Draught Diversions: Czig Meister Brewing Company

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 week’s brewery focused post features another of the “Hackettstown Trio” of NJ Craft breweries which was part of my fall 2017 New Jersey Brewery Tour: Czig Meister Brewing Company which is literally around the block from Man Skirt Brewing (featured here: https://thetaptakeover.com/2017/12/14/draught-diversions-man-skirt-brewing/).

Image of brewery front courtesy of Czig Meister Web site

Czig Meister opened its doors and taps to the public in June 2016, but  President/CEO Matt Czigler’s beerstory began long before that. Like many brewery owners, Matt began homebrewing, but then unlike many homebrewers, formally educated himself at Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology in Chicago. Once the formal education concluded, Matt eventually found himself in about as great a gig as one could hope for in NJ Craft Beer – head brewer at NJ’s iconic Kane Brewing. As it turns out, Matt had a big impact on Kane. His recipe for A Night to End All Dawns, an Imperial Stout aged in Four Roses Bourbon Barrels, won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014. He eventually left to start what is now Czig Meister Brewing. All of this happened before he was even 30 years old. Very impressive indeed. (This is a very truncated version of what appears on Czig Meister’s About Us Page.

Image courtesy of Czig Meister’s Web site

But what about the brewery, where it is, and the beers produced by Czig Meister?

The location: Czigler managed to secure himself a really great space, a big, eye-catching brick building that was once a Ford maintenance garage. The ceiling is high, with barrels stacked in some spots. Perhaps what is best about the space is how open and welcoming it is. There’s an outdoor seating area / Biergarten and I think the big old garage doors open up to allow great airflow. Of the five breweries I visited on that cool November afternoon/evening, none were as packed and hopping as Czig Meister. Granted, some space was cordoned off and rented for a party, but there were enough people milling about enjoying fine beer that I suspect it still would have been the busiest brewery that day. Because it was so packed and the schedule for the day was pretty tight, I didn’t have the opportunity to snap any photos from inside the brewery.

The beers: I did manage to get a flight during my visit and all four beers were good, with one bordering on great. One of the beers I had was one of Czig Meister’s “Forge Batch” beers, which are the single-keg, experimental, brewery only releases. In this case, it was a “Blueberry Imperial Saison” (Forge Batch 9.8) and boy did it hit the spot. A lovely beer, the tart/sweet of the blueberry balanced out the yeast and earthiness of the Saison. I’d drink this all through the spring, if I could.

Flight at Czig Clockwise from Left: Forge Batch 9.8 Imperial Blueberry Saison, Blacksmith (Oatmeal Stout), Chaos (Belgian Dubbel), and Habonde (Barrel-aged Barley Wine)

The second beer in the flight was Chaos, Czig Meister’s interpretation of a Belgian Dubbel, which was spot on from a stylistic / flavor profile standpoint. The third beer in the flight was one of their flagship brews, Blacksmith, an Oatmeal Stout that was more roasty and smokey than I’d expect from a stout, especially an oatmeal stout. Almost more like a porter than a stout to me. The final beer was Habonde, and outstanding Barley Wine aged in Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrels. I’ve seen this one in local bottle shops, too. I’d highly recommend it to folks who enjoy Barley Wines. I think this is also the Barley Wine that cemented the fact that I enjoy Barley Wines in the English, rather than American style.

Speaking of bottle shops, sometime last year, I started seeing Czig Meister beers in shops near me in Somerset, Middlesex, and Hunterdon Counties, NJ. Again, this is really impressive – having a growing production brewery (compared to some of the smaller breweries in NJ) able to crank out beers consistently enough to gain continual distribution is no small feat. It seems Czig Meister’s core beers are the aforementioned Oatmeal Stout Blacksmith, as well as The Huntsman (Kölsch), Falconer (American Pale Ale, which I suspect would be similar to Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale especially with the green can), Prospector (Amber/Red Ale and Matt’s favorite, according to the Website and my links below), and The Shipwright (American IPA).

