Draught Diversions: Spellbound Brewing (Mount Holly, NJ)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Today, another brewery from the vibrant Mount Holly area is featured here at the Tap Takeover. Since opening in 2014, Spellbound Brewing has been crafting tasty, award-winning beer and attracting loyal customers and fans to their brewery and beer. The story may be familiar: homebrewing friends, in this case Mike Oliver, John Companick, and Scott Reading, made beer their friends liked so they figured they’d start a brewery. With the law change in 2012, opening a brewery, and making a hangout destination, became a viable option. They settled on the name Spellbound after whittling down a list of fifty names with the aim of something that would have appeal beyond the borders of New Jersey. Personally, I love the name, but I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction and played Dungeons and Dragons so the name appeals to me. Plus that logo is absolutely fantastic.

Spellbound Lineup (Courtesy of Spellbound’s Facebook)

The brewery is nestled in an industrial area, but it is far from ordinary. There’s a fancy black gate that opens to a path which leads to the brewery doors. Entering the brewery you’ll see the hand-written tap list on the far wall, a beautiful bar along the right side, some tables along the middle, and a refrigerator for some packaged beer to bring home. The heart of the brewery, of course, is the beer.

The Taplist on the day of our visit , November 17, 2018

The brewery has a focus on some core styles and beers: IPA, Porter, Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood (GABF Silver and Gold!), Cherry Belgian Tripel, Peach IPA, Major Nelson, and Pale Ale.

It was a gray day in November and Spellbound was the second brewery I visited on the day and out of the six breweries visited that day, their beers stood out the most. We also visited shortly after their 4th anniversary party, so there were some special beers still available. I had a couple of their beers about a year ago and I’ve been aware of Spellbound for a few years.

I’ve seen people who have checked into their beers on untappd (especially Mike K of NJ Craft Beer) rate them fairly highly or have good things to say about their beers. One of the people I managed about a year ago brought me some of their beer, he lived near the brewery and knows some of the guys who either work at the brewery or started it. One of the beers was Spellbound’s most popular beer, their IPA. At the time I was still on the fence for IPAs, but this one from Spellbound helped me turn the corner and since then, I’ve really embrace IPAs as a style to seek out.

The other beer is even more impressive and is an indicator of the type of quality beer Spellbound Brewing was producing early in their “career.” The beer – Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood – received the Gold Medal Gold Medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in the “Wood Aged Category.” Not bad for a small brewery only about 3 years old. I liked the beer so much, it ranked #4 on my Favorite “New to Me” beers of 2017.

Those beers are available in New Jersey in stores and in a growing number of bars. But on to the beers I had during my visit to the brewery…

There were many beers to choose form on that day I visited, From the taplist (pictured at the top of this post) I selected the Peach IPA, Major Nelson Pale Ale, Cherry Belgian Tripel, and Living the Dream?! Bourbon Barrel Stout.

I drank the beers out of order.

The Peach IPA was good, but I was expecting the peach to sweeten the finish more than it did. There was a nice hop profile, but the sweetness was less pronounced than I hoped it would be. This was the beer I liked the least of the flight. By no means a bad beer, but one always has to settle to the bottom.

Courtesy of Spellbound’s Facebook

I broke up the hop forward beers with the Cherry Belgian Tripel, which stood out as my favorite beer from Spellbound during the visit. The cherry compliments the Belgian-style yeast perfectly. I would be interested in trying Spellbound’s take on a straightforward Tripel without the cherry. I liked it so much I brought home a 4-pack.

I know it isn’t the proper glassware for a Tripel, but I usually default to the brewery;s glassware

The next beer, the Major Nelson Pale Ale was the most surprising beer from them that day and was really popping with wonderful citrusy hop flavor. Listed on untappd as a “Pale Ale – New Zealand,” I’ve come to really like the hops from New Zealand. This is a beer I’d have as a regular rotation beer. I finished off the flight with the biggest beer Living the Dream?! Bourbon Barrel Stout. This is a really nice barrel aged stout aged on Coffee and Maple.

Couldn’t pass up this beer since my father-in-law’s name is Nelson. Glad I didn’t because the beer is damned tasty.

Those were the beers I had while at the brewery on that day, but I suspect I’ll be enjoying more of their beer. Why? Over the past six months or so, I’ve been seeing Spellbound cans appearing on the shelves in stores around me. Mainly their three core beers, IPA, Pale Ale, and Porter. This is a good thing for NJ consumers because Spellbound’s beers are on point for the style they are trying to represent and above average compared to styles made by other breweries. That Palo Santo Porter, as I said, is an outstanding beer. Spellbound Brewing may not have the reputation that the heavy hitters of NJ brewing have (Kane, Carton, for example), but I haven’t really seen anybody in the online community say anything negative about the quality of the beer.

