Draught Diversions: Thanksgiving 2017 Suggestions

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…

Perhaps no American holiday is more centered around food, feasting, and gathering together for a sit-down meal as is Thanksgiving. Sure, Christmas Dinner is a focal point for many families around the world, but food is the primary icon of what many Americans call “Turkey Day.”

You can probably justify any style pairing for the day since there are so many potential dishes as part of the overall day, so I’ll just run off a few styles that I’ve had over the past few years I’ve found to be really nice. First and foremost; however, I’d suggest grabbing a growler or two from your favorite local brewery to bring to the family gathering if at all possible. This is by no means an exhaustive set of beer suggestions and a lot of people (myself included), split the day and do dinner at one location and desert at another location so you may have a special beer you’d rather share at one place than another.. There are plenty of lists like that floating around the internets (Craft Beer and Brewing, GQNY Times, Food and Wine, among many others).

When first arriving and chatting with your family and friends, something light and sessionable might a good option. Maybe a Session IPA (like Founders’ All Day IPA or Southern Tier’s Tangier) or a Hefeweizen (Any of Harpoon’s UFOs including the Winter Blonde would be nice as would Tröegs Dreamweaver Wheat), both are low in alcohol (floating around 5%) and provide a distinct flavor. Or something really good as starter is a good ol’ American Lager and it doesn’t get much more American than the Lager from America’s Oldest Brewery, Yuengling.

The dinner beer is even more open for debate and consideration. Some might lean towards a solid IPA or Pale Ale, but not me. I think the hoppiness might clash too much with the earthy flavors of the main course.  Here’s where you want a brew that is a little more hearty, something with weight to it. Last year, I enjoyed a Moonglow Weizenbock from Victory Brewing and it paired wonderfully with the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and especially the sweet potatoes. At 8.7% with a tasty malty base, you’ve definitely got a hearty brew. Along those lines, a Dubbel like Ommegang’s world class Dubbel Ale or a Dopplebock (like the Troegenator I reviewed a few weeks ago) would be both make for nice pairing.

A brown ale could go really well, here, too, Newburgh Brewing Company makes an excellent Brown as does Smuttynose, with their classic of American Craft Beer, Old Brown Dog Ale. About as close as I’d come to thinking IPA for dinner would be say a black IPA like Two Roads Brewing’s Route of All Evil could be good here with a nice hop and malt balance. A porter; however, would be perfect, some have roast and the style is just complementary enough for most meals that something like Great Lakes’s Edmund Fitzgerald or the American craft beer standard for porters, Anchor Porter could work well for many palettes.

Here we come to dessert. Some folks will go for a beer with their dessert, I usually don’t. In this case, maybe a sweeter brew like Southern Tier’s Choklat, which is a rich, sweet stout. Same goes for Terrapin’s fabulous Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout. Since Pumpkin Pie is a staple dessert at Thanksgiving, why not go for a pumpkin beer at this time? One of the classics of the style is Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale, a beer I haven’t had in a couple of years. Perhaps I’ll remedy that this year.

Once the food is done and you want to relax and maybe take that nap, splitting a sipping beer to top off the day might be nice. Perhaps something barrel-aged and/or higher in ABV.

I was able to snag a bottle of Flying Fish’s Exit 17, which is a Russian Imperial Stout aged in Dad’s Hat Whiskey bottles. This was a fairly limited release, with only 750 bottles put into distribution. Really, though, one of the dessert beers could be good here, too. If you were lucky enough to snag multiple bottles of KBS, it might not be a bad idea to share one of those after the food is done. Something like one of these higher ABV stouts are Barleywines might be good to sip throughout the day, too.

 

Obviously these are all only suggestions. Mostly based on what I’ve enjoyed in year’s past at Thanksgiving. The only additional thing I’ll say is more than a suggestion, a request. Drink responsibly. If you have more than two or three (hell more than one of some of the beers I mentioned in this post), don’t get behind the wheel.

Draught Diversions: Angry Erik Brewing

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…

In last week’s Draught Diversions, I wrote about the New Jersey beer tour my wife took me on last November for my birthday. The majority of those breweries are located along/near the Jersey Shore – Kane, Beach Haus, and Carton. Well this year (this past weekend, in fact), another brewery tour commenced. This round focused on beers located in Northern New Jersey. This week, I’ll be focusing on one of those breweries: Angry Erik Brewing.