Of course Czig Meister has some regular seasonal brews and Special Releases, too. The next one I plan to try from them will have to be either Upon the Shattered Cliffs an Imperial Milk Porter (a collaboration brew with Bolero Snort) or the Dopplebock they call Chieftans Covenant.

Between the variety of beers they produce (over 200 distinct beers as of this writing), the busy atmosphere, great location, and portfolio of beers in distribution, Czig Meister has made a great mark on the NJ Craft Beer scene in less than two years. I know I would like to visit the brewery again and at the very least, continue making my way through the variety of their beers I see at my local bottle shops.

Like many breweries are doing, such as the Brews and Board Games club that meets monthly at Lone Eagle Brewing Czig Meister has regular events at their brewery, including a regular trivia nights. Bottom line, Czig Meister is worth making the drive up to Hackettstown on its own. Add the other two breweries in the town (Man Skirt and Jersey Girl), and the trip is almost a must for people interested in sampling fine New Jersey beer.

Additional reading and resources

Wine and Craft Beverage News (July 2017)
Brew Jersey (January 2017)
The Daily Record (June 2016)
I Drink Good Beer (June 2016)

A final aside: As it turns out, the younger brother of one of my fraternity brothers works at Czig Meister and has been there since the brewery opened.

Beer Review: Czig Meister’s Uholy Ritual

Name: Unholy Ritual
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing Company
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Belgian Quadrupel
ABV: 9.4%

There isn’t much of a description on this beer, either on the brewery’s Website or on untapped and I don’t recall seeing much on the label, so in this spot, I’ll drop in the Beer Advocate description of the Quadrupel (Quad) style

Inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium, a Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale of great strength with bolder flavor compared to its Dubbel and Tripel sister styles. Typically a dark creation that ranges within the deep red, brown and garnet hues. Full bodied with a rich malty palate. Phenols are usually at a moderate level. Sweet with a low bitterness yet a well perceived alcohol.

Czig Meister is one of the Hackettstown trio of breweries, which also includes Jersey Girl Brewing and a recent feature here, Manskirt Brewing. I’ll go into more detail in a couple of days about Czig Meister, but suffice it to say, they are aggressively brewing and hitting NJ distribution, both good things.

Unholy Ritual is a big, dark beer that hits a lot of the expected notes for a Belgian Quad/Quadrupel Ale. The style is one of the older varieties of Belgian ales being brewed and one of the strongest – most clock in between 9% and 13% ABV. Usually dark brown to deep amber, Czig Meister’s take on the beer pours a deep mahogany/amber and has a strong, earthy aroma. I found it very inviting indeed, with a sweet aroma that started hitting the right flavor buttons.

The first sip is sweet and malty with hints of stone fruit/plums as well as figs and raisins. There’s enough complexity with the yeast and other flavors that I found it a little difficult to take my time with the beer. I wanted to give this beer the opportunity to shine on its own after my meal, so it was effectively a dessert beer. With those earthy, stony fruits being emulated, I couldn’t have planned this beer any better. I also did take my time with it, enjoying the full 500ml bottle over the course of about an hour and as usual, the flavors became more delicious over that time.

Since being on untappd, I’ve had only three other Belgian Quads before this one but they were there of the more prominent American Craft Breweries (Ommegang, Weyerbacher, and Victory). As such, I’ll admit to perhaps not being the best to judge this one exactly against the style and its peers in the style, especially a Quadrupel from a Belgian brewery. Against the three “classic” American Quadrupels; however, Unholy Ritual compared very, very favorably and worked very well for me. It hit the notes the flavor notes in the style description quite well, too.

Czig Meister’s beers are available in Central and Northern NJ and maybe, NY and Pennsylvania. If you happen upon this in a bar or find a 500ml bottle with that awesome label, grab it and savor the complexities of a classic Belgian style interpreted by a newish, growing NJ brewery.