I’ve written about the community element relative to independent/local/craft breweries and that sense of community is evident with Spellbound Brewing. Most recently, as a result of Spellbound’s 4th Annual Century Bicycle Ride, the brewery was able to raise $33,000 (bringing the four year total raised by the Bicycle ride to $70K) to donate to Mounty Holly Township. They’ve partnered with fellow Mount Holly brewery Village Idiot for an annual holiday Toy Drive, too. They often have Food Trucks in the parking lot and have had book signings for local authors.

Would I recommend visiting Spellbound Brewing? Without hesitation. A comfortable taproom, beers that are well above average, and beers you can enjoy on premises or take home make for an ideal brewery visit…especially if there are some food trucks in the parking lot. Whether you want to spend a couple of hours at the brewery or make Spellbound part of a brewery tour (as I did) given the quantity of breweries in the immediate region, Mount Holly and Spellbound Brewing should be a destination for folks looking for quality beer in NJ.

One of the coolest logos / art pieces / backdrops I’ve seen at a NJ brewery

Spellbound Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter

Some other links of interest:

 

Draught Diversions: Four Pack Favorite Breweries 2018

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

As a companion piece to my 12-pack of favorite beers of 2018, here’s a four pack of favorite breweries for 2018. Some of these I visited, others I’ve had many beers from over the year, and a couple are relative “rediscoveries.” Going alphabetical this time around.

Bell’s Brewery
Total “new to me” Bells’ beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 9

I’ve written quite a bit about Bells over the last year and shortly after I featured Bells on my wishlist of breweries for NJ, it was announced that Bells struck a deal to begin distributing into NJ. I suspect that was a deal years in the making, but I’ll just say it didn’t actually happen until after I published that wishlist post. Just sayin’. I reviewed one of their beers as a welcome to NJ and had 9 beers altogether from Bell’s in 2019. Granted, I had Oberon Ale in 2017  which is a standout summer/warm weather beer. The most well known and beloved beer in their portfolio is probably Two Hearted which I had at an airport in Houston in January. Other standouts being Double Cream Stout and Poolside. Each beer has been quite good and I expect I’ll be buying more of their beer in the future. I’m really looking forward to Hopslam, which should be hitting NJ shelves a week or two after this post publishes.

 

Conclave Brewing
Total “new to me” Conclave beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 9

Probably the least surprising thing to a appear on this blog is me stating that Conclave is a favorite brewery, they are indeed my favorite New Jersey brewery. Everything I have from this brewery is outstanding, with nothing less than 3.75 rating, and most over 4.25. Their best beer, Process Pils made my best of 2018 list earlier in the week, while Grey Havens was probably the best use of Vanilla I’ve had in a beer outside of Dogfish Head’s Oak Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout. Conclave continues to brew what many in NJ rank among the best IPAs in the state. Other 2018 standouts for me include Intuitive Function IPA, Moon Door IPA and new twist on their spicy stout, Mexican Evening.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Total “new to me” Dogfish Head beers checked in on untappd in 2018: 13

One of the classic American Craft breweries I wrote about last year and one that would probably be on the Mount Rushmore of American Independent/Craft Breweries. Considering much of their output aligns on the IPA side of the beer style chart and I’ve come to not just drink but seek out and enjoy IPAs over the past year, my appreciation for the wizardry of Sam Calagione has only grown. Everything I had from Dogfish Head in 2018 was excellent, including a new summer go-to SeaQuench which I had for the first time this year. Other standouts are Burton Baton, Fruit-Full Fort, and 75 Minute IPA. I’m really looking forward to what they’ll be brewing and selling in 2019 especially Raison D’Extra.

Tröegs Independent Brewing
Total “new to me” Tröegs beers checked in to untappd in 2018: 10

Continuing to appreciate the classics of American Craft brewing with the brewery I’d probably consider my favorite of 2018, in terms of the quality of the beers I had over the range of styles I had. I’d say a beer from Tröegs made it to one of my monthly six packs more frequently than any other brewery. Earlier in the week, I anointed Bourbon Barrel-Aged Troegenator my favorite new to me beer of 2018, but outside of that beer, many of those “new to me beers” all were superb like the Chocolate Stout which (as of now) is an exclusive to their Most Wonderful Beer Of The Year Sampler. Other standouts are First Cut IPA, Nimble Giant, and Blizzard of Hops.