This is the brewery (of the five we visited that day), that surprised me the most for a couple of reasons. Before visiting them, I didn’t know where Angry Erik was located. I wouldn’t have thought to make them part of any brewery tour because of that. I wasn’t unaware of Angry Erik, I enjoyed a beer or two from them at past Garden State Brewfests but don’t see their beer too often here in Somerset County, NJ. The brewery is in one of the most northern townships in NJ (Lafayette) and may be the northern-most brewery in the State.

Situated in the open farmlands of Sussex County, the brewery is relatively unassuming in an office park. As I’ve said in previous Brewery posts, their location isn’t too dissimilar from other breweries. While the exterior wouldn’t lead you to believe there’s a brewery located in this office park, once you open the doors, the environment – while somewhat tight – is quite lively and comforting. On the day of our visit, the brewery was hosting a puppy adoption, which may have added to the crowd, but people were lined up at the bar waiting for beer, standing around chatting while holding a beer, or at the tables enjoying some beers. In other words, the type of atmosphere you’d want to see in a brewery on a late Saturday afternoon.

Once the crowd allowed Erik to step away from the taps, he took us on a tour of the small brewery. What impressed me the most was how clean, neat, and organized everything in the facility was.

Just as NJ Beer laws were changing shortly before 2014, husband and wife Erik and Heide Hassing were able to open Angry Erik Brewing. Heide’s got a chemistry background (a degree from one of the most prestigious departments in the country, Cornell) which may be part of the reason their beers taste so damned good. At least the beers I sampled during my visit were quite tasty.

What was most pleasing about the beers on Angry Erik’s tap list was the variety of styles across the seven beers on draft. I sampled a tasty Black IPA (Pedals BIPA), a delicious blond with Elderflower (The Dainty Viking), one of the best Red/Amber Ales I’ve had in a very long time (Ravøl), and a fantastic Imperial Porter (Original Dragon Booty). The beer that I enjoyed the most, though, was that Blonde with Elderflower. The addition of the sweet Elderflower is a perfect balance to what can be a crisp and sometimes bland style. In addition, Erik and Heide were pouring a tasty tart Saison and a couple IPAs, Hoparoo and the spicy Viva Verde.

Angry Erik Flight of Four: Ravøl, The Dainty Viking, Pedals BIPA, and the Original Dragon Booty.

When I was speaking to one of the bartenders, I asked if bottles or cans of their beer were available that day or in the future. While a small release has happened, the brewery is looking to go into a larger facility about a mile away, which may open the possibilities for canning, bottling, and the ability for patrons to bring home Angry Erik’s delicious beer in something other than a growler, thus keeping the tasty beer as fresh as possible for longer than a couple of days.

Were Angry Erik closer, I would definitely be visiting and filling growlers with some regularity. At least as regularly as I visit Lone Eagle, Flounder, Demented, and Conclave which are the four closest breweries to where I live and work. I may make a another pilgrimage to Lafayette to sample more of their beers in the future. The brewery is well worth visiting and their beers, based on the four I enjoyed, are well worth trying if they show up on draft at your favorite pub or bar.

Angry Erik’s beers have won awards at festivals, including A People’s Choice Award at Morristown’s Big Brew Fest in 2017.

Resources for this post and additional reading about Angry Erik Brewing:
Brew Jersey (March 2017)
NJ Monthly: 8 Badass Women Who Brew

Beer Review: New Holland Brewing’s Dragon Milk Stout

Name: Dragon’s Milk
Brewing Company: New Holland Brewing Company
Location: Holland, MI
Style: American Imperial / Double Stout
ABV: 11%

From the beer’s description on New Holland Brewing’s Web site:

Rich, Roasty, and Creamy with Heavy notes of Vanilla and just enough familiar warmth from Oak Barrels. Reminds us all that life’s events – big or small – are worth celebrating. A stout with roasty malt character intermingled with deep vanilla tones, all dancing in an oak bath.

Few beers have as great a name as this one – Dragon’s Milk. Something magical is conjured in the mind with this name and there is a tradition to the name, too. Dragon’s Milk is a 17th century term used to describe the strong beer usually reserved for royalty. From some older information New Holland put out for this beer, “This strong ale was aged in oak for over 120 days. The aging process extracts flavors from the wood, which contribute to its complex character.”