A final note: I realize the standard pint glass isn’t the “proper glassware” for a Belgian Quadrupel, but I always lean towards using the glass of the brewery’s beer I’m drinking rather than appropriate glass style. I do have a couple of snifters. I’ll also admit the label and name of the beer drew me to it, so that’s successful marketing at work!

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Brown Ale aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels

Name: James E. Pepper 1776 Smoked American Brown Ale aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels
Brewing Company: Georgetown Trading Company / James E. Pepper Distilling & Beltway Brewing Co.
Location: Washington, D.C.
Style: Brown Ale Imperial / Double:
ABV: 10.4%

From the beer’s description about halfway down James E. Pepper’s Web site:

Like most whiskey aficionados, we also love a great beer. And in particular, we became very fond of barrel-aged beers, which from time to time had been aged in our whiskey barrels! So we decided to have some fun and make our own beer. We partnered with a great craft brewery (the Beltway Brewing Co. in Sterling, VA) and began working with their master brewer to create a beer that would age best in barrels that previously held our award winning James E. Pepper “1776” Rye Whiskey. No more than 30 days after our whiskey barrels are dumped in Kentucky, they are at the brewery being filled with beer. This ensures that every batch gets a rich Rye whiskey finish and notes of toffee, chocolate, oak and vanilla. Because we buy barrels from the cooper to age our whiskey, and then we monitor that maturation process over the years until we bottle our whiskey, we have complete control over the age and type of barrels we use. We think that is a big reason why this beer has come out with such uniquely rich flavor and taste. Cheers!

Brown Ales are a very old style and often overlooked. Just the style name tells you only about its color, but when brewed with ingenuity, like this Imperial Brown is, then something old really tastes like something new.

This one has the malty characteristics of a Brown Ale, with the enhancements of the rye barrel aging. The beer is a little bit boozy with wonderful hints of toffee and oak. The high alcohol from the barrels is definitely present, but it isn’t overpowering. Like many of the dark, high alcohol beers, the flavor profile becomes more pronounced and enjoyable as it warms up to room temperature after pouring.

This is the only beer took Georgetown Trading Company seems to brew and they’ve created something really nice. Every other brewery is aging their dark beers (mostly stouts) in bourbon barrels, so it is nice to take a classic style, employ a well-honed aging, but with a slightly different aging agent. In this case, the brown ale is aged in barrels from a classic brown alcohol – rye whiskey. Legend has it that the first Old Fashioned was invented in honor of James E. Pepper whose distillery dates back to 1780. Having enjoyed many bourbon-aged ales, it was a welcome taste variation on what I have come to expect.

The usual caveats apply here: let it warm before enjoying as the flavors really come out more strongly as the beer settles into the glass. Although I had a 12oz bottle, this beer also comes in a 22oz bottle. Drink it slowly or share it because the 10.4% ABV has the potential to knock you on your keester.

I see bottles of this one in most of the bottle shops I visit so, presumably, this one is fairly easy to find. At least in the Northeast. The bottle I enjoyed was bottled in February 2016 so this one aged even more for almost two years in the bottle before I consumed it. After having one that sat for so long (and that’s not a knock, because this is a great beer), I wonder how a more recently bottled version would taste . Another problem for me to solve, oh well.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer

Sky’s the Limit (Level 19)

You don’t always intend to go for beers with a double digit ABV, but when you do, you make it count! Cheers to you, but be careful, 10% and up can really pack a punch. That’s 95 different beers with an ABV of 10% and up.

2X (Level 24)

When a single isn’t enough, make it a double. Doubling the hops and malts in a recipe results in a higher ABV and can pack quite a boozey punch. That’s 120 different beers with the style that contains Imperial / Double in its style name. Try 5 more for Level 25!