Image courtesy of MyBeerBuzz

Some additional stats, via untappd’s Year in Beer if you feel inclined…

373 Unique Beers
155 different breweries
101 distinct styles

Top 5 Most Checked in beers (I usually don’t check in the same beer multiple times unless I’m having it at multiple locations or I really really like it):

  • Two Hearted Ale (Bell’s Brewery) – 5
  • This Town (Carton Brewing) – 4
  • Centennial IPA (Founders Brewing) – 3
  • Pale Ale (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) – 3
  • Wobbly Cow Coffee Milk Stout (Flying Fish Brewing Co) – 3

Top 5 Most Checked in beer styles:

  • IPA – American – 52
  • Pale Ale – American – 24
  • IPA – Imperial / Double– 19
  • Stout – Milk / Sweet – 12
  • Saison / Farmhouse Ale – 11 (This surprised me the most)

Top 5 Most Checked in breweries:

  • Carton Brewing – 23
  • Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – 27
  • Lone Eagle Brewing– 16
  • Bell’s Brewery – 14
  • Tröegs Independent Brewing – 12

459 Badges Earned

Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2018

Welcome to the second annual best of the year here at the Tap Takeover! I drank a lot of beer in 2017, a lot of different beers. According to untappd, I had 373 unique beers in many styles (101 distinct styles), many breweries (155) and of varying quality.

Like last year, these beers are “new to me” beers, even if the beer was brewed in the past or a regular rotation offering for a given brewery. I’m not including special annual releases I’ve had in the past like Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Sierra Nevada Summerfest, or Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. First, I’ve had previous vintages of those beers so they really aren’t “new to me.”  Some of these beers have received full reviews at the Tap Takeover, some were mentioned in a monthly six pack, and some weren’t ever mentioned before.

Once again, a NJ bias shines through on this list as 6 of the beers are from NJ breweries (last year featured 7 NJ breweries), but considering about half of the beer I bought & consumed in 2018 was from NJ breweries, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Unlike last year, there are zero stouts on this list. Like last year, no brewery appears on this list, twice. Also like last year, some of the breweries on this list will not be a surprise,

Breakdown:

  • 6 from NJ breweries
  • 3 IPAs (all three are Double/Imperials)
  • 2 Porters (both Double/Imperials)
  • 2 Pilsners
  • 1 Belgian Strong Golden Ale
  • 1 Belgian Tripel
  • 1 Bock (Dopplebock)
  • 1 Lager
  • 1 Old Ale

On to the list…

12. Steam Whistle Plisner Unfiltered (Plus) – Steam Whistle Brewing – Pilsner – Other – 4.25 bottle caps

If you would have told me one of my favorite beers of the year was a Canadian pilsner I would have laughed in your face. But, like last year’s list, the #12 beer on my list is indeed a pilsner. I had this on a business trip to Toronto, which I wrote about at the end of the summer. I don’t recall having an unfiltered pilsner before this, but this beer was pure deliciousness. The atmosphere at the brewery was great, which may have helped me enjoy the beer a little bit more.

11. This Town – Carton Brewing Company – Lager – Helles 4.25 Bottle Caps

Of course a Carton Beer makes the list and this Helles Lager (a cousin to the Czech Pislner) is a perfect everyday beer. Everything that makes Lagers so great is embodied by this beer. Augie Carton has said this beer won’t be sold in cans outside of Monmouth County, following this beer’s credo (much like the ethos of German beer) that every town should have their own lager. But everytime I visit Carton, I know I’ll be walking out with at least a six pack of this beer.

10. Curmudgeon’s Better Half – Founders Brewing Co. – Old Ale 4.5 Bottle Caps

This one probably doesn’t come as a surprise, either given how much I’ve expressed my enjoyment of beers from Founders. I like the base beer – Curmudgeon, a malt bomb of a beer, but this beer, with the added sweetness from maple syrup barrels makes for yet another enjoyable entry in Founders’ Barrel Aged series. I had two bottles of this, I picked up the 4 pack in August had one then and let another bottle site for a few months. While the first bottle was quite good, aging it a little helped and I’m looking forward to seeing how that final bottle of the 4 pack sits in a year or so.

9. Fudge Machine – Demented Brewing Company – Porter – Imperial / Double 4.5 bottle caps

I hadn’t visited Demented quite as much over 2018 compared to the year before, but this beer really surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. I like porters and chocolate porters, but this is a potent beer that delivers everything you could want out of a chocolate porter. At the time, I think this was a relatively limited release available only at the brewery, but this is so good it really needs to be in regular rotation or an annual release for Demented

8. DDH Not A Schooner – Icarus Brewing – IPA – New England 4.5 bottle caps

Image courtesy of Icarus Brewing’s Facebok

I would typically not include a beer for which I only had a taster, but when I attended the 2018 Bridgewater Beerfest, I went back for multiple samples of this beer it was so delicious and amounted to probably a full pour of the beer. DDH Not a Schooner was one of the best IPAs out of New Jersey I had all year. This beer, plus many of their IPAs, have made Icarus a MAJOR player in the growing NJ Beer Scene.

