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)!
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...