Beer Review: Magnify Brewing’s Banana Bread Mind over Matter

Name: Banana Bread Mind over Matter
Brewing Company: Magnify Brewing Company
Location: Fairfield, NJ
Style: Stout – Imperial / Double Milk
ABV: 8%

“A balanced and flavorful dessert stout from popular North Jersey brewery.”

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From the description of the beer onuntappd:

Banana Bread Mind Over Matter is a new variant in our series of double chocolate milk stouts featuring a new, refreshed label design. We set out to brew a double chocolate Milk Stout with as much flavor as our 10+% stouts a more manageable ABV. Banana Bread Mind Over Matter is brewed with lactose and conditioned on cocoa nibs, walnuts, wild Thai banana, cinnamon and vanilla.

Magnify has been one of the hottest New Jersey / Northeast breweries over the past few years, with about three new beer releases per week, their IPAs and other flavorful ales are highly sought by craft beer drinkers in the area. I personally haven’t had very many beers from them, so I was looking forward to giving something from them a try for the blog.

”Mind over Matter” is a series of Imperial Milk Stouts Magnify brews with various adjuncts, there’s a “S’Mores” version, a Pancake version (which I’ve had) made with maple syrup, a “Candy Cane” version, and so forth. This version looks to emulate banana bread, obviously, and is brewed with walnuts, “wild Thai banana,” cinnamon, and vanilla. I really enjoy banana bread and beer with most of these adjuncts, but I was admittedly a little wary of what the walnuts would bring.

The pop of the can is nice and the beer that pours into my glass is dark and thick. It definitely has the appearance I’d expect at the outset. The strongest element in the aroma for me was the cinnamon, which is quite welcome. I give the glass a little swirl and there’s a nice reddish/burgundy tint to the edges from the foam from the cinnamon.

First sip test….the beer easily passes that test. There’s a lot going on with this beer, just look at all those adjuncts I mentioned! I enjoy the taste quite a bit and I want to drink more to really figure out if the flavors I’ve tasted match up with the description

As I enjoy the pint over the course of about an hour, I begin to get a nice feel for this beer and what works for me. The sweetness is incredibly potent, but it isn’t overpowering and cloying. The cinnamon is the most prevalent additive I taste, which works for me, it is ever present. There’s a soft creaminess to the beer, too. I’m not sure how much of the banana is coming through, but on the finish, the walnuts assert themselves and I’m pleased. I suppose I like the flavor of walnuts, but I loathe having any kind of nut in my baked goods probably because of the texture. I just hate the way the hard crunchiness ruins the softness of say, a brownie or banana bread.

Banana Bread Mind over Matter is a damned good “beer interpretation” of banana bread. The cinnamon is wonderful, the hints of walnut give the beer a nice finish. If I can knock the beer for anything it is that the bananas themselves aren’t quite as present in the overall flavor profile of the beer compared to the other elements. However, of the 10 beers I’ve had from Magnify Brewing over the years, this beer is hands down the best beer I’ve had from them.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Draught Diversions: Ashton Brewing (Middlesex,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…

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“Let’s launch our brewery when our State shuts down thanks to a pandemic,” said nobody ever. Well, that’s the situation Steve and Donna Ashton found themselves in March 2020 when they wanted to open Ashton Brewing Company. Considering the planning for the brewery was going back as early as summer 2019, Steve and Donna could not foresee what they’d be up against in March 2020. But persist, they did.

Steve and Donna have been making beer for over 25 years, Steve is a BJCP Master Judge and a member of the highly respected MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers), and Steve has won awards for his homebrewing skills. In other words, when it comes to making beer, they really know what they are doing. When Steve retired from his finance career, it made sense for him to look to beer, which helped bring him and Donna together nearly 30 years ago.

Steve and Donna initially set their sights on an old roller rink in Roxbury, NJ, but that didn’t pan out. However, one door closing isn’t the end especially when another door opens. The location they settled on turned out to be a great spot, since it once housed a brewery, Demented Brewing Company in Middlesex, NJ. The demise of Demented is fairly well document in NJ beer circles, including my post from April 2019. The location is already a known brewery destination and was set up as a brewery, which made the build out a little bit easier. That doesn’t necessarily mean there was no work to be done, because the new tenants understandably wanted to ensure the location is completely branded with Ashton Brewing and remnants of the former tenants no longer present. Personally speaking, that location is about a mile from where I work and not too far from home, so I was very happy to learn of a new brewery taking over the location.