7. Devil’s Reach – Cape May Brewing Company – Belgian Golden Strong Ale 4.5 bottle caps

One of the best beer things to happen in NJ this year was the expansion of Cape May Brewing Company’s distribution footprint. This is one of their flagship beers and is an outstanding, delicious, sweet explosion of flavor that is deceptively high in ABV (8.6%) but so easy drinking. In some of my reviews I mention “an iconic shelf of NJ Beers” and I would definitely make room for this one. Not many NJ breweries make a “Belgian Strong Golden Ale” (at least about which I’m aware) so there honestly isn’t too much competition in the State for this style. Regardless, this is an absolute stand-out ale.

6. 120 Minute Imperial IPA – Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – IPA – Imperial / Double 4.5 bottle caps

Few breweries are as iconic as Dogfish Head and this is one of the beers that helped them to earn that reputation. One of the biggest, booziest IPAs in wide distribution, this beer is a monster of hoppy deliciousness. This is a $8 per 12 oz bottle and I may get one or two to age for a couple of years. I’ve seen folks say this approaches barley wine levels as it ages so I may snag a bottle or two and let it/them sit for a couple of years.

5. Westmalle Trappist Tripel – Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle – Belgian Tripel 4.5 bottle caps

Talk about World Class Beers, this is one of the best Tripels I’ve ever had and is a stunning, beautiful beer. The magic from the Belgian Yeast does wonders, evoking a fruity/spice flavor profile that must be sampled. The more I think about this beer, the more I want to run out and grab one again.

4. Process Pils Conclave Brewing Pilsner – German 4.75 Bottle Caps

Yeah, another unsurprising brewery for the list, but like I said back in August when I first had the beer, I don’t think it is possible for Carl, Tim, and Bryan to make a bad beer. Much as I loved This Town as a great lager, this pilsner is the best pilsner I had all year and one of the best American pilsners I’ve ever had. Conclave has been canning more of their beers this year, I’d love to see this one in cans.

3. Crusher The Alchemist IPA – Imperial / Double 4.75 bottle caps

I went into a lot of detail in my review of the beer, but here’s the gist: Such a delicious hop profile that is one of the most perfect citrusy hopped profiles I’ve ever had in a beer. I couldn’t believe what a bouquet of flavors was in just a sip of the beer so, of course, I took another taste, though more than a sip. I let the beer sit in my mouth a bit to get the full flavor and my goodness does this beer do so many things perfectly well. I wanted to drink this one quickly because it was so delicious, but I didn’t want it to be gone quickly.

2. Sunday Brunch Kane Brewing Porter – Imperial / Double 4.75 bottle caps

Bottle Image in background courtesy of Kane’s Facebook. Glass pour mine.

This is, quite simply, one of the best porters I’ve ever had. Sunday Brunch is an Imperial Milk Porter made with coffee, maple syrup, and cinnamon. At 9.5% this is a potent beer, but so smooth and sweet. This is one of Kane’s once per year beers and seems to only be available at special events and in 750ml bottles at the brewery.

1. Bourbon Barrel-Aged Troegenator Tröegs Independent Brewing Bock – Dopplebock 4.75 Bottle caps

I’ll go into more detail about Tröegs in my next post, but this beer is one of the best bocks I’ve ever had, and one of my favorite beers of all time now. The base of this beer, Troegenator, is itself something of a craft classic and a delicious beer. Throw an already potent, complex beer into barrels and you have this delightful beer worthy of World Class Status. Everything that makes the base beer delicious – hints of chocolate and caramel are turned up to 11 for a sublime experience.

 

 

 

Draught Diversions: December 2018 Six Pack

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and non-review posts here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

December 2018 was pretty heavy on the NJ Beers and Holiday/Christmas beers. Even if all the beers on today’s post aren’t NJ beers, much of what I bought and consumed in December was from a New Jersey brewery.  There were a couple of duds during the month, too but more good than bad. The good thing about bad beer? It helps you to appreciate the really good beers even more!

Christmas Ale (Bell’s Brewery) Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy – 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I nearly included this beer on one of my Christmas recommendation lists, but I liked it so much I wanted to highlight the beer here. Scotch Ales aren’t the most prevalent style, but damn if it doesn’t work well as a Christmas/Winter season. The big malts and sweetness are good accompaniments to what could be a sumptuous holiday meal or just an enjoyable beer on its own.

