Notes from an Advent Calendar

Once again, the season has passed and the Carwyn Cellars Canvent Calendar has been and gone. Like Frosty the Snowman, it brought with it important lessons, love and joy, as well as something to do in the silly season before disappearing for another year. Below are my tasting notes for each of the beers – the takeaways and TL;DR’s are in the title of each paragraph along with the name of the beer and the name of the brewery.

Strong showing this year. Consistent quality with only a scant few of these being beers I regretted trying or wouldn’t want to drink again. This curated experience brought for me exactly what I wanted – some delicious examples of familiar beers to very much enjoy and a broad swathe of styles that I probably wouldn’t have dipped my toes into without a little prompting, allowing me to revisit or sample some new and interesting things.

Top 3 would probably be, in no particular order, day 8 (pilsner), day 18 (APA) and day 21 (farmhouse sour), with some special nods to the innovative saisons and bocks, and some very passable Belgian dubbels and barleywines for getting me to enjoy some styles I tend to avoid, and of course all the massive IPAs and NEIPAS for being pretty delicious across the board.

1. Mountain Culture Cryo-Hopped NEIPA 7.8% – not super innovative but delicious

Pours almost milky, fully opaque and rich with trub floaties. Deep straw, fluffy white foam. Smells delightfully tropical, lashings of passionfruit and mango and apricot. Does have that nice hoppy bitterness at the back – a little dank, floral and with a piney resinousness to offset a rich and silky, almost creamy mouthfeel. Almost like ramming a NEIPA into a dank WCIPA. Light carbonation continues the creaminess – whether this is by design or because the thickness of the brew overwhelms it is unknown. Not ground-breaking, but still delightful. Strong start.

2. Wolf of the Willows Acidulus Sour DIPA with waxflower 8% – a little innovative, delicious

Bright sour acid with stone fruit flavours cutting into a bitter IPA. Has the beginnings of an IPA – a little bitter, a little grainy but entwined with the acid and the v. subtle cherry and the less subtle peach. Comes out more guava-y, like a bitter guava drink with an acrid quinine back. The sour is very tart and fresh, enough to stand alone as a sour, but as the malt and the hop bitterness kicks in, it alters into a more gruit-y sort of a beer. I like this. Reminds me of the Thornbridge Trolltunga

3. White Bay Doppelbock 8.5% – pretty classic, very good example

Pours quite a dark brown with a rapidly subsiding white head. A certain amount of clarity exposing bright ruby undertones. Chocolatey, banana-y and malt rich, with a bitter lager finish, a full but light body and a clearly present alcohol content. Bitterness from the hops and the roasted malt offset the natural sweetness that might usually be present and tends towards overly cloying for me. Though I’m not usually a fan of this style, I would drink this again

4. Banks Brewing Ducks Fly Together DIPA 8.8% – not super innovative, delicious

Pours an almost milky, fully opaque but very pale yellow, like a fresh-crushed pineapple juice piña colada with a fluffy white head. Another big tropical juice bouquet. A confusingly full and rich, creamy mouthfeel for such a fresh DIPA – bursting with those familiar flavours of fresh juicy pineapple, grapefruit and passionfruit. Little bit of vanilla almost? Bitter resin at the back and a lengthy, lingering bitterness. Can taste the booze, but its heat twines through the fruit and really melds into the hop bitterness. Delightful. Would drink again. Would be easy to get just the littlest bit legless on and become transfixed in the psychedelic, Escher-like tessellating duck label.

5. Molly Rose Fa La La Lah fruit and spice farmhouse ale 5.3% – traditional but innovative, delicious

Our first reasonable ABV, pours a delightfully fizzy, murky fuchsia, white head, rapid sublimation. A delicious olde-worlde sour, fruited with blood plum and raspberry. Both lend a puckeringly tart aspect, a spritzy, refreshing citric acidity, and a delightful fruit syrup flavour that I can’t help but compare to a melting Slurpee. Though the spice is not too upfront, a gentle search for it gives up all the notes of a good mulled wine. A little cinnamon, clove maybe even star anise? This has a characteristic not a million miles away from quince paste, though much sharper and much less sweet, and as such would go very well with a cheese board or something like a ham or pork with a bit of rich fat that needs cutting through. It has a pronounced bret funk, but one that is pretty savvily blended into the sweetness and tartness so none of those characteristics becomes dominant or overwhelming. Very astringent, leaves a trail of dryness down the back of the throat.