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Speaking of that branding, Donna Ashton was and is a freelance graphic designer. Those skills come in quite handy when it comes to giving a business a visual identity, and she’s done a really nice job with the branding. The company’s logo incorporates an Ash tree and many of the beers have an Ash tree in the background or worked into the label in some fashion. For example, their Barleywine, Fraxinus takes its name from the genus name of the Ash family of trees. Throughout the post, I’ve included some of the cans Ashton has produced over the last year, which shows the potent brand identity Donna helped to establish for Ashton Brewing Company.

Shortly after Ashton officially opened for business, I was hoping to try their beer. That first weekend in April 2020, my wife and I were doing some errands (i.e. food shopping) and she got me in the car and surprised me when we arrived Ashton to pick up a couple of crowlers, their English Mild (Billy Two Hats) and their stout (Velvet Elvis). I was pretty impressed with the beers and had a good feeling that Ashton Brewing was off to as good a start as possible, given the state of the world. Steve and Donna had to pivot to a model that did not rely on taproom and on-site consumption sales even before they opened, and the crowlers proved to be a pretty good start for them.

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Another way Ashton Brewing was able to pivot successfully was in their canned beers. The majority of canned beer for the past couple of years has been in the pint/16oz cans popularized by the growth of Hazy/New England IPAs. When Steve and Donna brought in a canning line, they went with 12oz cans. That alone sort of sets them apart from the crowd of NJ canned beer. I’d guess Carton, Bolero Snort, and Spellbound are part of the minority of the post 2012 breweries regularly canning their beer at the 12oz size. What they couldn’t have foreseen was that a can shortage was going to hit. A combination of tariffs and resources was making it difficult for breweries to keep crowlers and 16oz cans in stock, but in speaking with Steve when I visited the brewery for their First Anniversary recently (more on that later), he said because Ashton decided to go with 12oz cans as their can of choice, they were not as affected by that shortage.

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Images courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook

Because of the pandemic and social distancing requirements, getting a peek proved a challenge. During the annual birthday brewery tour my wife takes me on, we were able to partake in outdoor seating. Although it was the first weekend in November, it was unseasonably warm and made for a lovely outdoor, socially distanced experience. However, my most recent trip to Ashton was during their 1 year anniversary and with social distancing somewhat relaxed, a limited number of occupants were permitted indoors for consumption. And what struck me most, compared to how the previous tenants had the interior laid out, is that Steve and Donna opted for a much brighter look. More well-lit, not as much dark imagery (not that I’m against dark imagery, I’m a horror junkie after all), but the overall feel and tone of the taproom is very, very welcoming. Of course during my visit for that First Anniversary, we felt very welcomed because we were sitting on one of the most comfortable leather couches upon which I’ve ever sat…which was wiped down with disinfectant before we took our seats.

Another element that sets Ashton Brewing apart from many of their peers is the breadth of styles which they brew and make available. Of course IPAs and Pale Ales are part of their portfolio, but the second beer the canned was the fantastic Pilsner, Jersey Dreamin (a top new beer to me in 2020). Two of the first styles Ashton brewed were an English Mild (Billy Two Hats) and an Altbier (Red Baron), both very traditional styles, but styles you don’t see very often. I’ve had both and enjoyed both. Other early brews included a Dutch, a Patersbier (the Belgian Trappist style with lowest ABV); ’Aina, a Farmouse/Saison; and Aura a Witbier, among other beers/styles. Ashton set out to brew beers of a drinkable ABV (around the 6% mark) and with a draught capacity of 18 beers, they certainly have a wide variety of styles available most of the time, maybe one of the more diverse tap lists in the State.

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March 2021 Taplist, courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook page

What I especially appreciate is how well-crafted Ashton Brewing’s lagers are. I mentioned Jersey Dreamin’ and I will again because it is that damned good. Recently, I had their Czech Dark Lager (Beach Badges), which was a wonderful beer. Their Schwarzbier, Black Orpheus is a delicious collaboration with Sunken Silo Brew Works in nearby Lebanon, NJ; during my November visit, I thoroughly enjoyed their Festbier (Festus Haggen) and their Maibock/Helles Bock, Cellar Hellar.