Big Cabin Coffee (2nd Act Beer) Bock – Maibock/Heller (Helles) 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

2nd Act is a relatively new brewery in NJ, I think they only got their start in 2017 or 2018. I haven’t seen anything from them in bottles or cans, but I’ve seen their beers popping up on taps (via untappd and beermenus), with this beer in particular being the most frequent. I like bocks quite a bit and coffee beers, too. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a bock with coffee as part of the flavor profile but damn does it work really nicely. You get the malty/sweet caramelly flavors of the bock with a really nice hit of coffee on the finish. This beer was a very nice surprise.

Grey Havens Porter – Imperial / Double (Conclave Brewing) – 4.50 bottle Caps on untappd

Conclave makes it impossible for me to use anything but superlatives when describing their beers. Every style they approach and brew is at worst, good and most often outstanding. This imperial porter is simply elegant. Vanilla is a flavor component I like, but I’ve come to realize some breweries employ far too often across their beers and for too much in each single beer. This porter has the perfect amount of vanilla and makes for a smooth, delightful beer consumption experience – porter roastiness at the start with a sweet, subtle vanilla finish. Also a really cool name that references The Lord of the Rings.

Naughty 2018 Stout – Imperial Milk / Sweet (Cypress Brewing Company) 4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

A milk stout that has Krampus on the can? A milk stout that has a very similar profile to one of my favorite beers (Conclave’s Mexican Morning)? I knew I had to give this one a try and I am VERY glad I did. This is a (pardon my French) fucking huge beer: 13% ABV with a plethora of adjuncts so the $15/4pack price for a fairly limited production beer isn’t tough to swallow. Thankfully, the beer itself is easy to swallow, too. The chocolate, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, and Jersey Chili peppers come together so well that the beer smoothly changes flavor profiles as you’re drinking it. I took an hour to drink the 16oz can and I can’t imagine taking any less time to consume it. This might be my favorite Christmas beer of 2018.

Rye Pale Ale (Vault Brewing Company) Pale Ale – American 4.25 bottle caps on untappd

I’ve been hearing good things about Vault, seeing friends check into beers from Vault recently, and the consensus is that the beers are good. Judging from the malty, rye pale ale, I agree. As I mentioned in my overview of Village Idiot, I’ve come to enjoy Rye Beers a great deal. Somebody brought this to the family’s Christmas Eve celebration and even though it wasn’t completely chilled down when I poured the beer, it was still very tasty. I loved the way the rye malt and hops intermingled for a clean tasting beer. This is a more traditional take on the pale ale, it is more amber in color and not hazy at all. More please.

11 Pipers Piping (The Bruery) Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy –4.25 bottle Caps on untappd

A bomber at 11% ABV is one to take your time drinking by yourself. Good thing I had an excellent novel I was reading (and finished) while enjoying the beer.

I’ve enjoyed every beer in The Bruery’s “12 Days of Christmas” and this one is no exception. This is big and boozy and is well worth enjoying over the course of an hour, if you’re enjoying by yourself, because the flavors really do come alive once the beer warms up a bit. There’s a very prominent lingering flavor of coriander, too. I expect that in a Belgian Wit, not as much in a Scotch Ale. But The Bruery seems to specialize in mashing up flavor profiles and from my experience, including this beer, they do it quite well. That makes two Christmas themed Scotch Ales on this month’s list.

There were quite a lot of standouts this month, so there isn’t a real dud I want to call out above in great detail. I will say that I was very disappointed in Ommegang’s King of the North, the last of the four “Royal Reserve” Game of Thrones beers. This is a Russian Imperial Stout that is just short of a few things that I like in RISs, which made for an overall disappointment. I’ll just say that I think Ommegang’s strongest beers are those that hew much closer to their Belgian roots. I have to also admit major disappointment with Founders’ Canadian Breakfast Stout, I don’t know if it was the maple flavor taking over the beer, or the beer going bad, but something about it gave off an almost sour tang. The most disappointing beer of the year for me, as it turned out especially given the hype and price. Make mine Curmudgeon’s Better Half any day.

Beer Review: Lone Eagle Brewing’s Belgian Dark Strong

Name: Belgian Dark Strong
Brewing Company: Lone Eagle Brewing Company
Location: Flemington, NJ
Style: Belgian Dark Strong
ABV: 8.2%

The beer came out of the tap at the brewery, but the four packs of cans are sold there, too. And most liquor stores in NJ.

From Lone Eagle’s beers page (which changes regularly):

This Belgian Ale has notes of dark fruits such as figs and plums as well as some slight oak aroma and flavors. It has a nice malty taste with a slightly dry finish. After this beer was done fermenting we aged if on rum soaked oak chips from our friends at Skunktown Distillery.

Lone Eagle was one of the first breweries I featured in a brewery spotlight here at the Tap Takeover, so it is about time I got around to reviewing one of their beers. Especially since I’ve been there quite frequently. Be that as it may, here’s a relatively new beer from them, first brewed in Late October, I think.