 

Draught Diversions: Favorite New Beers of 2017

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…

2017 has come to a close and to the surprise of nobody reading this blog, I enjoyed my fair share of beer in 2017. Many styles of beers, beers from many breweries, and beers of varying quality. With this post, I’ll go over the best of “new to me” beers in 2017. These are the beers I enjoyed the most between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. A small disclaimer, I’m not including special annual releases like Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Weyerbacher’s Sunday Morning Stout, or Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. First, I’ve had previous vintages of those beers so they really aren’t “new to me.” Second, I’d rather highlight beers that may not have the reputation those event beers had. Why 12 breweries? Pretty obvious since a 12-pack is a common way to purchase beer and most beer bottles hold 12oz of beer.

I’ll admit to a NJ bias on this list as 7 of the beers are from NJ breweries. Also, many of these are stouts. I did try to whittle down my list so as not to include one brewery twice on the list so there’s one spot for two beers from the same brewery. I’m going from bottom to top. Each title links to either my full review here at the Tap Takeover or my check-in for the beer on untappd. Some of these may be a surprise, mot probably won’t be.

12. Rothuas Pils Tannen Zapfle (German Pilsner) 4.5 Bottle Caps

Rothaus Pils / Tannen Zäpfle from Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Over the past year or so, I’ve come to really enjoy Pilsners and appreciate the history of the style of beer. While I still consider Victory’s Prima Pils the American standard for Pilsners, this authentic German Pilsner is a nearly perfect beer in many ways. Look, taste, and aroma are exactly what to expect with a Pilsner. There was a slight, slight aftertaste to this one, but I would be happy if I had on shelf consisting only of this beer in my refrigerator.

11. Conclave Brewing Hop Ritual with Vic Secret 4.5 Bottle Caps

I’ve made no secret about how much I enjoy the beer from the closest brewery to my house. With this beer, Conclave outshone themselves and produced a beer in a non-go-to style for me that makes me want this to always be in my refrigerator. Vic Secret (which lends the name to the beer) is the strain of New Zealand hops used in the beer and it really does shine. I wasn’t expecting to be as blown away by this beer as I was, but it was so delicious I had to bring home at least a half-growler for myself. I went to Conclave thinking I’d bring home a growler of their porter, which was good, but this Pale Ale may be the best “new” Pale Ale I’ve had in years.

10. Demented Brewing Gluttony (Coffee Stout) 4.5 Bottle Caps

One of the last beers I had in 2017 and possibly my favorite from Demented Brewing over the last couple of years. Every brewery making stouts seems to make some kind of coffee stout. Beer/hops and coffee are two flavor profiles that are strong and can go into opposite directions and be at odds with each other as much as they can complement each other. Some coffee stouts aren’t made the best coffee beans or the coffee can dominate the flavor and leave a lingering unpleasant aftertaste. With Gluttony, there’s a perfect balance of coffee and beer and there’s little to no bitterness on the finish.

9. Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin (Milk Stout) 4.5 Bottle Caps

I think I said all I can say about this beer as one of my first beer review at the Tap Takeover. Bottom line: probably the best Milk Stout I’ve ever had on draft. As I said in my review, “A Nitro Stout against which many, if not all, others should be judged.” Firestone recently released this in cans so I wonder how well the wonders of the beer on draught will translate to cans.

8. Ayinger Celebrator (Dopplebock) 4.5 Bottle Caps

The gold standard for Dopplebocks, plain and simple. Malty, caramelly, with a slight smokiness at the end. This is a wonderful warm weather beer and a prime example of German brewing at its peak. My only problem is that I never had the beer before. I’m going to have to grab this one in bottles in the future, I see it frequently enough in 4-packs.

7. The Alchemist Heady Topper (IPA – Imperial / Double) 4.75 bottle caps

One of the Whale beers of North America, this is the standard by which all other IPAs and double IPAs are judged. I’m slowly, slowly turning a 180 on my dislike of IPAs and maybe it is because of this beer. I shared the 16oz can with a friend and wished I had a full can to myself.