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L to R: Cellar Hellar (Maibock/Helles Bock); Stella Blue (Saison); Mashed Up (Porter); Festus Haggen (Festbier)

Back to their Anniversary celebration on March 27. Ashton was pouring quite a few barrel-aged beers, in addition to their standard taplist. In briefly speaking with owner Steve, he said he was able to procure used barrels from Jersey Spirits in Fairfield, NJ (which is in the same complex as Magnify Brewing Company). I started my day out with the aforementioned Schwarzbier before diving into the bigger beers. My second beer was the Rye Barrel Aged Barleywine, Fraxinus. Fraxinus is an English style Barleywine, which leans more on malt than hops, compared to the American version. With the Rye Barrel aging, the beer is extremely balanced. There was a nice spice from the rye, but the toffee-caramel-malt elements from the base Barleywine were still present. The third beer that day, and perhaps one of the most interesting barrel-aged beers I ever had was the Grappa-barrel aged Farmhouse ale Aina. I remarked to Steve that I’d never think to age anything in Grappa, but he said when he was getting the barrels from Jersey Spirits, a small Grappa barrel was available, so he figured he’d give it a shot. I had Grappa once many years ago, and found it to be very unpleasant and what I expected kerosene to taste like. However, the elements of the Grappa played nicely with the Farmhouse Ale, for a somewhat crisp, but pleasant and effervescent beer. The last barrel-aged beer was perhaps the most straight-forward in its premise, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, Midnight Moonlight. Although this was probably the barrel aged beer I liked the least of the three, it was still a good beer with huge chocolate notes.

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Clockwise from top left: Black Orpheus Schwarzbier; Fraxinus Barleywine (Rye Barrel); Aina Farmhouse (Grappa Barrel); Midnight Moonlight (Bourbon Barrel)

Between the straight-forward styles (IPA, Pilsner), somewhat less prevalent styles (Altbier, Schwarzbier, Czech Dark Lager), and barrel-aged beers, Ashton Brewing has demonstrated a very high level of expertise in craft brewing. They started strongly with a delicious IPA and what is turning out to be one of my favorite Pilsners. Over the past year, the beers they’ve been churning out have each been extremely flavorful and very well-crafted. The majority of the beers are the recipes Steve has been refining over the past couple of decades as a homebrewer, that refinement and elegance is really easy to taste.

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Images courtesy of Ashton Brewing’s Facebook

Ashton Brewing has already established themselves as a significant presence in the NJ Craft Beer community. Steve has been a member of MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers) and because of that, Ashton collaborated on a beer with brewers who have connections to MASH. All Mashed Up is a collaboration between Ashton, Seven Tribesmen (Wayne, NJ), and Untied Brewing in New Providence. Each brewery tweaked the base recipe slightly, Ashton added marshmallows and Cacao Nibs to their version. Ashton was a fairly early contributor to the Brewery Strong Philanthropy as well.

Given their ability to successfully pivot during the most challenging of times, and the quality of the liquid they produce, I expect that Ashton Brewing will be a staple of the NJ Craft Brewery scene for a very long time. I know I’ll be keeping their beer in my regular rotation

Some other links of interest and sources of information for this post:

Ashton Brewing Company’s Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Ashton Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Ashton Brewing entry @ Beer Advocate | untappd

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Draught Diversions: March 2021 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…

The Ides of March…have passed and I’ve assembled my March 2021 Six Pack. For the first time in a very long time (maybe ever), all the beers here are from NJ breweries. I didn’t necessarily plan that, but I’m not upset about it either, because there’s some really good beers here. Mostly from the usual suspects and frequent breweries, but one brewery I haven’t mentioned in a very long time (years).

Upside Downside (Icarus Brewing Company) | Schwarzbier | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Yet again, the folks at Icarus make a beer that I need to talk about. This beer makes two consecutive months with a Schwarzbier and damn if this isn’t an outstanding take on the style. Extremely flavorful with elements of sweet malt, hints of smoke, and the nice crisp lager finish. This could be an all-day drinker for me.

