Mallinsons Chocolate Stout
Bottle, 4.2% ABV
+ Madagascan vanilla ice cream
When I was still but knee high to a grasshopper, coke floats seemed like the ultimate indulgence.
They were saved for the odd Sunday when my parents would give in to the chorus of wails from myself and my brother and take us to Pizzaland in Altrincham.
I wasn't really arsed about the pizza itself but more excited about the prospect of being able to put a dollop of dessert in my drink.
Being eight years old, it never dawned on me that the same possibility was available at home, if only I'd combined that tub of vanilla in the freezer with that pottle of pop in the fridge.
To me, this seemed a revolutionary concept and one my mum would never allow under normal circumstances - as if a different set of rules applied within the walls of the chain pizza establishment.
Luckily, my tastes have since matured. That disgusting, sugary brown liquid has been banished from my life and Pizzaland no longer exists.
But I still like ice cream and stout is the new dark beverage in my life, so I recently decided to combine the two. Apparently, my tastes haven't matured that much after all.
A bottle of Mallinsons Chocolate Stout seemed to offer the perfect opportunity for this abomination.
On its own it's tasty enough. The aroma is full of bitter, roasted cocoa beans and charcoal, with mellower notes of dark chocolate and vanilla creeping through later.
It's drier than expected in the mouth, like a gob-full of chewed-up, chalky dark chocolate followed by a slice of brown toast.
But, like the aroma, the taste also mellows, becoming softer and sweeter as it progresses, with silky milk chocolate and lactose sugar soothing the taste buds. The dry, bitter finish is sprinkled with a judicious amount of autumnal hops and coffee beans, leaving a stubborn aftertaste.
After enjoying half a pint of the stuff, perhaps I should have just finished the glass but out came the Madagascan vanilla ice cream and in went two big scoops.
At first, it looked like a pint of Guinness when the nitrogen is settling - cascading light brown bubbles sat beneath a big creamy glob on top of the pitch-black stout.
Despite the creamy brown no man's land, at first light and dark refused to mix, creating an unusual taste in the mouth.
Every sip revealed sweet vanilla ice cream followed by a jarring bitterness, the flavours of the two different components failing to mesh at all.
But all it needed was time.
Once the ice cream started to melt, filtering down to the rest of the beer, it created a different drink altogether.
It smelled like hot chocolate and tasted like iced mocha, full of sweet milk chocolate to start, followed by a little bitter roasted malt, espresso coffee and finishing with creamy vanilla.
I probably went about it all a pretty cack-handed way (there's got to be a classier method than two scoops in a pint glass) but I'd definitely do it again.
Just you wait world. Soon, I'll have my way and the stout float will be a fixture in every good drinking establishment. Cue evil laughter...
CAMRGB Manchester Twissup
Next month it's Manchester's time to shine when I attempt to help organise a piss-up (at least partly) in a brewery.
On February 22 this great city will play host to the next event from CAMRGB, in the shape of a stagger round some of the beery wonders this city has to offer.
The following is a 'provisional' plan and although I'm well aware these things are often subject to change after the first few drinks have slipped down, hopefully this should provide plenty to get excited about.
12 noon Marble Arch
An early start and a chance for everyone to meet in one of Manchester's finest pubs. Marble have agreed to keep a couple of special beers aside for us and there will also be the chance for food should anyone wish to line the stomach.
Blackjack have kindly agreed to throw open the doors of the brewery and put on some beers especially. So if you'd like to have a poke around some copper while knocking back a beer, this is one for you.
4pm Port Street Beer House
A tour around Manchester wouldn't be complete without a stop at Port Street and the guys there have agreed to clear some space for us. This stop should also include a new beer from Quantum Brewing, which brewer Jay Krause has kindly agreed to supply.
As we make our way across the city we'll stop off at Font. It's a chance to drink more beer and grab some food, as I'm sure there'll be a few growling stomachs by this point.
8.30pm First Chop
The Twissup coincides with First Chop's second brewery social, so the final stop will offer a chance to meet brewer Rik Garner, sample some fine First Chop beers and enjoy a bit of music.