While a great name is all well and good, the beer must live up to the name. In the case of New Holland’s best known beer, the contents of the bottle (or if you’re lucky enough, the keg) more than meet the expectations laid down by the name. Also an unplanned thing is reviewing “Dragon’s Milk” after a beer called “Skull Splitter.”

The best-known craft brewery in Michigan may be Founders, and rightly so. One of their best known and most renowned beers is Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS). Again, rightly so. But for all the hype surrounding KBS, Dragon’s Milk as a Barrel Aged stout is an excellent stout and not one to be overshadowed. Also, it is far easier to find and acquire this brew, at least here in NJ. There are variants on the beer I haven’t seen and only heard about, but this fantastic brew is a wonderful barrel-aged stout.

Straight off the pour, the bourbon and vanilla aromas make their presence known. The beer pours a beautiful black that makes a statement: This Beer is Potent. I let it sit for a few minutes before giving in and having a taste drinking in the aromas for a few minutes. Yes, this beer lived up to my memory of first having it about 7 years ago. Like Backwoods Bastard, the aroma of this beer is just as good as the taste. Rather than letting it sit on the table between sips, I was holding it to bathe in the aroma.

Like a lot of bourbon barrel aged stouts, Dragon’s Milk is a beer to be enjoyed slowly. Not a beer to guzzle or drink quickly. Not just because of the 11% ABV, but also because this is a beer that you want to enjoy for all the flavors swirling in your choice of glass. I’ll beat the drum again, but like most higher ABV beers, stouts especially, Dragon’s Milk is a beer whose flavors become more pronounced (i.e. delicious) as it warms to room temperature. The beer smells so damned good it is tough to not have a sip immediately. Do that sure, but let most of the beer warm for a few minutes before drinking more than that first sip.

The first time I had this beer was on tap at a wonderful restaurant/beer bar in Pennsylvania about 45 minutes from me – Isaac Newton’s – about 6 or 7 years ago. If you live in the NJ/PA region and are close enough to Isaac Newton’s, do yourself a favor, take a drive to enjoy some great food (incredible burgers, delicious meatloaf, excellent short ribs).

Shortly thereafter, I procured a four pack and enjoyed the beer periodically, but I saved one of those four for a special occasion. At the time, I was at a career crossroads, so I figured I’d save the beer until I landed a job I really wanted. Well, that “last beer” aged about 4 years and that time in the back of my fridge did wonders. I recall loving the beer, here’s my 2011 untapped check in.

This is the 2011 bottle that aged for four years

As it so happened, my father gave me a variety of beers which amounted a half of a case of beer for my birthday a couple of weeks ago, including some Dragon’s Milk. I am also in the midst of a career upgrade right now, having started a new managerial role yesterday (November 13). I enjoyed the aged bottle from 2011 on the first day in the then new position I started in 2015 and I “closed the circle” and had the new bottle of Dragon’s Milk on the last day in that role on the Friday of my last day in that role, before assuming promotion which began yesterday.

So, that was the small history lesson of me and this beer. Clearly, it is a beer I enjoy and one that any stout lover should be getting on a regular basis. Most of my friends who enjoy stouts talk about this beer with reverence so I suspect most beer folks do know about it. I’ve seen this in four packs for about $15 or $16 near me, which isn’t cheap, but well worth it when you consider that going to a bar and having a few beers of far lower quality will cost you potentially more money.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Draught Diversion: NJ Brewery Tour November 2016

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…

This Draught Diversion is something of a #ThrowbackThursday post. A little over a year ago, my wife got me in the car with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend and visited a bunch of NJ Breweries on a mini tour. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, my wife asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I said I’d like to visit a some of the many breweries which have sprung up in New Jersey over the past few years, in particular Carton and Kane since they are both so well-regarded and relatively close. Keep in mind that this was months before I began the Tap Takeover and the bulk of this post is written from memory, aside from telling a friend at work (who hits up local breweries on his birthday) what I had at each brewery.

Because things with us tend to go out of order, we went North before coming back down and landed at Twin Elephant Brewing in Chatham, NJ. At the time, Twin Elephant was only open a few months, we’d even attended their “launch” at the Stirling Hotel (one of the best beer bars in NJ, great tap selection and wonderful food) in Gillette in July 2016. There were a great variety of styles on tap in the beautiful newly opened tap-room. A really nice wood interior made for a great gathering place for local patrons. Unfortunately, the Diamonds and Pearls Milk Stout I had in July was not on tap but there were some tasty beers to be had.