One thing I’ve appreciated about Lone Eagle is the variety of styles they have on tap. You’re not going to be drowned in 10 out of the 14 taps being IPAs. This is a very classic style, and one that is really suited for cold weather / Winter months. The beer isn’t exactly black like a stout, but you could say it is almost a Belgian approximation of a stout (as they typically don’t brew stouts). Rather the beer is almost black with hints of deep crimson. I couldn’t get the best picture of the beer since the brewery was very crowded, the upstairs loft had a band playing Christmas Songs and Santa was in attendance, too.

I couldn’t get much of a nose on the beer, but could smell a bit of sweetness and some of the hints of the typical flavors evoked by Belgian yeast.

First sip gave me a little bit of a wow – more flavorful than I would have expected. Sweetness and some spice mix up nicely in the glass and in the mouth. The 8.2%ABV is fairly typical of the style, so the little bit of booziness shouldn’t be a surprise. I suspect that may also come from the rum chips that were soaking in the beer because there is a little sweetness on the finish atypical from other Belgian Darks I’ve had in the past.

As I continue to make my way through the beer, the full flavor profile really comes together. You’ve got the characteristic spice & esters from the yeast adding stone fruity flavors to the mix. You’ve got a hint of booziness from the inherit presence of the alcohol and enhancement of the rum-soaked oak chips. All told for me, a pleasing beer.

Like many of Lone Eagle’s beers, this one is out in distribution throughout much of New Jersey and maybe Pennsylvania and New York…or wherever their footprint reaches. As I said, I’m impressed with the variety of styles Lone Eagle attempts and while not all are out of the park hits, just about all of them have been enjoyable interpretations of the style. Which is the case for this beer.

I also appreciate the local/community collaboration with Skunktown Distillery, which is also in Flemington. I haven’t visited the distillery yet myself. But that collaborative and community spirit is a great strength of Lone Eagle and has been since day one.

Recommended link to Untappd 3.75-Bottle Cap rating.

American Craft Beer Classic: Anchor Brewing’s Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

For all the new beers it is fun to try, going back to the classics, American “Craft Beer” Classics if you will, can also be fun. These are beers many folks have probably had, beers that are fairly widely available, and beers that have been in the market for upwards of ten to fifteen years. In other words, beers that have had a significant impact on the American Craft Beer landscape.

Christmastime…although there are more than enough Christmas and Winter specific beers available you could likely go a few years with trying something new every Christmas, the classics are great options too. No beer is more classic with regard to Christmas in America than Anchor’s Our Special Ale / Merry Christmas & Happy New Year beer. This really shouldn’t be a surprise considering Anchor Brewing helped to ignite the “craft beer” and/or “microbrewing” movement over 50 years ago.

Even Santa Claus stands at attention for an iconic beer.

2018 marks the 44th year Anchor has brewed their Christmas beer, having first brewed a version of this beer in 1975. I say “A” version because every year the recipe is slightly different as is the label. Each year a different tree adorns the label and the beer has different tasting notes. I’ve had each vintage for four years in a row according to my untappd check-ins and I know I had a few versions of the beer before joining untappd. In other words, I’ve been having a version of this beer for many years.

Image courtesy of Anchor’s Facebook page

Here’s what Anchor has to say about the 2018 version of Merry Christmas & Happy New Year:

Our annual Christmas Ale is a subtly spiced and sumptuously smooth winter warmer. This year’s brew marks the 44th annual release of this Anchor holiday tradition.

Back in 1975, Anchor released the first holiday beer in America since Prohibition. Year after year, Anchor creates a new, secret recipe with a unique hand drawn label for their Christmas Ale, but the intent with each brew remains the same: joy for the changing seasons and celebration of the newness of life. With a heavily guarded, confidential recipe, Christmas Ale is sold only from early November to mid-January. This highly anticipated seasonal delight is complex and full in flavor, packed with toasty cocoa notes, roasted malts and strong aromas of resinous pine.

Our 2018 Christmas Ale has varying specialty malts, lending rich flavors of brûléed sugars, holiday spices and freshly baked banana bread with a velvety finish. The aromatics are quintessential for the holiday season: nutty candied yams and resinous pine. It pours a nice mahogany brown color with a fluffy, tan head.

As each Christmas Ale recipe evolves, so does its hand drawn packaging, created by long-time Anchor Illustrator Jim Stitt, who has been creating Anchor’s Christmas Ale labels since 1975. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew. For the 2018 release, Stitt created a brimming Korean Pine Tree for the label. Native to both North and South Korea, the Korean Pine Tree is a symbol of peace and a reminder of the spirit of the season. It flourishes in the picturesque botanical gardens just north of San Francisco, Anchor’s home base.

