Long time no see! Between various holidays, numerous events hosted, and a chaotic flat move, it has been quite some time since the last blog post made its way online. General busyness hasn’t meant that the well of world class beer has dried up, though, so to make up for lost time, I thought I’d highlight a handful of cracking brews I’ve enjoyed since the last edition of Raycommendations, as well as pointing you in the direction of similar beers that are in our fridges and ready for your consumption.

Other Half x Omnipollo – BA Birthday Kooks

While visiting Washington DC for my little sister’s Masters program graduation, I was eagerly looking for pockets of time to get the family over to Other Half’s brilliant DC taproom. Squeezed between a street food market walkabout and a sushi reservation, was a brief hour window that I took full advantage of, convincing the gang to head in the direction of the mighty Other Half. To make the most of our very hasty stint there, I had 6 tasting glasses in front of me, covering the majority of what looked most interesting on the tap board. This ranged from a Wild Ale to an Oat Cream DIPA, with pit stops in Pastry Sour and Milk Stout territory, all of which were simply delightful. With about 10 minutes to spare before needing to dash, I noticed a ridiculous collaboration with one of my all-time favourite breweries Omnipollo sitting in the fridge, a 15.1% Bourbon barrel aged birthday cake Imperial Stout. Typical silliness from all involved. I couldn’t spur this opportunity, so I quickly snagged a bottle and sensibly split this behemoth brew between my five family members. I watched as they all one-by-one winced at the liquid dessert in their glasses, one after another pushing their glass my way. Just shy of 500 millilitres of a 15% Imperial Stout was not what I originally had in mind, but I couldn’t let such a beauty go to waste. For better or for worse, there was no sign of the booze here. Incredibly smooth considering its weight, with Bourbon notes that played wonderfully with the birthday cake sweetness. Would I recommend a whole bottle to oneself? No, definitely not. Sushi afterwards was an absolute blur. But if you see either of these names on a bottle, let alone together, waste no time in getting your hands on it!

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Although this particular brew isn’t in stock, we have some mega delights from both breweries involved. Fresh in as of this week is a Tripping Animals and Other Half collaborative Imperial Stout ‘Tasting Spoons’, that spent time in Whiskey barrels conditioning on coffee, pecans, and cocoa butter. Clocking in at a whopping 17%, I absolutely do not advise tucking into a bottle of this for one, but do recommend splitting it, as it’s full of bitter, roasty coffee and toasty, nutty character. A welcome break from the overindulgent Pastry Stouts that seem to be all the craze.

If you’re chasing that craze, though, and are seeking something more on the sweet side, look no further than Omnipollo’s collab with Dugges ‘Anagram Double BA Blueberry Cheesecake Stout’. Sessionable by comparison to the ‘Tasting Spoons’ (only 14%), the blueberries add a nice tartness that plays well with cacao and coconut sweetness. Complex and refined.

PINTA x Finback – Harmony

I spent the first week of June in Gdánsk with loads of pals, for my girlfriend’s birthday bash, where hundreds of Tyskies were consumed (aka Polish Coors Light). Outside of the macro-Lager-driven festivities, I managed to find a wonderful little craft beer bar that wooed me in with the promise of a PINTA Barrel Program and Finback collaborative Imperial Stout. This beer is a blend of liquids that respectively spent 18 months in Bourbon and Madeira barrels, before being conditioned on cacao nibs, dried bananas, and peanuts. The friends I was with had a similar reaction to this as my family did with the Other Half Stout, grimacing and questioning how I was able to enjoy such a syrupy, dessert-like fluid. It smelled of straight Bourbon, with notes of sweet chocolate, candied banana, roasted coffee, and a decadent, nutty finish. After days of Tyskie, this was a welcome return to the world of craft. Beautiful stuff, and comfortably my beer of the trip (despite little competition).