6. Carton Café Y’ Churro (Imperial Cream Ale) 4.75 bottle caps / Carton Sundae (Russian Imperial Stout) 4.75 bottle caps

I have two here from Carton because both were equally wonderful. I also wanted to avoid having two breweries on the list so decided to list these two from the same brewery at the same spot. Anyway, this is my list and blog so I can construct the list how I choose. Back to the beers. Café Y’ Churro is a variation on Carton’s popular Imperial Cream Ale, Regular Coffee with perfect amounts of vanilla and cinnamon. At 12% the beer is deceptively easy drinking and full of flavor.

 

Sundae is a spin on Cosmonaut, Carton’s annual Russian Imperial Stout. This deep burgundy/crimson brew aged in cognac barrels with walnuts and Maraschino cherries just may be the most perfect dessert beer ever brewed. From my review: “From that initial pour and inhale, I kept thinking, “What a surprise this beer is. …makes Sundae one of the more unique beers I’ve ever consumed.”

5. Sierra Nevada & Tree House Brewing Beer Camp Across the World East Meets West IPA (New England IPA) 4.5 Bottle Caps

This beer, with its citrusy and sweet profile complementing the hops was delightful. It poured a bright and inviting orange-yellow almost like orange juice, as I’ve seen quite a few of the New England IPAs on untappd. After thoroughly enjoying this beer, I think I came to the conclusion that I prefer East Coast / New England style IPAs over their West Coast cousins. The hop profile of many West Coast beers, especially the IPAs, just don’t register positively in my palate.

4. Spellbound Brewing Porter aged Palo Santo Wood 4.75 Bottle Caps

This may be familiar as it was the first beer I reviewed in 2018 and the last 2017 beer I reviewed. From that review: “What I can say is that this is the absolute best porter I had this year, an all-time best porter for me, and very, very high on the list of “New to Me” beers for 2017”

3. Ramstein Winter Wheat (Dopplebock) 4.75 Bottle Caps

Photo courtesy of Ramstein / High Point Brewing

Ramstein (High Point Brewing Company) is one of the craft beers that established NJ as a player in the scene nearly two decades ago. People drive from out of state for growler fills and tastes of this incredible dopplebock. This is a tad sweeter than the previously mentioned dopplebock from Ayinger and perhaps the best “Winter” beer I’ve ever had, possibly one of the best bock varieties I’ve ever had, and one of the best beers brewed in NJ.

2. Dogfish Head Oak Aged Vanilla Stout (Stout – American Imperial / Double) 4.75 Bottle Caps

Dogfish needs no introduction. One of their big annual releases is World Wide Stout so they decided to vary it up with some vanilla producing the best beer with vanilla I can remember having. From my review: “I was slightly nervous, I have to admit. I’ve had a couple of beers with vanilla beans or some kind of vanilla component and I was a little disappointed with those beers, the vanilla was too over powering in those beers. Knowing the quality of Dogfish’s beers, I really should not have worried. If the aroma was a hint of things to come (and it was), the vanilla here was quite present but not dominant.

…and finally, the “new to me beer” for 2017 I enjoyed the most, was a special release from a New Jersey brewery. One of NJ’s oldest and most respected craft breweries…

1. Flying Fish Exit 17 Russian Imperial Stout 4.75 Bottle Caps

This is probably the best beer in Flying Fish’s Exit series, in my humble opinion. Not content with brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, Flying Fish aged this one in Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey bottles.  My father is a big fan of Flying Fish’s output and we’ve both been trying to have each of the beers in the Exit series, so I figured we’d share this final Exit beer over Thanksgiving. Although I’ve come to love beers aged in bourbon barrels, allowing this beer to sit in Rye Whiskey bottles helps to set it apart from its barrel-aged brethren. Flying Fish’s description says this is a “one of a kind” beer and I’d be hard-pressed to dispute the claim. Supposedly, only 750 bottles were put into distribution so if you’re in the NJ/PA area, grab this because it will not be .around long.

So, there you have it. A 12-pack of the 13 beers I enjoyed the most in 2017

Draught Diversions: December 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…

With December, the Winter Ales and Stouts are filling the shelves. Many filled my glasses and comprise a majority of the new beers I enjoyed this December.