6. Moffat Beach Clambake Christmas red ale with mussels 5.5% – riff on traditional, not great

Pours a glorious ruddy copper with a tan head. Smells a little treacley. Tastes a little vegemitey, a little saline, malty, bready, rich – combined makes a bit of a vegemite on toast kind of effect. Leaves a slightly unpleasant acrid – not quite acrid, but that’s as near as I can describe it – lingering note on the tongue, like you’ve licked a coin or tasted blood. There’s a very classic British pub beer flavour going on here, but it isn’t amazing. Don’t love this one at all, but I don’t actively hate it. I could see one being pretty nice on a drizzly afternoon.

7. Fox Friday Kevin TIPA 10.5% – ridiculously large version of traditional. Needs to be further investigated. Did not love, but concede that I need to try again

Pours like a pale pineapple smoothie, white head. Looks thick. Smells spicy, boozy. Hits hard with the booze. Too hard. Like spiced vodka or something. Actually, very like spiced vodka. Barely drinkable for the first few sips, hopefully gets better. Upon reflection, it may not be the booze but the cryo hops that create the initial perceived ethanol. After the first few sips, it seems to almost magically mellow, its undrinkableness (for me) fading but not gone. It’s probably too much. Has a nice pineapple-ness almost. Its back palate is almost white-chocolatey with dusty spice. Mellows significantly to a strong IPA after the initial palate shock. Not… not great. Ok though, I guess. Would be interesting to drink two of these in a row, though that would mean drinking something like 7 standard drinks. Maybe I got one from the end of the run?

8. King River Aurora Europa Pilsner 5.9% – very traditional, delicious

Pours classic beer – crystal clear, fizzy, yellow, golden, fluffy-white-headed lager. Smells like my youth. This is a pilsner I could drink the heck out of – almost rich upfront and crisp at the back, no butyric acid (vomity) aftertaste. There’s a floral element, and a mild banana aspect, not so phenolic or sweet as to be intrusive. Malty, like buttery biscuits with a stiff hop bitterness to drop that butteryness off a sharp cliff, but not so bitter as to be tongue-smacking. Lengthening and lingering but welcome bitter end – perhaps a touch metallic. Complex enough to be interesting, smooth enough to be truly smashable – a lovely pilsner

9. Hop Nation Never Odd or Even Mulberry and Key Lime Imperial Sour 8.7% – non traditional, non delicious. One of the few beers from Hop Nation I haven’t enjoyed.

Pours pale purple red, like blackcurrant or… well, mulberry. Has a thin sort of ribena element to it. White head, rapidly subsided – gone before I grabbed my camera for the photo. Has a slight berry cough syrup aroma to it. Similar flavour initially. Sour and bitter from what seems to be lime pith. Taste like a sour-berry-flavoured thing, more than it has a natural sour berry flavour, like generic redberry and citric acid, and the ethanol heat at the back adds to the medicinal quality. Bright and spiky elements of lime zest entwine around sugary fruit elements, all held back from overwhelming by… not balance, per se, from the sour and bitter notes, but from an uneasy first and second-world M.A.D. cold-war peace between them. Feels smoother the more you drink, but I can’t shake the medicinal quality, the lozenge or cough syrup pastille of sweet fruit flavours elevated by spiky sourness and then dunked back down with bitter and quinine ethanol notes. Not great, but I wouldn’t hate a friend for buying one for me.

10. CoConspirators The Scrooge DIPA 8.5% – not too innovative, but refined and delicious

Fraught with seaming issues and possible recalls amid concerns about provenance, the beer pours pretty perfectly; a beautiful IPA, deep citrine with a fluffy white head. Melon, mango and passionfruit on the nose, with the same on the palate, along with lashings of pine resin and citrus pith bitterness and a fairly severe punch of lupulin up front, presumably from all the goddamn hops. Feels like a refined version of the pissing-contest DIPAs of yore, lacks the wooliness and the BO flavour characteristics, feels a bit more sharp, though still has a blunt-force hop impact. The bitterness is very strong. It is intense without being too dank, and to compare it with the old school DIPAs is like comparing LSD to mushrooms. Similar, more intense but with a little more refinement from science and understanding behind it. Delicious without being an exemplar, or v. innovative. Would def drink again – probs wouldn’t session though. I am noticing that I am having a reverse lupulin build-up recently – big hoppy beers are far too intense to begin with but end up smooth and delicious. Like this beer ended very smooth and delicious. Have to look into that.