The Flight from Twin Elephant

The beer that stood out the most for me was Chingas, a Black IPA which had the best elements of a stout and IPA in one beer. Rounding out the flight was the New Found Friends IPA, Faja Bod, a fruity, Abbey ale; Pucker Cup, an odd but interesting sour Coffee ale; and a citrusy ale called Dux. I’d definitely like to return to this brewery, hopefully to get in on their limited can releases of either Diamonds and Pearls.

The second visit had us come back down basically to my house to go to – Conclave Brewing in Raritan Township/Flemington. My wife hadn’t realized I stopped there a few times over the past couple of years. Fortunately, their wonderful Mexican Morning stout was on tap. I’ve written extensively about this fine brewery in the past (click the link to see what I have to say about them), this was the shortest stop since I’d been there previously and their tap list was the smallest, so on to Brewery #3.

As I said at the opening of this post, high on the list of breweries I wanted to visit was what turned out to be our third stop – Kane Brewing in Ocean, NJ. Unfortunately, there always has to be one of any kind of list that is the bottom and that day it was Kane. I know, I know, I’ll catch a lot of flack from hop heads, especially the folks who hang out in the Beer Advocate Forums. Despite about 10 or 12 beers on tap, the variety was quite limited, a lager and a blonde were on the list, but the great majority of what was on tap was either an IPA or a Pale Ale of some sort. I was very disappointed that no stouts or porters were on tap considering it was November, prime season for dark, roasty, malty ales. Put it this way, if I enjoyed IPAs half as much as I enjoy stouts, then chances are Kane would have been my favorite stop of the day. At the time we visited Kane, I still had a strong aversion to IPAs. Despite that, I couldn’t deny what a good beer their flagship beer, Head High is.

The tap room; however, was really impressive. With barrels stacked high, the room felt very busy (in a good way) and I got a sense that a lot of people knew each other. Very much a feel of a lot of “regulars” sharing some good time over highly-hopped Ales. I’d like to visit them again, although this time I’ll take a peek at beermenus to make sure the list isn’t just high-hopped ales. Then again, since I’ve come appreciate IPAs a little more over the past few months, I might find more to enjoy from their tap list on any given visit.

Beach Haus Flight: Herb’s Rye, Station 2 Station, Toast (Black IPA), Pumptoberfest

Next up was Beach Haus Brewery in Belmar, NJ which is only about 4 miles away from Kane. What I liked best about Beach Haus was the overall variety of styles available for sampling and consumption. Beach Haus has been bottling their beers and distributing them in New Jersey for quite a few years and I recall trying a couple of their beers at Garden State Brewfests in the past, but what I had last year was all new to me. I really enjoyed Herb’s Rye which is a Pale Wheat Ale that reminded me a bit of Samuel Adam’s Summer Ale. The Black IPA they call Toast was interesting, Pumptoberfest, an Oktoberfest with Pumpkin spices, was a tasty fall beer and the Station 2 Station Porter was a roasty porter. The tap-room was wide open and felt like a great place to hang out. A similar set up to the second floor of Lone Eagle. You could say the brewing approach seem similar, too. A good bunch of styles with a focus on pleasing a wade variety of palettes rather than focusing the majority of their brewing on only one style.

The final brewery was the best of the day and the brewery I had on the top of my to-visit list: Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands. Everything about Carton put it at the top of the list that day. The tour, the gregarious tour guide, and the wonderful ambiance of the welcoming tap room which felt like the attic of a friend’s house, set the foundation for a great experience. What about the beers? They were, of course, delicious and interesting.

As part of the tour, you pay six bucks for a few tokens, which you exchange for a 4 oz taster. This works out to about $0.83 per taste and every tour includes a taste of their flagship beer, Boat, essentially a session IPA that is often ranked as one of the best beers in NJ. In addition to Boat, I had Unjunct, a wonderful stout which was so good I walked out with a 4-pack of pint cans. Although I’ve had the beer previously, I couldn’t pass up Carton of Milk, a superb Milk Stout. Next up was To Wong Brew, Thanks for Everything! Julie Brewmar! an “American Wild Ale” that was a damned interesting stout/sour hybrid. I also had The Wit Whale, a Witbier with more hops than most Witbiers. I rounded out the samples with one of the famous “O-Dub” variants, 077-7006 Sorachi Ace. I really need to get down to Carton again.