Get the date in the diary now. If you can, let me know either in the comments here or via Twitter if you'll be attending so I can give each stop notice of how many people to expect. That way they can make sure there's beer and food for everyone!
Hopefully see plenty of you there.
Burning Sky Saison à la Provision
Keg, 6.5% ABV
Burning Sky Devil's Rest
Keg, 7% ABV
Both at Red Willow, Macclesfield
And you're just a dreamer if you don't realize
And the sooner you do will be the better for you
Then we'll all be happy, and we'll all be wise
And all bow down to the burning sky
Now, I can't be completely sure but I don't think Paul Weller had beer on his mind when he wrote those particular lyrics.
In fact, I'm pretty sure the 'burning sky' in the old Jam classic was more of a malevolent presence than a force for good down the pub.
But, given the unbridled excitement that greeted Burning Sky's recent arrival, the final two lines quoted above appear particularly prophetic.
Its establishment marked the return of a well-known and well-respected face in British beer, Mark Tranter, the former head brewer at well-established Sussex brewery Dark Star.
But this new venture represents something of a departure from his previous role. The commitment to a strong cask core remains - Devil's Rest joined by pales Plateau and Aurora at the heart of the brewery's range - but has been supplemented by a focus on innovation through adherence to tradition.
It's an intriguing paradox but by drawing on long-standing Belgian methods, Burning Sky could create a variety of fresh and interesting new British beers.
Barrel-ageing, wild yeast cultures and blending will be key to this, as will the saison, a style that has been done to death over the past two years.
A common complaint is that many of these saisons have not exactly been faithful to the origins, more IPAs fermented using saison yeast than faithful representations of the style.
But any saison fatigue I might have been suffering was quickly washed away by my first gulp of the Saison à la Provision. It does exactly what this beer was supposed to do when it was first conceived by the farmers of Wallonia by combining taste with the refreshment of an arctic waterfall.
After undergoing primary fermentation with saison yeast, it's spiked with Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces during secondary to create a delightful depth of aroma and flavour.
Pouring cloudy peach with a small white head, it immediately releases smells of the barnyard, hay, earthy funk and firm spice filling the nostrils. Sharp lemon lingers in the background without ever cutting through the other aromas and, oddly, there's even the merest hint of banana milkshake.
The taste is sweet and soft at first, like a spoonful of caramel swirled in a huge pot of stewed apple, but quickly begins to firm up.
A squirt of lemon and sprinkle of orange zest tangles with firm red apple and young peach, while a tanginess tickles the corners of the mouth. Clove and spice build in the lead-up to the finish, which is long and arid, with just a slight tingling sourness sticking around throughout.
Devil's Rest might sit on more well-established ground as a 7% IPA but it shows similar promise and felt like a real decadent treat.
Deep and hazy burnt orange in colour and topped by a thin white halo, it exuded thick aromas of pine, passion fruit, lychee and tangerine, with caramel and heavy cedar hanging in the back of the nostrils.
The taste is lush sticky caramel and sherbet followed by a huge rush of powerful hops that seem to shoot on a main line to the pleasure receptors in the brain.
Big resinous notes pound away while delicate spice, pineapple, passion fruit and lime fizz in the foreground and a maturing malt character provides a solid nutty backbone.
It finishes bitter yet pleasantly piquant; dry yet leaving the slightest sticky residue in the mouth. It ticks most of the boxes for a big IPA, although I'm not sure how well it will translate to cask.
Regardless, both beers suggest Burning Sky will have some treats in store during 2014.
Quantum Barleywine USA
Bottle, 8.8% ABV
Quantum head brewer Jay Krause never ceases to amaze.
I mean, the man must be bloody knackered running a brewery entirely on his tod yet still manages to conceive and create a wonderfully unique and varied range of beers.
From his 2.7% ABV Small Beer to the monstrous Imperial Treacle Stout, every angle seems to have been covered with consideration given to the entire spectrum of tastes.
But, to my mind at least, one particular concoction stood out in 2013, ranking among my absolute favourites for the year.
The Barleywine USA is a real wolf in sheep's clothing - the kind of beer that lulls you into a false sense of security before dealing the unexpected killer blow.