Beach Badges (Ashton Brewing) | Lager – Dark / Czech Dark Lager | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

Another dark lager? Yes! Apparently, over the last few months I’ve really been taken with dark lagers, as the posts on this blog may attest. Ashton’s take on the Czech Dark Lager is fantastic, which isn’t surprising given the quality of the lagers I’ve had from them. This beer has a sweet breadiness, I’d almost say toasted, fluffy, buttered pumpernickel bread not unlike Kane’s Hollow Sea which made a Six Pack appearance in November 2020. As soon as I learned of this beer, I had to have it and I’m damned glad I picked up a six pack.

Port Omna – Blended Stout & Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout 2021 (Kane Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double Milk | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

For St. Patrick’s Day, Kane releases Port Omna, their take on the Irish Dry Stout (which I’ve enjoyed in the past), they also release some variants. I grabbed two of the variants and this one was not just the better one (not that the other was bad), but it quickly climbed the list of my top barrel-aged beers. Granted this beer is a blend of milk stout and Barrel-Aged stout, but it is truly divine, with hints of maple syrup, coffee, and chocolate.

Thunder in the Distance (Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company) | Barleywine – American | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

A trip to Jersey Cyclone led me to this beer, a really nice barleywine with hints of sweet toffee intermingled with the strong hop presence. This beer reminds me of Sierra Nevada’s iconinc Bigfoot Barelywine, but with a more mellow hop presence, which is fine by me. In talking with owner Jan, he hinted that there might be some of this beer sitting in bourbon barrels for a future release. Sign me up for a bottle now, please!

Peitsche (Carton Brewing Company) | Pilsner – German | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

When Carton Brewing expanded their production facility, it coincided with more lagers, specifically Pilsners. Augie and his crew have been brewing regional takes on the style, with the Whip American Pilsner as the base, they’ve brewed and canned an Italian, Czech, and now this German Pilsner which is just great. There’s a slight slap of hops on the end that reminds me of Victory’s Prima Pilsner which is not a bad thing by any means.

The Imperial: Freedom Toast (Cypress Brewing Company) | Stout – Imperial / Double Oatmeal | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

It has been quite a long time since a beer from Cypress Brewing made an appearance (December 2018), but this one was worth mentioning. This beer, as the name implies, is Cypress’s take on what a French Toast inspired beer might taste like and this beer mostly succeeds. I like the maple and cinnamon, but I’ve come to realize I don’t care for nutmeg. Aside from how thin the beer was, it was quite good.

So there you have it, a really good selection of beers this month. There were a few clunkers, too, but they weren’t offensive enough to mention.

Draught Diversions: A Video Conversation with NJ Craft Beer Members

On Monday Night (03/29/21), the great Mike Kivowitz founder/owner/patriarch of New Jersey Craft Beer invited me, along with Leah Griffin-Bibby (owner of Craft Brew Candle Company) and Eric Dengelegi (from Source Brewing) to spend some time talking NJ Beer. Mike’s been hosting a series of video conversations (video podcasts? video blogs?) on Monday nights over the past few months. Most of those conversations have involved brewery owners or their head brewers (Carton Brewing, Ross Brewing, Beach Haus Brewery, Melovino Meadery to name a few).

However, for this past Monday’s conversation, Mike wanted to speak members of the NJ Craft Beer community who have a similar passion for craft beer, were involved in the beer community some way, but not necessarily making the beer. Leah owns a business (the aforementioned Craft Brew Candle Company) that makes candles from the empty beer bottles and beer cans, with a focus on NJ breweries (i.e. lots of Kane, Source, and Three 3s candles for sale at her site); Eric is a beertender at Source Brewing in Colts Neck, NJ, and is certified Cicerone® beer server; while I’m the guy behind this here blog. That’s how it all came together.

We had a very good time so if you want to get a peek at and hear the guy behind The Tap Takeover (along with the cool people who are Leah and Eric), check out the YouTube video below.

 

Beer Review: Twin Elephant Brewing’s Shimmy Ye’

Name: Shimmy Ye’
Brewing Company: Twin Elephant Brewing Company
Tap Takeover Feature Article: Twin Elephant Brewing Company (July 2019)
Location: Chatham Borough, NJ
Style: IPA – American
ABV: 7.6%

“A superb IPA from one of Northern New Jersey’s premier IPA breweries.”