So, a couple of breweries I’d gladly visit again one and one I go to with some regularity since it is so close.

Beer Review: Orkney Brewery’s Skull Splitter

Name: Skull Splitter
Brewing Company: The Orkney Brewery
Location: Orkney Islands, Scotland
Style: Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy
ABV: 8.5%

From the beer’s description on Orkney Brewery’s Web site:

One of our strongest beers, named after Thorfinn Einarsson the 7th Viking Earl of Orkney

A rich fruity wine-like complexity on the palate includes fresh and dried fruits, warm exotic spice and light summer citrus fruits. Sophisticated, satiny smooth with a deceptively light character.

This is the second Scotch Ale I’ve reviewed here at the Tap Takeover and the first beer from the land which lends the name to the style, Scotland. This is as traditional as a Scotch Ale can get and after seeing a few reviews on untappd and the beer guy at my bottle shop give this big thumbs-up when he caught me glancing at the bottle, I knew I wanted to give it a try. One day a couple of weeks ago, my wife stopped at one of the many bottle shops on her way home from work and surprised me with a four pack of this one. My wife certainly knows what I like. She’s also a self-admitted sucker for a great label and beer name, as she said, “How do I not get you a beer named Skull Splitter?”

On to the beer…malty aromas come out of the bottle as the brownish/copper ale fills the glass. The beer looks a little cloudy and has a very pleasing aroma once it fills the pint glass and breathes. The beer starts strong and has a nice feel as you absorb the complex flavors.

Those complex flavors include hints of some kind of fruits, I’ve seen people mention figs and maybe plums or even raisins. I can’t disagree with any of those, I just know I like the taste. There’s a nice caramel/malty finish to the beer that is extremely tasty and smooth. As the flavors settle then dissipate, it really makes you want to take another three or four sips. Like some of the maltier ales the hop presence doesn’t really assert itself, which is fine by me.  Rather that caramel sweetness finishes with a slight tang/spice at the end that makes for a very nicely balanced beer.

The easy drinking taste of the beer; however, is in contrast to the relatively high ABV. This isn’t a beer you should throw back at 3 or 4 an hour. Maybe…maybe 2 an hour. The complex flavors really benefit from slowly drinking it, letting all the complexities roll around your palate.

The beer reminds me a bit of some of the great Dubbels I’ve had over the years for the malt and smoothness, but Skull Splitter‘s caramel flavors and hints of brown sugar set this one apart into a glass of its own pouring.

A perfect beer for a cool fall evening, one to enjoy after the meal is complete almost as a dessert beer but one that  also might pair well with a really earthy meal of steak and mashed potatoes or a hearty stew. You know, a meal like Thorfinn Einarsson, the  surly Viking leaning on the axe on the label, would enjoy.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Wee Bit of the Scotch (Level 2)

Whether it’s a Scotch Ale, Scottish Ale, or a traditional Wee Heavy, don your kilt and prepare yourself for a wee bit of Scotch.

Draught Diversions: October 2017 Beer Pours

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…

October, the month for Oktoberfest beers and Pumpkin Beers. A time when Porters and Stouts are becoming more prominent on the shelves. There are always many good beers to be had, but I do love porters and stouts. That’s the variety of beers I had for October, Pumpkins and Stouts, mostly.

I started the month off with an interesting beer from New Belgium, part of their Lips of Faith series of beers called Clutch. My wife picked up the beer for me since we are fans of the band Clutch, who they partnered with New Belgium for a that is a melding of styles – 80% Stout / 20% Sour. Sour beers are probably more hit or miss for me than any style since the flavor profile can vary so much, but this one worked quite well for me. Since my brother-in-law is also a big fan of Clutch, I shared the beer with him, though I think I enjoyed more than he did since I finished what I poured for him.