It certainly looks like it means business, pouring hazy, deep amber with a menacing brown tinge and tight, off-white head.
But although there's nothing soft about its appearance, there's a lighter touch in the aroma, which thrusts a huge bouquet of freshly-picked flowers under your nose.
Grass and pine also come through strongly, almost totally disguising the more subtle notes of sweet brown sugar and tart, zesty lemon juice. Strangely, it hints at the presence of Brett too, such is the waft of earthy must that lingers behind the stronger floral perfumes.
A delicate nature persists in the initial taste. Soft honey and fizzy sherbet offer the kind of innocent indulgence that used to come from sucking the coating off a full packet of lemon bonbons one by one, each time tossing the toffee centre.
There's little hint of the devastation in store and, without warning, the palate is overwhelmed by a bold bitterness, which quickly establishes an iron grip and refuses to let go.
It could easily get out of control but is tempered by beautiful resinous hop flavours, pine and orange boiled sweets. A sticky sweet mouthfeel enhances the balance and leaves a soothing residue on the palate long after the bottle has been finished, joined by the slightest warming alcohol heat.
Let's hope fatigue doesn't have too much of an effect on Mr Krause. Much is expected of him in 2014.
Cromarty Atlantic Drift
Cask at The Beagle, 3.5% ABV
I've never really understood the 'session' obsession among some drinkers.
Look, I enjoy a good pint of bitter or session pale as much as the next man - in fact, I was raised on those styles - but at the expense of everything else?
To me, it seems odd you might want to sit in the pub and drink pint after pint of the same beer all day long. After a while, doesn't it become a bit too much like a hotdog eating contest?
That being said, a good pint of session pale is one of life's simple pleasures. The combination of the right pint, at the right time, in the right place is pretty much unbeatable.
This year, Cromarty's Atlantic Drift was responsible for that perfect storm.
It came at the height of the Mancunian summer, on the terrace at the Beagle in Chorlton, with a number of my closest friends.
That night, nothing proved more satisfying than Atlantic Drift, the combination of huge flavour and low ABV allowing it to tickle the taste buds at the same time as slaking my gargantuan thirst.
It's pretty as a picture too, a perfect slab of thick, white head perched proudly atop the clear, golden amber liquid.
Even on cask, the aroma is far from muted, as the mixture of Amarillo, Cascade, Calypso and Mt Hood hops quickly announce their presence. Bright orange and grapefruit mingle with crisp grass and earthy floral notes like a lungful of air from a lush citrus grove.
The taste opens with bags of mandarin orange sat on top of crisp pale malt, offering just a touch of grainy sweetness. A whizz of grapefruit fires across the top, almost as a warning shot for the big pine punch that follows, launching you into a long, dry finish full of pithy bitterness.
Amazingly, this doesn't scrimp on juicy fruit flavours or in-your-face earthiness but never seems to fall out of balance. The finishing bitterness is powerful yet zesty and pleasant, helping to clear the palate in anticipation of the next mouthful.
Some might consider the body a little light but it's right for the strength and there's just enough sweetness to carry the bold flavours without detracting from the beer's thirst-quenching nature.
It's almost enough to make you move to Scotland. Either that or wait in hope that more of this finds its way south of the border next summer.
Kernel Export Stout London 1890
Bottle, 7.2% ABV
I'm a man of extremes.
Moderation has never been my strong point, so if I end up doing something, you can be guaranteed I'll take it to the extreme.
I can't buy a bike without also kitting myself head to toe in lycra (sorry for the mental image), I can't appreciate cinema without amassing a giant collection of classics on DVD and I can't enjoy beer without feeling the need to dissect every aspect of it on an internet blog.
My tastes are similar.
When it comes to beer, ask me what I drink most and it's one of two extremes. Either the deepest, darkest, dirtiest stouts or light, refreshing, well-hopped pale ales.
So, from the moment I was introduced to the Kernel a few years back, it became clear we would have a pretty harmonious relationship.
The sheer variety and quality of their pale ales is unrivalled. Granted, there have been a few missteps and occasionally I'd like a little less sediment in my bottle but Kernel's pales have assumed almost iconic significance when it comes to modern British brewing.