From Twin Elephant’s landing page for the beer:

All in together now. Shoot, bloaw! The boom bap’s back so let’s begin, then. Lil’ Shimmy’s big bro, brah…This is salad days IPA with some new hoppy paw prints, Idaho 7 and Simcoe. Different flavors of the same ruthless wow raw juice. Dank En Garde, underlined twice, to satiate your primal hoppy biochemical urges. A ruffian track with slapshots and jackpots of trodden spring grass in the shadow of a pine forest. Gold plates and old truth, notes of funky Pu-erh tea, pungent pine, old trees, apricot jam, citrus marmalade & tropical gummy bears.

It has been far too long since I enjoyed a beer from Twin Elephant Brewing, so when a can release coincided with me being in the area of the brewery, I had to grab a four pack of Shimmy Ye’, one of their top IPAs. Over the course of the last couple of years, Twin Elephant reputation as a premier IPA brewer in NJ has grown in stature; in many of the NJ focused beer discussion forums, Twin Elephant is often named in informal polls as one of the best makers of IPAs in the State As such, I was excited to dive into this IPA. I’ve had this beer’s “little sibling,” Lil’ Shimmy Ye’ which is an outstanding American Pale Ale, so I was looking to this beer even more so.

As I’m wont to write, enough preamble, let’s get to the beer.

A nice pop of the can and a pour into the glass is a super hazy beer, like an orange milkshake. That haziness is from the addition of oats. I’m surprised this beer is designated not as a New England IPA, but as an American IPA because the haze is extremely thick and opaque with this beer.

The aroma is a pleasant burst of hops. Between the look and the smell, this IPA seems like it will be in my (albeit smaller) wheelhouse for IPAs.

The first sip is something unexpected. There’s a very sharp bite from the hops, almost like they are sinking their pointy fangs into my tongue and palate. From the look of the beer, I wasn’t expecting such an aggressive hop announcement on my taste buds. What follows, from the tasting perspective, is a softness likely brought on by the oats.

The hops in this beer are Idaho 7 and a personal favorite, Simcoe. Both hops have tropical fruit and pine elements to their flavor, with Simcoe one of the “classic” hops from the turn of the 21st century, while Idaho 7 is a little more recent first released in 2015. The similar flavors complement each other quite nicely. Overall flavors of apricots and citrus elements play well with the potent piney elements of the beer, making for a very flavorful IPA.

Despite the aggressiveness on the front end of the beer, Shimmy Ye’ is a very approachable IPA. The full flavor the beer delivers the tropical and pine elements that are hallmarks of the style in a very impressive fashion.

I had to include the full wrap of can art because it is so eye-catchy. The gold and black combination pops very strongly and is another great piece of art from Tom Schmitt whose art has graced (I think?) all of the canned beer Twin Elephant has produced. His instagram page highlights much of his work for Twin Elephant.

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Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

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Beer Review: Cricket Hill Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Dopplebock

Name: Barrel Aged Doppelbock
Brewing Company: Cricket Hill Brewing Company
Location: Cricket Hill Brewery
Style: Bock – Dopplebock
ABV: 8.5%

“This beer proves that one of the veterans of the NJ Craft Beer scene continues to craft superb beer.”

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From the untappd entry for the beer:

This beer celebrates the centuries old recipes of German bock beers. It has a very rich, malty flavor with aromas of toffee, dates and raisins. It’s deep amber / mahogany color is like eye-candy, and the hints of oak and vanilla from the 4-plus months of barrel aging is an added bonus. 28 IBU’s and 8.5% ABV.

Cricket Hill Brewing Company is one of the most tenured of NJ Craft Breweries, having opened their doors back in 2001 in Fairfield, NJ. They’ve got a nice sizeable taproom, their beer has been in shops throughout portions of North and Central New Jersey, at least in my area, for most of that time. I visited the brewery recently and when I realized they had not just a doppelbock (an underappreciated style), but a barrel-aged version, I knew what I was getting.

From the draught pour, the beer looks a little murkier than I’d expect a doppelbock to be, but that is likely from the barrel aging. The aroma is wonderful, the bourbon is potent, but not overpowering. It isn’t the only element I smell, which is nice. I’ve had my fair share of poorly crafted barrel-aged beers where the only smell was heavy bourbon.

The first sip test: smoothness and sweetness are what initially strike me. Dopplebocks tend to have a toffee element to their flavory profile and I get that in spades from this beer. Not sure I get raisins, but maybe dates as well? The barrel character rounds out the beer very well.