11. Garage Project Pud Christmas Pudding Stout 7.5% – innovative take on traditional, delicious

Pours dark with a hint of scarlet in those corners the light can reach, medium buff coloured head. Smells like chocolate cake, vanilla, spices. Tastes of those things along with the bitterness of dusty cocoa, and a hint of mostly unsweetened cherry cola. The mixed peel is present though welcomingly light-on, and there’s something like grape or cherry skins, a slight freshness among all the rich roastiness. It’s rich but quenching, a thinner body for a stout along with a lingering astringence makes this definitely a cracker of a stout for a southern hemisphere Christmas. Would drink again for sure.  

12. Wayward Cash Money dry hopped saison 6% – modern take on traditional, delicious

Pours pale, almost clear with a little opacity, fizzy, white head. Smells like pineapple lollies and banana with an invitingly fresh, fruity vibe. Old school bubblegum saison type flavours crashing into a lemony hint of tropics, crisp rather than woolly, dry saison finish. Bitterness at the back. Significantly more vibrant than I tend to find a saison, and correspondingly nicer (for me). There is a little acid, lemony in flavour, not strictly sour though. I could smash this. I did. Rare for me to say that about a saison. Brewing a beer like this is very cash money of Wayward.

13. Philter Christmas Vacation Bock Weizenbock 7.2% – fairly traditional, pretty good for its style

Pours dark like over-steeped tea or like the bottom end of the severe dehydration urine chart, with plenty of fizz. An almost orange brown, (tobacco starburst?), coppery with a just slightly off-white head. Immediately smells like choconana, incense, bubblegum and raisins. Tastes like all that too – ending strong on the chocolate, banana and bubblegum. Little bit of red fruit buried in there somewhere, with some caramel and dried fruit, along with a little (imagined?) spice. Has that lager-y clearness of body in the middle there along with a bit of almost crisp bitterness before all the wooliness takes over and drowns anything crisp in fluffy traditional flavours. The end is a big, sweet candied hit, but all in all this is juicy and smooth for something of this stripe, very mellow for a 7.2 percenter as well. Something, something, shitter’s full. I don’t love it, but I was never going to, but I like it more than others of its field.

14. Dangerous Ales Fang-tastic plum sour 7.2% – non-traditional, rather good

Pours an amber puce, little to no head. Smells vinous. Juice body, flavours of grape, plum, wine. Light and fresh tartness, astringent finish. Has a pink champagne element, something like sav blanc also. Light sweetness that goes through tangy and ends with that wine catch in the back of the throat. Light and fresh flavours, something like strawberry and guava. Notes inconclusive – simply trailed off. I take it as a sign that I enjoyed this one enough to simply drink it and get on with it.

15. Gwei-Lo Rocky Road Cheesecake Sour 5.5% – Quite non-traditional, not great

Pours deep brown like soy sauce or strong creamy soda, fizzy, light tan head, rapid subsidy. Smells disconcertingly like spam initially, but after that like chocolate syrup and cake. Has a flavour of chocolate sauce, marzipan and something like a watermelon sour lolly. Bizarre brew, right off the bat, though not horrid. There is also a vanilla note, and something approaching creaminess, though in such a fizzy sour, it isn’t quite creamy, per se. Sweetness in there, though not so strong as to overpower anything too much. Little bit of red berry or cherry. Full disclosure, I started eating partway through and this one pairs very well with dumplings and char siu bao with dumpling sauce and chilli oil. It balanced everything right out. I am not certain I would have loved it on its own, but it was a truly magical pairing.

16. Lost Palm Brewing Twisted Fiction Belgian dark strong ale 10% – fairly new take on something quite traditional, quite good

Pours deep russet brown with ruby where the strongest of light can penetrate, fluffy tan head. Smells like a spiced banana bread, richly malty, sweet with a little fruit and tonnes of spice in there. Tastes powerful – very rich, bready like a malted rye or pumpernickel slathered in bananas and honey, or, actually could be better described as being like toasted buttery hot cross buns. While I don’t tend to like a Belgian strong ale or its ilk (such as barleywines and dubbels, trippels and quads) overmuch, this one is definitely drinkable. It is such a broad explosion of flavour that the palate has trouble glomming onto everything all at once, and is drawn in all directions. Its kind like anti-balanced, almost too big but in all directions. The booze heat comes through quite strongly, but is mitigated by the full-bodied sweetness, richness and spice before it can become ethanolic. Caramel and chocolate coats the mouth, yeasty phenolics run rampant and then slide away, without hops to affix them into place, leaving a faint trace of sweetness and banana. Something like a mince tart in there as well. I’d have one without regretting it, but more might be a stretch. If you like the Belgian candi style, this may well be the brew for you.

