite only brewing since July 2016. I'm interested in seeing what they do in 2018 and beyond. 

Day Seventeen: Milkshake Stout - Milk Stout 5.6% // Rascals Brewing Co. 

Four dark beers on the bounce now and another brewery I'm yet to try anything from in the shape of Dublin's Rascals Brewing Co. I was fully on board when I saw the name of the beer but when I spied 'coconut' as one of the ingredients, my heart sank a little. I may start a one man crusade to keep coconut out of beer because it is SICK and WRONG.

Luckily, the biggest flavour here is vanilla so it's not as bad as I was expecting. It's very, very sweet which is to be expected in a beer called 'Milkshake Stout' and is pretty enjoyable. The vanilla dominates but then the dreaded coconut rears its head at the end and takes it down a notch for me. 

Decent but nothing that's going to set the world alight. 

Day Eighteen: Brothers in Farms - Grisette 6.3% // Brasserie de la Senne x Two Roads Brewing Company

I was a bit taken aback to see a grisette at above 4% as it's generally a style known for its low ABV - for the uninitiated, a grisette is essentially a light (in both colour and taste), hoppy saison. 

Upon reading about the beer, I discovered it's a double grisette (which explains the percentage), a style originally brewed for the working class in Belgium in the 19th century as a thirst quencher. 

It's certainly that and the flavours took me by surprise. This is a very subtle beer with a dry, bitter finish. It's a little bit floral and a little bit fruity - there are hints of lime here adding to the aforementioned bitterness. 

I always like to try new styles so I was happy to have this and it's a beer I'd love to drink in the summer when I feel I'd enjoy it even more. 

Day Nineteen: Black Forest Strannik  - Russian Imperial Stout 10% // Northern Monk

What a beautiful beer. I'm yet to have the regular Strannik but this version is up there with any of Northern Monk's beers. 

Inspired by a Black Forest Gateau, this beer is an excellent beer for a nightcap. There's an abundance of chocolate, vanilla and cherry here all rounded off with the bitterness you'd expect from a stout. 

I don't really want to wax lyrical about this beer anymore than I have for two reasons:
1. I'm halfway through the can and am struggling to find the words. 
2. I want to enjoy the rest of it in peace. 
Do yourself a favour and grab a can if you see one. 

Day Twenty: Dual Runnings - Quadrupel 12% // Partizan Brewing x The Kernel Brewery

This beer has an interesting concept around it so rather than explain badly myself,  I've taken it straight from the horse's (brewer's) mouth:

"This beer is part of a collaborative process that we have been working on with The Kernel Brewery, just down the road from us. Back in the summer of 2015, we trucked the mash from the first runnings from the mash (high-gravity, sugar-rich part) down to Partizan's brewhouse which we used to brew our high-alcohol Quad. The guys at the Kernel then used the (weaker, lower-gravity) second runnings to create a lower alcohol, mixed fermentation Saison, subsequently aged in oak foudres. The concept is that by sharing the base mash for two very different style beers the finished beers could then be reunited in the glass to create a fascinating drinking experience. Six weeks in the tank and bottle-conditionined for nearly two years, this is a rich and luxurious Belgian-style quad with notes of toffee and candied fruit, a complex yeast-profile and a subtle smoothness achieved from age. This really is a labour of love - and a limited edition one at that."

I like this idea but didn't have the other version to do some experimenting with so had to settle for this 12% thunderbastard solo. It's a beautiful beer, perfect for this time of year. It has a definite toffee and prune like taste and then the booze hits - it doesn't hide its strength at all. An excellent winter sipper. 

Day Twenty One: Rodenbach Grand Cru - Flanders Red Ale 6% // Brouwerij Rodenbach

Surprised I'd not had this before considering I went on a particularly boozy trip to Bruges a few years ago and just assumed this was one of the beers I'd sank over that weekend. Alas, no! 

This is a red ale aged in oak foeders (basically a massive barrel). It smells very winey but the taste is a sharp, acidic sourness. Not overpowering at all. The oak comes through at the end and helps round off the beer. It's very good. 

I would've likely wrote this off as being vinegary a few years ago but I've grown to appreciate sour beers and can definitely taste some more subtle flavours. Let's chalk it up to having a sophisticated palette. Right, guys?


Day Twenty Two: Flat White - Milk Stout 5.5% // 8 Wired Brewing Co. 

This is the fourth coffee based stout in the calendar and it probably ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack. 

It tastes just like a flat white so they've nailed that but is a little bit too carbonated and lacks the bitter edge to elevate it beyond being just ok. 

It's also a bit thin. I keep saying this a lot but it does make a difference - a stout that has that thick mouthfeel (sorry, I hate that word) just gives it a silkier and smoother finish. 

I don't really have anything else to add to this beer. I think I'm getting calendar fatigue and coffee stout boredom. 

Day Twenty Three: F*ck the Christmas Tree is on Fire!!! - Imperial Oatmeal Stout 10% // Het Uiltje

And then this comes along and totally redeems the average beer from the day before. 

From hard to pronounce Dutch microbrewery, Het Uiltje, comes the best named beer in the box in 'F*ck the Christmas Tree is on Fire!!!', an orange and coffee oatmeal imperial stout. 

It smells very much like a Terry's Chocolate Orange (other chocolate oranges are available. Probably.) and tastes like one. Washed down with a swig of booze. The coffee here is relatively subtle, it's definitely there but the booziness and orange are the dominant flavours.

It does make me want to gorge on chocolate oranges and drink all the Christmas spirits (not the ghost kind). 

Day Twenty Four: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock - Rauchbier 5.1% // Schlenkerla ("Heller-Bräu" Trum)

And to finish we have my utter, utter disappointment. 

Most beer advent calendars tend to finish on a high note with a big beer to end proceedings. Last year's box finished on the mighty Mikkeller 1000 BA Chardonnay which sums up exactly what I mean. It's aged in chardonnay barrels for 1000 days and retails for £15-£20.  

This year is this fairly ubiquitous rauchbier which retails for about £3.50. Even if I liked the style, I'd still be disappointed because it's not a very exciting beer. And because I don't like the style it's made for a bit of a shitty end. 

Rauchbier translates to 'smoked beer' and this is akin to drinking liquid smoke. It's all smoke and wood. It smells like barbecues and tastes like hate and anger. I poured it down the sink and I rarely do that. 

When I had my hopes set on a blockbuster beer and then get sidled with this, it almost ruined my Christmas. Poor form HonestBrew. 


Overall, a pretty good box. I really liked about half of the beers, a quarter were ok and another quarter were a bit rubbish. Especially that last beer. 

I have to say, for the RRP of £115 this box was definitely not worth it. I looked up each of the beers individually on the HonestBrew website and it came to £92.76. I'm not sure where the £22 plus added value comes. I mean the box was nice but really? I'd like to hear HonestBrew justify it as compared to other boxes on offer for around £15 less you could get a similar quality box. Or better in some cases. I wonder what 2018 will bring...