A few years back, Anchor Brewing put together this video about their iconic Christmas Beer:

I found this year’s version to be good, but a little thinner than previous years. There was a nice amount of spice throughout the beer, and sweeter finish than I’ve come to expect. For me, the biggest difference was in the color – the beer poured closer to an amber ale whereas I recall the beer in the past being darker, bordering on stout territory. I think the version I enjoyed the most was the 2016 version, the malt, spice, and sweet elements I thought came together almost perfectly and the beer was darker than this year’s. I think when the recipe leans more on the darker roasted malts that produce a beer that is almost knocking on the door of a stout, it works better for me. Not that a beer like this *should* have full stout characteristics at all, but it is almost stout-adjacent in looks.

One thing some people do with this beer is set one or two aside to age and have 3 or 4 years in a row for a gathering or vertical tasting. That’s more common with barrel-aged stouts, but since the recipe for this one changes annually, it would be interesting to see how the beer ages.

The darker 2016 version of the beer, my favorite from the past few years.

My opinions aside, take a look at the beer landscape, especially this time of year. I mean, aside from the continual glut of various sub-styles of IPA, the many stouts, and leftover pumpkin beers on shelves from mid-November through the remainder of the calendar year. Winter Warmers and Christmas Beers are displayed prominently in bottle shops. Bars and breweries have Christmas/Holiday focused pourings/events. The Winter Warmer and Christmas Beer are slightly different if you ask some people, such as the great beer writer Jeff Alworth who examines the styles over at his must-read Beervana blog. The differences can be negligible and subtle in some cases, in others like Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale a highly hopped IPA, the difference can be obvious between “Christmas beer” and Winter Warmer.

Beers like Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale (a slightly heavier beer and iconic in its own right), Abita’s Christmas Ale, Breckenridge’s Christmas Ale, Souther Tier’s 2XMAS, Schalfly’s Christmas Ale, and Samuel Adams’s Old Fezziwig (which unfortunately is STILL only available in a variety pack), are just a few of the more well-known Christmas-themed beers. I’m not necessarily saying there wouldn’t be Christmas Beers (specifically those leaning on the Winter Warmer variety) without Anchor’s first “Our Special Ale” back in 1975, but the Christmas beer landscape might look a little differently than it looks today.

The 2017 vintage. Though poorly lit, the beer poured darker last year, too.

The recipe isn’t the only thing that changes every year. As I noted above, for each new iteration of the beer, a new label is commissioned featuring a different tree, different font, and a slightly different look. The label always looks like an Anchor Christmas beer on the whole, but the specifics do change. On their Web store (steamgear.com), Anchor sells a poster every year which features all the different labels they’ve produced for the beers over the years.

Although Anchor Brewing has been in some form of operation under that name since 1896, it suffered some difficulties from Prohibition until about 1965 when Fritz Maytag III (yes, he’s part of THAT family) purchased a 51% stake in the company and reinvigorated the brand. That re invigoration is what helped to start the craft beer movement in California, specifically. Given their history, and the iconic beers they’ve produced over the years (Porter and Steam, for example), it seems only logical that Anchor brews arguably the most iconic Christmas/Holiday beer and that “Our Special Ale” has achieved, classic iconic beer status. For me, this beer is always a must have during the holidays. It should be a tradition for you, too.

Draught Diversions: 12 Beers of Christmas (2018 Part 2)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Here’s part two of the 12 Beers of Christmas 2018 I promised on Tuesday. Like that post (and all similar posts this year), this follows the six pack format. There’s a mix of beers I haven’t had, haven’t had in a few years, and a recent favorite.

Old Jubilation Ale – Avery Brewing Company (Boulder, CO)

This beer is one of the modern American Christmas classics. Though not technically a winter warmer like many Christmas beers, this one is more along the lines of an Old Ale/English Strong Ale. A high ABV of 8.3% makes this a long sipper and without having had this one yet (by the time I was looking for it in early December, stores had already sold out of their annual allotment), I imagine it would be similar to Founders’ Curmudgeon. I’ll have to keep my eyes open a little earlier next year if I want to grab some of this one.

What Avery says about the beer:

Our winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue, a hint of hazelnuts, and a finish reminiscent of mocha and toffee. No spices, just a perfect blend of five specialty malts.

For 2018 we used light brown sugar, raisins and figs to bring out caramelized sugar and dried fruit flavors. Also added to the boil is star anise, clove, cardamom and cinnamon. The spices balance and play nice with the caramelized sugars!