Still, however, it's the brewery's dark beers that continue to excite and amaze me - particularly the Export Stout London 1890.
Maybe it's because I was weened onto 'proper' beer using bottles of Guiness Foreign Extra but this just seems to resonate with me. It's such a stunningly well conceived and composed beer, grounded in tradition yet enhanced by innovation.
Sometimes appearances can be deceptive but not with this beast. It pours deep, oily black with a small mocha head that quickly dissipates, leaving a glass full of beautiful glossy, jet black liquid.
The nose is extremely well layered, with bags of dried fruit - predominantly raisins, cherries and figs - sat on top of a hunk of toasted bakery bread. Dull chocolate and coffee pulsate in the background, while the growing alcohol presence provides a rum-like character.
Similarly, there's a lot to work through in the taste.
Medium body and light carbonation allow a rich fruitiness to ease its way across the front of the tongue. Raisins, dates and cherries mingle with light toffee in a start that's both sweet and ever-so-slightly tart, while chalky dark chocolate lingers in the shadows.
A well-judged dose of hops provides a light spicy, herbal bitterness that leads into a finish full of bold malt character. An intense shot of espresso eclipses any lasting notes of dark chocolate, leaving a dry bitterness in the mouth, which is soon joined by growing notes of burnt toast and tobacco.
Those flavours of smoke and roast set up shop in the back of the mouth, leaving a pleasant aftertaste that would last for hours if you let it.
This is what stout is all about.
Mont des Cats
Bottle, 7.6% ABV
This beer is having an identity crisis.
It doesn't know whether it's French or Belgian, Trappist or not.
Although it purports to be made with the cooperation of the monks at the abbey of Mont des Cats in France - famous for their cheeses - but is actually brewed across the border at Scourmont Abbey, better known as the birthplace of Chimay.
As a result, this isn't an official Trappist beer, given it isn't produced inside the walls of the abbey.
But, most importantly, is it any good? The answer to that is also going to be a little vague.
It practically exploded out of the bottle, leaving me in a frantic scramble to salvage enough of the murky amber liquid to actually taste. So, not the best of starts.
Any head must have been left in the bottle because what remained looked pretty lifeless in my Chimay glass, not even the merest hint of froth surviving the first 30 seconds after pouring. Still, the beer remained quite highly carbonated, giving it a prickly mouthfeel.
The nose offered few surprises, dominated by burnt caramel and spice but also providing soft herbal notes and even a light touch of banana, with a sharp alcohol freshness.
Initially, the taste is overwhelmingly sweet, soft caramel soothing the front of the tongue before candi sugar and sugared plums take a more assertive approach.
These flavours are countered by the underlying presence of burnt toast, which comes through stronger as the spice profile grows.
Cloves are particularly prominent,delivering a light heat that numbs the back of the tongue, but this is also generously hopped for a Trappist beer and a fresh grassiness eventually cuts through the spice.
It becomes somewhat tart, rather than bitter, tingling the corners of the mouth until a drying finish strips the palate completely.
Ultimately, it's pleasant but too sweet and lacking in depth. Perhaps fitting it didn't make the grade as an official Trappist beer.
The Lost Abbey Saint's Devotion
Bottle, 6.66% ABV
A Brett-finished version of Lost Abbey's Devotion Ale you say? Well, don't mind if I do.
Both mind and body are still a little fragile from a night of celebration at the Font, Chorlton to toast my engagement but this still went down very nicely indeed.
Like most Lost Abbey beers, it's quirky and full of character, paying fitting homage to a traditional Belgian style. And, as a huge fan of Orval, it seems particularly ideal, delivering hops, malt and a good hit of funky Brett.
The cork comes loose with the satisfying pop of a champagne bottle and the beer pours a beautiful cloudy, golden orange with a huge, frothy white head. The loose foam gradually dissipates but leaves huge chunks of lacing all down the glass as it goes.
The first sniff leaves you in no doubt that the Brett has done its job. Its mucky fingerprints are all over the aroma.
Sour cherries and fresh orange lead the way but are closely followed by earthy spice, soggy oak, leather and farmyard hay. Clove notes also throb strongly in the background and the odd waft of banana occasionally creeps through.