As has been tradition with my wife and I the last decade or so, on the first Saturday of December, we tag our Christmas Tree at a local farm with our friends and celebrate with brunch and adult beverages. This year, my friend had a Six Point variety pack, including Resin, their Double IPA and Sweet Action their blonde. I’ve come to realize I’m just not a fan of much of Six Point’s output. Later in the week, at a work dinner, I had a fine New Jersey brew: Philoso-Rapper, a Belgian Strong Golden Ale from Departed Soles out of Jersey City, NJ.

I stopped at Flounder and picked up a growler of Delta House Stout, their tasty interpretation of a Milk Stout, to bring to a gaming session. At that same session I had some Viking Blood mead, also quite good. I need to explore the world of mead more thoroughly. One of the pleasant surprises of the month was a solid Pilsner from Industrial Arts Brewing, Metric, which was part of a recent Wegman’s Craft Your Own 6 Pack.

I dove fully into the Christmas/Winter Ales having this year’s version of Anchor’s Anchor’s Christmas Ale beer and Rogue’s Santa’s Private Reserve. Anchor’s was good, but I enjoyed previous recipes/iterations more, the 2017 batch was stronger on some spices that didn’t quite work for me. Rogue’s revamped Santa beer, on the other hand, I found to be excellent. A sweet cherry Dark Strong Ale, the beer was perfect as a dessert beer and reminded me of Ommegang’s Rosetta, but without the sourness. Also from my 6 Beers of Christmas Future (2017) was  Two Roads’ Holiday Ale one of the more unique holiday / Christmas beers I’ve had. There’s an interesting malt/sweetness to the beer that really sets it apart.

The Thursday before Christmas was the monthly Brews and Board Games at Lone Eagle. This brewery continues to impress me with how the beer has been getting better and more consistent over the past year. First up was their Abbey Road Dubbel, a fantastic interpretation of the classic Belgian style. The second beer I had was one of their staple brews, 007 Golden Rye Pale Ale, the first Rye beer I’ve had in a while and the first one I can remember enjoying this much. I think I need to reassess this style, particularly the German interpretation known as Roggenbier.

Abbey Road Dubbel on the left, 007 Golden Rye on the right

Finally, Christmas arrived. Well, Christmas Eve, which is when we get together with my side of the family. Christmas Day is spent with the In-laws. Fortunately, I’m not the only person who enjoys craft beer either day, so for years I’ve been bringing special beers to share on both days. I started off sharing possibly the best beer I’ve had all year with my dad, Goose Island’s 2017 Bourbon County Brand Stout. As I have the past few years, I brought a local growler to share with everybody, in this case it was Demented Brewing’s Gluttony and incredible coffee stout that is perfectly balanced. Just as good (if not better) than Firestone Walker’s Mocha Merlin. Unsurprisingly, the growler did not survive the night. My dad also brought out a bomb of Founders Doom the IPA entry in their Barrel Aged series. This is one of the best, smoothest, most balanced IPAs I’ve ever had.

On Christmas Day, I had the Corsendonk Christmas Ale my folks gave to me as a gift the night before. I can taste why this is such popular, traditional beer around Christmas Time. This is a very solid interpretation of a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. The other Christmas beers I brought was 10 Lords a Leaping from the Bruery. This beer tasted like the best parts of a Witbier and a stout amalgamated into one beer with lots of spice complexities.

The final week of 2017 brought still more beers. I had a bottle of Chimay Blue, the Belgian Trappist brewery’s Strong Dark Ale which is a wonderful World Class ale. As I said in my Tuesday review, one of my team members at work got me a 4-pack of Spellbound’s Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood as well as their fantastic IPA. Spellbound’s IPA had the perfect balance of hops and malt. I continued my trek through Flying Fish’s Exit Series with Exit 7 Pork Roll Porter at Hub City Brewhouse, a local tap house in New Brunswick, NJ. Unlike another pork infused beer from a NJ brewery I had earlier in the week, Flying Fish’s beer was really well balanced with the right amount of spice and flavor from the pork roll. The other beer was a fantastic Belgian Brown ale from Leffe.