Corsendonk Christmas Ale – Brouwerij Corsendonk – (Antwerpen, Belgium)

Here’s the Obligatory Belgian Christmas beer for this list. I had this one for the first time last year and thoroughly enjoyed it so I may have to grab some again before the Christmas season ends. I received a gift pack of this beer last year for Christmas, which included the glass in the picture above. Again, like many of the Belgian Christmas Ales, this one is categorized as “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.” I remember being really surprised that the ABV on this was 8.5%, but on the other hand, that could be a reason why the bottles are a little smaller (I think 8 or 9 oz).

About the beer:

Brewed with Pale, Munich and Caramunich malts; Kent Goldings hops. This is a rich, dark, joyous brew with which to celebrate the holiday season. It’s aroma of chocolate malt and spiciness is reminiscent of the wonderfull smells of holiday baking in Mom’s kitchen. Silky smooth on the palate, it’s predominantly malty, with smoky, spicy and citrusy notes and a long, lingering finish that is lightly tart and malty. Bottle conditioned for a fresh, lively taste. Round and well balanced, it’s a welcome addition for holiday tables and beyond.

Santa!! I Know Him! – Evil Genius Beer Company (Philadelphia, PA)

Image courtesy of Evil Genius’s Facebook page

A Saison is not your typical style of beer for Christmas, but Evil Genius (at least going by the clever the names) aren’t your typical brewery. I’ve enjoyed some of Evil Genius’s tasty beers over the years, but haven’t had a chance to give this one a try. Yet. The name for this beer is in homage to the modern classic of Yuletide films, Elf. Some interesting components are utilized in the brew process for this beer.

What Evil Genius says about this beer:

Festive Saison -Santa!! I Know him! is our holiday saison brewed with rose hips, chamomile, black currants and dark Belgian candi syrup. Deep, complex and intriguing, this bone-dry Belgian-style ale is sure to seduce you, or the one you’re with. Roses, chamomile, and currants have long been considered powerful aphrodisiacs, so we decided to combine them with mysterious and beguiling Belgian saison yeast. The result is something very special and sure to help spice up nights spent at home during the cold winter months. Have you been Naughty or Nice this year – or both?

Chrismukkah – 902 Brewing (Hoboken, NJ)

Image courtesy of 902 Brewing’s Facebook page

This is probably the newest beer in this post as I think 902 is debuting the beer this holiday season (December 4, according to their Facebook page, where I snagged the photo above). That said, it looks like it fits the bill with all the holiday spices and brownish hue. I’ve had only 2 beers from 902 Brewing and both were very good so hopefully, this beer continues that trend should I come across it.

What 902 Brewing says about the beer:

It’s the holiday season! What better way to warm up than this 7.6% winter ale? Brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, it’s hitting distro today. Well in time for your holiday needs! A nice treat for when the big man drops by on Christmas Eve, too!

2XMAS – Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, NY)

I haven’t had this one in a few years and the last time I had it, the beer was very spicy. Other times; however, I recall really enjoying it. I might have to locate some and give it a try this year, but the figs, cinnamon, and cloves in the brew process are flavor components I enjoy.

What Southern Tier says about the beer:

Spiced double ale with fig paste, orange peels, ginger root, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves

Swedish flags are a fairly common sight in our part of the country. Holiday parties often have warm concoctions of spices and booze at the ready to knock the ice off of toes while raising spirits. We were inspired by a “Glögg” party, deciding on the spot to brew a beer that pays tribute to this Nordic tradition.

2XMAS ale combines traditional brewing ingredients with figs, orange peels, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and ginger root. It’s a holiday addition to the 2X line and another reason to toast to the season, but unlike Glögg, we recommend serving this one chilled.

Xocoveza – (Stout –Imperial Milk/Sweet) – Stone Brewing (Escondido, CA)

I had this beer for the first time last year and really enjoyed it, .I said at the time this beer is the closest beer I’ve had to one of my local favorites, Conclave’s Mexican Morning Stout. The beer emulates Mexican Hot Chocolate with peppers and cinnamon and if any beverage says Christmas morning then it would have to be Hot Chocolate. For 2018, Stone released the beer in cans.

What Stone says about the beer:

This is a beloved stout. When first introduced as a limited special collaboration release with San Diego homebrewer Chris Banker (after his recipe won our annual homebrew competition) and Cerveceria Insurgente, it was an instant hit and fans began clamoring for its return. Seeing as how its amazing flavor profile is evocative of Mexican hot chocolate, featuring coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and a generous amount of our own in-house made chocolate, we concluded it was the perfect stout to re-release in celebration of the Holidays and the entire winter season. This is now a highly anticipated yearly tradition that we are pleased to present from us to you, and makes a perfect wintry gift from you to your friends, loved ones, or simply to yourself. Cheers!

So, 12 Christmas beers over the course of two posts this week here at The Tap Takeover. Any favorites out of these or any I missed?