In the taste, sharp citrus initially washes a pleasant freshness over the palate, orange and faint lemon making for a sweet start, sat neatly on top of a savoury cracker provided by the malt.
Citrus soon morphs into sour berries and cherry pie before the Brett really starts to take hold. There's as much funk as a George Clinton bassline, a medley of spice and a clove heat that grows slowly as the beer works its way through the mouth.
The finish is drier than a speech from David Cameron, stripping any moisture from the mouth and leaving a dull earthiness in its place.
Despite its complex nature and Brett's acquired taste, it remains incredibly drinkable. It's heavily, yet perfectly, carbonated, lightly tart rather than sour, with only a light touch of bitterness in the finish.
I only wish I could get hold of it more often.
Bottle, 5.4% ABV
Of all the beers on my #12BeersOfXmas list, this had possibly the most personal resonance.
It was a recent find in a local off-licence and caught the eye because it came from a brewery that claimed to be based in Didsbury, the place I currently call home.
Now, if you know Didsbury, you'd know it's an unlikely place for a brewery.
Rents round here are sky high and there isn't exactly an abundance of vacant industrial units. It's the epitome of aspirational commuter belt Manchester.
As it turns out, Geipel is headquartered in Didsbury yet brews in Gellioedd, Wales, specialising in traditional lager.
Unfortunately, my first experience of their amber lager Zoigl was less than favourable.
Both the aroma and flavour were dominated by acetaldehyde.
It smelled strongly of bruised granny smith apples and tasted of the same, joined by redcurrants and a touch of nutty dark malt.
It was clearly not an accurate representation of how this beer should taste and I strongly hope it was a one-off.
Everything else I've seen seems to suggest Geipel is a slick, well-resourced operation and it would be quite refreshing to find a new brewery that specialises in strict adherence to a limited range of traditional styles.
Magic Rock Strongman
Bottle, 12% ABV
One of my enduring childhood memmories of Christmas is World's Strongest Man.
Nothing says festive celebration quite like watching a bunch of burly Scandanavians completing a 100-metre sprint with an articulated lorry attached to them.
So Magic Rock's big barleywine seemed like the ideal Christmas treat. Put this in the final of World's Strongest Beer and I'm sure it would more than hold its own.
It's a sipper in the strictest sense of the word. Let yourself be fooled into taking a gulp by the alluring medley of tropical and citrus fruit flavours and you'll soon find out exactly how strong this circus freak is. Those muscles aren't just for show, let me assure you!
This is produced from the same brew as Magic Rock's spectacular triple IPA Un-Human Cannonball and that much becomes instantly evident. Once you've hacked through the wax-dipped top (not an easy task for an infrequent wine drinker like myself) and popped the cap, big hop aromas of tropical fruit and pine immediately escape the bottle.
Pineapple and mango lead the assault, followed by bitter orange marmalade, with a vein of floral pine running underneath. Vanilla and brown sugar also reveal themselves before boozy sherry singes the nostril hairs, providing a timely reminder of that prodigious strength.
This power is also suggested in the appearance. Although a creamy white head forms upon first pour, this quickly dissipates to leave only a syrupy, hazy golden amber liquid in the glass - something resembling a good spirit rather than beer.
It's heavy and sticky in the mouth, yet the taste is all hops up front. Hefty, resinous hops, pineapple boiled sweets, fizzy sherbet, tangerine and blood orange, with toffee malt sitting below. Everything you'd expect from a triple IPA.
But, just as you begin to enjoy those bold hop flavours, the character quickly changes and rather than a colossal IPA, you're left with something completely different.
Muscovado sugar, honey and vanilla almost verge on cloying but vinous fruit and a smooth cashew nuttiness leads into a big oaky, sherry finish, which is dry, astringent and mildly warming. This is accompanied by a medium hop bitterness, fairly well hidden by the substantial sweetness, and a little earthy spice.
It is both a triple IPA and a barleywine and, at the same time, it's neither of the above. I reckon it could probably benefit from more time in the bottle to develop a richer character but even at this early stage, it's another enjoyable sup from Magic Wine.
The Huddersfield brewmasters have had a good year.