Next up on the new to me beer list for October was a very tasty Dunkelweizen from Veldensteiner, a German Microbrewery whose beers recently appeared in NJ. I’d get this one again for sure and will be trying the other offerings from this brewery over the next few weeks. I’ve been enjoying the majority of Flying Fish’s Exit Series of beers, so I finally got around to trying Exit 18 – Baltic Porter which was quite good. This a very dark porter with a nice hit of sweetness, though a little stronger on the licorice than I typically like. Baltic Porters tend to be a little more bitter than standard porters, but the high ABV (9.5%) in this one, I think, smoothed out the bitterness. Although this one was a 750mL bottle, I wouldn’t be surprised (and hope) that Flying Fish reissues this one in 12oz bottles either in 4-packs or part of their annual “Exit Series” Variety pack.

The monthly “Brews and Board Games” meeting at Lone Eagle was a little earlier for October, falling on the 12th. I had a few of their beers I hadn’t previously tried in the flight (from left to right, below): Belgian Pale Ale, which I thoroughly enjoyed, enough that I ordered a pint of it after the flight; ESB, which was tasty; New England Chowdah, their take on an New England IPA which didn’t quite do it for me; and Tropical Stout which was OK for what it was (a stout with some pineapple/coconut flavors), but just not for me. I may pick up a four-pack of the Belgian Ale on my next visit to the brewery.

Lone Eagle Flight: Belgian Pale Ale; ESB; Chowdah (NE IPA), Tropical Stout

I went into detail about the O’Fallon Pumpkin Pack last week as well as Blackbeard’s Breakfast a couple of weeks ago. A couple of annual releases were next to be pulled from my refrigerator: this year’s version of Two Roads’s Roadsmary’s Baby is just as tasty as it was last year. Founders’ released their Breakfast Stout in October and it is always a must-get stout for me. There were more notes of coffee than I remember from past iterations of the brew, but a solid sipping beer nonetheless. I may let one of the bottles to age for at least a year.

A beer I’ve been looking forward to trying since seeing it announced was the latest installment of Victory Brewing’s Blackboard series, Black Forest Cake with Cherries. I’ve enjoyed most of the beers I’ve had in this series to varying degrees, I think I only missed the Agave IPA and the Oatmeal Porter with Hazelnut. This one was quite good, though a tad more on the bittersweet end of chocolate than I expected. I would even say this is a tamer, sweeter version of their popular Storm King stout (a big Imperial Stout with a 95 IBU and one of the few Victory brews I don’t like too much). The chocolate and cherries really balance the bitterness in Black Forest Cake with Cherries and makes for a really tasty beer. Like the Saugatuck Blueberry Maple Stout I reviewed at the beginning of the month, I found myself enjoying the second and third beers (each days apart from each other) more than the first.

My wife stopped at a bottle shop on her way home and picked up a couple of beers I never had, but definitely style-wise are in my wheelhouse. Continuing the Pennsylvania theme, one was a beer I’ve been seeing and intending to try was Crunch from Manayunk Brewing Company, which is a peanut butter chocolate porter. Boy did the peanut butter assert itself. This beer is one that is so potent with the flavors that just one is fine for the night. I’ve been eyeing other beer quite a while, too: Skull Splitter from Orkney Brewery in Scotland. This is a fantastic, sweet, bold, and malty Scotch Ale. I may review this one in more detail, but suffice to say, a lovely Scotch Ale.

The last weekend in October, I happened to try four new beers during a Chili Cook-Off I was judging. I picked up a six pack of another beer I’d been looking forward to since I learned of its release, Mocha Merlin from Firestone Walker as my “beer to bring.” Dear lord what a sublime and perfect stout this is. All the flavor goodness of coffee without the accompanying bitterness some coffee stouts bring. I’ve had the Nitro Merlin Milk Stout and the Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout in years past so I had high hopes for this variant on the Velvet Merlin “brand.” Mocha Merlin is just so damned good, it really is tough for me to say which of those three I enjoy the most.

Don’t judge the red Solo cup

Since this Chili Cook Off attracts quite a few people (between 50 and 80 every year), there are a lot of different beers floating around. One of my friends’ guests happens to live 7 minutes from Victory Brewing and he brought three growlers of delicious beer from Downington, PA. The first I had was Whirlwind Witbier an excellent Witbier that, despite the growler being filled the day before, was still quite good and pretty fresh. I could swear I had this years ago, long before joining untappd, although I haven’t seen it in stores recently. The other two Victory brews were Vital IPA and Hop Devil. My aversion to IPAs is waning so I tried both and enjoyed Hop Devil much more with its maltier profile. I can definitely see why this beer helped to establish Victory’s outstanding reputation.