Lastly, New Year’s Eve for the last beers of 2017. The last few years, my wife and have been going to our friend’s house and just about everybody brings their own beer, but everybody winds up sharing. In addition to a six-pack of Victory’s Prima Pils, I’d been holding a Chocolate Bock from Samuel Adams for a couple of weeks and figured New Year’s Eve the right time to have it. I’ve had the beer in the past, but not in a very long time, long before joining untappd. It was as good as I remembered it. I also had a Wet Dream from Evil Twin Brewing, a brown ale with coffee and Flower Child IPA, a well balanced brew from Cambridge Brewing Company.

So there you have it. The “new to me” December 2017 beers. If I’m calling out the best, the top would definitely be Spellbound’s Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood, Founders’ Barrel-Aged IPA Doom and Demented Brewing’s Coffee Stout Gluttony. I’m excluding Bourbon County Brand Stout since I’ve had a previous year’s version.

Coming next week, my top 12 new to me beers of 2017.

 

Beer Review: Spellbound Brewing’s Porter Aged on Palo Santo Wood

Name: Porter Aged on Palo Santo Wood
Brewing Company: Spellbound Brewing
Location: Mount Holly, NJ
Style: Porter
ABV: 6.9%

From the beer’s description about halfway down the “Our Beers” section of Spellbound Brewing’s Web site:

Our year round porter aged on palo santo wood. The palo santo brings out more of the chocolate flavor. The beer changes flavors and aromas as it warms. Most notable are chocolate, vanilla, anise, and even hints of mint.

Spellbound Brewing is one of many independent craft breweries to open in New Jersey over the past couple of years. I’d been curious about their output since learning about them. From what I’ve gathered they make well-received beers and have a fairly diverse portfolio of beers. Also, they have one of the best logos of any NJ Brewery. My interest was piqued further when the great Pete Genovose (NJ food writer) had good things to say on twitter about the brewery. Then a couple of months ago, this beer was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in the “Wood Aged Category.” I knew I had to try at least one of their beers sooner rather than later, especially this one. My only issue with the brewery is that Spellbound is a relatively long drive for me, but fortunately one of the folks on the team I began managing in November lives close to Spellbound, knows the brewers and was able to get me a four pack, as well as the IPA, which is also quite good

Two porters in a row under review here at The Tap Takeover, I know, but this is such an outstanding beer I wanted to write about it immediately. The beer has the great black look of most porters and the aroma as you crack open the can hints at chocolate and a bit of roast. The first sip is just … everything I ever wanted in a porter. Perfect mouthfeel (I almost hate typing that, if I’m still to be honest), but this one definitely feels exactly how I expect a porter to feel.

As the beer evolves over the course of drinking it, both on the sip and as it sits in the glass, sweet chocolate flavors emerge making this into something of a dessert beer. Upon finishing and getting the full array of flavors, something magical happened. Letting the beer age on Palo Santo wood gave the beer sweet, slightly bittersweet, cocoa flavors. I didn’t get the mint that the label suggested, but maybe a little bit of anise.

The drum I continue to beat about a lot of the beers I’ve reviewed here is to let them warm in the glass from fridge temperature to room temperature before finishing the beer. The label even suggests you do this with the beer and I can only agree. As wonderful as the beer was on the first pour into the glass, the complexities, sweetness and sheer deliciousness of the beer only increased as it settled to room temperature. The only slight I can give to the beer, and the minimal element that keeps it from getting a perfect score, is a very slight lingering bitterness after the finish. Again, it was only very minor so the fact that it gets a 4.75 out of 5 and that it won a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival should let you know this is a World Class Beer and a “must try” if you have the opportunity.