17. Six String Cherry Lips and Chocolate Curls black forest stout 8.8% – relatively traditional, bit disappointing

Pours classic stout – deep brown with a tan head. Smells delightfully chocolatey and a little creamy almost like vanilla. You can taste the booze and the cherry straight up, like someone’s dropped a cheeky kirsch into your roasty, chocolatey stout. They hum together, the ethanol and cherry, like they’ve been soaked in liquor before being added to the brew. There is bitterness there – not hoppy, but perhaps a dusty, unsweetened dark cocoa, or even the effect of that charry malt and the fiery booze. Makes it perhaps a touch ashy. Rich mouthfeel makes a velvety effect with those cherries – really echoes that schwartzwaldeschokoladekirschtorten. Really does leave a bitter taste on the tongue though. Alas, not quite what was promised by the can. Didn’t love this one, as much as I wanted to.

18. Boatrocker Feel Good American Pale Ale 5.4% – v. traditional, v. delicious

Pours like a classic American Pale Ale. Looks clear while pouring but with dialled-up opacity in the glass. Smells delightfully tropical as soon as the can is cracked – passionfruit and mango in great amounts, and generous quantities of mandarin and grapefruit too. Tastes much more like an ipa – I think it could have very easily been filed as such if people weren’t afraid to put up a ‘low’ ABV IPA. The myth that an IPA needs to be a big boozer is one of the results of the hop-based pissing contests of the earlier craft revolution. This feels like a solid IPA – spritzy and fresh with a proper hoppy, bitter finish. Delicious. Would drink again and again. Still, an APA feels like a bold choice as a ‘showcase’ beer for something like Canvent, especially from a brewery with a pedigree like Boatrocker – perhaps the brewers missed the deadline? Cocked up their special brew? Made something too good for a limited release they decided to keep to themselves? Still – well done. There is something to be said for doing the classics super well.

19. Good Land The Pud Barleywine 10% – reasonably traditional, not bad

Pours somewhat pale for a big barleywine, though still burnished copper, white head. Big aroma as soon as the can is cracked – bready, cakey sort of a smell, hints of banana and spice. Like banana bread with vanilla ice-cream and butterscotch sauce on top. A rich mouthfeel – sweet malt treacle giving way to the booze heat and vanilla towards the end. Less of the yeasty phenolics this style can accumulate – lighter on the bubblegum and banana than some. Very much like eating a booze-soaked slice of cake. Or gin drenched marmalade on buttered brown toast. There is a little bitterness that lays down through the vinous viscosity of the afterpalate, though it doesn’t feel hoppy – perhaps the astringence of roasty malt or oak, or even ethanol. Lends to an almost cinnamonesque spice note. Very smooth for a barleywine for me, not usually a huge fan. The sweetness is not too cloying, the phenolics are not too overpowering. Would probably drink again, though not straightaway.

20. Sailors Grave Glaze charred pineapple and marmalade beer 5.8% – non-traditional, non-delicious

Pours burnt amber, fluffy white head. Smells fruity – like pineapple and stonefruit. Tastes more savoury than one might expect – a little bit of slightly unripe apricot and saline to go with the pineapple and citrus. The citrus is reminiscent of the sharp note that a fresh, pulpy orange juice may take on as it’s on the turn. Some sweetness, and a general green stonefruit flavour, actually, a bit of the yeast with the fruit perhaps? There is an almost yoghurt note, like a creamy vanilla sourness that isn’t enough to define but does inform. Little bit of dank weediness in the back there. Full disclosure, I did eat in the middle of this one, a noodle soup. Didn’t quite do the alchemical magic that the dumplings did to the last one. Lot of sediment at the bottom of this beer. Not a tonne of bitterness there, but it is present. This beer is fine. Wouldn’t really want another, but don’t regret having had this one.