I closed out the month with Winter is Here, the latest Game of Thrones beer from Brewery Ommegang, but you already read about that on Tuesday. A very consistent month for new beers, there weren’t any that were drain pours and all were quite good. On to November! With November 2 (today) as Stout Day, the stout season is officially here. The best beer of the month for me was the Mocha Merlin, so I’ll probably have at least one of those on Stout Day.

Cheers!

Beer Review: Brewery Ommegang’s Game of Thrones Winter is Here

Name: Game of Thrones: Winter Is Here
Brewing Company: Brewery Ommegang
Location: Cooperstown, New York
Style: Witbier / Double White Ale
ABV: 8.3%

That is indeed George R.R. Martin’s signature on A Dance of Dragons in the background.

From the beer’s description on Ommegang’s Web site:

Winter is Here is brewed with pilsner malt, white wheat malt, and soft red wheat flakes, hopped with Saaz hops, and spiced with white pepper, sea salt, coriander and sweet orange peel. Brewery Ommegang’s house yeast is used in primary and secondary fermentation. This double white ale pours a hazy pale straw color with a stark white head. Aromas of banana, clove, and pronounced peppery phenols lead, and the flavor is slightly sweet malt, subtly balanced by hints of sea salt. Despite a full mouthfeel and healthy ABV, it still manages to drink quite lightly. The finish gradually builds in a warming crescendo of peppery spice

I’ve been trying to “spread the love” and not cover the same breweries in my reviews and Draught Diversions. Sure I’ve posted a Tuesday Beer Review for breweries I’ve visited, but I’ve tried not to repeat myself and I’m aiming to continue that trend through the end of the year. I think I’m still getting away on a technicality here with this review since I haven’t truly reviewed a beer from Brewery Ommegang yet. Since I’ve done a review/overview of all the Game of Thrones beers from Brewery Ommegang, I almost have to review the newest in the series, right?

Wheat based beers are high up on my list of favorites and Witbiers are the Belgian take on the style. As loyal readers of this blog may recall, the first beer review here at the Tap Takeover was of a Witbier. Ommegang’s primary output is Belgian influenced styles so a Witbier is a natural fit for them. I’ve enjoyed their Witte Wheat in the past so I was especially looking forward to this latest installment of the Game of Thrones series.  In the latest Game of Thrones offering, Ommegang has really hit it out of the park, so to speak. Billed as a “Double White Ale” this beer is everything you’d expect from a finely crafted Witbier and more.

It pours a little thicker than I’ve come to expect from Witbiers, but the aroma is spot on. The one thing that stands out on appearance for me is the extremely fluffy head. Regardless of how I tilted the glass or patiently I tried to refill from the 750ml bottle, the head was quite large. The beer looks very inviting once the pint glass has the full head on, but it is thicker than most Witbiers I’ve enjoyed.

The spices and clove are up front, as one expects from a Witbier. Excellent so far. I got a little more banana hints than orange/coriander compared to most other Witbiers I’ve had. This is by no means a slight on the beer. Rather, I like the slightly different profile for this one. It gives the beer a wonderful feel and taste of gravitas; this is far from your standard Witbier.

The other thing that stands out in this beer is the level of maltiness. Most wheat beers, especially the lower in alcohol Witbiers, aren’t nearly as malty as Winter is Here. Again, this is not a knock on the beer by any means. I think the higher alcohol (about twice that of a typical Witbier, this one is 8.3%, most Witbiers are between 4% and 5% ABV) accounts for the more pronounced malt.

The only thing that strikes me as a little odd is that I typically associate wheat beers, especially Witbiers, with warmer months. With higher a ABV, though that thought sort of evaporates. Also, since the glowering fellow on the label is the Night King, the head of the White Walkers, it makes sense to make a beer in homage to him and his followers as a White Beer, another name for Witbiers.

Of the nine Game of Thrones beers Ommegang has brewed and distributed, Winter is Here is my personal top two or three. This is a beer that is a delicious “leveled-up” version of a Witbier that really works to the strengths of Ommegang’s wonderful Belgian heritage and brewing styles.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Keep Your Wits About You (Level 8)

Hazy and white like a winter storm, but best enjoyed on a warm sunny day. This specific style of wheat beer brings with it a subtle mix of spices and hops, giving it a distinct flavor with little bitterness.