The finish of the beer is great. Again, some poorly crafted dopplebocks can have a sharp, unpleasant character to the finish. Not with this fine lager from Cricket Hill Brewing. The finish is pleasant and clean, making me want to go back immediately for another sip and taste. What I also appreciated about this beer was the ABV. Often barrel-aging a beer will leapfrog the alcohol level into the 10% range. Here, keeping the beer under 10% makes for a balanced beer that won’t knock off your barstool after one serving.

At 20 years in the NJ Craft Beer scene, this Barrel-Aged Dopplebock is proof that Cricket Hill is still offering some finely, elegantly crafted beers. I had a feeling I was going to enjoy this beer based on a handful of other beers I’ve had from Cricket Hill Brewery, but I didn’t expect the beer to be quite this stellar.

This beer seems to be an annual offering from Cricket Hill and it is a beer worth seeking out.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Wet Ticket Brewing Company’s Pineapple Hopper

Name: Pineapple Hopper
Brewing Company: Wet Ticket Brewing Company
Location: Rahway, NJ
Style: IPA – Milkshake
ABV: 7%

“A balanced, sweet twist on the New Jersey brewery’s Flagship IPA.”

WetTicket_PineappleHopper

From Wet Ticket’s our beer page:

A Milkshake IPA featuring a subtle addition of vanilla and just enough pineapple to accentuate the tropical fruit hop flavor: Lush and creamy featuring layers of Pineapple, Vanilla and Citrus notes with just enough lactose to tie it all together.

From the untappd entry for the beer:

We’ve taken the Trolley Hopper off the tracks! Amping up the pineapple notes in the original with fresh pineapple juice from our friends at Rahway’s own Juice Hub, then conditioning it on milk sugar and Madagascar vanilla beans. To complete the package, the “Pineapple Hopper” was dry hopped with 06297 which very subtly complements the vanilla and adds just the right amount of hop flavor.

Milkshake IPAs…one of the more popular styles to emerge recently, some might say a cousin to or adjacent to New England IPAs, since both beers are hazy and often feature lactose as one of their adjunct ingredients. Technically this is the second Milkshake IPA to be reviewed, I say technically because the term “IPA – Milkshake” was barely a fully recognized style for that review back in 2018 (Bolero Snort’s BOVB (Blood Orange Cream Pop IPA)). Here we have Wet Ticket’s hazier take on their flagship Trolley Hopper NEIPA (which I reviewed about two years ago). Wet Ticket does a smart thing with this beer, something quite a few breweries have done: take a successful “brand” and spin off a variant. Does the theory work out in practice?

The addition of milk sugar (lactose), Madagascar Vanilla, and the Pineapple, which gives the beer its name, are three ingredients that have within them the potential to be overpowering on their own, so nuance and skill are required to blend those elements together. Fortunately, Tim Pewitt and his crew have that skill, nuance, and craft brewing experience to make this beer work very nicely.

The look test: Unsurprisingly, the beer pours very hazy and opaque in the glass. One could be forgiven for thinking the beer was actually a pineapple juice. The aroma is of hops and some pineapple. 

The first sip: a very pleasant surprise. The surprises is just how well balanced the flavors are. There’s hit of pineapple, some vanilla, and hops; all as advertised. What becomes more evident is just how well made this beer is. Any one of the adjunct elements could be overpowering, but there’s great balance between the pineapple, vanilla, and milk sugar, and none of them outshine the hops.

I usually think of stouts as dessert beers, but Pineapple Hopper is a beer that work for that post dinner treat. That said, the sweetness is balanced enough and won’t overpower your palate for most meals. All told, Pineapple Hopper is a beer that shows Wet Ticket’s continued skill and excellence at craft brewing.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Twin Lights Lager

Name: Twin Lights Lager
Brewing Company: Twin Lights Brewing Company
Location: Highlands, NJ
Style: Lager – Pale
ABV: 4.8%

A superb Lager boldly launched Twin Lights Brewing into the growing NJ Craft Beer Landscape.

From Twin Lights Brewing’s landing page for their beers:

Our first core beer to hit the market was our Twin Lights Lager. This beer will comes in with a crushable ABV of 4.8%. Brewed with pilsner & victory malt, and topped off with a touch of Saaz & Perle hops.