21. Black Arts Berry Xmas sour farmhouse ale (golden wild ale) 6% – modern take on traditional, v. delicious

Pours a luminous amber with a tendency towards orange –light, pinkish-red tones shot through it. Bubbly, white head. A big strong farmhouse barrel flavour – in a good way – without being boozy. Bret funk and savoury notes combine with tart, vinegary ones, a little sweetness from the fruit snatched away by the brut body of the brew. Delicious – the kind of complex sour that I enjoy. Slightly different in each sip – more berries in this mouthful, more blue cheese in that one, more sharp acidity in that one. The hops at the back provide that tongue catching bitterness even as the lacto catches the throat, though they don’t add anything overtly hoppy, fruity or floral to things. There is vanilla, presumably from the oak – ah, no, upon checking the can, from the vanilla beans. That and the oak together may add that slight acridity together with their gentle lusciousness. Raspberry, a little marmalade (ironically more than in the marmalade beer from earlier). Delicious. Complex and interesting and refreshing and well made. Would happily drink again.

22. Mismatch Cherry Dubbel 7% – innovative, delicious – blend of traditions, really rather good

Pours just like cherry cola. C-O-L-A cola. Off white tan head. Smells like tinned peaches in syrup, a malty sweetness. Has a cherry cola vibe in flavour as well, albeit a slightly bitter-water cherry cola. Not in a bad way though. Dusty oakiness blends into that fruit forward freshness, leaving a quite dry finish. Very, very light and fresh tasting for a dubbel – and not a lot of booze heat either. On the other side of those lighter fresher notes is just a little brown bread toast – can says biscuity, but it isn’t quite sweet or buttery enough for that, IMO. Little bit like cherry pits – when you mang on the stones after finishing the fruit. That’s the slightly bitter dry note that remains. It’s actually rather good. I would drink this again – despite my general lack of love towards non-sour Belgians.

23. Working Title Jingle Jangle Toasted Pine Double West Cost IPA 10% – BIG take on traditional, good

Pours a beautiful, lucent, orange-tinged golden colour with a fluffy white head. Quite clear as it pours, accrues a little opacity as the glass fills out, but still lets a bit of light through. No fuzzy NEIPA here. Smells like good ol’ tropical breakfast juice. Orange and mango, pineapple and passionfruit, all the usual suspects. Big, BIG resinous kick, proper bitter finish. In that bitterness you can get that massive piney resin. Slightly thick and almost viscous, there is a somewhat savoury note at the front, before the fruit bursts through, and then the citrus and the pine and the dank. Leaves a somewhat nutty taste in your mouth after the bitterness subsides, like pistachio. Hop oils coat the tongue early, and in layers. Did I mention this was a *big* IPA? Seems superfluous when dealing with a DWCIPA, but it has to be said. The booze is there, clearly, but the heat is very low, perhaps catching just the smallest amount at the back of the throat as you navigate the glass. Palate shock or rather fatigue starts to set in – the hops build on the tongue and the throat and bitterness really takes over as the brightness and fruitiness subsides. Like an aging, closeted gay man in a conservative community. Still, can’t keep a good IPA down, and those big rich flavours still play quite well against the lightly sweet, well balanced malty backbone that carries the whole beast. This is pretty tasty, but probably not one to session. Just as well – one can is three standard drinks. Would drink again though, albeit with caution. I’m feeling almost tipsy at the end of this one.

24. Last Word Brewing and Spotty Dog Brewing Last Dog raspberry southern imperial stout (I guessed Russian, I’m gonna credit myself) 12.4% – modern take on traditional beer, ok, not amazing

Pours like engine oil, thick and viscous, black as pitch with a light tan head. Smells like sweet vanilla caramel, milk chocolate. Thick and viscous, rich sweet mouthfeel, strong booze heat giving way to bitter black coffee. Hints of cherry and loads of raspberry, some creamy smoothness but an intense bitter finish like 100% cocoa, dark-roasted coffee beans, grapefruit pith or well steeped hops. There is even an element to the bitterness that is evocative of chilli spice as it warms. You could believe this was some sort of extreme Russian Imperial lamington stout, if you allowed yourself, or a very, very intense blackforest cake. Very big, very strong flavours, the fore of which is that raspberry, though it does blend back into the others as the flavour progresses. Dry, oaky finish – impressive, given the thick, syrupy vinous nature of it. I like this, but will I have to hand in some sort of beer nerd card if I say it’s maybe too intense to properly enjoy? Good… though? Did this one as a proper blind tasting, so I was happy to see my assessment matches up with official notes and whatnot later – I kinda nailed it. Go me!

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