I haven’t had Spellbound’s standard porter so I can’t compare this wood-aged version to the original version. What I can say is that this is the absolute best porter I had in 2017, an all-time best porter for me, and beer that will sit very, very high on the shelf of “New to Me” beers for 2017.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.75-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea

Name: Victory at Sea
Brewing Company: Ballast Point Brewing Co.
Location: San Diego, California
Style: Imperial Porter with Coffee and Vanilla
ABV: 10%

From the beer’s description on Ballast Point Brewing Company’s Web site:

A big porter crafted to weather any storm.

Our Ballast Point Victory at Sea Imperial Porter is a bold, smooth brew with just the right amount of sweetness. We infused this robust porter with vanilla and San Diego’s own Caffe Calabria coffee beans. The subtle roasted notes and minimal acidity of the cold brewed coffee, balances perfectly with the sweet caramel undertones of the malt, creating a winning combination for your palate.

Ballast Point is one of the largest craft brewers in California, although no longer “independent” since the brewery was acquired by Constellation Brands (who also own Modela Negro, Corona, Funky Buddha in beer and Modavi wine and Svedka Vodka, among others) in 2015. Regardless of that, Ballast Point has been crafting popular and acclaimed beers since 1996. I’ve had a handful of their brews and liked about half of what I’ve had (especially their California Kölsch and Piper Down Scotch Ale) but of everything Ballast Point brews, this beer appeals to me the most.

Porters are one of my favorite styles and I’d wanted to give this well-regarded interpretation of the style a try for a while. I has a little hesitant to commit to full six pack at the price point, but fortunately, my favorite bottle shop (Gary’s in Hillsborough, NJ) sells some single bottles which is how I procured this one. Like most porters, this one pours a deep black and tops off with a slightly tan head. As a dark beer lover, it looks appealing and the aromas of coffee and vanilla are really inviting. The first taste gives off strong vanilla and coffee flavors with ample sweetness. The beer is relatively full bodied and definitely full of flavor. The flavor that lingers the most; however, is the vanilla. Even more than the coffee.

I’ve come to realize that vanilla, for all the suggestions and metaphors for vanilla being plain and boring, is a tough flavor component to pull off successfully. Especially in beer. I’ve had quite a few vanilla porters and stouts and more than one has given a really strong unpleasant aftertaste with few exhibiting a perfectly balanced vanilla component of the beer. Here with Victory at Sea, for my tastebuds, it is a nearly perfect execution of the vanilla. There’s only a slight lingering aftertaste from the vanilla, but the pleasant taste up front far outweighs the lingering at the end and kept my rating at a 4-bottle-cap review for untappd.

The ABV of 10% in this one isn’t too pronounced in the flavor profile. Then again, I took my time drinking the beer as a “dessert” so the alcohol didn’t affect me too much. However, that relatively high ABV should be taken into consideration if you’re having more than one or two of these dark, delicious beers.

At one point in Ballast Point’s brewing history, this beer was available only as a 22oz bomb and on draft, but a year or two ago, the beer became available in 6 packs.. It has since become an extremely popular seasonal favorite and I can see why. There are a few variants, including a barrel aged variant to help celebrate Victory at Sea Day making this an “Event Beer” for Ballast Point and folks who enjoy the beer around the country

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer

Heavy Weight (Level 49)

You like it thick and dark. Your beer! What did you think we were talking about? That’s 245 different beers with the style of Porter or Stout.

Sky’s the Limit (Level 18)

You don’t always intend to go for beers with a double digit ABV, but when you do, you make it count! Cheers to you, but be careful, 10% and up can really pack a punch. That’s 90 different beers with an ABV of 10% and up.

Victory at Sea (Special/One Time Badge)

Prepare the ballast and hoist the sails. You’ve made a date with darkness, so you’re in for a decadent journey through notes of vanilla, roasted cold-brew coffee, and caramel. A bold and rewarding choice you’ve earned the “Victory at Sea Day” badge for your treasure chest!