Twin Lights Brewing did something bold. They launched their brand amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic. Their first beer, this beer, was a lager. While more breweries are including Lagers as part of their Portfolio and even a flagship beer, the Pale Ale and IPA are still the primary styles the majority of breweries have at their core and flagship.

Let’s look at what exactly a Pale Lager is, briefly. As I noted in an earlier review, Dark Lagers were prevalent and popular in Germany for many, many years before the lighter-in-color lagers came along, beers like Helles Lagers and Pilsners, which are part of the group of Pale Lagers. Essentially, a Pale Lager can be considered an “almost Pilsner.” Or another thought is All Pilsners are Pale Lagers but not all Pale Lagers are Pilsners.

This brings us to Twin Lights Lager, the launch beer for contract-brewer Twin Lights Brewing.

The look test: the beer looks like a pilsner, or a pale yellow beer. In other words, on point for the style. The aroma is what I expected: it smells like beer, maybe a little bready?

The first sip test: I like this. The flavor hits all the notes I hope a good lager will hit, hints of malt and breadiness, and a slightly sweet finish from the hops. That sweetness is maybe a little floral? Saaz hops are one of the most traditional of European lager hops, a Czech Noble Hop in fact and the Perle hop is a traditional German hop. The two hops are very predominant in lagers and here they balance each other quite nicely.

The malt and hops come together for an extremely flavorful beer, especially considering the sub 5% ABV. The sentiment that characterized my post about Ross Brewing’s Shrewsbury Lager is true for Twin Lights Lager: this launch beer is proof that Twin Lights has some impressive skill at the craft of brewing. This “Pilsner-adjacent” lager is a perfect introduction to what Twin Lights may be capable of brewing and a fine example of an everyday, always-in-the-cooler, approachable beer.

Hats off to Twin Lights on a fantastic beer. Although Twin Lights Brewing does not yet have a taproom to call home, they have been making a very nice push into liquor stores and bottle shops with about 18 beers having been released over the last year or so across all styles so I’d recommend trying one of their beers that aligns with your favorite style.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Draught Diversions: February 2021 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…

Here I am with my monthly six pack, the beers (outside of the feature reviews), I enjoyed the most the previous month. For the first time in probably well over a year or two, this six pack does not include at least half of the beers from NJ breweries. Granted, much of what I enjoyed this month came from NJ breweries as I still had plenty from my Carton trip on New Year’s Day and I made a big Icarus Brewing purchase. Still, a pretty good selection of beers, at least I think.

Let’s crack open the cans and bottles, shall we?

Bristlecone Brown Ale (Uinta Brewing Company) | Brown Ale – American | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Brown Ales are one of the more overlooked styles, but like any style, when crafted well, can be just as enjoyable and flavorful as any style. Uinta’s take on the style ticks off all of those boxes in a nice way. A solid every-day beer.

Barrel & Bean (Allagash Brewing Company) | Belgian Tripel | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

I enjoy Tripels. I enjoy Barrel Aged beers. I enjoy beers brewed with Coffee. I don’t know that I would ever think to have one beer with those three elements, but here we are with Allagash’s Barrel & Bean. Most barrel-aged Tripels I’ve enjoyed have been aged in some kind of wine barrel, but the bourbon elements and coffee work well here. Frankly, Allagash can really do no wrong, so the quality of this beer wasn’t really too much of a surprise to me.

DDH Power Juice (Azacca) (Icarus Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Icarus makes their usual monthly appearance on the Six Pack. Like many breweries, Icarus crafts variants of popular IPAs, this is a variant on their Power Juicer New England IPA featuring Azacca hops. This one is very juicy with citrus elements and an overall great beer, but the original base Power Juicer works just a little better for me. Still, this beer is worth seeking out.

Blackbird (Tonewood Brewing Company) | Schwarzbier | 4 Bottle Caps on untappd

The lagers coming out of Tonewood Brewing are some of the best in NJ, and Blackbird is no exception. This is a Schwarzbier, a very traditional style, dating back to the 1300s! Blackbird is a Dark German Lager with fantastic roasted and sweet elements that are similar to a porter. At 4%ABV, this beer won’t knock you out but is very flavorful. I found that I enjoyed the second can I had the night after the first can even more, maybe because I had a better idea of what to expect from the beer. As lagers have continued to gain popularity/momentum in craft brewing, I’ve been seeing more Schwarzbiers pop up, which is a very good thing.