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If reading this has given you a craving for a banana Imperial Stout, then Rivington, Commonwealth, and Arpus have you covered with their joint ‘Lamb-or-Genie’, that just arrived with us this past Wednesday. They’ve opted for the tropical combination of banana and coconut, which pair deliciously over a honey-thick body. Apparently when three goliath breweries from across the globe team up, the result is pretty tasty…

Gravity Well – Deep Space Side Quest v2

A surprise, but clear shout for my favourite Lager of the year comes from Northeast London’s Gravity Well. I first sampled this when a kind customer shared some of his can with me and some friends, and the whole group was very impressed. This was followed by having it on draft in Putney, where its popularity grew with every customer that sampled it.  After loving it both in can and keg, I then found it pouring at Drop Project’s Friends Festival, where I served as the unofficial spokesperson of this brew, ensuring that all of my buddies who attended the festival with me broke up the onslaught of Hazy IPAs with this cracking New Zealand PIlsner. The fantastic hop combo of Motueka and Riwaka shines, offering herbal and fruity hoppy notes as well as crisp bitterness that makes this phenomenally refreshing, smooth, and endlessly drinkable. I have my fingers crossed that they rebrew this in the future, as this is built for sunny days in the park.

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If my description of a New Zealand Pilsner has piqued your interest, we’ve just had one arrive from Reading’s Elusive, that is hopped with the full-on-fruity Nectaron, that adds a delicate peachiness to an already crisp and light brew. Not a fan of Lagers? A fresh delivery from Gravity Well hit our fridges this week, featuring two fresh New England IPAs and two ridiculously thick Smoothie Sours. Something for everyone!

Balance – Chestnut & Lions Mane

Hosting bottle shares has quickly become one of my favourite aspects of my role at Ghost Whale, as a spectacular opportunity to tuck into bottles that you normally wouldn’t open or afford on your own. Having the privilege of selecting fun, experimental bottles to share with keen attendees, and both sampling and discussing a variety of styles all together is very much my happy place. I spoke about a trip to Balance’s taproom in a previous edition of Raycommendations, hailing it as one of my best beer experiences of the year, which is still true months later thanks to their co-founder Will’s awe-inspiring depth of knowledge and exceptional service. When leaving, he recommended their new (at the time) release ‘Chestnut & Lions Mane’, which is a blend of multiple barrel aged Wild Ales that then rested on macerated mushrooms. The 750ml sharing-sized packaging, as well as the extremely niche and inventive nature of this brew made it the perfect beer to bust out at a bottle share. I shared apprehension with all involved prior to sipping this, but it became one of the evening’s biggest talking points and a unanimously surprising joy. The mushroom imparts an earthy umami note that adds so much depth and uniqueness when alongside the natural funk that is typical of Wild Ales. Masterful blending from the Mancs.

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Don’t let the unavailability of the mushroom beer put you off from enjoying something weird and wonderful, instead try our most recent newcomer from Balance, their ‘Jam 2023’. This features a blend of two barrels that were fermented with wild yeast and aged for four months on macerated damsons. Light acidity is present alongside woody tannic tartness and full-on fruitiness. Another display of class from one of the UK’s finest mixed fermentation breweries.

Azvex – Wyrm Food

After weeks and weeks of discussion, hunting, paperwork, and packing, I finally moved flats earlier this week. After sending my deposit and signing all of the necessary documents, my sights turned to the exciting prospect of that first cheers in the new place. With boxes floor to ceiling around me and my two new flatmates, the sigh of relief raise of a glass was a moment I was chasing for the weeks of prep prior to the moving day. When the day finally arrived, and all of our seemingly countless boxes had been tirelessly transported up to our elevator-less third story flat, the time came to sit, take a breath, and toast something special for all of our hard work. On the recommendation of many customers and UnTappd friends, including someone who works for Freestyle Hops, who collaborated on this brew, I opted for Azvex’s latest hop bomb ‘Wyrm Food’. This features three different strains of New Zealand hop Nelson to really showcase all of its flavour characteristics. Bubble gum, melon, passionfruit, and gooseberry lead with a fruity punch, with pleasantly balancing white wine astringency and bitterness. A special beer, that was fitting for the occasion.

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You’re in luck, we still have a couple tins of this massive DIPA in both shops, but act fast, I’ve been adamantly suggesting this banger to everyone who passes through.