Grand Cacao (Tröegs Independent Brewing) | Stout – Milk / Sweet | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

When the brothers behind Pennsylvania’s Tröegs Independent Brewing release a new year round beer, it is worthy of note. When the beer is as good as Grand Cacao is, it is even more noteworthy. This beer is an outstanding Milk Stout with heavy chocolate overtones making for a nearly perfect dessert beer. This is similar to the Chocolate Stout released in the Most Wonderful Beer of the Year variety pack in 2018, but maybe amped up more. This beer may have begun as one of Tröegs’s Scratch beers, but I’m very happy this is now a year-round offering. Grand Cacao has immediately become a top Milk Stout for me.

Morning Shakeout (Timber Ales in collaboration with Marlowe Artisanal Ales) | Stout – Coffee | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

Timber Ales has been contract brewing small batches, I reviewed one their beers (Cosm of Darkness) a few months back and wanted to try another beer from them. To say I was pleased with this beer is an understatement… this is in the top tier of Coffee Stouts I’ve ever had, especially of the non-barrel-aged variety. What makes this beer so damned good is the simplicity – nothing fancy, just one adjunct in the form of the coffee, but it is outstanding. Even moreso as the beer warmed a little bit and the flavors had a chance to breathe. Worth seeking out.

No real clunkers like last month, but also not quite as many new to me beers this month either.

Beer Review: Maine Beer Company’s a tiny beautiful something

Name: a tiny beautiful something
Brewing Company: Maine Beer Company
Location: Freeport, Maine
Style: Pale Ale – American
ABV: 5.5%

Subtle flavors make for a delicious clean, American Pale Ale.

From Main Beer Company’s page for the beer:

Our single hop pale ale brewed to highlight the flavors and aromas of El Dorado hops.

FLAVOR PROFILE: ORANGE MARMALADE AND APRICOT WITH FLORAL PERFUME NOTES, SPICY AND EARTHY

Maine Beer Company is one of the more respected New England breweries despite having a relatively small portfolio of about only 20 beers (as listed on untappd). The majority of what they brew are pale ales and IPAs, the styles they make are close to perfect interpretations of the styles, from the few I’ve had and from the reputation they’ve gained since they opened in 2009. All of their beer comes in 500ml bottles, which is convenient and something that sets them apart from a branding perspective. a tiny beautiful something is one of their Pale Ales, maybe the style that comprises the majority of their portfolio.

The bottle opens and pouring the beer into the glass produces a bright orange-yellow beer with a nice fluffy head. The hop aroma wafting into my nose is quite pleasant and combined with the look, makes for a very welcoming beer.

First sip is extremely refreshing and is gives off the “will always hit the spot” kind of beer. After a few more sips of the beer the hop presence emerges.  a tiny beautiful something is exclusively hopped with El Dorado hops. I don’t know that I’ve explored the El Dorado hop as much as some other hops, it is more often than not one of the hops in a hop blend rather than the “feature” hop of the beers I’ve had and enjoyed. It is a fairly new hop, having been released in 2010, but because of the hops’ tropical elements, El Dorado has gained a great deal of popularity with the emergence and growing popularity of Hazy/Juice IPAs and Pale Ales. Based on El Dorado being the only hop in this beer, I’m a fan.

The descriptor above from the brewery is spot on. I found the beer to have a subtle, yet pleasant and noticeable citrus/orange presence, which isn’t uncommon for most hops. There’s also a hint of spice on the finish and some other fruity elements. I don’t know that I can pinpoint it as apricot like the brewery describes, but the flavor is very tasty. The evocation of the fruit elements persists in a very positive way, it made me want to keep drinking to get more of that flavor.

Of the 125+ different Pale Ales I’ve had, a tiny beautiful something might have the cleanest finish of any of those Pale Ales. What I mean by that is there’s no real negative after taste, the beer ends on a very pleasant note.

a tiny beautiful something is s superb Pale Ale. I’ve had three other beers from Maine Beer Company and they’ve all been excellent. This all just makes me want to explore more of their beer.

Recommended, link to 4.25-bottle-cap Untappd check in.